Don’t Try This Trick at Home!

I could have titled this blog “The Amazing Exploding Hungarian Noodle Casserole.” Make no mistake, this is a delicious and hardy accompaniment for a Beef Bourguignon or similar entrée. But, my first experience in serving this to my guests taught me several valuable lessons.

Lesson 1: fire and noodles don’t mix!

The scene was a dinner party at my home with a buffet table full of mouth-watering offerings. Many folks had made their first pass through the buffet table and several us were hovering around the buffet chatting when…“BAM!…SHATTER!…SPRAY!!

Stunned, we all were paralyzed, jaws dropped as we gawked at the Baked Hungarian Noodle Casserole that had literally EXPLODED!. Glass shards and noodles littered the buffet table. The dinner was ruined — glass penetrated every nook and cranny of the food and surrounding area.

Silence. No…one…said…a…word…and turned toward me.

I wanted to cry, but without missing a beat, I threw my hands in the air and exclaimed, “And now for my next trick!”

The crowd exploded (pun noted) in laughter and applause! What else could we do? Several folks helped with clean up, in disbelief that Pyrex would shatter like that! I pulled some back-up food from the fridge and brought out more wine and desserts.

Lesson 2: It doesn’t matter what you serve people, whether it’s fancy or low-key, hospitality is from the heart. The main thing is to make people feel you are glad they came. Famous chef Julia Child wrote in her autobiography that on a few occasions she served dishes that flopped and she only realized it when she took a bite along with her guests. She never batted an eye or drew attention to the food, focusing on her guests the entire time.

So what happened? I guess I had the Sterno a little too close to the Pyrex? I had no idea  Pyrex could shatter but no glass is bullet proof. For more on this topic read this article “Exploding Pyrex Cookware Mystery Solved.”

I am making this recipe for Christmas Eve dinner this year.

Lesson 3: No Sterno and no Pyrex this time.

Baked Hungarian Noodles

This recipe, from A Private Collection published by the Junior League of Palo Alto, is written to serve 24 guests because it’s suitable for a crowd. It can be easily divided by 2 to serve 12. This can be made well in advance of the party. You might question only one pound of noodles for 24 servings; be sure to use only fine noodles to get the proper volume.


  • 1 pound fine noodles
  • 4 cups cream-style cottage cheese
  • 4 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 4 tablespoons of poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • Paprika
  • Freshly-grated parmesan cheese

Cook noodles in boiling, salted water until tender. Drain. Combine the noodles with the remaining ingredients except the paprika and Parmesan cheese.

Place in two or three buttered casseroles and bake at 350 degrees until hot. Or, put in refrigerator at this point until ready to use. Approximately 30 minutes before serving, remove from refrigerator and bake until hot.

Sprinkle with paprika and serve with Parmesan cheese.

“While Visions of Sugar-Plums Danced in Their Heads”

I don’t really know what sugar-plums are but I decided they are anything sweet and delectable eaten during the Christmas season so you can have visions of them the night before Christmas. Sounds good to me.

Try this year’s version of my sugar-plums.

Ice Cream Cups, Inspired by Snickers®
An easy make-ahead dessert

  • 1 pint of chocolate ice cream
  • 1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
  • Caramel ice cream topping
  • 2 boxes of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers (found in the baking aisle, not the cookie aisle)

Use about 24 paper cupcake cups. Place one chocolate wafer in each cup.

Soften the ice cream with a spoon, takes about 2-3 minutes. Stir peanut butter into the ice cream until well blended

Spread a tablespoon of ice cream mixture on each chocolate wafer. Top with a few teaspoons of caramel topping, top with another chocolate wafer, another layer of ice cream, then caramel topping. End with a chocolate wafer, drizzle with caramel sauce and red and green sprinkles. Put into freezer covered tightly for up to one week. Serve directly from freezer.

Nabisco Chocolate Wafers

Nabisco Chocolate Wafers

You can also use vanilla ice cream with peanut butter stirred into it. Or, use both flavors and alternate layers.

Lent, Hearing Loss, and Semper Fi

I met Manell on Ash Wednesday 1986. We were both in town for a funeral the following day. In a noisy room full of people, she was sitting alone reading a newspaper when I noticed the ashes on her forehead and the hearing aids behind her ears. I was instantly drawn to her. Manell lost her hearing gradually later in life until she was profoundly deaf using powerful hearing aids and reading lips. Struggling through our conversation, we hit it off — maybe because she was also a journalist or maybe because in a room full of people, we needed each other. This began our 25-year friendship until she died in 2011.

Do you have time for a story? It’s a good one, I promise.

Manell Patricia Brice was born in Wheeling, West Virginia, on Flag Day, June 14, 1924. Her parents emigrated from Lebanon through Ellis Island and ended up in Wheeling. Manell earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism, English, and education from Mount St Joseph’s College in Ohio. She taught school for a while but like many from that part of the country, she came to Washington, D.C. during World War II in search of a government job.

She eventually landed what was to be a dream job. She worked directly for the Marine Corps Commandant as a civilian public information officer.

Gen. P. X. [Paul Xavier] Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps, was her boss. She wrote his speeches and he made sure anything he wrote or spoke passed by her editorial eye. However, there was one stumbling block; she began to lose her hearing. Even with hearing aids, she was having a hard time in meetings, on the phone, and the usual problems faced by those who lose their hearing mid-career. Back then, there was no Americans with Disabilities Act, no support from others, no assistive listening devices, no awareness that people other than older folks could have hearing loss, and nothing to assure her that her life wasn’t over. She thought the only thing to do was take an early retirement.

She approached Gen. Kelley and told him she had to retire because she couldn’t hear well anymore and couldn’t do her job.

Gen. P.X. Kelley refused to accept her resignation and told her “even if you have no hearing, you are worth more to me than five people who have all their hearing.”

It was settled, no retirement for Manell. She continued working with the support of the general and her colleagues, albeit with a lot of stress and frustration, but always loyal to the Marines and the task at hand. Manell was a perfectionist and her work showed it.

The Bombing of the Marine Corps Barracks

In 1983, the Marine Corps Barracks in Lebanon was bombed during the Lebanese Civil War. Suicide bombers killed 221 U.S. Marines and other servicemen. It was the deadliest single attack to date since World War II on Americans overseas. Manell’s heart was broken, not only for the country from which her parents emigrated, but for the U.S. Marines who died. Their families called her office and Manell answered the phone. She couldn’t hear well enough to console them, to get their names right, or to get back to them with information. She couldn’t give comfort. She felt she had failed the families of the men who gave their lives. Not only were Marines killed but so was her spirit. She retired early from her 30-year career in defeat.

Gen. Kelley reluctantly accepted her resignation. She was made an “Honorary Marine” at the conclusion of her career – an honor bestowed to a chosen few.

When I met her on that Ash Wednesday she was enjoying retirement and volunteering for the Hearing Loss Association of America. She said if she knew then what she finally learned about hearing loss, she would not have retired so soon.

Traditional Lenten Dish

Manell was my journalistic (and all-things-life) mentor. I owe my career and much of who I am, to her. She also taught me how to cook Lebanese food and gave me the book Lebanese Cuisine by Madelain Farah, Ph.D. Her home was open to everyone – there was always delicious food, strong coffee, relatives, and engaging conversation. You never called ahead, you just showed up and you always got a big welcome!

She taught me a lot — how to make a traditional Lenten dish, Mjadra, how to be hospitable, how to be the best editor, writer and journalist, and more. Most of all, she showed me how to trust myself and my gut feelings. She brought out the best in me and everyone she met. She made her indelible red-pen mark on my soul.

Thank you, Manell, and Semper Fi!

Mjadra (Lentils and Rice)
A traditional Lenten dish. Make it on Good Friday and serve with plain yogurt, green salad and pita bread.

  • 1 large onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 cup uncooked lentils, rinsed
  • 4-1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup uncooked rice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The secret is in the onions.

Slice onion thinly and sauté in olive oil until browned. This will take a while because the secret to the flavor is to caramelize the onions. Toward the end of their browning this will require constant stirring. Just before the onions are brown and ready to burn, pull them off the heat and put them directly into the boiling lentils.

While the onions begin to brown, put rinsed lentils in 4-1/2 cups of water and boil for 20 minutes.

When onions are ready, put them and their residue in the boiling lentils.

Add the rice and cover and cook for 20 minutes.

Season to taste and stir occasionally.

Dish can be eaten hot or cold.

Manell’s annotations in the cookbook she gave me.

Serves 4-6. You can easily double or triple this recipe. 

The Sights, Smells and Memories of 2014

As we enter into 2015, here’s a look at 2014 and some of our favorite recipes and stories. Click on the links to enjoy them. (Above: Winter 2014, If You Build it They Will Come)

Thanks for being part of the Kelley Hospitality blogging family. I wish you all the best for a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.



Christmas Bling!

This festive little garnish is so easy and adds holiday bling to any dish, platter or cake.

Hollyberry Bling

  • Rosemary sprigs
  • Cranberries
  • Corn syrup
  • Decorative sugar, large crystals (available in grocery or craft stores)

Brush rosemary sprigs and berries with corn syrup. Sprinkle with sugar. That’s it folks! Have fun.