The author, Jane (Burns) Lawson is pictured with husband, Danny, and son Kellan, 3. The couple live in West Des Moines and Jane teaches English as a second language in the Des Moines school system.
The author, Jane (Burns) Lawson is pictured with husband, Danny, and son Kellan, 3. The couple live in West Des Moines and Jane teaches English as a second language in the Des Moines school system.
Monday, October 25, 2010

It seems whenever I fill out a survey asking for a list of my hobbies, cooking always comes to mind. I don’t get to cook as often as I would like and I usually reserve it for special occasions, treat day at work, and holidays.

About a month before Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, my mom, Ann Wilson, general manager and co-owner of the Carroll Daily Times Herald, and I begin discussing the holiday menu, usually through email. Both of us have ideas of what to cook and new recipe ideas to share. My mom makes a list of all the dishes and the grocery shopping begins.

For our sit-down dinner, we put in the leaves for the dining room table. Even though our family is not large, we need plenty of room for all of the food. On average, we serve about 10 people, but always have enough food for 20. Each holiday, my mom and I cook for hours, all the while wishing we had a third oven and a larger refrigerator. Our family also enjoys the tradition of leftovers for lunch the next day.

I would have to say my oldest brother, Douglas Burns (a writer at the paper here), is the biggest fan of my cooking. If I come to Carroll for a weekend visit, he always asks if there will be food at mom’s and if I’m cooking. I am also lucky to have my husband, Danny (a 1994 CHS grad), who likes pretty much anything I make. Most evenings, my cooking isn’t fancy, but it is always complete with a fruit or vegetable on the side. We do all our grocery shopping on Sunday evening and I meal plan for the week.

As a child, I can remember helping my parents prepare meals, but enjoyed their cooking even more. I recall a photo taken of me when I was about eight or nine and I’m learning to roll meatballs. The first thing I learned to make on my own was Campbell’s chicken noodle soup and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Our son, Kellan, 3, already enjoys helping me in the kitchen. He especially likes to help me bake and gets mad if I don’t let him help. He loves to pull up a step stool, pour in the ingredients, and lick the spoon.

I always have my eye out for new recipes. I especially enjoy the Food Network where I can see how a dish is prepared and see the end result. I always tell people, “I’m a cook, not a baker.” Baking is too exact for me, the steps can be tedious, and I don’t like to haul out the flour and the sugar. Instead I appreciate the hard work of others’ baking and keep my focus on cooking.

Fillet of Beef

This main course is meant for holidays only. This cut of meat must be ordered in advance and is definitely on the pricey side. However, your family will thank you for the delicious meal that is restaurant quality. The addition of the decadent Gorgonzola, an Italian blue cheese, adds the perfect touch to the tender beef. Our family has enjoyed this for Christmas dinner more than once.

1 (4 to 5 pound) fillet of beef, trimmed and tied 

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature 

1 tablespoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Place the beef on a sheet pan and pat the outside dry with a paper towel. Spread the butter on with your hands. Sprinkle evenly with the salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for exactly 22 minutes for rare and 25 minutes for medium-rare. Remove the beef from the oven, cover it tightly with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. Remove the strings and slice the fillet thickly. Note: Be sure your oven is very clean or the high temperature will cause it to smoke.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

4 cups heavy cream
3 to 4 ounces crumbly Gorgonzola (not creamy or “dolce”)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan (near the gourmet cheese or dairy section)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Bring the heavy cream to a full boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, then continue to boil rapidly for 45 to 50 minutes, until thickened like a white sauce, stirring occasionally. Off the heat, add the Gorgonzola, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and parsley. Whisk rapidly until the cheeses melt and serve warm. If you must reheat, warm the sauce over low heat until melted, then whisk vigorously until the sauce comes together. Serve with fillet of beef.

Corn Pudding

When my husband, Danny, came to his first Thanksgiving at my mom’s, I said he had to try the corn pudding. He was a bit leery at first, but was surprised it was nothing like he expected. It is a savory dish that we serve for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am always the one in charge of making it and oftentimes, I make two batches, since it is the first dish to be finished. This recipe is very old and comes from my mom’s Helen Corbitt cookbook and begins with a roux, the beginnings of a white sauce. It is not difficult to make, but I always make sure to have all my ingredients ready to go before I begin.

¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
1 ¾ cup milk (use 2% or whole)
3 cups corn (fresh or frozen)
3 eggs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together flour, salt, and sugar in small bowl. In large skillet or saucepan, melt butter (do not burn), add dry ingredients, and whisk together. Cook until bubbly. Add milk (gradually) and cook until thick. Stir in corn and the eggs that have been beaten until frothy. Pour into a well-buttered casserole dish and cook in a hot water bath for 50 minutes. I place the casserole dish in a larger casserole dish with 1 ½ inches of very, very hot water. Bake until middle no longer jiggles when shaken.

Cauliflower Gratin

I made this dish for Easter this year. I have to admit, it’s a bit time consuming, but worthy of a “holiday dish”. The hint of nutmeg makes all the difference. This recipe comes from Ina Garten, my favorite chef on the Food Network. I rarely get a chance to see her show during the school year, but I am fascinated by her cooking and use of rich ingredients. It can be tricky to find Gruyere cheese, an imported Swiss cheese that melts particularly well, but it can usually be found among the gourmet cheese.

1 (3 pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets 

kosher salt
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided 

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 

2 cups hot milk (don’t use skim)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 

1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided 

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (sold near gourmet cheese or dairy section)

1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan. Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Pasta Pacifio

This is the only “original” recipe I have to my name and it’s not really original at all. When I was a student at the University of Iowa, my mom and I would frequent Mondo’s Tomato Pie in Coralville. I loved this dish and wanted to try and recreate it at home. It became a family favorite. Even when I drove to Macomb, Illinois several years ago to visit my brother, Tom Burns, now with the Daily Times Herald, while he was a graduate student at Western Illinois University, he asked me to prepare this dish for him at his apartment.

¼ cup olive oil
½ stick salted butter (not margarine)
½ large white onion (finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (pressed or finely diced)
1 ½ teaspoons Italian seasoning (found in the spice section))
1 can diced tomatoes (Italian style or with Basil, Garlic, and Oregano)
¼ white wine (Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc)
1 lb shrimp (peeled, deveined, without tails)
hot cooked angel hair pasta
grated Parmesan cheese (not the kind in the green can)
Heat olive oil and butter in large skillet, add onion and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes. Watch carefully so garlic does not burn! Add Italian seasoning, tomatoes, and wine and cook for about 5 minutes. Finally add shrimp and cook until thoroughly warmed through, if pre-cooked. If raw, cook until shrimp turns pink. Toss with angel hair pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.

Beef Enchilada Casserole

I came across this recipe just two weeks ago on and loved the result. It was so simple to throw together even on a school night. Danny took one bite and said, “This is good, what is it?” I admit, when I made it, I didn’t read the directions well and I accidentally mixed together the soups, green chiles, and enchilada sauce. I also threw in the tortilla strips and mixed it all together. Fortunately, it turned out just fine. Also when I made it, I omitted the garlic. For me, pregnancy (currently at 8 months) and garlic don’t go well together. I have a friend who loves Mexican food and is due three months after me and I promised her that when she has her baby, I’ll bring her this casserole.

1 lb. ground beef

1 clove garlic (pressed or finely diced)

1 small onion (chopped)

1 lb. grated Cheddar cheese (1 bag)

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of mushroom soup

12 to 15 soft corn tortillas, cut into strips

8-10 oz. enchilada sauce (can the size of a soup can)

4 oz. can green chiles, diced
Cook meat, garlic and onion until browned. Drain. Mix soups and green chiles. Dip half tortilla strips in enchilada sauce and line bottom of 13 x 9 inch pan. Cover with half meat, half cheese and half soup mixture. Repeat layers with cheese on top. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes. Casserole can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Baked Chicken Toes

If your kids are anything like my son, Kellan, they love chicken nuggets. This is a much healthier version by Rachael Ray that adults find equally tasty. I made these for a New Year’s get together with friends. They are also perfect for movie night or while watching the game.

1 cup corn flakes
1 cup plain bread crumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice - the SECRET ingredient
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds chicken breast tenders, 2 packages, cut into 2-inch pieces
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a pie pan or other shallow, large dish, pour out the corn flakes. Crush the cereal up with your hands. Mix in bread crumbs, sugar, salt, pepper, and allspice. Drizzle about 3 tablespoons vegetable oil evenly over the breading, tossing and turning it to mix the oil all through the bread crumbs and crushed-up corn flakes. Cut the chicken fingers into toes, 2-inch pieces. Turn the chicken in flour, eggs and then in crunchy breading. Arrange the chicken toes on a nonstick baking sheet. Place the chicken toes in the oven and cook 15 minutes or until crisp and brown all over. Serve with dipping sauce of your choice – ranch, barbeque sauce, honey mustard, etc.

Garlic Cheese Spread

This is Paula Deen’s all-purpose cheese spread. The addition of a stick of butter may sound shocking, but it creates a yummy, creamy consistency. The original recipe calls for mayonnaise instead of sour cream, but I don’t care for anything with mayo, so I always substitute sour cream.
1 6 oz jar cheese spread (Cheese Whiz)

1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened 

1/2 cup sour cream (not light)

1/2 cup butter (1 stick softened)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

Place all of the ingredients in mixing bowl. Mix well with electric mixer for about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until completely combined. Refrigerate in a plastic container with a snap-on lid. Serve at room temperature with crackers or raw vegetables.

Pickle Dip

At my 15 Year Reunion (CHS Class of 1993), Justin Koski, of Carroll, brought this dip to our family picnic at Swan Lake. It may not be new to many, but it was new to me. My husband and I are fans of the pickle dawgs at the Iowa State Fair and this dip has the same taste.

2 small pkgs of Carl Buddig beef (chopped)
8 oz cream cheese (softened)
½ cup dill pickle relish
½ cup sour cream
In a bowl, mix together all ingredients, cover, and chill until ready to serve. Optional – place in the middle of a piece of saran wrap, mold into a ball, and chill until firm. Unwrap and place in center of plate, surrounded by crackers.

Cracker Mix

My mom introduced me to this cracker mix and it’s beyond simple. It’s the easiest thing in the world to bring to a party and everyone loves it.

5-6 bags or boxes of various crackers such as Bugles, Chicken in a Biscuit, Wheat Thins, Cheez-Its, etc.
1 bottle Orville Redenbacher  Butter Flavor Popcorn Oil
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 brown paper bags (ask for them at the checkout lane)

Pour crackers into bags (double bagged). Pour garlic salt into bottle of popcorn oil, replace lid, and shake well. Pour popcorn oil over crackers, roll down top of bags and shake until crackers are coated with oil. Let crackers sit overnight in paper bag and then store in ziptop storage bags. This cracker mix can also be frozen for up to a month.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake

This is a perfect pumpkin recipe for fall. It’s a Paula Deen favorite of mine. It’s the complete opposite of low fat, but well worth the calories. I have taken this to school on Treat Day at Cattell Elementary in Des Moines, where I’m an ELL (English Language Learners) teacher. When I tell my colleagues what’s in it, they say, “No wonder it’s so good!” I have also tried the peanut butter version, which has a chocolate crust, and it’s heavenly. Don’t worry if the cake has not “set.” It’s supposed to be gooey.

1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1 15 oz can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 16 oz box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To make the crust: Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.
To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.  Serve with fresh whipped cream.
Variations: For a Pineapple Gooey Cake: Instead of the pumpkin, add a drained 20-ounce can crushed pineapple to the cream cheese filling. Proceed as directed above.
For a Banana Gooey Cake: Prepare cream cheese filling as directed, beating in 2 ripe bananas instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.

For a Peanut Butter Gooey Cake: Use a chocolate cake mix. Add 1 cup creamy peanut butter to the cream cheese filling instead of the pumpkin. Proceed as directed above.