Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 28, 2013

Foodie with Family: Hunkering down

Local Columnist

---- — Blowing, drifting, snow, arctic temperatures: they all make me happy on a regular day.

On Thanksgiving, though, it makes me giddy. When the wind howls around my windows and I’m safely inside behind sealed doors soaking in the scents of roasting turkey and sweet potatoes, baking rolls, boiling potatoes, bubbling gravy, and all the other aromas of Thanksgiving, I am probably the happiest person on the face of the earth.

That is just about as good as it gets.

It’s a feeling of comfort and warmth that cannot be duplicated under sunny skies and in temperate weather. It’s that juxtaposition of the wild chaos of the storm versus the controlled, delicious chaos of Thanksgiving meal prep.

Is anyone with me?

Even if your travel plans were necessarily cancelled or postponed due to the weather, not just any old meal will do to warm you and fill your house with holiday cheer.

You have to hit the classic combination of salty, savory, sweet and aromatic to capture the feel of the holidays. This grilled sandwich does the job beautifully.

No Panini press? No problem. Grill the sandwich on your favorite waffle iron.

No waffle iron? Don’t sweat it. Fire up your heaviest frying pan or griddle and brown that gorgeous sandwich. Any way you crisp it, it’s going to make you happy. And should you decide to eat it wrapped in a thick quilt while watching “White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” or “A Christmas Story,” well, you just might decide it’s the best Thanksgiving ever.

Ham and Cheddar Panini with Fried Apples and Onions

Ingredients per sandwich:

1 t. plus 1 T. butter, divided

1 apple, cored and thinly sliced into half moons

½ of an onion, peeled and thinly sliced into half moons

Pinch of salt

¼ t. coarsely ground black pepper

4-6 slices of deli ham (can substitute turkey, if desired)

1/3 c. shredded extra sharp Cheddar cheese

1 T. Dijon or spicy brown mustard

Melt one teaspoon of butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Toss the sliced apples and onions into the melted butter then sprinkle the pinch of salt and black pepper over the pan. Fry the apples and onions, stirring frequently, until the apples are tender and the onions taste mild, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Heat a Panini press, waffle iron or heavy-bottomed frying pan or griddle over medium high heat. Divide and spread the remaining butter over one side of both slices of bread. Lay one slice of the bread, butter side down, on the hot surface, then quickly assemble the sandwich. Spread half of the mustard over the bread that is on the hot surface, drape the ham around the bread, spoon the apples and onions over the ham, pile on the grated cheese, and spread the remaining mustard on the non-buttered side of the last piece of bread. Cap the stack with the bread, mustard side down, then -if using the Panini press or waffle iron- close the top down over it. If you are using a frying pan or griddle, you’ll need to flip the sandwich after the first side is crispy and deep golden brown. Fry until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Slice in half and serve while still piping hot.

Don’t forget something sweet and creamy for dessert. Cold weather requires warm beverages and if you play your cards right, a warm drink can double as dessert. You know where we’re going with this, right? Let me introduce you to the ultimate Peppermint Stick Mocha. If the classic coffee and chocolate combo isn’t your bag, feel free to omit the coffee and “Hey, presto!” you now have a glorious Peppermint Stick Hot Cocoa. This Peppermint Mocha is made with the help of Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce made from commonly available pantry ingredients. I think we’ll all agree that having a jar of that in the fridge would not be a bad thing at all.

Homemade Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce

6 T. unsalted butter

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate

2 c. granulated sugar

½ c. light corn syrup

¾ c. boiling water

1½ t. peppermint extract

3/4 t. vanilla extract

pinch of salt

Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in sugar, corn syrup, and boiling water. Increase heat to medium and stir mixture until it reaches boiling. Boil without stirring for 8 minutes. Really. Do not stir that stuff.

Remove from heat and stir in the peppermint extract, vanilla extract and salt. It will bubble up violently, so be careful. Let rest for 5 minutes before pouring into a heat-proof container with a tight fitting lid. (A canning jar works perfectly for this situation.) Be certain the container you use is small enough to fit into the microwave for reheating purposes. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly lidded, heat-proof container.

To Reheat:

Remove lid from the jar and microwave for about 30 seconds. Stir. Heat in additional 10 second bursts until the hot fudge flows freely when poured.

Ultimate Peppermint Stick Mocha

2 T. Peppermint Hot Fudge Sauce

6 oz. half and half (Whole milk can be substituted for a less decadent mocha)

1 shot of espresso or 2 oz. double-strength brewed coffee (omit coffee if you’re making a hot chocolate.)

whipped cream

2 peppermint sticks (or 2 small candy canes), divided

Brew the espresso into a standard sized mug (or pour the still-hot double-strength coffee into your mug.) Omit the espresso or coffee if you’re making a Peppermint Hot Chocolate.

Heat the hot fudge sauce and Half and Half together in a canning jar in the microwave or a small saucepan until steaming hot. Use a small whisk or a milk frother to vigorously combine the two until the hot fudge sauce is thoroughly melted into the mixture and it is slightly frothy. Pour it over the espresso or double-strength coffee in the mug. Dollop a generous amount of whipped cream on top of the drink. Crush one of the peppermint sticks or candy canes and sprinkle over the whipped cream. Use the remaining peppermint stick or candy cane to gently stir the drink and leave it in place as garnish.