I’d love to say to you, “Whew! That was fun! Everything is cleaned up and packed away, so now let’s reminisce.” But that would be a big, fat, Christmas lie. My house has turned itself entirely inside out. My girls are making wildly complex doll houses out of cardboard boxes (in the moments they are not wearing roller skates while racing remote controlled cars), thereby adding to the mess. I served leftovers for dinner, and fell asleep on a chair in front of the fire. Basically, I am nearly dead from exhaustion. Let’s celebrate on the other side of this holiday, shall we?
Related story, I promise: after college, when I finally settled into my own apartment (in my vastly spacious 80 square foot kitchen), I decided it was time to get serious about this whole cooking and eating thing. But where to begin? “Cooking” was just so vast a concept. I did what any young 20-something professional woman would do in 1995: I turned on Martha Stewart. Well, first I bought a TV, and THEN I turned on the show. Martha seemed to be perpetually working with a set of green nesting bowls. As they seemed critical to her entire process, I asked for a set on my Christmas wish list. How many sets do I have now? Hard to say, but it’s probably accurate to say I collect them. This Christmas, my friend Vanessa gave me the set you see above, and I love them so.
I’m a self-taught cook. I’ve taken some classes, and I’ve read many books, but I wasn’t raised by cooks or even around people who loved to cook. Or heck, eat, for that matter. I was raised by a tiny hypoglycemic who lived on Tab Cola, and a vegetarian who lived on granola and wheat germ. My point here is this: you don’t have to wake up as a gourmand to be a great cook. You just have to start somewhere. Anywhere. I started with 3 bowls and the dream of someday having someone to cook for.
This year, I had 14 someones. Just pushing those 2 carts through the grocery on the freezing wet evening of the 20th, my heart was bursting with joy. I have a family and a ton of lovely friends, and they let me feed them. My deepest wish in life has come true.
I’m sharing with you my Christmas 2013 menus, in case you’re looking for a place to start, or just in need of some inspiration for your own kitchen. “*” indicates the recipe is included below, and others are highlighted as links to prior posts on the blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed my Homemade Holiday series this year, as I’ve truly enjoyed making the trip with all of you.
Carry-in! I always ask for Apps, as I don’t enjoy making them, and it means I can focus on the main course. Our table was covered in the world’s greatest guacamole (Whole Foods), delicious cheese dips, rum pecans and vanilla almonds from Stuttgart, Germany, craft beers, wines, and I served Kir Royales (champagne, Creme de Cassis, and fresh raspberries in the glass).
Apple Cake & Pecan Pie* (coffee, etc)
Pancakes (for the kids)
Cherry-Apricot Spiral Ham*
Pecan Smashed Sweet Potatoes*
Marinated Flank Steak:
Per 1.5-2 lb portion, I marinated the steak with 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, a ground up garlic clove, and a teaspoon of ground and dried oregano (plus salt and pepper). I slice it thinly and grill it for a few minutes per side, perhaps a little less. Layer it on soft sub sandwich bread, with a generous helping of warm ratatouille.
Easiest pie on earth, and one of my favorites. I don’t make pie crusts, or at least not on the days I’m attempting menus of this breadth. Frozen pie shell. Beat 3 eggs slightly. Mix those with a cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of light Karo syrup, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp salt, 1 cup chopped pecans. Bake at 350 until almost set. I never bake until totally firm, as then it’s overcooked.
A good gravy is all in the ratio of ingredients. Per every pound of browned and drained sage breakfast sausage (I prefer sage), sprinkle with 4 tablespoons of flour, and mix. Pour in 1.5 cups of whole milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until the consistency you desire, always remembering to take it OFF the heat right before you think it’s ready (it will continue to cook for 3 minutes after you remove it from the heat). Serve over hot biscuits. I had 8 people for breakfast, so I made 3 lbs of sausage. I’ve found you can never have too much sausage gravy.
Cherry-Apricot Spiral Ham:
Again, easy. It was hard enough making ratatouille for 14, so I tried to make the rest of my cooking in my comfort zone. I use a jar of cherry jam and a jar of apricot jam, which I warm with a little lemon juice on the stove. I use it as a marinade and brush it over a spiral ham (I only buy fresh, never frozen, fully baked hams) as it’s warming in the oven. Which takes forever, but not turkey forever. It took me almost 2 hours to heat an 8 lb ham, which I brushed at least 4x. I then used the rest to drizzle over the ham on the serving platter.
Pecan-Smashed Sweet Potatoes:
This is not an exact science. I boil quartered sweet potatoes with the skins on. To smash, I use lots of butter, whole milk, a little bit of brown sugar, a bit of nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt and pepper. After tasting and mixing, I mix in chopped pecans. I put it in a serving bowl with the tiniest bit of brown sugar sprinkled on top. The ham is sweet, so you don’t want this to be too sweet, as you’d rather the cinnamon and pecans take center stage in this version of sweet potatoes.