Holidays and special occasions throughout the year motivate the newsroom staff of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times to plan a covered-dish luncheon which our food editor, Esther McCoy, coordinates on two levels.
She not only decorates for the occasion, transforming the top of our newsroom island storage unit into a theme-decorated display of buffet-style delights, she also makes sure newsroom staff prepare and bring what are must-have palate-pleasing dishes.
While some of the newsroom staff round out the buffet by contributing store-bought beverages, chips and chicken wings, others shift their culinary skills into high gear.
NEWSROOM?FAVORITES — A strawberry cake that’s as good as it is easy to make constitutes one of the covered-dish staples when the newsroom staffs of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times have a luncheon buffet.
What follow are some of the in-demand recipes for the newsroom feasts.
I'll begin with my recipe, which I have been making for family gatherings for years after having gotten the recipe from my sister Cathy.
I have refined it over the years and now have it down to a science with the only drawback being the cleanup of the cookie sheet afterwards. You could use a disposable foil one for convenience.
1 pound bacon
3 cans sliced water chestnuts
In a bowl, combine the drained water chestnuts with enough soy sauce to cover them and stir in at least 1/2 cup or more of brown sugar.
Let sit for an hour or so, stirring occasionally and don't be afraid to sprinkle a little more brown sugar in the bowl.
1. Slice bacon in three sections
2. Wrap one slice of bacon around two or three water chestnuts and secure with a toothpick. Place on large cookie sheet.
(Don't line it with foil - I tried this, thinking it would improve cleanup but it just made the bacon stick to the foil.)
3. Repeat procedure until bacon is all used up.
4. Sprinkle finished wrapped water chestnuts on cookie sheet with a little brown sugar and cook in oven preheated to 400 degrees.
Cook for about 30-35 minutes, keeping an eye on them so they don't burn.
Dab each bacon wrap on a paper towel and place on serving tray. Sprinkle with brown sugar and serve at room temperature.
NOTE: I usually fix these the night before, placing them on a cookie sheet and refrigerating them to cook the next day.
Also, this recipe can seem a little involved, but believe me, if I can do it, you can do it, and get rave reviews, too!)
Jody Wisbith, the Herald-Star's city editor, gets requests for her desserts, which make our sweettooths smile and give us a burst of sugar energy for the afternoon, post-buffet workload.
Chocolate Chip Cheesecake
3 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 rolls (20 ounces each) refrigerator chocolate chip cookie dough
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese, eggs, sugar and vanilla until well mixed; set aside. Slice the cookie dough rolls into 1/3-inch slices. Arrange the slices from one roll on the bottom of a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Jody doesn't press them together, but you can if you want.
Spoon cream cheese mixture evenly over the dough. Top with the remaining slices of cookie dough.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden and the center is slightly firm.
NOTE: Keep cookie dough refrigerated until just before slicing.
While her cheesecake is always in demand, so is Jody's peanut butter pie, another great dessert.
Peanut Butter Pie
1 crescent roll
2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
2 14-ounce cans of sweetened condensed milk
2 cups peanut butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 16-ounce carton Cool Whip, thawed
1 jar of chocolate fudge sauce
Unroll crescent roll and spread onto bottom of 13x9x1 inch greased pan. Use your fingers to seal the perforations in the dough. Bake at 375 for 5 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn. (Jody's done this.) Cool.
In a large bowl beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in condensed milk, peanut butter and vanilla until smooth. Fold in Cool Whip. Spread onto crescent roll crust. Top with fudge sauce. (Jody just spoons this on in dabs.)
Chill for two hours at least.
Although Jody is counted upon for sweets, her main dish and side dish contributions are equally appreciated, including this one.
Cheese and Pasta Dish for Crockpot
2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon oil
2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
14-ounce jar of spaghetti sauce
16-ounce jar of stewed tomatoes
4-ounce can of sliced mushrooms
8 ounces dry macaroni, cooked
1 1/2 pints sour cream
1/2 pound provolone cheese, sliced
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
Brown ground beef in oil in skillet. Drain some of drippings if needed. Add onions, garlic, spaghetti sauce, stewed tomatoes and sliced mushrooms to beef in skillet. Cook until onions soften, usually about 10 minutes.
Place half of cooked macaroni on bottom of Crockpot. Cover with a layer of the beef sauce. Cover with a layer of sour cream and then the provolone cheese. Repeat layers, ending with mozzarella cheese.
Cover and cook on high two hours or low four hours.
Craig Howell, managing editor of The Weirton Daily Times, originally found this recipe in one of his mom's Taste of Home cookbooks, although he said similar versions can be found all over the Internet.
He made it for one of the office parties almost two years ago, and, ever since, Esther has been requesting it for many of the newsroom's potluck events.
Ranch Macaroni and Cheese
1 package (16 ounces) elbow macaroni
1 cup 2 percent milk
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon garlic pepper blend
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Colby cheese
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1/2 cup crushed saltines
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook macaroni according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or similar pot, combine the milk, butter, dressing mix and seasonings; heat through. Stir in Monterey Jack and Colby cheeses until melted. Stir in sour cream.
Drain macaroni; stir into cheese sauce with the saltines.
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Yield: Eight servings.
Mark Law, the Herald-Star's Jefferson County beat reporter, is given specific instructions when a newsroom covered-dish is on the calendar. We "lay down the law" for his Better Half, Sandy, to fix spinach bars.
This is a newsroom favorite, a dish equally tasty whether it's served warm from the oven or at room temperature.
It's a covered-dish staple with no leftovers remaining for the Law household.
4 tablespoons butter
1 c. milk
1 lb. cheddar cheese, grated
1 10-ounce package chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 tsp. salt
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 medium onion
1/2 cup mushrooms
In a 9-by-13-inch pan, melt butter; mix remaining ingredients together and spoon into pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting into squares. Can be served hot or at room temperature.
As we say in the newsroom, "That's good eatin', Clark."
Cheese balls or dips to complement chips and crackers are always a welcomed addition to the buffet bar, including this one.
Chicken Cheese Ball
11 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tablespoons onion finely chopped or chives
2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 c. cooked chicken shredded
3/4 c. nuts
Mix all ingredients except the nuts. Roll into two logs, then roll in the nuts. Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill. Serve with crackers or chips. Can be made two days ahead of time.
This is a quick and easy dessert that Weirton Daily Times Community Editor Summer Wallace-Minger claims even her 12-year-old can make with little supervision in about an hour, and the ingredients only cost around $10.
Make one boxed strawberry cake, according to directions. Summer likes to use Pillsbury Moist Supreme. If you use this brand, you'll need three large eggs, water and oil.
While the cake is baking - it takes approximately 35 minutes - Summer likes to get the toppings together. She uses Jell-O brand strawberry creme (make sure it's the creme, not the gelatin).
If you use the "quick pudding" recipe, you'll need two cups of cold milk. Refrigerate the strawberry creme.
Take a pound of strawberries, wash and dice them. Mix with a 14- to 16-ounce package of strawberry glaze and refrigerate.
Let the cake cool for 20 minutes, then "ice" it with the strawberry creme and top the entire thing with the glaze mix.
The longer you let it set, the more the creme and glaze will saturate the cake. Keep refrigerated.
The other dish that Esther always asks Summer to bring is baked beans.
Summer combines 3 three pounds of baked beans, a cup of honey, a cup of dark brown sugar and a pound of bacon into the crockpot and lets it cook overnight on low.