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In the kitchen with Agnes: A love of cooking gets an extra boost at Easter

 

Agnes Zaiontz slices into a homemade chocolate pudding pie Monday at her home in the New Hope community. Her table is ready for Easter, with spring colors and tulips. Her collection of Depression glass is visible in the china cabinet.

Agnes Zaiontz slices into a homemade chocolate pudding pie Monday at her home in the New Hope community. Her table is ready for Easter, with spring colors and tulips. Her collection of Depression glass is visible in the china cabinet. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

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This chicken and broccoli braid casserole made by Agnes Zaiontz is flavored with sharp cheddar cheese, red bell pepper and dill mix.

This chicken and broccoli braid casserole made by Agnes Zaiontz is flavored with sharp cheddar cheese, red bell pepper and dill mix.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Agnes Zaiontz removes a chicken and broccoli braid casserole from her oven Monday.

Agnes Zaiontz removes a chicken and broccoli braid casserole from her oven Monday.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

Agnes made the cheese straws, left, using one of her kitchen aids, an electric Wear-Ever Sharp Shooter. The tea cakes at right are made from one of her mother's recipes.

Agnes made the cheese straws, left, using one of her kitchen aids, an electric Wear-Ever Sharp Shooter. The tea cakes at right are made from one of her mother's recipes.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

Agnes Zaiontz doesn't need an excuse to cook up a veritable storm, but Easter does add extra incentive.  

 

"I love holidays, and I think Easter is probably my favorite," says the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority business manager. Not only is this Holy Week -- a special time for her -- but family will be arriving in a few days and gather for a feast after Sunday church. The menu is all planned, the table ready for company. "I just love to cook," says Agnes as she opens the oven door, releasing the tempting aroma of a golden-crust chicken and broccoli "braid" casserole filled with chicken, vegetables and cheese. She transfers the hot dish to a nearby table in her kitchen made cheerful with pops of vibrant color and accents like a red milk cow creamer and a glass rooster in the window showing off flamboyant plumage. Already on the table are a meringue-topped chocolate pudding pie, tea cakes and a tray of homemade cheese straws. Agnes has been busy.  

 

Picking just one or two choice recipes is no easy task for this home cook; she has compiled more than 100 favorites, and she has made every one of them at least once. 

 

"I keep all my recipes in a file on my computer called 'Neena's Recipes.' says Agnes -- "Neena" to her grandchildren. "I've collected them from so many friends and family. Good memories." Her plan, should she ever retire, is to have her collection printed and bound.  

 

Many of her compiled recipes have sentimental value, such as one for her mother's tea cakes.  

 

"My mother cooked all the time -- she had eight children," says Agnes, who grew up in Carrollton, Alabama. She and her husband, Frank, make their home in the New Hope community. (Frank is a fantastic cook, praises his wife.)  

 

Just about everyone in her circle of friends and coworkers has benefited from Agnes's culinary enthusiasm. Not only does she share goodies at the office, she cooks for the annual Christmas party, for church functions and family reunions. She gets a little help in the kitchen from an array of gadgets.  

 

"If there was one I wouldn't want to make do without, it would have to be the KitchenAid mixer," she says, and then thinks a bit more. "But I use my crockpot a lot and my bread oven, too ... I use all my gadgets and attachments."  

 

With Easter only four days away, Agnes looks forward to serving a menu to include roast, potatoes and carrots, homemade biscuits and lemon punch cake.  

 

For some, making all the individual dishes of a full meal come out at the same time is a challenge. Acquaintances have told Agnes so more than once. She credits a former teacher for getting her off on the right foot long ago. 

 

"They should have had Dr. Thrath Curry for Home Ec at Carrollton High School," she laughs. "You would know how to plan a timetable!" 

 

When it comes to holidays, preparing a tablescape is almost as enjoyable as preparing the meal. The Zaiontz home's Easter table already boasts a spring palette, topped by tulips and bunnies. An unusual note, though, is a small dish of coins. Turns out, it's a family tradition. After folks around the table contribute their pocket change to the dish at dinner, 3-year-old granddaughter Maddie always has the honor of putting the quarters, nickels and dimes in a gallon jug in the sunroom, a growing stash to fund, perhaps, a shared family outing or a donation to a good cause. It just goes to illustrate once more that the family table can be a place to share so much more than simply food.  

 

 

 

CHICKEN & BROCCOLI BRAID 

 

Serves 10 

 

 

 

1 cup chopped broccoli florets 

 

2 cups chopped cooked chicken breasts (see Cook's Tip) 

 

1/2 cup diced red bell pepper 

 

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese 

 

1/2 cup mayonnaise 

 

2 teaspoon all-purpose dill mix 

 

1 garlic clove, pressed 

 

1/4 teaspoon salt 

 

2 packages (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent dough 

 

1 egg white, lightly beaten 

 

2 tablespoons slivered almonds 

 

 

 

  • Preheat oven to 375 F. Chop the chicken and broccoli, and place the mixture in a bowl. Chop the bell pepper; add to the batter bowl. Press garlic over the vegetable mixture using a garlic press. Add shredded cheese, and add it to the vegetable mixture; mix gently. Add mayonnaise, dill mix and salt and then mix well. 

     

  • Unroll 1 package of crescent dough; do not separate. Arrange the longest sides of the dough across the width of a 9-by-13-inch cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining package of dough. Using a small dough roller, roll the dough to seal the perforations. On the longest sides of the cookie sheet, cut dough into strips 1 1/2 inches wide and 3 inches deep using a sharp knife. (There will be 6 inches in the center for the filling.) 

     

  • Spread filling evenly over the middle of the dough. To braid, lift two opposite strips of dough up, twist once, then lay over filling so that the ends meet at the center. Lightly pinch the ends together. Continue alternating strips to form a braid. Tuck ends up to seal at end of braid. 

     

  • Brush the egg white over dough using a silicone basting brush. Sprinkle the braid with almonds. Bake 25-28 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cut and serve using a pie server. 

     

    (Source: Agnes Zaiontz, adapted from Pampered Chef) 

     

     

     

    ZZZZ CHEEZZZE STRAWS 

     

    Makes about 150 

     

     

     

    4 cups (16 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded 

     

    2 cups all-purpose flour 

     

    2 sticks butter, softened 

     

    1 teaspoon paprika 

     

    1 teaspoon salt 

     

    1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

     

     

     

  • Combine all ingredients in a large bowl using dough hook on your mixer. 

     

  • Remove from bowl and knead well until soft dough forms. Separate dough into sections. 

     

  • Preheat oven to 400 F.  

     

  • Put dough into "sharp shooter" using star tip. Spread in 4-inch strips on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. 

     

  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden. Let stand on baking sheet 5 minutes before removing. Store in airtight container. 

     

    (Source: Agnes Zaiontz recipe collection, courtesy of Dahra Bobitt) 

     

     

     

    CHOCOLATE PUDDING PIE 

     

     

     

    1 1/2 cups sugar 

     

    1/3 cup cocoa (or 3-4 heaping tablespoons) 

     

    1/3 cup flour (or 3-4 heaping tablespoons) 

     

    3 eggs (save whites for meringue) 

     

    3 cups milk 

     

    3/4 tablespoons butter 

     

    1 teaspoon vanilla 

     

     

     

    For the meringue: 

     

    3 egg whites 

     

    3 teaspoons sugar 

     

    1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar 

     

    1/2 teaspoon vanilla 

     

     

     

  • Mix together 1 1/2 cups sugar, cocoa and flour. Add 3 eggs (save whites for meringue), the milk, butter and 1 teaspoon vanilla. 

     

  • Cook on stovetop over medium heat until thickened. 

     

  • For the meringue: Whip 3 egg whites until stiff. Add 3 teaspoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. When stiff peaks forms spread on pie/pudding and place in oven on 350 F. until meringue is turning golden. 

     

    (Source: Frances Goodman, sister-in-law of Agnes Zaiontz) 

     

     

     

    MAMA'S TEA CAKES  

     

    Makes 48 

     

     

     

    1 cup sugar 

     

    1 cup butter 

     

    2 eggs 

     

    1 tablespoon milk 

     

    3 cups flour 

     

    3 teaspoons vanilla 

     

    3 teaspoons baking powder 

     

     

     

  • Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, milk and vanilla. Cream together. Add flour, 1 cup at a time. Chill for 10 minutes.  

     

  • Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Bake on a cookie sheet at 350 F. until turning brown. 

     

    (Source: Elsie Gafford, mother of Agnes Zaiontz)

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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