Monday, July 14, 2014

From Nika Hazelton's Kitchen

Nika Hazelton is one of a group of innovative classic cooks and food writers of an earlier era that included the likes of M.F.K. Fisher, Craig Claiborne and James Beard.  Her 20 plus books are excellent reading as well as full of great recipes and techniques that are described as "straightforward, personal and unpretentious." Any serious cookbook collector has a couple of Hazelton's book in his collection and this is one of her later books which is a collection of her favorite recipes that she says, "I have cooked over the years because the people I cook them for, and I myself, like them.  It is not a standard cookbook nor a teaching manual, but a very personal assembly of dishes that I make in my way... I like simple food, made with the best ingredients available, cooked with care and as quickly as possible to taste as fresh as possible..."  And the book lives up to her promises. 
It also showcases her forthrightness and sense of humor.  She gives helpful commentary on menu-planning, entertaining, stocking the larder and children's table manners!  But the simplicity and great taste of her recipes is what makes this a must-have book in my collection.   Take Russian Hors D'oeuvre Casserole, for instance.
2 Tbsp butter 
1/4 cup minced onion 
1/2 to 1 cup chopped mushrooms 
1 cup any diced leftover cooked meat 
1 cup diced cooked ham 
1 cup diced chicken 
1 cup diced boiled potatoes 
1 dill pickle, diced 
1/2 cup olives (either green or black), pitted and diced 
Freshly ground pepper 
1 to 1-1/2 cups sour cream 
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped 
2 to 3 tomatoes, sliced 
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, cheddar, or Swiss cheese
Preheat the oven to 350.  Heat the butter and cook the onion.  Add the mushrooms and cook until just tender.  Combine with the meat, ham, chicken, potatoes, pickle and olives.  Add salt ad pepper to taste.  Mix with the sour cream.  Turn mixture into a 2-1/2 to 3-quart buttered baking dish and cover with the hard-boiled eggs.  Surround with tomato slices.  Sprinkle grated cheese over the top and bake until thoroughly heated and brown. 
This would make a very nice luncheon or supper main dish.
I love to read my cookbooks.  Every evening I have a stack at my side to peruse and this is one of those that is fun to read--apart from recipes.  Hazelton has a wry wit and a keen mind that is interesting, but she also seems to have a soft, homey side to her that makes you feel like making her homey dishes.  
In the chapter entitled, "Eggs, Cheese, and Cereals" she writes, "Besides, when you are at wit's end as to what to cook, think of the three steady faithfuls:  eggs, cheese, and cereals.  I do hope you have them always on hand. As you will see, mankind has long relied on this trio of foods."   
We have some dear friends who have always welcomed us to their lake cabin; sometimes including our children, their friends, then their spouses and now their children as well.  The time-honored breakfast is made by Royce and he has made giant amounts every year; Farmer's Breakfast, he calls it.  Hazelton's recipe, with the same title is very, very close:
Farmer's Breakfast (serves 2) 

6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into small strips 
1 small sweet green pepper, cored, seeded, and diced 
2 Tbsp. finely chopped onion 
3 large boiled potatoes, peeled and cubed (2 to 3 cups) 
Freshly ground pepper 
1/2 cup of any grated cheese 
6 eggs 

Fry the bacon over low heat until slightly browned and crisp.  Drain off all but 3 tablespoons of fat.  Add the green pepper, onion, potatoes, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until potatoes are golden, stirring frequently.  Sprinkle the cheese over the vegetables and stir.  Break the eggs into pan over mixture and cook over low heat until eggs are set, stirring constantly.  Do not beat the eggs beforehand. 
This is a great book for just perusing and reading, but it has many, many wonderful recipes as well; directions are straightforward and ingredients are not unusual or expensive, in most cases.  I have tried several and they have all been delicious and turned out exactly as advertised.  That's saying a lot about a cookbook. 


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