Do-it-yourself meals are always a good option for company

October 23, 2013 

Do-yourself-meals rank at the top of my list of company foods.

I love making a basic chicken/turkey curry and letting guests choose which condiments they want. The same goes for homemade pizza. My husband and I love pizza night at the Redmond home. Bidwell Redmond cooks bacon, ground meat or sausage and then offers toppings such as pepperoni and banana peppers and several different types of cheeses and other condiments. This is really a personal pan pizza.

The Redmonds do something similar when making a green salad. Hope Redmond puts out bowls of various greens, including fresh spinach, tomatoes, boiled eggs, bacon, peppers, olives, croutons and the bowls go on and on. Guests pick and choose what they like. A dinner salad at their home is truly a meal in itself.

Last weekend at a women's retreat, we had two meals that were left up to the diner's choice. One was a taco salad. Karan Murrell of Biloxi, Miss., made the taco meat-bean mixture and simply set out bowls of lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, tortilla chips, chile cheese dip, onions, salsa, sour cream and various flavors of dressings. Those were loaded salads, and no one had to eat an ingredient they didn't like.

Windy Stanton did breakfast in the same manner. She prepared breakfast burritos, but let friends choose their own fillings. She had bowls of scrambled eggs, link sausage, bacon strips, salsa, cheese, sour cream and, of course, warm flour tortillas. Talk about over-stuffed burritos and over-stuffed retreat-

goers.

These are great, casual company meals, but they also work well with children, who can pick which fixings they want. Meal times are not easy with a picky eater. When my daughter was little, she would pick out the ingredients that she didn't like and feed them to our dogs. If I had been savvy enough back then, I would have eliminated many dinner arguments with do-it-yourself meals.

Readers, if you have a favorite do-it-yourself meal please send it to me.

Make-ahead breakfast

Readers might get the idea from this column that I like quick and easy meals, and I do. I have been out of town more than usual during the last two weeks, so when I have been home I do not want to spend all my time in the kitchen even though I love to cook. I would rather play with my grandbaby. As my grandmother used to say, "Cooking and cleaning will keep, but grandbabies won't."

The French toast is made the day before, and the praline sauce the next day. The sauce is then poured over the toast mixture and simply popped into the oven and baked. This is another easy Hope and Bidwell Redmond recipe that they got from restaurateur/cookbook author Paula Deen.

BAKED FRENCH TOAST CASSEROLE WITH PRALINE TOPPING

1 loaf French bread (13-16 ounces)

8 large eggs

2 cups half and half

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Dash salt

Praline topping (recipe follows)

Slice French bread into 20 slices, 1-inch each. Arrange sliced in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking pan, overlapping the slices.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and beat with a whisk or fork until blended but not too bubbly. Pour mixture over the bread slices, making sure all are covered evenly with the milk-egg mixture. Spoon some of the mixture in between the slices. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread praline topping evenly over the bread and bake for 40 minutes until puffed and lightly golden.

PRALINE TOPPING

1/2 pound (2 sticks butter)

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well. Pour over the French toast mixture.

Not just for breakfast

A reader named Rosalie handed me a recipe for her cinnamon coffee cake that she says is so good. It, too, is an easy recipe that starts with a yellow cake mix. This is similar to a sock-it-to-me cake.

Be sure to purchase the 18-ounce cake mix, not the newer versions that have 13- 1/2 to 15 ounces.

CINNAMON COFFEE CAKE

1 (18-ounce) yellow cake mix

1 (3 ounce) instant vanilla pudding

1 (3-ounce) instant butterscotch pudding

4 eggs

1 cup water

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9-by-13-inch pan or bundt pan. Stir cake mix and puddings together. Add eggs, oil, water and mix until well blended.

In small bowl, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and pecans.

Pour half of cake batter into pay, layer with half the brown sugar mixture. Repeat with batter and brown sugar mixture. Spread evenly over batter.

Bake 20 minutes then turn down to 325 degrees. Bake an additional 35-40 minutes.

-- Submitted by Rosalie

Lazy day recipe

Anne Sharpton of Gautier, Miss., shares her lazy-day red beans and rice recipe, which makes a quick weeknight meal. To me, a pan of cornbread would be a nice accompaniment, but most prefer French bread.

LAZY-DAY RED BEANS AND RICE

1 can Blue Runner Creole red beans, hot or mild, your choice

1 can Bush's red beans, not kidney beans

1 package kielbasa or Conecuh sausage cut in bite-size slices

Cooked rice (see note)

While rice is cooking, combine the beans and sausage in a saucepan. Simmer until thoroughly heated and slightly thickened. Serves 4. May be doubled if needed.

-- Submitted by Ann Sharpton

Note: Some folks think cooking rice is difficult; they either make it too gummy or too raw. White rice is cooked at a 2-to-1-ratio, 2 cups of water to 1 cup rice. Bring the 2 cups of water, 1 cup of rice, 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt to a boil in saucepan, turn heat to low and cover pan. Let rice cook 15 minutes more. Rice should be fluffy and cooked just right.

Recipes wanted

Please send in recipes that use sourdough starter, such as cakes, sweet flat breads and the like. Readers also have asked for faro recipes.

Remember the holidays will soon be here, so send in your recipe requests and also favorite recipes to share with fellow readers.

Andrea Yeager, who can be reached at ayeager51@cableone.net, takes contributions or requests at Cook's Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.

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