Here’s a great last-minute dessert for family get-togethers that’s so easy even the kids can make it. The pie takes only a couple of hours in the freezer to set well enough for slicing. Mix one can sweetened condensed milk, one container Cool Whip or a similar whipped topping and one packet of Kool-Aid drink mix–your choice of flavors; that’s strawberry in the photo below–and spread in an 8-inch graham cracker pie crust. Freeze for at least two hours before slicing and serving. (Hint: peach mango is delish!)
Most people consider creativity an essential element in cooking, but I think it should be discouraged in the home kitchen. Remember your audience. You’re cooking for people you know on intimate terms, and a big mistake (like putting sweet pickles in a cheesecake) will mean you’re going to have to hear about it for a very long time, and not in complimentary language. Culinary creativity is best left to those Food Network geniuses who when given turnips as a competitive ingredient are provided with Corsican prawns, Kobe beef and Kurdistani apples to shore up their efforts. Between you and me, I’d like to see what they’d do with a few skinny pork chops, a can of green beans and a jar of crunchy peanut butter. (Okay, I’ll throw in a loaf of bread, too).
But kitchen innovation emphasizing technique rather than ingredients can have impressive results, especially when you’re dealing with what’s familiar, and this one is simple: Bake dressing in a muffin pan. It’s easy to do, and the result is a morsel that’s eaten handily, stored easily and kids love them. I like to top some of them with a bit of whole-berry cranberry sauce. They also look good piled on a pretty plate alongside your other buffet items. They take a little more care than simply pouring your dressing into a casserole dish as is usually done, but they more than make up for the initial effort by freeing up space in the refrigerator and freezer, space you’ll no doubt need for other holiday leftovers. You can make these days before, freeze, and heat when needed.
Use a cooking spray to oil the muffin tin. Spoon dressing batter into the cups and fill to the top, since these do not rise as much as a bread muffin would. Place your pans in the middle rack of the oven and bake at 350 until the tops are firm and the edges have just begun to brown, about 25 minutes. Top with whole berry cranberries when they’re about half-way done. Brush with melted butter and let them cool before taking them from the pan (use a fork) and removing the paper. Store for later and reheat on a cookie sheet.
In 1914, Ines, the wife of Alfredo di Lelio, who ran a restaurant on the Via della Scrofa in Rome, was suffering from almost incessant nausea during her pregnancy with her first child. One of the few foods she was able to keep down was a dish of plain pasta, pasta in bianco, or white pasta, Alfredo made fresh and tossed with butter and grated Parmesan. Alfredo eventually added it to the restaurant’s menu, where in 1920 it was tasted by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who were visiting the city on their honeymoon. That day, the pasta happened to be fettuccini. They asked for the recipe, brought it home to the States, and sent a gift of a gold fork and spoon engraved with the words, “to Alfredo the King of the noodles” and their names.
Eating “Alfredo’s fettuccine” on trips to Rome became a destination for the Hollywood elite, and other tourists followed suit. Di Lilio sold the restaurant in 1943, but the new owner kept the restaurant’s name (Alfredo alla Scrofa), the menu, and the celebrity photos on the wall. In 1950, Alfredo and his son Armando opened another restaurant, Il Vero Alfredo, “the true Alfredo,” which is now managed by Alfredo’s grandchildren. Both restaurants claim to have originated the dish. Fettuccine alfredo, which in Italy is nothing more than buttered noodles with dry cheese, didn’t take off in Italy as it did in the United States, where it was popularized by another Alfredo’s opened by di Lilio and a partner near Rockefeller Center in New York City.
An American alfredo (with cream) is at best a simple reduction with a good hard grating cheese like Parmesan or Romano, prepared for individual servings to be eaten immediately. You can use almost any pasta, but you must use whole cream and freshly grated cheese (none of that stuff in the round green container, okay?) Cook the pasta beforehand, using about six to eight ounces of uncooked pasta per serving, making two cups or so cooked until just done, coated with vegetable oil and stored in a sealed container. When ready, heat your saucepan, add about three tablespoons butter (be generous), then working quickly, add a very generous handful of pasta, toss to coat with butter, then add about a half cup cream. Toss again while adding enough grated cheese to make a thick, creamy sauce. You shouldn’t need salt, just a little pepper. Serve at once.
This recipe is not only easy, but it fills your home with those aromas you associate with autumn: apples, cloves, cinnamon and oranges. You can use a slow cooker like a crock-pot or you can (as I do) simply put a large pot on the back of the stove with a flame-buster under it and leave it on low heat until you’re ready to finish it up. (In my experience, the apples are ready long before I am.) The recipe also mixes apples with a couple of oranges for a little acid bite and added sweetness. You can use any type of orange, but I recommend a mandarin-type (tangerine of satsuma) instead of one of those tasteless, thick-skinned navels. Sure, you’re going to peel the oranges anyway, but navel oranges just don’t have the flavor of a Valencia or mandarin. As to the type of apples, use a mixture. I’ve included here a chart that will help you with your selection, but I do not recommend using Gold Delicious because they’re just too grainy.
Put about a gallon of water in your cooking container. Quarter about a dozen apples and two to four oranges, depending on size. Don’t peel the apples, but by all means peel the oranges because the oil in the skin will make the juice bitter over time. Add four sticks of cinnamon and a tablespoon or so of whole cloves. Do NOT use ground spices. You can also add a thumb of fresh ginger, whole nutmeg or allspice, but I’m of the “less is more” school and prefer to let the apples dominate the flavor. Heat to a simmer, the reduce to low and cook until the apples are totally soft, adding more liquid as needed.
When the fruit is soft through, take a wooden spoon and mash the fruit against the side of your pot, then strain, first in a colander, then in a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth. I recommend cheesecloth, since you can get more juice by squeezing out the ball and it reduces the amounts of particles. You can strain through layers of cloth for clarification. As to the sweetener, taste your cider. You might not even want to add any. If you do, I recommend brown sugar to taste. Serve warm with a slice of orange and a stick of cinnamon in the cups. It should go without saying that a slosh of dark rum is a great idea for grown-ups.