Wisdom Comes Suddenly

Christmas Dinner 2015

December 29th, 2015 · No Comments

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Friends, the journey we’re about to take over the next few days will drive you to drink (I suggest a Hot Toddy made with Basil Hayden’s Whiskey). Reviewing the work any Mother does over Christmas makes us all shake our heads in a dizzied-retrospective-collective-UGH. HOW DID WE MAKE ALL THAT MAGIC? How did we ever unbury ourselves from the pounds of ribbon and tape? How did we not become total alcoholics in front of our 100th Hallmark Movie while hot-gluing crafts? Apparently my magic is fueled by whiskey, because I put a bottle on my wish-list. Good ‘ole Dad. He always gives the perfect gifts.

Tonight, we’ll start with what I called “a simple, easy, no-fuss Christmas dinner”. My Mother-in-Law just coughed up half a lung in a most sarcastic cough. She would have laughed out loud, but along with a full belly, I gave her laryngitis for Christmas. Christmas dinner was a “tad” bit more work than I anticipated, but oh-gracious was it worth every second. I absolutely loved this meal, which is why I’m sharing it first. Over the next few days, I’ll also share my menu from the Champagne Brunch I hosted on Christmas Eve, and a run-down of how I created custom Hostess Tackle Boxes for the Teacher Gifts this year. I warned you earlier this month I was feeling better. Life got a full dose of Lori this Christmas. LIFE is probably ready for a drink of its own. My dear, priceless Mother-In-Law is also ready for a drink, after working as my Sous-Chef. That’s not the world’s easiest task, and she’s probably chopping crystallized ginger in her sleep. I love you Goomommy. I love you more than my mandolin slicer, my new cheese knife, and all of my stock pots combined.

 

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FIRST COURSE

Spiced Apple, Cranberry, and Pecan Salad (modified from a really old Williams-Sonoma Cookbook I’ve probably had since college):

1.5 tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I use red or chili powder, because that’s what I have on hand)

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 cup pecan halves

3 Tbsp of sugar

1/3 cup of plain yogurt

1/3 cup of light mayo

2 Tbsp honey

1 tsp of Balsamic vinegar

5 sweet apples (I used Honeycrisp, but next time I’ll use Granny Smith)

3 large celery stalks, sliced very thinly

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 head of red leaf lettuce leaves

 

In a bowl, mix 3/4th of tsp of cumin with 1/8th of the red pepper. Set aside.

Warm oil in a small skillet, and brown the nuts for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, stirring constantly, until the sugar melts (the time of this varies widely, but if you walk away, it will burn and be a bitter, ruined mess). Add hot nuts to the spices in the bowl, stir. Spread out on wax paper, and when cooled completely, chop coarsely.

In a small bowl, make your dressing by stirring together the yogurt, mayo, honey, vinegar, and remaining 3/4th tsp of cumin and 1/8th tsp of red pepper. Cover and place in fridge.

Slice each apple as thinly as possible. I run it over my mandolin and then chop it into quarter inch by 1/2 inch pieces. The original recipe makes the apples pretty chunky, which makes it hard to eat, because the beauty of this salad is getting it all of the flavors with each bite. Combine the apples with the celery and dried cranberries, and then toss it with the dressing. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Service: Layer a the lettuce on the bottom, top with a mound of salad in the center (but make it pretty and rustic…not like it was made at the MCL cafeteria), and top with the nuts. I eat this salad with a knife, so I can get the lettuce plus the toppings in every single bite. SO GOOD.

 

Christmas Ham

THE MAIN COURSE

Apricot-Cherry Spiral Cut Ham

This is ROCKET science, I tell ya’. Buy a pre-cooked ham. Rinse and dry it. Pull out all the doo-hikkie things that may be attached to it. Throw out the instructions because they lie. It takes 30 minutes per pound to warm a ham at 275 degrees, I promise you. Warm it at 325 to get that down to 20-25 minutes per pound. Keep it covered with aluminum foil while it warms. My oven cooks a little cool, so you may want to keep yours to 300. Any warmer and you’ll have one, dry ham.

In a saucepan, warm a jar of apricot jam (not jelly) with half a jar of tart cherry jelly. Add a little butter and lemon juice. Baste the ham every 20-30 minutes. Serve the warmed version on the side with the dinner.

Green Beans That Pair Best With Sweet Meats or Side Dishes

Use fresh green beans and stem them. Boil for no more than 20 minutes. If you make mushy beans, take my name off your recipe and change your name to Mertle, because you-is-an-old-lady. Mix in finely sliced white scallion parts and finely chopped cooked bacon. A tiny bit of butter and salt and pepper. The onion flavor holds up well if you’re eating a sweet ham or sweet potatoes.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes With Brown Sugar & Spice (My favorite of all sweet potatoes, but I’d take them off this menu. Too much sweet. Just a plain potato with chives and some chicken broth would have worked better on this menu. Even an Herb-Roasted Red Potato might be too much. Pumpkin-Sage Grits…that’s what I’d do, or something hot with Cheddar, but small in portion size. I’ve said too much, haven’t I?)

Bake 6 lbs of sweet potatoes, pierced, on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Cool, remove from skins (those things just fall right off). Add 3/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of cream or half and half, 6 Tbsp of butter, 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 tsp of nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp of allspice, along with 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla. Mash. Season with salt.

Place in a buttered baking dish, topping with 1/2 cup of chopped pecans. Bake about 30 minutes and serve directly from the dish.

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DESSERT

Pear Upside Down Spice Cake

I do not, DO NOT like ice cream on ANYTHING I bake. Not on pie, not a la mode, no sir. I like my desserts pristine, and unobscured by cold, iced sugar (my name for ice cream). BUT, this dessert is not sweet. It’s delicious, and very dessert-y, but it’s not sugary. Pairing it in a dish with a scoop of cold, vanilla ice cream (the real kind with the beans) was just heavenly. And after a tart salad followed by a sweet ham, this not-sweet cake was the perfect dessert.

Again, this is from an ancient, dusty Williams-Sonoma book I bought at a dollar sale in a warehouse. Williams-Sonoma cookbooks are poorly written and are made specifically to drive you to their stores for things you don’t have or cannot find. Therefore, I choose which ones I make sparingly. BUT, and this makes no sense to me whatsoever, their recipes have never failed me. Everything in this recipe can be found at a normal grocery store (crystallized ginger is easier to find at the holidays and will be near the fruit cake supplies…bleck). Molasses? Ugh. This stuff is a mess. I’ll probably substitute a dark corn syrup or a maple syrup next time. Still, the flavor of the molasses held up against these spices. If a recipe is chocked full of things you don’t own or too many ingredients with which you are not familiar, you should sniff a disaster. I love to try new things, but one at a time.

6 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup of unsalted butter

1 1/4 cup of brown sugar

4 Bartlett Pears, sliced on a mandolin or very thinly sliced longways (or use any tart, crunchy pear)

1 1/2 cups of cake flour (trust me on this one)

1 1/8 tsp of baking powder

1/4 tsp of baking soda

4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 cup milk (I used 3 parts whole to 1 part skim)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 cup light molasses

1 Tbsp grated orange zest

1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350. Pull out your 10″ springform pan (See? Guess who sells springforms? I own an entire set, so stick it W-S. Unfortunately, you can’t make this recipe, or any cheesecake for that matter, without one). Line the diameter and interior sides with aluminum foil using 2 pieces. Butter the foil. Sounds nutty, but this cake turned out beautifully.

In a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the 6 Tbsp of butter, and then add in 3/4 cup of brown sugar and stir until well blended. Pour into foil-lined pan and spread out evenly. Arrange the pear slices like the picture above, making 2 rows if your pears are too short to reach the center.

Sift together the dry ingredients in 1 bowl. In a 2nd bowl, combine the milk and vanilla. In a THIRD (triple ugh on the washing this recipe requires) mixer bowl, place the 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup of brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg. Add the molasses and orange zest and beat until fully combined. Mix in the dry ingredients and alternate adding the milk-vanilla in 2 batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients (thank you W-S…that is not needlessly complex AT ALL). Using a rubber spatula, fold in the crystallized ginger.

Pour over the pears without disturbing their placement.

Bake about 55 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Or until the special, silver-plated cake-toothpick they sold you at W-S for $19.95 comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes ($40 W-S cooling rack optional…mine works great and cost $4). Loosen the edges with a knife, unhinge your springform, and turn it out onto a cooling rack. Cool for 30 minutes.

I know I give Williams-Sonoma a hard time for being so overpriced, but I’m in love with this cake. I’m so tired of overly sweet cupcakes and pies with quadruple the sugar needed to enhance the flavor of the fruit. “Sugar” is not a flavor. I was so excited to finally find a dessert that isn’t chocolate covered chocolate with chocolate filling.

Hang in there with me (or hangover…I’m not here to judge), and we’ll keep eating. I mean…reviewing…what we ate. We ate so much. Oh God. We did, didn’t we? Wasn’t it just FABULOUS? Missed you guys. Hope your Christmas smelled as amazing as mine did. Godspeed us into the New Year!!

 

Tags: The Girls