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Mormon cooking more than Jell-O

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In The Essential Mormon Cookbook: Green Jell-O, Funeral Potatoes, and Other Secret Combinations" you'll find the tried-and-true mainstays of block parties, reunions, Relief Society dinners, and so on:

Five-Cup Salad, Famous Four-Bean Salad, Chicken Enchiladas, English Muffin Seafood Melt, Strawberry Spinach Salad, Shepherd's Pie (the ground beef/tomato soup/green bean combo topped with mashed potatoes), Sloppy Joes, Amazing Apricot Chicken (also known locally as Sweet and Sour Chicken), and Hello Dolly Bars (the chocolate chips/coconut/sweetened condensed milk/graham cracker concoction).

Well, the names and a few ingredients may change, but the dishes themselves are so commonplace that good cooks just seem to know how to make them, without a written recipe.

Nobody seems to know exactly where they first came from. Hence, it's hard to find all these gems in one cookbook.

That's why Julie Badger Jensen of Holladay compiled her recipe collection to give as a Christmas gift for her children. Over the years, she had amassed quite a few family favorites, beginning at age 8 with Loveable Lime Jell-O. She still has that yellowed, dog-eared recipe card.

"I thought it would be fun to have things they could refer to in a book, instead of calling me for my recipes," she said.

Word spread, and the book eventually made its way into publication by Deseret Book.

"I like to read all kinds of cookbooks and watch all kinds of people cook on the TV shows, but I think many times people have had things from their childhood that were familiar, that they were comfort food that they had warm associations with," she said.

"And sometimes these recipes are hard to find because they are cultural things from neighborhood and ward dinners and family gatherings and seasonal celebrations. Some of those things become very common in our culture, but to actually find the recipe somewhere is a challenge."

As they're handed down and passed around, many recipes get altered to suit personal tastes.

"That's the beauty of recipes, that people can use their own creativity, if someone prefers a lot of cheese or onions in the Funeral Potatoes, they can do that. The recipe is just a starting point."

She arranged her book according to seasons, because that's how she likes to cook. "In the spring, things like asparagus and strawberries are so fresh they can be served in the most simple form. Whole strawberries can be dipped in sour cream and brown sugar, and they're so good. So it doesn't have to be complicated."

Most of the recipes are simple, with one paragraph of instructions. "People get discouraged if the instructions are confusing and difficult," she said.

Besides the tried-and-true classics, Jensen added some contemporary dishes that are "keepers," such as Lavosh Sandwich Wrap and Craisin Salad.

Her advice to novice cooks is the same that she gave her daughters: "Start simply, maybe try one Sunday dinner menu, and if it works, keep that as something you can always count on, that you feel confident about making."

Then, start developing another menu of dishes.

Try a new recipe at home to make sure it works before serving it for company or taking it to a potluck, she advised. And when entertaining, do as much ahead of time as possible. Her cookbook has a host of brunch recipes that are prepared the night before.

She hopes the book will strengthen families and friendships, and inspire both new and seasoned cooks with confidence.

"People's lives are very involved with all kinds of schedules, but I think the family meal is a wonderful tradition that's well worth keeping," Jensen said. "I think there's a lot of things we learn from the past and the people who come before us, whether it's a cookbook or article of clothing, those things are treasures that link us to the past, and we in turn link others."

"The Essential Mormon Cookbook," $16.95, is available at Deseret Book.


8 shredded frozen hash brown potato patties

1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup cubed precooked ham

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

8 eggs

2 cups milk or cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Place hash brown potato patties in greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Pour melted butter evenly over the surface of potato patties. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Sprinkle potatoes with ham and cheeses. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Add milk or cream and salt. Stir. Pour mixture over cheeses and ham. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serves 8.

Note: In the Deseret Morning News test kitchen, we used only 1/4 cup of butter and found the quiche was still rich and buttery. —"The Essential Mormon Cookbook," by Julie Badger Jensen


1/4 cup sugar

1 quart fresh strawberries, sliced

1 10-ounce package washed baby spinach greens

1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Honey Celery Seed Dressing (see below)

Lightly sprinkle sugar over strawberries and toss with spinach greens just before serving. Top with desired amount of toasted almonds and dressing. Serves 10 to 12.

Honey Celery Seed Dressing:

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon mustard

1 teaspoon finely grated onion

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Mix all ingredients except oil and celery seed in a blender. Gradually add oil and celery seed and continue blending. Toss with salad, or pass for individual servings. Refrigerate remaining dressing for later use. Keeps 3 weeks. —"The Essential Mormon Cookbook," by Julie Badger Jensen


8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 8-ounce bottle Russian salad dressing

1 cup apricot jam

1 package dry onion soup mix

Place chicken in greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Combine dressing, jam, onion soup mix and pour over chicken. Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serves 8. —"The Essential Mormon Cookbook," by Julie Badger Jensen


1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Flavor packet from ramen noodles

1/2 head of cabbage, shredded

4 green onions, chopped

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted

1 package ramen noodles, broken and uncooked

1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Red seedless grapes, as desired

In a blender or food processor, combine vegetable oil, sugar, vinegar, salt and flavoring from ramen noodles. Pour over shredded cabbage. Add green onions and sesame seeds. Toss together. Just before serving, add ramen noodles, almonds and red grapes. Serves 6. —"The Essential Mormon Cookbook," by Julie Badger Jensen

E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com