1/18/12 Cook of the Month prefers making meals from scratch

Starting at square one
Anita Davis, January’s Cook of the Month, adds eggnog to her bread pudding. Check out some of her recipes.

Sam Roberts / Times-News

Anita Davis, January’s Cook of the Month, adds eggnog to her bread pudding. Check out some of her recipes.

Cook of the Month prefers making meals from scratch
By Charity Apple The Times-News 1/18/12     
Reprinted with permission.

   Anita Davis has a difficult time eating something that’s come out of a box; she prefers using fresh ingredients.

   When it’s a pasta dinner Davis is preparing, well, she even makes the pasta. Scratch-made, fresh food is something Anita’s late mother used to prepare. Her dad, Salvatore A. Festa, is Italian and her mother was from North Carolina.

   “I really had the best of both worlds when it came to cooking,” she said with a smile.

   Her mother “adapted to Italian-style cooking. She made the best spaghetti sauce (or gravy as her Italian grandmother called it) I ever tasted. And my maternal grandmother made the best homemade butter mints. She always won awards at the Cleveland County fair. My mother never grew a thing, but she cooked and sewed. And so do I; it’s in the genes, I guess.”

   The beautiful, petite dance teacher at Southern Alamance High School is known for her cooking among the teachers and students at school.

   Robin Moser, media coordinator at Southern, nominated Davis for Cook of the Month because “she has an awesome chicken salad recipe that is the best I have ever tasted. She is a true Italian who always uses fresh herbs and products.”

   She’ll bring in apple cakes for teacher’s birthdays and has prepared goodies such as banana bread for her advanced dance class students, following the completion of graduation projects.

   And when it comes to the pies, well, she makes the crust from scratch, too.

   “I do not like to use store-bought crusts. I’ve been making pie dough forever. I’ve had folks tell me why do that when it’s so easy to use the store-bought. I just think it tastes better and homemade pie crust isn’t that difficult. Sure, you’re going to make mistakes, but you just have to practice when no one is watching,” she said.

   Davis grew up watching both her grandmothers cook, as well as her parents. She grew up in Burlington on Tryon Street, the oldest of three daughters. She has three grown children; Brent McCraven, Martin McCraven and Ingrid Murphy, a step-granddaughter and a grandchild on the way. Anita and her husband, Bill Davis, live in Burlington.

   “When my parents would work, we would cook. I can remember at 12 years old that my sisters and I made all of this food and put it on the table on Tryon Street — clam spaghetti, stuffed tomatoes with tuna fish and when our father came home, well, he knew he couldn’t eat it all, but he was happy we were in the kitchen, cooking,” she said.

   At one time in her life, Davis had considered becoming a home economics teacher because she loved to be in the kitchen — “it was a toss-up between dancing and home economics.”

   When she isn’t in the kitchen or at work, Davis dances in a liturgical dance company with Jane Wellford, an Elon University professor who directs the company. She also made the liturgical flags used in the dances as well as some of the color guard flags for Southern Alamance High School.

   Anita gets ideas by watching The Food Network, which Bill also enjoys, and picking up cookbooks from various places. Her Pineapple-Coconut Pie recipe was from her late mother-in-law. Adapting recipes, tweaking and making them her own is something she enjoys.

   “Some are traditional recipes passed down from members of my family and some are because I want to try new things,” she said.

   “When you’re cooking, you shouldn’t be afraid to venture out from the recipe and make it your own. Just get in there and have fun. The pasta I make, it can take all day, but I enjoy being in there, cooking for my family — creating fresh, healthy meals for them.”


Chicken Soup with Spinach   

2 to 3 chicken breasts, on the bone
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 cups water
½ teaspoon salt
2 stalks chopped celery
¼ cup chopped onion
32-ounce box or one can chicken broth
5 to 6 ounces fresh spinach
4 to 6 ounces bowtie pasta
Freshly grated Romano cheese   

In a large pot, simmer chicken, rosemary, celery, onion, water and salt for about 30 minutes. (Chicken doesn’t have to be fully cooked at this point). Remove chicken and rosemary from pot, remove skin and bones. Cook pasta in a separate pot for 6 to 8 minutes (not totally done) and drain. Cut up chicken and return to large pot. Add pasta and desired amount of chicken broth, depending on how thick you want the soup. Add spinach, cover and let simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Ladle into serving bowls and top with desired amount of cheese.

Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Icing   

1 cup cooking oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs, well-beaten
2½ cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups chopped, peeled apples
1 cup ground pecans, optional   

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine oil and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Stir together dry ingredients and add to egg mixture. Fold in vanilla, apples and pecans. Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan and bake for 55 minutes. Remove from oven, let sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Then turn out onto a large plate or platter and cool.   

Brown Sugar Icing:   

1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup butter
¼ cup evaporated milk
1 teaspoon vanilla   

Bring the first three ingredients to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Beat with a spoon until cooled. Slowly pour over cake.   

Eggnog Bread Pudding   

1 quart Maple View eggnog
1 package Sara Lee dinner rolls
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup chopped pecans
3 to 4 tablespoons brown sugar icing (left over from Apple Cake)
1 tablespoon cornstarch, mixed with ½ cup of the eggnog   

Butter a medium casserole dish, then add a layer of torn pieces of roll (about 4 or 5 rolls) to cover dish. Slowly, pour some of the eggnog over the bread. Then sprinkle half of the raisins and half of the pecans over the bread. Then add another layer of torn bread, more eggnog and the rest of the nuts and raisins. Pour the cornstarch mixture over the top layer. Spoon the brown sugar icing in half spoonfuls over the pudding.

Depending on how much bread you use and the size of the dish, you may not use all of the eggnog. This kind of dish takes some practice trying to figure out the proportions.   

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes until bubbly and the tips of the bread are slightly browned.   

Spinach and Artichoke Casserole   

9-ounce bag fresh spinach
4 ounces sliced mushrooms
4 ounces marinated artichokes, drained
1¾ cups white sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 soft dinner rolls (Martin’s potato rolls or Sara Lee)
¼ cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese   

White Sauce:    Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour until blended. Add 1 cup of milk slowly and a little salt and pepper. Add rest of milk (¾ cup).   

Add mushrooms and artichokes to sauce; stir until blended. Put spinach in a medium-size bowl and cover with a paper towel, then microwave for 20 seconds to wilt.   

Butter an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Tear bread into pieces and fill bottom of dish. Layer spinach and sauce over bread.   
Sprinkle cheese over casserole and bake at 350 degrees F. for 25 to 30 minutes.   

Coconut-Pineapple Pie   

2 9-inch pie shells
8 eggs
4 cups sugar
2 sticks butter
7 ounces shredded coconut
1 large can (15 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
1 teaspoon vanilla   

Pie crust:   

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut up
3 tablespoons shortening
5 to 6 tablespoons ice water   

Combine flour and salt. Using your fingertips, work butter and shortening into flour, until mixture resembles dry rice. (You may also use a pastry blender to mix). Add water a little at a time, using your hands to make dough cling together. Add more water, if too dry. Turn the dough out onto a sheet of wax paper. Lift corners of paper, pushing the dough into a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When ready to roll out, set the dough into the center of a floured surface, flatten the dough, sprinkle with a little flour and rub flour on the rolling pin to prevent sticking. Using rolling pin, roll into 1/ 8 -inch thickness, turning dough over as needed. Roll into a circle, then fold in half to lift into pie plate. Using your fingers, lightly fit dough into plate, pushing out air pockets as you go around the plate. At this point, you are ready to form the edge.   

Fold the dough up onto the edge and crimp together to even out the dough on the rim. Use your fingers to form a fluted edge.   

Beat sugar and butter together in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Then beat in coconut, pineapple and vanilla. Pour into pie shells. (Do not overfill, there may be a little batter left over). Bake at 350 degrees F. for 35 to 40 minutes until “set” and crust is lightly browned. If using a deep dish, it may take 45 minutes.   

Homemade Ravioli with Meat or Cheese Filling   

Pasta dough:   

1½ cups unsifted all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 egg white
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
A few drops of water   

Pour the flour into a large mixing bowl or in a heap on a pastry board. Make a well in the center of the flour and put in the egg, egg white, oil and salt. Mix together with a fork or your fingers until the dough can be gathered into a rough ball. Moisten any remaining bits of flour with drops of water and press them into a ball. Let the dough rest for at least 10 minutes.   

Cheese filling:   

1 cup ricotta
½ cup grated Romano or Parmesan (freshly grated)
¼ cup grated mozzarella
1 egg or 2 egg yolks
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, defrosted thoroughly squeezed, pressed between paper towels until there is no liquid left
1/ 8 teaspoon all-spice or nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt, optional   

Mix together in medium-size bowl and set aside or refrigerate (can be made ahead of time — up to two days).

Meat filling:   

½ pound ground chuck, round or sirloin
1 cup frozen, chopped spinach, defrosted and thoroughly drained (see above)
½ cup grated Romano cheese
1 egg
1/ 8 teaspoon all-spice Salt, to taste   

Mix all ingredients together and set aside.   

Marinara sauce:   

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 or 2 stalks celery
Several mushrooms, chopped
1 large can plum tomatoes
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste   

In a large pot, sauté onion, mushrooms and celery in olive oil until soft. Add tomato paste and mix with vegetables. Then add tomato sauce and tomatoes. Simmer sauce, stirring at intervals. Cook for at least 30 to 45 minutes.

To make ravioli, knead the dough on a floured surface, working in a little more flour if the dough seems sticky. Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes before rolling or using a pasta machine. Using a heavy rolling pin, roll dough out away from you; turn dough crosswise and continue to roll and turn until the dough is very thin or follow directions on pasta machine, putting part of the dough through several times, until thin.   

Beat an egg yolk with a fork in a small bowl and set aside. You will need a pastry brush to assemble ravioli. When dough is ready, lay out on floured surface, and cutting with knife or pastry roller, cut into long strips (10 to 12 inches) and three inches wide. Using a teaspoon, and filling it only half-full, place mounds of filling 1-inch apart on the dough, in a straight line.   

Then using the pastry brush, brush the egg between each mound and along one long edge. Then pull up the other long edge of dough and fold it over the filling, pressing the air out between each ravioli. Then using the roller, cut between each mound of filling. Finish the edges, by pressing them together (on three sides). Lay ravioli on a floured cookie sheet to dry, until you are finished rolling and filling the remainder of the dough.   

Before assembling ravioli, you will need to grate about a cup of Romano cheese.   

To cook the ravioli, drop them one at a time into a large pot of boiling water, cooking for about 8 to 10 minutes. While they are cooking, spoon a thin layer of sauce into the bottom of a baking dish.   

Remove each ravioli with a slotted spoon, and place into a colander to drain. Layer ravioli, one at a time, side by side into the baking dish and cover with sauce and grated Romano cheese. Then repeat — ravioli, sauce and cheese. Only do two layers. Bake for 30 minutes on 350 degrees F.   

Cook’s note: Instead of baking right away, you can cover the dish and refrigerate for up to two days and then bake it at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes.