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Kitty's Keepers: 10 easy recipes a food editor can depend on

Kitty Crider

Originally published on March 26, 2008

I call this collection of recipes Kitty's Keepers, opting for fabulous user-friendly recipes that I rely on for many occasions. Sure, I was tempted to include a wonderful recipe from the French Laundry restaurant or a local chef, but so many of those take all day to prepare or require a staff of cooks. Most of us do not have that kind of time or assistance.

Instead, I went to the top of my recipe stack and flipped through ones used most recently. It's a collection that changes from year to year, but these recipes (with my notes at the top of each one) reflect recent usage, some throughout three decades, and many employ Texas flavors, old and new. I think you will like them. Join me at the table. The American-Statesman's features copy editors did just that when they surprised me with a farewell luncheon of them. What a Keepers kick!

Lime Chicken and Pasta Salad with Cilantro Pesto

Back in the '90s, the American-Statesman did a story on chic chicken salads. Food stylist Carol Johnson created this salad, which can be served warm or cold. I usually opt for cold because it can be made the night before and taken to potluck occasions or to people recovering from an illness or bereavement. The cilantro pesto is a snap to make in a food processor, but, if pressed for time, can be purchased in the refrigerated case. Sgt. Pepper's and TexaFrance are two local companies that make it.

4 boneless chicken breast halves

Marinade:

Juice of 2 limes

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. paprika

Salt

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

Cilantro pesto:

1 large bunch cilantro

2 heaping Tbsp. chopped walnuts

1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

3 cloves garlic

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt to taste

1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

4 to 8 oz. bow-tie pasta

Grilled tomato halves

Combine the lime juice, olive oil, cayenne pepper, paprika, salt and brown sugar in a glass bowl or casserole. Add the chicken, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours, turning once during that time.

To make pesto: Combine cilantro, walnuts, ground pepper, garlic, olive oil and salt in a food processor and process to a smooth paste. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Cook pasta to al dente stage. While pasta is cooking, grill or broil chicken until done, about 10 minutes. Slice into short strips.

Combine the warm pasta and warm chicken with the pesto. Toss until well coated. Serve with grilled tomato halves, if desired, and crusty bread. (This recipe could be made ahead and served cold.) Serves 4.

- Carol Johnson

Mickey's Banana Whole Wheat Waffles

This waffle recipe came from the Disney company. I think the idea was to use it in a waffle maker shaped like Mickey Mouse. But it works great in a traditional waffle maker, too. One batch is not enough for my family, so I double the recipe and freeze any leftovers. A bonus: This waffle is surprisingly healthy if you go easy on the butter and syrup. I even like it plain.

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1 ripe medium banana

2 eggs

8-oz. carton plain yogurt

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup chopped pecans, optional

In large bowl, stir together the flours, oats, sugar, baking powder and cinnamon.

In medium bowl, with fork, mash the banana; add the remaining ingredients beating lightly until combined. Add the banana mixture to dry ingredients; stir until combined. Pour into waffle maker. If desired, sprinkle on some chopped pecans. Bake waffles until golden brown. Baking time will vary with consistency of batter, your waffle maker and your preference for browning.

­- Walt Disney Co.

Pepper, Pomegranate and Walnut Dip (Mahammar)

I first heard about the dip/spread/relish mahammar a couple of years ago when it was a hot item on Washington, D.C., tables. However, I did not get around to trying it until I was reading Joan Nathan's award-winning cookbook "New American Cooking." Nathan, who credits her recipe to a Syrian native, makes the dip year-round, substituting dried cranberries when pomegranates are not in season. I've done that, too. I love this blend of red bell pepper, olives, walnuts, garlic, mint leaves and fruit, often taking it to parties, where both vegetarians and carnivores hang around it. True story: One night, the hostess, a cookbook author, kept dipping into the bowl, trying to discern the flavors. I offered to leave the leftovers. The next thing I knew she had covered the dish and was detouring guests from it or parceling out single bites to good friends. I had to laugh. I like it that much, too. (Tip: The queso crowd usually does not appreciate this spread as much as people who enjoy ethnic flavors.) For dippers we use plain pita chips, homemade or store-bought. But some brands of the latter tend to break when scooping. Ease that problem by tucking a little wooden serving spoon into the dip.

2 red bell peppers, piths and seeds removed, quartered

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 cup walnuts

1/2 cup bread crumbs

Dash of cayenne

1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. pomegranate syrup (See note.)

1/4 cup fresh pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries

2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup chopped black Greek-style olives, optional

Toasted pita bread

Put the peppers and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until the peppers are in little pieces.

Add the walnuts, bread crumbs, cayenne pepper and salt and pulse a few times until the walnuts are processed but still have some crunch to them.

Stir in the olive oil and pomegranate syrup. Adjust the seasonings and gently fold in the fresh pomegranate seeds (or dried cranberries), mint and olives. Place in a serving bowl with toasted pita bread or chips for dippers. Makes 2 cups.

Note: Pomegranate syrup is available in Middle Eastern stores such as Phoenicia.

-"New American Cooking' by Joan Nathan

Cranberry Broccoli Salad

For 20 years, the Austin American-Statesman held an annual Christmas Cookin' Contest, with readers bringing their favorite holiday dishes to a taste-off. Cranberry Broccoli Salad won the side dish category in 1993. I have made it once or twice a year ever since, usually by request, for a holiday potluck. If you double the amount of broccoli and cabbage, which I prefer, the salad will serve at least a dozen people.

11/4 cups fresh or dried cranberries, halved or whole (See note.)

2 cups broccoli florets or more

4 cups shredded cabbage or more

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1 cup raisins

1 small onion, finely minced

1 cup mayonnaise

1/3 cup sugar

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

In a large bowl, combine cranberries, broccoli, cabbage, walnuts, raisins and onion. Combine remaining ingredients except bacon and pour over cranberry mixture. Toss well. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Sprinkle bacon on just before serving. Serves 6-8.

- 'A Christmas to be remembered,' Donna Alexander-Grabs

Note: Dried cranberries are better (sweeter). Look for them in bags or bulk bins at places such as Whole Foods and

H-E-B. About 1/4 to 1/3 pound is plenty.

Tamales and Jalapeño Cornbread Dressing

Not long after I began writing about food for the American-Statesman, we featured Amy Nelson, cook extraordinaire at Green Pastures, and shared her tips and recipes for cornbread dressing and giblet gravy. I made her dressing for at least 25 years, trying each Thanksgiving to cut back on the eggs for cholesterol concerns. (As I recall, the original recipe, doubled, called for three dozen eggs.) A couple of years ago, we spotlighted corn dishes for Thanksgiving and stumbled on this personal recipe from Jack Gilmore of Z' Tejas. It calls for five kinds of corn, including chips and tamales. That might sound a little strange, but it is so terrific that it has replaced traditional stuffing on our holiday table. Everyone who eats it asks for the recipe.

6 Tbsp. butter

11/2 cups chopped onion

11/2 cups chopped red bell peppers (stemmed and seeded)

2 cups chopped poblano peppers (stemmed and seeded)

3 large jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage or 4 tsp. dried sage

11/2 Tbsp. dried oregano

6 cups crumbled unsweet cornbread (one recipe for 9-inch-by-13-inch pan)

3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

11/2 cups crumbled corn chips (tostadas)

11/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed

3 cups chicken stock

11/4 cups canned cream-style corn

1 dozen pork tamales, unwrapped, chopped in 1-inch chunks

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers, all chiles, sage and oregano. Sauté until vegetables are tender. Transfer to a bowl with corn bread. Mix in cilantro, corn chips, corn kernels, cream-style corn and heated chicken stock. Add tamales at the end and do not break up. Salt and pepper to taste. If stuffing is too dry, add a little melted butter. Place dressing in a buttered 10-inch-by-14-inch baking pan. Cover with foil and bake dressing in a preheated 325-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes, until brown. Serves 12.

- Jack Gilmore, Z' Tejas restaurant

Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Pine Nuts and Parmigiano

Roasted vegetables have been all the rage in recent years. While roasting intensifies the flavor, be forewarned, it also shrivels the veggies. Your outspoken friends and family members will have "witty" things to say. Until they taste them. Then they eat their words. One of my more recent roastings is for green beans, a recipe from Fine Cooking magazine. It is so versatile that I rarely make them the same way twice. Sometimes I toss them with pine nuts and parmigiano, as in this recipe; other times, with almonds or garlic.

11/4 lbs. fresh green beans, rinsed well, stem ends trimmed

1 small head garlic

1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil

11/2 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest from 1 to 2 lemons

1 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. freshly grated cracked black pepper

1/3 cup pine nuts (about 11/2 oz.), toasted

1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Position oven racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven. Heat to 450 degrees.

Place the beans in a large mixing bowl. Peel the garlic, quarter each clove lengthwise and add them to the green beans. Toss the beans and garlic with 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 Tbsp. lemon zest, salt and pepper.

Spread the beans on a rimmed baking sheet and roast in the top third of the oven for 10 minutes. Stir the beans and garlic with spatula for more even cooking and coloring. Continue roasting until the beans and garlic pieces are lightly browned and tender throughout, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Transfer the beans to a small serving platter or shallow bowl and dress with lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Toss gently to coat. Sprinkle on pine nuts, remaining zest, Parmigiano and parsley. Serves 4 to 6.

- Ris Lacoste, Fine Cooking magazine

Savory Bread Pudding with Bacon, Peppers and Spinach

Diane Worthington's colorful, savory bread pudding is perfect for brunch, lunch or dinner. One of my good friends, after eating it, said, "I'm scared of any recipe that begins 'On day 1 "' " It's not that scary. I have cut it to two days from three by drying the bread cubes in the oven. The dish puffs up high while baking and settles as it cools. It's the showiest right from the oven but tasty hot, warm or room temperature.

One 14-oz. loaf olive ciabatta, crusts removed, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 lb. applewood-smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces

3/4 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained and chopped

2 cups spinach leaves

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping

6 eggs

4 cups milk or half-and-half

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

One day before preparing the pudding, place the bread cubes on a baking sheet and let stand at room temperature overnight, or until the cubes are dried out. The next day, in a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat, turning once, for 5 minutes, or until evenly brown and crisp. Remove to paper towels to drain.

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange the cubes in the dish. Scatter the bacon, peppers and spinach leaves evenly over the cubes. Sprinkle with the 2 cups cheese. With a large spoon, evenly distribute the ingredients.

In a large bowl, whisk together or beat with an electric mixer on medium speed the eggs, milk, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended. Ladle the milk mixture over the bread, using your fingers, if necessary, to press the bread into the liquid. Sprinkle with the 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, remove the baking dish from the refrigerator 1 hour before baking and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until slightly puffed, set and browned on the top. If the center is still underdone, push the bread down with a wooden spoon to help the bread absorb the liquid. Bake for a few more minutes. Let rest for a few minutes and then cut into squares. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Serves 8.

The clever cook could:

Substitute 1 cup smoked Gouda for the cheddar cheese.

Substitute 1/2 lb. cooked, thinly sliced sausage for the bacon.

Substitute challah or French bread for the ciabatta.

Add 3/4 cup sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions instead of the peppers.

- Diane Worthington, 'Seriously Simple Holidays'

Kahlúa Brownies

In the early '80s, we made our first trip across the border. Everyone had told us to bring back Mexican vanilla and Kahlúa. So we did. This recipe, which might have come from a press release years ago, was the result of that first trek. These are adult brownies, made only for special occasions. Our recipients adore them. The secret is baking them until just done, so they are moist and slightly chewy.

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup butter

3 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate

3 large eggs

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup Kahlúa

3/4 cup chopped walnuts

1 Tbsp. Kahlúa for tops of bars

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9-inch-square cake pan with greased parchment or foil. Resift flour with baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a saucepan over low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove the saucepan from heat, and let cool.

Beat eggs and sugar until light. Mix in cooled chocolate mixture and 1/4 cup Kahlua. Add flour mixture and mix well. Stir in walnuts. Turn into a greased cake pan. Bake in center of oven for 30 minutes or until top springs back when touched lightly in center and edges begin to pull away from pan. Be careful not to overbake.

Remove from oven and cool in pan. When cold, brush top with the remaining 1 Tbsp. of Kahlúa. Let stand until cold before cutting into squares.

Texas Governor's Mansion Cowboy Cookies

Cowboy cookies tend to be hearty, with oatmeal, nuts, coconut, chips and more. This version, from the Texas Governor's Mansion, is no exception. The dense dough is so filled with goodies it barely holds together. But that's why they taste good. This cowboy cookie recipe makes a lot, so unless you are feeding a busload of Texas guests, you might want to cut the recipe in half.

(If the recipe looks familiar, it has had a second life in national politics. It is sometimes known as Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies because it was featured in Family Circle magazine during the 2000 presidential campaign, pitted against Tipper Gore's gingersnaps.)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp. baking powder

1 Tbsp. baking soda

1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. salt

11/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, at room temperature

11/2 cups granulated sugar

11/2 cups packed light-brown sugar

3 eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla

3 cups semisweet chocolate chips

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups sweetened flake coconut

2 cups chopped pecans (8 oz.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in bowl. In 8-quart bowl, beat butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy, 1 minute. Gradually beat in sugars: beat to combine, 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each. Beat in vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just combined. Add chocolate chips, oats, coconut and pecans. For each cookie, drop 1/4 cup dough onto ungreased baking sheets, spacing 3 inches apart. Bake until edges are lightly browned; rotate sheets halfway through. Time will vary depending on size. Very large cookies will take 17 to 20 minutes; smaller ones 12 to 16.

- Texas Governor's Mansion

Black- eyed Pea Soup

There are some among you who think that Mack Brown, Vince Young and some other Longhorns are the reason Texas won the 2005 national college football championship. But I can tell you that the real reason is this lucky black- eyed pea soup. The orange-colored soup recipe is one Dottie Wilkinson, an Austin resident and Longhorns fan, gave me in 1979 when I wrote an article about the New Year's custom of serving black- eyed peas.

But the story did not end there. I have made the soup at the start of every new year since. And sometimes in between.

The soup still fits Texas so well. Legumes are popular in this state and these are flavored with chili powder and smoked sausage, ingredients many Texans already have in their pantries and freezers. The soup is a great use of the Easter holiday ham bone. Toss it in the pot and it seasons those bland peas as the little pieces of meat fall off the bone and into the soup. If you don't have a ham bone, you can buy said bones at places such as Honeybaked Ham.

The recipe makes a gallon, so you can feed a crowd or freeze. Best of all, people love it.

3 rounded cups dried black- eyed peas

1 ham bone with some meat or ham hocks

3 cups minced celery

3 cups minced onion

3 cups minced carrots

2 lb. smoked sausage, sliced or diced

2 Tbsp. chili powder

salt to taste

black pepper to taste

Place peas in 3 quarts water with ham bone (preferably honey ham bone) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until peas are soft, about two hours. (No need to soak peas.) Discard bone, leaving bits of ham in soup. Add celery, onion and carrots and cook another hour. Add diced smoked sausage and simmer 30 minutes. Add chili powder. If needed, add more water, salt or black pepper.Serve with corn bread. Makes about a gallon.

- Dottie and Joe Wilkinson