Thursday, January 6, 2011
Christmas Food 2010
Well, that might be a tad bit specious. The fact is that I took almost NO pictures of the food this year. Something happened to me this year. I always complain about not having enough time at the holidays, but this year, I just gave up on some stuff. Like posting stuff here and at the websites that I usually frequent. I haven’t ever done that before. I haven’t decided yet if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Is it a bad thing because it means that I let go something that I love and that gives me pleasure? Or is it a good thing because it means I’m finally a grown up and realize that I have to prioritize and that I can’t do EVERYTHING? It is a perplexity.
NOTE: This ended up being a MUCH longer post than I had intended. I planned on just posting the pictures and a little explanation of each item. But, as usual, I’ve run on and told stories and reminisced. If you still want to read this, you might want to take it in nibbles!
Anyhoos – what is specious about this post is that a lot of the pictures are from last year. But I won’t post anything that I didn’t actually make and serve this year.
I break down my menu into three groups – goodies, Christmas Eve food and Christmas morning food.
Jessica’s Chocolate Chip cookies (didn’t get a shot of these)
Peanut Butter Cookies w/and w/out Kisses:
These cookies are one of the few things that I actually boast of. I’ve been perfecting the recipe for years.
What we call Sponge Monkey candy:
This is a lovely, crackly candy. The consistency is similar to one of our favorite English candies – the Crunchie bar!
Happy Accident candy:
The result of breaking up the sponge candy is a ton of delicious, but seemingly useless shards and crumbs. One year I had some leftover melted Cadbury milk chocolate and was inspired to mix in the bits from the sponge candy with the chocolate. The name of the candy is perfectly descriptive.
(This is one of the cheater pictures because I didn’t dip this in chocolate this year)
With fleur de sel on top. I always do a regular batch and then a spicy batch – this involves adding a tablespoon of Frank’s hot sauce at the end of cooking. This year Mr. Kim tried sprinkling the spicy ones with some Penzey’s Arizona seasoning. Neither of us felt that it added much.
The world’s easiest candy – just pretzels, Rolos and pecan halves. And it takes longer to unwrap the Rolos than it takes to cook the candy. These never last very long.
Decorated Sugar Cookies:
Most years I cheat with rolls of Pillsbury sugar cooky dough. I’ve never made a plain sugar cooky from scratch that tasted much better than those, but I’d really like to find a recipe that makes good sharp edges on the baked cookies. I tried a new recipe this year – something called ‘No-Fail’ sugar cookies. They tasted fine, but I still didn’t get those good edges. I’ll keep trying, I guess. I love beautiful sugar cookies at Christmas.
Aunt San’s Fudge:
I’ve loved this fudge all my life. I got the recipe from Aunt San over 35 years ago and have made it ever since. It is classic, creamy milk chocolate fudge – my favorite kind. Mr. Kim’s family fudge is the dry, gritty kind. Not my idea of fudge at all. I’ve tried to make it a couple of times, without much success. What I believe is that this evil fudge knows in its gritty, bitter little heart that I despise it and just refuses to work for me.
Reeses Cup Fudge:
I have always affirmed that if God made anything better than chocolate and peanut butter, He kept it for himself. This is fantastic fudge – a layer of peanut butter creaminess with a thin layer of Aunt San’s fudge on top.
I always make lots of these – they live in the freezer through the summer and make great additions to all kinds of salads.
Christmas Eve Menu
I used to make a whole turkey every Christmas Eve, stuffed with a sublime, traditional oyster dressing just like my paternal grandmother, Bebo, did. But with up to 50 guests, that just got to be too much to do last minute. A couple of years ago I decided to try to find a way to cook it ahead of time. So, on the 23rd, I cook two turkey breasts in the Nesco. We slice them and put them in a plastic bag with some chicken stock and store it in the fridge. I warm them up in a slow cooker on low on the 24th. Turns out to be the most moist, tender and flavorful turkey I’ve ever served. Do I miss the beautiful, brown, crisp skinned bird on my holiday table? Yep. Enough to go back to it? Nope.
I also cook the ham ahead of time. I bake it the way that I always do – in the Nesco with some Cocola in the bottom for about 2/3 of the time recommended. I slice and store in a plastic bag with some more Cocola. I usually serve the ham cold.
The other culinary item that I boast of. I make damn fine gravy. I’ve gone from a new bride that made the most insipid, floury, lumpy mess of a gravy. It was like a Spry shortening ad: “Oh, Aunt Jenny, Mr. Kim’s boss is coming for dinner and I’m ashamed of my gravy!”. With a lot of reading and practice and some wonderful advice from my MIL, Jo, I was able to finally GET the making of gravy. And I’ve perfected my turkey gravy to be one of the best things that I make.
My version of Paula Deen's Oyster Dressing:
This is one of the changes that I made when I was trying to make Christmas Eve easier and more ‘make ahead’. As I said before, I used to faithfully make Bebo’s oyster stuffing – the stuffing I’ve eaten every Christmas of my life. Dark, deep and rich with oysters, it is the best stuffing I’ve ever tasted. But this is very, very good. Especially since it is ‘dressing’ (baked in a pan) rather than ‘stuffing’ (baked in a turkey). Momma and I used to joke that turkey is really just a very, very good vessel for making the best stuffing in the world (neither of us is wild about roasted turkey).
Sour Cream Cheese Potatoes:
Not the most elegant picture, but it was all that I could find. My Christmas Eve dinner is basically a replica of the meal that Bebo traditionally served for Christmas night dinner. It was always one of my favorite meals. Bebo was NO cook. Spending the night with Bebo was a treat, but NOT because of the food. She was fun and had wonderful stories about wild parties in pre-WWII Washington. She had dance cards from White House galas and the most amazing assortment of old peek toe platform shoes and costume jewelry from Lord and Taylor. But her refrigerator only contained lemons, olives and maybe a pint of milk for morning coffee. If I wanted a cooky, my choice was between vanilla and ‘chocolate’ Metrical cookies. Does anyone even remember Metrical? It was the ancestor of Slim Fast. Diet shakes and ‘cookies’. Breakfast for Bebo was coffee and a Lark. She ate workday lunches in restaurants and dinner was out or ordered in. I guess the Metrical was for when she was too lazy for even that.
Anyway, Bebo cooked once a year. And knocked it out of the park every year. Bebo’s potatoes were always twice cooked cheese potatoes. You know the ones – baked potatoes with the innards scooped out, mixed with a little butter and Cheddar and mounded back in the potato skins and then baked again. I love these and made them for years for our Christmas Eve dinner. I’d make them ahead of time and freeze them. Then I’d thaw and heat them up to serve. Well, one year instead of the potatoes melting down, I did. They were still basically frozen when I went to put them in the oven a half an hour before dinner and I had a hissy fit. I mean a grande mal hissy fit. The children learned new words kind of hissy fit. Sigh. So I took a recipe for sour cream mashed potatoes and experimented with it. I added Cheddar and came up with something that I could freeze then reheat in a slow cooker on the day I want to serve them. These are easily the most popular item that I serve on Christmas Eve. No matter how many I make, the dish is scraped clean before the end of the evening. Even Ted loves them (he is a very picky Englishman).
Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon Syrup:
Another traditional Bebo dish. I make and serve the bourbon syrup separately because I am a bad GRITS and don’t like bourbon. I grew up thinking that I didn’t like sweet potatoes and it turned out that I like them just fine – what I didn’t like was the bourbon that Bebo always added. Momma always said that you could walk in the door Christmas night and tell how good the sweet potatoes were going to be by how tipsy Bebo was. Every time that she gave the potatoes a toot, she gave herself one, too.
Bebo’s Fruit Salad, orange cranberry sauce and relishes:
I have made some changes from tradition here, too. Bebo’s fruit salad consisted of canned fruit cocktail, Miracle Whip and a few chopped walnuts. I use fresh bananas, grapes, pears, apples, pineapple and frozen peaches. The only canned thing is mandarin oranges (I love them and besides, I have no interest in supreming oranges on Christmas Eve!). I also use tons of maraschino cherries – with fruit cocktail you were lucky to get one half of a cherry. I stick with the Miracle Whip and chopped walnuts – they are key to the flavor of this salad.
Bebo’s cranberry sauce was straight from a can – complete with the little can ridges on the side (Chris would have been very happy, Rachel). I make an easy sauce with fresh cranberries, orange zest and orange juice subbed for the water. And the stuff next to the celery in the green glass dish? Ambrosia. But its ambrosia made with cheese and mayonnaise rather than grapefruit and coconut. That is Rachel’s sublime ‘Paminna Cheese’. It’s the best pimento cheese that I’ve ever made and I’m so glad that she is so generous with recipes!
Green salad w/ two dressings and homemade croutons:
Green vegetables don’t interest me unduly on my every day dinner table and for a holiday celebration they seem positively out of place. Bebo always served green peas, straight from a can. Well, obviously THAT was out. For years I served yogurt marinated cucumbers and onions. I liked them a lot, but I’m not sure that everyone else did. Every year I ended up with a huge amount leftover – and they don’t save well. So a couple of years ago, I started serving a very simple green salad with two different salad dressings. The change was extremely popular – the salad bowl gets emptied every year. The dressings are bleu cheese and a sweet and sour paprika. The bleu cheese recipe came from Marlene at CooksKorner.com and the other is from Daddy. Both are fantastic.
Sister Shubert Rolls
The bread choice seems to change every year. I don’t remember, but I’m quite sure that Bebo’s rolls of choice were just supermarket brown and serve Parker House rolls. Mr. Kim’s mom makes phenomenal yeast rolls and some years she has brought them. Gerry, my mom’s best friend sometimes used to make brioche rolls when she was still with us. I also used to buy brioche rolls from Ukrops – a sadly defunct Richmond supermarket. Last year was a giant bag of rolls from Costco – ok, but nothing special. This year I had great plans to make Dorie Greenspan’s exquisite brioche rolls. I made a test batch of them after Thanksgiving and tested freezing them. They were wonderful and I was planning to make enough for Christmas Eve. Somehow that didn’t happen. So I went to the Sister. She makes really good rolls and they went down a treat. The last pan of rolls was the ‘forgotten dish’. Rachel, my Lawn Tea friend says that at every celebratory occasion there is a ‘forgotten dish’. The thing that you made earlier and tucked into the fridge to chill that never makes it to the table. Or, in my case, the final pan of rolls that went into the oven to replenish the table and were forgotten until they had turned into giant croutons. Sigh.
Lemon chess pie – no picture of this. I love chess pie and I love lemon, so this traditional Southern dessert is always a part of our celebration. Sweet, tart, toothsome.
Christmas Morning Breakfast
My quiche this year didn’t look like this. For years I’ve made these in little individual tart shells that I’ve always found frozen. Not one store in Richmond had them this year, so I just made regular sized ones. They were just as good, but not as cute.
I confess that I don’t make my own puff pastry (a retirement project, if I ever get there), but Trader Joe’s brand is darn good. I think this is probably a hand me down from the English branch of my family, because we are the only folks that make them that I know of. Lots of people make pigs in a blanket, but those are always with hot dogs or polish sausage-type piggies. These are made with breakfast sausage links.
Jo’s Candy Cane:
This tradition is from Mr. Kim’s family. It is his mother, Jo’s, sweet roll. Sweet dough stuffed with dried apricots and maraschino cherries and topped with a sweet glaze after baking. Jo makes these every year. One year, when we lived in Indiana, I tried to make one and it was NOT the thing of beauty that you see above. All my little dough points flopped out during baking and with the apricot and cherry filling it looked like some curled up eviscerated creature. Not nice.
Orange Roll Christmas Tree:
This is a silly thing that I started making when The Child was little. It is made from two rolls of Pillsbury Orange Danish rolls baked in the shape of a Christmas tree. It MUST be on the Christmas breakfast table, though no one professes to love it. However, I rarely find any left when I go to toss the leftovers a couple of days later!
Everything Bagels and Cream Cheese
Momma brings these. She has a café in her little NC town that makes some of the best bagels I’ve ever tasted. Go figure.
So that’s the story of the feasts. I didn’t mean to run on and on, but once I got started, I just couldn’t stop the stories and the memories!