Waffles for dinner serve up treasured memories

My house is quiet now that my holiday house guests have returned home. The decorations have been stored for another year. The only thing remaining is a stack of Christmas cards — many with notes and letters from long-distance friends I see only occasionally.

Most messages are happy ones with family highlights. However, one was from a college friend in Virginia who lost her husband this year and she made an interesting comment. Of all the deep, personal reflections she could have shared, her simple advice was to "Enjoy more meals together with those you love."

As my friend is the epitome of Southern hospitality, I have been privy to many meals in her home. No, they were not all gourmet meals; far from it. One memorable supper was her Virginia grandmother's ham waffles, made from scratch with the egg whites whipped separately, then carefully folded into a buttermilk batter with the country ham, then spooned onto a sizzling waffle iron.

We didn't care if we were eating waffles for dinner — they were delicious. Simple food, yes. But the memories are real treasures.

As the New Year begins, I encourage each of you to share more meals with those you love and make wonderful memories in 2010.

Thank you for the e-mails and calls and, as always, I enjoy helping you with your culinary questions. Here are some I received recently:

What exactly are crudites? I thought this word referred to raw finger veggies?

Crudites are cut vegetables often served as an appetizer with a dipping sauce. Sometimes they are referred to as vegetable trays and may contain carrot sticks, broccoli and/or cauliflower florets, grape or cherry tomatoes, celery sticks and other similar items.

What is the difference between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk? They both are canned milk but are they interchangeable?

Evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are both forms of evaporated milk but are not interchangeable.

Evaporated milk has 60 percent of water removed. It is used straight from the container to enrich custards (such as pumpkin pie) and to add a creamy consistency to many dishes. When it is mixed with an equal amount of water, it may replace fresh milk in recipes.

Sweetened condensed milk has a large amount of sugar added; it is heated to evaporate 60 percent of the water. It becomes very thick, sweet and sticky and is used to make baked goods and desserts.

Why do some recipes call for clarified butter? And where do you find it?

Clarified butter is often used for sauteing because it has a higher smoke point than regular butter; it is also used in other applications such as Indian cuisine. It is made by slowly melting butter, then allowing it to stand until the golden liquid comes to the top and the milk solids sink to the bottom. The golden liquid is the clarified butter; it is poured off of the milky solids on the bottom and hardens as it cools.