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Christmas comfort foods. December 23, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. I’m sure we all have foods that say Christmas to us. Some even feel that Christmas isn’t Christmas without (shudder) fruitcake; even some of our friend Ben’s and my relatives fall into this unfortunate category. But OFB and I do have a long list of yummy foods that we love to at least think about every Christmas (as you’ll see, it’s a bit much to try to make them all every Christmas).

Mind you, sometimes unseasonal comfort foods can somehow find their way into Christmas celebrations. Last night, for example, OFB and I celebrated Christmas at good friends’ with a chili cook-off, cornbread, rice, and a big, crunchy salad. Not exactly what we think of as Christmas food, but my, it was good!

Getting back to Christmas foods, here are some of our favorites. Let’s start with appetizers:

* Endive boats. These luscious appetizers taste rich, decadent, and seasonal, but aren’t at all filling, unlike, say, crackers and cheese (see below). To make them, split off the larger leaves of a head of endive (you can chop the rest into a salad). Fill each leaf with a mix of crumbled feta and gorgonzola or blue cheese, pecan pieces, a few dried cranberries (craisins), and fresh-ground or cracked black pepper. So easy, so festive, so good!

* Cheese and crackers. Okay, you really shouldn’t serve these unless supper is several hours off. And normally, if we’re having crackers, we opt for whole-grain goodness, such as Triscuits or Ak-Maks. But at Christmas, we say to heck with that. We break out the table water and Ritz crackers and the once-yearly port wine cheese log (rolled in pecans), pour a glass of port, and go for it. Of course, we serve the plates with sliced apples to try to salve our consciences.

* Cheese and nuts. A very sharp white Cheddar (Black Diamond comes to mind) or aged Asiago with almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and/or cashews is our idea of indulgence. As with the cheese and cracker alternative, we like to serve them with port (our favorite is Sandeman’s tawny port) and sliced apples or dried apricots. (Extra points for glaceed Australian apricots. Yum!!!)

* Baked Brie. This is so decadent, it’s almost sinful. Bake a round of Brie, topped with brown sugar, until the cheese is oozy and melted, then spread it on baguette rounds and enjoy with a glass of dry Riesling. Heaven! But please, don’t try it just before Christmas dinner. If you like to have Christmas dinner midday, however, it’s always an option around suppertime.

There are, obviously, plenty of other delightful appetizers. Sliced baguettes topped with tapenade; crudites (we especially like carrots, broccoli florets, endive leaves, red, orange and yellow bell pepper strips, radish slices, and cucumber slices) dipped in hummus or tzatziki sauce or blue cheese dressing; thin-sliced rye, pumpernickel, or Irish brown bread topped with cheese topped with whole-grain mustard, served with an assortment of olives and pickles; puff pastry filled with cream cheese and topped with marmalade (or caviar, for you meat-eaters) and served with champagne.  The list is endless.

We don’t do soup on Christmas, since our favorite Christmas soup is curried pumpkin soup, made with anise liqueuer and cream and very rich, a meal in itself if served with rice or dinner rolls. But we do consider it a Christmas comfort food, and excellent option for Christmas Eve supper or for the night of the 26th. So let’s move on to salads:

* Winter slaw. We enjoy this rich variation on cole slaw with our winter meals. You wouldn’t want to serve our endive boats as appetizers and follow them with this, but if you choose another appetizer, this makes a festive, colorful alternative to a tossed salad. To make it, combine a package of shredded carrots, two packs of shredded purple cabbage, half a diced sweet onion, a diced yellow, orange, or red bell pepper, a container of crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, a handful of salted, roasted, hulled pepitas (pumpkinseeds) or sunflower seeds, cracked fennel seeds, whole cumin seeds, Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt), and cracked black pepper. Drizzle on extra-virgin olive oil, toss to mix, and serve.

* The classic wedge. This is another indulgence we never have unless it’s Christmas or on the road, since it’s so much less nutrtious than a well-planned tossed salad. But for Christmas, it’s a perfect comfort food. To make it, cut a (washed, please) head of Iceberg lettuce in quarters. Top each quarter with crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and cracked black pepper. Another fave that’s so simple but so good!

* Christmas salad. If you’re going to make a tossed salad for Christmas, why not make it special. We like to make a hearty, rich tossed salad for Christmas, with a base of arugula, radicchio, frisee, endive, watercress, and Romaine, topped with everything imaginable, from scallions, cherry tomatoes, diced bell peppers of every color, sliced hardboiled eggs, olives, shredded, cumbled, and cubed cheeses, artichokes, cukes, pepitas, radishes, diced sweet or Spanish (purple) onions, plus various nut and fruit options, like Mandarin orange slices, candied pecans, diced apples, pears, or persimmons, chopped dried fruits, paired with the appropriate nut or nut mixes. We of  course enjoy shredded or crumbled or cubed cheeses on top of our salads, too, not to mention an assortment of fresh herbs and some minced garlic. The real point is mixing ingredients that go well together, as opposed to, say, minced garlic and dried cranberries.

Moving on from salads to what we consider to be the heart of the meal, which of course includes OFB’s hot dinner rolls and would have had a roast turkey when we were growing up, here are the dishes we feel simply must be served at our Christmas dinner: 

 * Potatoes. Mashed, baked, roasted, sweet, white, gold, we’re not picky when it comes to potatoes, as long as we have some. But in the past few years we’ve had a mashed Yukon Gold/Butternut squash mix with Gruyere cheese and other yummy seasonings. So good, and so good for you! You can find the recipe by typing “Ultimate Thanksgiving mashed potatoes (plus)” in our search bar at upper right.

* Corn pudding. We love custardy corn pudding  as a decadent winter indulgence, served here at Hawk’s Haven only at Christmas. I’ve made it with Cope’s dried sweet corn, frozen corn niblets, or fresh corn cut off the cob, depending on my mood, and every version is good. Choose your favorite!

* Green beans. Okay, I know lots of folks feel compelled to make that horrid green bean casserole with the canned cream of mushroom soup. But why?!! Here at Hawk’s Haven, we love green beans at Christmas, too, but we simply boil them, then toss them with butter, salt and pepper, and serve. So simple, and a light side instead of a suffocating calorie hit that isn’t even good. Roasted Brussels sprouts, roasted green and white asparagus, or boiled broccoli or broccoflower with lemon juice, butter, salt, and pepper would also be delicious. 

* Dressing. Since we don’t stuff a turkey, we’re able to indulge in a rich, luscious dressing that we bake in a casserole dish, so the outside is crunchy and the inside is tender. It’s one of my all-time favorites, so I suggest that you search our earlier post “Delicious Thanksgiving dressing” for the recipe. Try it, please! It’s so good.    

* Cranberry sauce. Nothing like homemade cranberry sauce to set off a Christmas meal! At least, when it isn’t bitter or sour. My marvelous cranberry sauce is sweet, flavorful, and delicious, and it’s so easy to make. (See our post, “Is cranberry sauce supposed to be bitter?” for the recipe.)

Time to move on to dessert. Yikes, there are so many, and all say “comfort” to us!

* Simms Family Eggnog. Our friend Ben’s family celebates Christmas with a potent Bourbon-laced eggnog that’s so rich, you have to eat it with a spoon. But trust me, that’s no hardship! Search for the recipe on our search bar and try it for yourself.

* Boiled custard. A rich, non-alcoholic blend of eggs, cream, vanilla, and sugar that soothed the sore throats of childhood and was so delicious it’s hard to choose between it and OFB’s family eggnog.

*Homemade fudge. My beloved Mama made homemade chocolate fudge every Christmas. Made with real chocolate, butter, and vanilla, it was so good I can recall its rich, crystalline texture and flavor to this day. So very different from storebought fudge with its stale, gummy texture and flavor. And so easy to make it’s a disgrace to make it gummy and gross! Yucko.

* Penuche. I don’t know where this word came from, or how it came to be associated with the brown sugar fudge served at Christmas, but it is so delicious (especially spiked with Bourbon)  that it’s an entrenched family tradition with both my family and OFB’s. My mother got her recipe from an ancient copy of The Joy of Cooking, but you might want to purchase yours ready-made from the good monks of the Abbey of Gethsemane.

* Pecan pie. Our friend Ben’s favorite winter dessert. And so fast and easy to make. Top with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and enjoy the compliments!

There are so many more cold-season comfort foods, from mac’n’cheese to hot toddys, but hopefully this will at least get you thinking about yours. Please share them with us!

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Comments»

1. pixilated2 - December 23, 2011

Hahahaaa! “…minced garlic and dried cranberries.” My sister would do that. In fact, if given the opportunity she would put a bit of every ingredient you listed above into her salad bowl. Can you say GAAACK? ;) I’m with you on everything but the eggnog. I never could understand the beverage’s popularity. Oh, but pecan pie? Mmmmm… Made all the better by replacing the corn syrup with pure cane sugar syrup (a luxury I have discovered here in the deep south). OK, I gotta go get a cloth the wipe the drool off of my keyboard now… and then I gotta go EAT something! ;) ~ Lynda

Ha! Gack is right, Lynda! And I don’t blame you for not liking the slippery-slimy, nutmeg-flavored atrocity that passes for eggnog in most homes. But before you totally condemn eggnog, you really should try the Simms Family Eggnog. I’d not heard of pure cane sugar syrup, but will keep an eye out. Thanks!

2. Christmas comfort foods. « Poor Richard's Almanac – Growing Green Beans - December 23, 2011

[...] Haven, we love green beans at Christmas, too, but we simply boil … … More here: Christmas comfort foods. « Poor Richard's Almanac ← Gardening Tips for the [...]

3. h.ibrahim - December 24, 2011

Did you know that July 22nd is Penuche Day in the US?

That’s news to me! Yum…


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