As I write this, it’s early Saturday morning and after breakfast, I’m into the kitchen. I’m on hors-d'oeuvre duty for the family Christmas party one of my sisters holds each year. She’s a phenomenal cook, and for ages we’ve enjoyed preparing food when we are together and sharing recipes when we aren’t. As a result, when I am providing edibles for an event at her house, it’s important for me to provide a quality dish. I’ve spent a lot of time over my life pouring over recipes, but this year I didn’t. I’ve reached the age and stage where experience speaks I guess. I figured I’d come up with something. And so, I did.
Last week, my husband had to attend a pot luck Christmas party for his work, and as he’s not a cook (but an amazing dish washer and kitchen cleaner) I was in charge. He requested something his mum used to make, and while I was preparing his water chestnuts wrapped in bacon, I remembered back to the late eighties, standing beside his mother at her counter, watching as she dipped water chestnuts into soy sauce and brown sugar before rolling them in bacon. I made them myself for a New Year we spent in our first house. We had friends down, ate up a storm, and they all stayed over. The next day, before they were scheduled to leave, we pulled out the leftovers. Somehow time got away from us…and since we were all childless, they all stayed another night. We called it "The New Year’s that Never Ended." I chuckled as I recalled that and decided heck, yes; I’d make them for this year’s family party.
My second choice was bit of a no-brainer, although I had a Eureka (!) moment when I thought of it, knowing how right it was. You’ve heard me say “Food is Memory.” Well, today will be the first Christmas without my oldest sister. There were seven years between us and she married young, so while I was still hanging around the house being less than helpful to my mother, she and her husband would arrive on holidays bearing several food offerings. Her spinach cheese squares are the right thing to bring today. She’ll be with us as we celebrate.
Comfort food, indeed.
Water Chestnuts wrapped in Bacon
1 pound bacon
2 can whole water chestnuts
1/3 cup soy sauce
½ cup brown sugar
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
Set the oven to 375. Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray, and then cover with aluminum foil. Spray a cooking rack and put it on the pan. ** See note.
Slice the pound of bacon down the middle, so you have halved each piece. Soak the water chestnuts in the soy sauce for a few minutes. Mix the cayenne (if using) with the brown sugar. Lay a half piece of bacon on a cutting board. Sprinkle it with about a teaspoon full of brown sugar making sure to it spread the sugar the length of the bacon. Place a water chestnut on one end of the bacon, and roll the whole thing up. Skewer with a tooth pick and place on the prepared baking rack. Repeat with the rest. Bake until the bacon is crispy, approximately 20-25 minutes, checking regularly.
*Note: The brown sugar caramelizes and makes for very difficult cleaning, so don’t skip this step. If some of the brown sugar mixture does stick to your pan, then soak in very hot water, it will melt off as you scrape.
Susan’s Spinach Cheese Squares
4 TBSP butter
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ cup chopped onion
10 oz. sharp cheddar
2 packages chopped frozen spinach, water squeezed out
Heat oven to 350. Melt butter in 9x12” pan. In a large bowl, beat eggs, add flour, milk salt, and baking powder. Mix well. Grate cheese; add to bowl with onion and spinach. Spoon into pan. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes. Cut into two-inch squares. (These are fine to cook ahead. Reheat in the microwave.)
Wishing you all a joyful Christmas, filled with good food and good cheer.