Side Dish: Holiday must-haves

No matter how carefully one plans the holiday meal, there always seems to be one item that requires a mad dash to the grocery store before it closes on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve. And, probably it takes a visit to two or three stores to find whatever is needed.

For me, it’s always poultry seasoning that’s missing. For the first few years after my mother turned Thanksgiving dinner duty over to me, I had to send a family member, usually my daughter, out on the search. Then came the Thanksgiving I did remember.

However, my husband and daughter didn’t realize it and they each also bought some. I’ve ended that particular family “tradition” by using only fresh herbs — no more poultry seasoning — to season my turkey.

But if you do like to flavor your holiday bird with poultry seasoning, you’re not alone. McCormick & Co. says data shows that just seven flavors, including poultry seasoning, provide the taste for the most popular holiday dishes. The other distinctive and versatile “seasonal seven” are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, sage, vanilla and peppermint.

When planning your holiday grocery list, take time to check the “best by” dates on the spices and herbs already on your pantry shelves and replace those that have lost their peak flavor, color and aroma.

Holiday pie hotline

Thanksgiving is also the time when home cooks are baking holiday pies. If your efforts result in less than a perfect pie, the meringue is weepy or the crust has caved in, don’t despair. Call the Crisco Pie Hotline. Live pie experts can be reached Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. by calling (877) 367-7438. The hours extend to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Nov. 12 to Nov. 21 and from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Dec. 12 to Dec. 22. For more information, go to http://www.crisco.com.

Help wanted

The Advocate Food staff needs help from our readers. We’re looking for the names of more great home cooks we can feature in our In Louisiana Kitchens column. Send your contact info along with the nominee’s name and phone number to food@theadvocate.com or call me at (225) 388-0643.

We also invite readers to send in recommendations for our I Like It! column which spotlights a food product that is neat, great, delish or interesting. The food product doesn’t have to be new. Send I Like It! suggestions to food@theadvocate.com.

Here’s a recipe for Caramel Apple Crumble Bars, which uses three of the “seasonal seven” flavors. The bars will make a good holiday treat or after-school snack.

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars

Makes 16 bars. Recipe is by Annie’s Eats, courtesy of Go Bold With Butter.

For filling:

2 tbls. unsalted butter

4 large (5 medium) apples, peeled and sliced

3 tbls. sugar

3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Dash of grated nutmeg

9 ozs. caramel candies, unwrapped

2 tbls. heavy cream

For dough:

11/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1⁄3 cup sugar

1⁄3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed

3/4 tps. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tps. ground cinnamon

12 tbls. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 large egg yolk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped nuts, such as pecans or walnuts, optional

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9-x9-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper.

2. To make the filling, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the apple slices, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are golden brown and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the dough. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, sugars, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and stir to blend. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and vanilla and stir with a fork or knead very briefly just until a crumbly dough comes together. Transfer about two-thirds of the dough mixture to the prepared baking pan and press down into an even layer. Bake until light golden, about 12 to 14 minutes.

4. While the base is baking, combine the caramels and cream in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Melt the caramels, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is totally smooth. Remove from the heat. Once the base layer is baked, pour the caramel over the top. Layer with the cooked apple slices. Crumble the remaining dough over the top of the apple slices. Sprinkle evenly with the chopped nuts, if using.

5. Bake about 22 to 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool. Let cool completely before slicing and serving.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.