Naperville Eats: Grandma serious about entertaining
By Judy Buchenot For The Sun December 26, 2012 4:36PM
Mary O'Connor of Naperville puts the cheese layer on her pan of mini-tarts before placing them in the oven. | Judy Buchenot~For The Sun
Big Cheese in the Big Apple Tarts
1 package purchase pie crust
3 large onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tart apple, peeled and diced
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
8 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon apple jack brandy
Cut circles from pie crust to fit mini- muffin pan. Press dough into pan and bake at 375 degrees for about five minutes. Heat butter and olive oil. Add onions, salt, pepper, Bay leaf, and thyme and cook on low heat 15 minutes or until onions are caramelized. Add apple and cook 5 more minutes, or until apple is softened.
Remove the bay leaf. Spoon 1 tablespoon of mixture into each tart shell. Whip together topping ingredients until smooth. Spoon on one tablespoon on top of onion and apple mixture. Make egg wash from egg yolk and water. Brush on top of tarts and sprinkle with chopped thyme. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool and remove from pan. Serve at room temperature. Makes 50 to 55 tartlets. May be made ahead and frozen. Thaw and reheat to serve.
Clam and Cheese Dip
2 5-ounce jars Kraft Olde English Cheese Spread
4 to 6 green onions, sliced
Garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
2 drops Tabasco
1 tablespoon lemon juice
61/2-ounce can minced clams
1 to 3 tablespoons dry white wine, as needed.
Drain clams but reserve liquid. Mix clams and other ingredients in the top of a double boiler. Cook until blended and smooth. Add some of the reserved clam juice or wine if mixture is too thick. Serve with assorted vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and red pepper. Can be made with a cup cooked crab instead of clams. Substitute 1 tablespoon horseradish for curry and Tabasco if using crab.
Updated: January 29, 2013 6:14AM
Mary O’Connor enjoys the challenge of cooking and baking for others.
When a family friend asked her to make cake pops for a wedding this past summer, she agreed to make 400 bride and 400 groom cake pops. The task involved tweezer placement of candy bow ties and the rental of two refrigerators for storage, but she pulled it off.
“I love to entertain,” says O’Connor, who often cooks for 27 when the family gets together. She has five children and 15 grandchildren, so there is always a full table for family gatherings.
When planning an event, the Naperville resident looks for new recipes and cleverly alters them to fit her needs.
“I had an engagement party for my nephew Adam and his fiancée, Janice. It was both a congratulations and farewell party since they were leaving Chicago and moving to New York. I kind of got carried away. My sister referred to the event as ‘the coronation’ because it was so involved,” O’Connor laughs.
She named all of the dishes served in honor of Chicago and New York, including Chicago Bulls Shooters, Mayor Emmanuel Skewered Shrimp, Water Tower Watermelon and The Big Cheese in The Big Apple.
O’Connor likes to use recipes that can be prepared in advance.
“I pick foods that have a variety of color, textures and flavors,” O’Connor says. “If I have something savory, I also have something sweet and something spicy. If there is something velvety, I also have something crunchy. I also like to have color, so I use red peppers instead of green peppers or do other things to liven up a dish.”
She also has an affinity for all forms of cheese.
“I worry about food allergies too, so I try to keep things separate in case allergies are an issue. I include a few vegetarian options in case some of my guests prefer vegetarian foods.”
O’Connor makes a list on a white board of all the items to be served, so she doesn’t leave a salad in the refrigerator or forget to cook the wild rice. She also creates a schedule of when foods need to be prepared.
“I refer to the schedule, because when you are entertaining, time can really get away from you,” she says. “With a schedule, I have a plan that allows me to stay in control so that everything can be ready on time.”
A day before the event, she pulls out all of her serving dishes and attaches labels stating what food goes in each dish.
“Looking for serving dishes and making those decisions ahead of time really saves time,” she notes.
Although she is an adventurous cook who frequently tries new dishes with interesting ingredients, O’Connor knows that some people are not as daring.
“I always serve some plain foods like nuts, olives and chips, so there is something for everyone,” she notes.
O’Connor offers two easy entertaining options for others to try on New Year’s Eve or other parties. Both can be made in advance and reheated before the event.