Happy New Year! I love the beginning of a new year. It is a time of renewal, a time to plan and think about all the possibilities the future can bring. I think about new things I want to learn this year and also about the traditions that my family holds dear. One of our yearly rituals is the birthday dinner.

I am the oldest of my siblings, something that I never let them forget! From our very first birthday celebrations, our Mother has gone to every extreme to make our birthday dinner special. We have always gotten to choose our favorite menu for our family dinner. While our tastes have changed through the years and we have added many more people to our family, the tradition remains the same.

For the past 40 years, my menu has remained the same; Polish sausages with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and baked beans. For dessert, an old fashion gingerbread cake with warm lemon sauce. I know, I can hear the laughter, I hear it every year from my family, but I can assure you the plates are all cleaned at the end of our meal. It is comfort food, food for the soul.

I can create the perfect bite, gathering a taste on my fork of the sausage, sauerkraut, potatoes and beans. My meal has a nod to German food, which is on my list this year to explore. I have many German friends and am hoping one of them will teach me a few of the basics. I have been working on a friend for the past few years and I think I am close to a lesson (You know who you are, Loni!).

My brother Joe prefers stuffed bell peppers, Sarah loves parmesan chicken and Liz loves homemade pizza. A family classic is a yellow cake with the most divine caramel icing that my mom has been making for more than 50 years. Perfecting the icing recipe is a rite of passage in our home and I can tell you it takes practice.

My grandmother started the tradition, a trick she learned from her friend Mae Major, known to many as “Big Mama.” I was one of the lucky ones to have experienced cooking lessons from her. When I visited Hopkinsville as a young girl, I was fortunate enough to spend several afternoons with Big Mama.

Watching her craft cake with decorating tools made from parchment paper was amazing. I watched her make sugar Easter eggs and decorate them with precision with the most beautiful roses. She made the best cakes and we always had a jam cake every Christmas. It was all we could do as kids not to pick off the caramel frosting.

I am happy to share with you this month a few of our treasured birthday recipes. There is really no nicer gift to someone than preparing their favorite foods.

It is a new year, a great time to start new traditions with your friends and family. Here is to a very happy and healthy 2012.

Margaret Prim runs a clothing business out of her Hopkinsville home and enjoys entertaining for friends and family. Her column runs the first Wednesday of the month. Questions or comments about her column can be emailed to living@kentuckynewera.com.

 

Stuffed bell peppers

6 green bell peppers, tops cut away and seeds removed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup finely chopped

yellow onions

1/2 cup finely chopped green bell peppers

1/2 pound ground beef

1/2 pound ground pork

1 tablespoon minced

garlic

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes

2 cups cooked long or medium-grain white rice

8 ounces tomato sauce

Panko crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large pot of boiling water, parboil the peppers until tender, two to three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels.

In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and chopped bell peppers and cook, stirring, until soft, about three minutes. Add the beef, pork, garlic, parsley, salt, black pepper and pepper flakes. Cook until the meat is browned, stirring with a heavy wooden spoon to break up the lumps, about six minutes. Add the rice and tomato sauce and stir well. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasonings to taste.

Pour enough water into a baking dish to just cover the bottom, about 1/8-inch deep. Stuff the bell peppers with the rice mixture and top with buttered panko crumbs and place in the baking dish. Bake until the peppers are very tender and the filling is heated through, 25 to 30 minutes.

 

Parmesan chicken

 

4 boneless chicken breasts, cut in half if large

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 1/2 cups panko crumbs

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

3/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon

poultry seasoning

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cut the chicken breasts.

Combine the panko crumbs, parmesan cheese and seasonings in a pie plate. Dip the chicken breasts in melted butter and then roll in crumb mixture. Place in a buttered baking dish and drizzle with melted butter.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

The breasts can be served whole or sliced.

Cook’s notes: You can add other seasonings or herbs to the crumb mixture.

Old fashioned gingerbread

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 cup molasses

1 large egg

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons

of baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground

ginger

1 teaspoon ground

cinnamon

1 cup hot water

Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, beat well. Add molasses and egg, beat well.

Combine flour and next four ingredients. Add to butter mixture alternately with hot water beginning and ending with flour mixture. Mix at low speed after each addition until blended.

Pour batter into a lightly greased and floured 13 x 9 inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly in the pan or on a wire rack.

 

Caramel icing

3 cups sugar

1 1/2 cup milk (or half and half)

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 stick butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 pinches baking soda

Combine three cups of sugar and milk and heat over low heat. Brown 1 1/2 cups of sugar until melted, brown and clear. Pour hot sugar and milk into carmelized sugar. Cook to soft ball, add butter, vanilla and soda. Beat until spreading consistency.

Cook’s Notes: Use heavy pans. Pour sugar/milk (hot) into sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon.

Set pan with completed icing into cold water and mix with a hand mixer. Once it gets thick, work fast to spread.

Lemon sauce

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 lemons, juiced

1/2 cup hot water

Mix all ingredients and cook over hot water until desired thickness.

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