BEACON PHOTO/BARB SHEPHERD
Beacon photographer Marsha McLaughlin poses with her potluck contribution, a Bacardi rum cake. Find out the recipe below.

There’s nothing like a potluck to bring out the chef in all of us, and there is no shortage of amateur chefs on the staff of The West Volusia Beacon.

We like to have office potlucks, too, for birthdays and holidays — and any other occasion, really.

After the recent holiday potluck at The Beacon, we talked a few busy staff members into sharing their recipes, either for the dishes they brought to the table, or for personal family favorites.

The tables were loaded. Traditional dishes made an appearance, including mashed potatoes and gravy courtesy of Circulation Manager Vicki Duckett, along with staff-favorite macaroni-and-cheese from business writer and Marketing Assistant Leah Pough, and the delicious pumpkin pie we can always count on from Legal Advertising Manager Melodie Robinson.

Nobody signed up to bring meat this time, so we cheated and snagged a few rotisserie chickens from the local supermarket. The holidays are a busy time, after all.

Publisher Barb Shepherd and reporter Noah Hertz tossed together a lovely salad based on fresh greens from Pauline Copello’s Lucky Market Garden, and other veggies they snagged at the Friday-night Artisan Alley Farmers and Makers Market.

A house favorite is Karen Bures’ surprisingly simple corn casserole, which has all the comfort of cornbread without any of the dryness. Coni Tarby prepared a mystery bundt cake that no one could quite identify, and she refused to disclose what was in it before everyone tried it.

Its texture was perfectly light and moist, and it tasted of cinnamon and ginger. Some believed it was a pumpkin spice cake or some riff on a gingerbread profile. Our guesses couldn’t be further off the mark, though, as she finally told us it was a carrot cake made with chocolate pudding. Sounds funky, but it works, I promise.

I brought everyone’s favorite side dish: bacon-wrapped green beans. These bundles of joy were covered in caramelized brown sugar, creating the perfect sweet-to-salty ratio. Outrageously addictive and surprisingly sharable, this dish is a crowd-pleaser through and through. Yes, I will share the recipe with you if you ask.

All this eclecticism offered a certain je ne sais quoi to the table, which I believe is part of the magic of a potluck.

BEACON PHOTO/BARB SHEPHERD
CONNECTING — Members of The Beacon team, at right, enjoy the chance to break bread together. From left are Carmen Cruz, Ngaio Warrington, Bill McIntyre, Dan Hensley (back to camera) and Leah Pough.

The appeal of this tradition far exceeded the mere consumption of food. As friends, family, and colleagues gathered to break bread, we cultivated those magical moments associated with the holiday season. Ngaio Warrington joked about her family’s shenanigans, while Kitty Allen (copy editor Keith Allen’s lovely wife) recounted her cat’s adoption story.

The warmth of the food and the stream of jokes renewed my very worn heart after a difficult year. Perhaps this is the real purpose of holiday traditions: They cultivate opportunities to make meaningful connections with the people closest to us.

— Cruz is finishing up her senior year at Stetson University. She aspires to be a food writer, and we at The Beacon are delighted to help Carmen get a taste of the trade.

Beacon family recipes

Pumpernickel Pizzas
Chief Financial Officer Michael Jaeckle: These are a holiday tradition of the Jaeckle household. These tiny “pizzas” offer a fun alternative to pizza crust that has a novel flavor and gives you a reason to buy some pumpernickel bread.

Ingredients
1 pre-sliced mini-loaf of pumpernickel bread
1 square block of cheddar
Pepperoni
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place slices of pumpernickel bread on foil-lined sheet.
Cut cheddar into slices, and place one on each slice of bread.
Place one or two pepperoni on top of each of the cheddar slices.
Bake for 8 minutes or until cheese melts.

Leah’s Mac & Cheese
Business writer and Marketing Assistant Leah Pough almost always brings this, and that makes us happy.

Ingredients
16-ounce box of macaroni
1 pint of heavy
whipping cream
6 cups of shredded cheese (I used 2 cups of mozzarella, 2 cups of sharp cheddar, 2 cups
of grated Parmesan and 8-12 slices of provolone)
Chicken broth to cook the noodles in
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Directions:
Boil macaroni in chicken broth and 2 tablespoons of butter; drain.
Combine macaroni, heavy whipping cream, shredded cheese and salt and pepper.
Put macaroni in baking dish, layer in the provolone cheese.
Top with final layer of provolone cheese and shredded cheddar cheese; cover with tinfoil.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
Take off tinfoil and bake for another 10-15 minutes, to allow the top to brown.

Sammie’s butter cookies
Advertising manager Sammie Wiggins: I use the Butter Cookie recipe for Christmas and decorate with sprinkles, etc. This recipe was clipped from the Greensboro (North Carolina) Daily News. I’m not sure of the date on this newspaper, but my mom had this clipping for more than 65 years. My kids liked this recipe with semisweet chocolate chips added, too.
The recipe may be prepared with butter instead of margarine.

Ingredients
1 half-pound of margarine
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
Directions:
Cream margarine and sugar. Add yolks one at a time, and cream again. Add vanilla, then fold in flour. Place on greased cookie sheet in small pats the size of marbles. Decorate with chocolate bits, pecans and pieces of candied fruit. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.
Makes five-and-a-half-dozen cookies.

THAT RUM CAKE! — Beacon photographer Marsha McLaughlin contributes a rum cake — made by her mother, and her grandmother before that — to The Beacon’s December potluck. Marsha said (translated from Marsha’s American Sign Language): “I was happy to find and share the recipe card for this rum cake my mother and grandmother liked to make for Christmas. Your friends and family might like a rum cake as a gift this Christmas. Yummy!” Marsha’s photo of the recipe card is below. It is dated 1974, and was distributed by the Bacardi Imports rum company based in Miami.

Reporter Eli Witek: Here is my salad recipe: six bags of Fresh Express Sunflower Crisp salad mix from Publix. One bowl. Remove salad from bags and put in bowl. Mix together. Put salad dressing in something vaguely fancy. Serves 20.

Will’s family cake
Marketing consultant Will Kirkpatrick: This recipe is well over 100 years old, and was passed on to me by my mother, who got it from her mother. Enjoy!

Ingredients
You will need: a chilled bowl, a spatula, beaters, 8 1/2” round baking pan
1 1/2 pints whipping cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup ground pecans
1 tsp vanilla
1 vanilla cake mix (makes two layers); bake as directed
Directions:
Whip cream until peaks form. Stop and test periodically for peaks. Fold in vanilla, nuts and sugar. Cover both layers of cake entirely with whipped frosting. Chill for two hours.

Karen’s Cornbread Casserole
Advertising coordinator Karen Bures: The recipe says this feeds 12 people, but I have always doubled this recipe for our potlucks.

Ingredients
1/2 cup melted butter
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
1 can corn, drained
1 can creamed corn
1 egg
8 ounces shredded cheddar
cheese (2 cups)
1/2 cup sour cream
Directions:
Mix everything, and put it in a greased casserole dish.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or until the middle is set.

Carmen’s Bacon-Wrapped Green Beans
Circulation assistant Carmen Cruz: When I was growing up, my aunt would make these for every holiday gathering. I’ll never forget the tussles my family had over who’d get the last one, and with good reason. These little bundles have an addictively perfect balance of sweet and savory. Now that I’m an adult, I wanted to carry on the tradition, and ensure that I always get my share of them on Christmas. What surprised me, though, was just how easy they are to concoct. All these years, my aunt bamboozled us into thinking she slaved away making these! Now, you can make them, too. Enjoy!

Ingredients
About a pound of fresh green beans
Half of a package of bacon
Brown sugar
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Toothpicks
Directions:
Cook green beans in a pot of boiling water for four to five minutes. Strain the cooked beans, and plunge them into an ice bath in a bowl of water with ice. This will blanch them, and ensure that they don’t continue cooking.
Cut a pack of bacon in half (maple or smoked bacon works best).
Assemble your bundles.
Lay out a half-strip of bacon, sprinkle brown sugar onto it, gather 5-8 green beans of a similar size, and roll the sugary bacon around them.
Secure the bundle with a toothpick so it won’t unravel in the oven.
Season the bundles with salt, pepper, garlic powder, or any seasoning that suits your fancy sprinkled on top.
Sprinkle some more brown sugar on top of the bundles.
Bake in a foil-lined baking tray at 400 degrees for 20- 25 minutes (or until golden brown).

Vicki’s Christmas Strata
Circulation Manager (and owner of Happy Brain Neurofeedback) Vicki Duckett: I assemble this every Christmas Eve for baking on Christmas morning. I usually leave out the prosciutto. This recipe makes six or more servings. It’s from A Real American Breakfast by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison.

Ingredients:
1-1 ¼ pounds country or sourdough bread
½ pound cream cheese or St. Andre cheese
1/2 pound fresh or other mozzarella
3/4 cup prepared pesto
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
1 pound ripe red tomatoes
5 large eggs
11/2 cups milk or half and-half
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper
Directions:
Oil or butter a deep 9- to 10-inch baking dish. Remove crust from bread if thick; slice bread into slices of about a half-inch thick. If using St. Andre cheese, remove the rind. Cut the cream cheese or St. Andre into small cubes or bits, and cut the mozzarella into small pieces or grate it.
In baking dish, arrange two or three equal alternating layers of bread and cheeses, pesto, chopped prosciutto and thinly sliced tomatoes (about three medium tomatoes). Cut or tear the bread slices, if needed, to make snug layers.
In bowl, whisk eggs with milk, salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour custard over bread mixture. Cover and refrigerate strata for at least two hours and as long as overnight. Remove strata from refrigerator 20-30 minutes before baking. Heat oven to 350 degrees, and bake the strata 50-55 minutes until puffed, golden brown, and lightly set in center. Serve hot.

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