Christmas comfort foods. December 23, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: Christmas appetizers, Christmas comfort foods, Christmas desserts, Christmas recipes, Christmas side dishes, corn pudding, cranberry sauce, delicious dressing, endive boats, favorite Christmas foods, traditional Christmas foods
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!
Is cranberry sauce supposed to be bitter? November 18, 2011Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce recipe, Thanksgiving Dinner, Thanksgiving side dishes, uses for cranberry sauce
Silence Dogood here. This reader query really struck a chord with me and our friend Ben, lovers of cranberry sauce that we are. Because, you see, we weren’t always devotees of homemade cranberry sauce. And that’s because most homemade cranberry sauces are too bitter.
Let me clarify: Cranberries are inherently bitter. That’s why we don’t eat them raw by the handful like, say, blueberries or cherries. You can still taste a hint of bitterness under the cups of sugar (or, gack, high-fructose corn syrup) in most cranberry juice. You can taste it in dried cranberries (aka craisins), sweet and delicious as they are. And yes, you can taste it in cranberry sauce. But it shouldn’t dominate the flavor of the sauce, any more than it dominates the juice or craisins. And too often it does.
The cranberry sauce OFB and I grew up with was pretty similar. Our mothers put bags of cranberries (just the berries, not the bags, mind you) in water, added orange sections, whole cloves, sugar, and cinnamon sticks, brought the mixture to a boil, and cooked it down. The result was beautiful, aromatic, and bitter. As children, we both passed on the homemade sauce and went for the canned cranberry “jelly,” and yes, we do still love that stuff, which somehow isn’t bitter.
We understand that, in the North, some families make a chopped raw cranberry relish for Thanksgiving. We can’t even begin to imagine how bitter that must be! But before fans of cranberry relish and traditional cranberry sauce take up their cudgels against us, let me clarify one point: I think that the whole original appeal of cranberry sauce was its bitterness.
This concept completely eluded me as a child, and almost escaped me as a vegetarian, but eventually my carnivorous roots came to my rescue and reminded me that a certain amount of bitterness can really enhance a rich meat. Roast turkey, duck, and pork are prime candidates for a bitter/tart cranberry sauce or relish served as an enhancement to the meat, a condiment, much like mint sauce with lamb. It’s only when you separate the meat and cranberries that you lose the connection and the bitterness becomes a drawback.
So, dear reader, cranberry sauce was indeed supposed to be bitter. But that doesn’t mean it has to be bitter! My cranberry sauce is sweet and delicious, and there’s not a cup of sugar or corn syrup in sight. (It’s adapted from a recipe by Dorie Greenspan that’s been given the “Silence treatment.” Thank you, Dorie!) If you’re looking for a sweet, succulent cranberry sauce, try this, you’ll love it:
Silence’s Supreme Cranberry Sauce
2 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries
1 12-ounce jar apricot preserves
16 ounces orange juice
1/2 cup dried diced apricots
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
2 cinnamon sticks
heaping 2 tablespoons ginger paste or 2 slices diced crystallized ginger or minced fresh ginger
Rinse and drain cranberries and put them in a large, heavy pot. Pour in orange juice and Grand Marnier. Add diced apricots, apricot preserves, cinnamon sticks, and ginger. Stir well to mix, then cook over low heat until cranberries “pop” and mixture thickens. Allow to cool (it will continue to thicken as it cools), then pour into containers and refrigerate until needed. Keeps very well. Serves up to 12 (fewer if you love cranberry sauce like we do).
Because this sauce is so bold and flavorful, we find that it makes a wonderful accompaniment long after Thanksgiving dinner is a memory. Try it with bland but rich dishes like Fettucine Alfredo or a simple creamy pasta. (Served with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and mushrooms and a big, crunchy salad, this is a recipe for cold-weather bliss!) We find my fabulous cranberry dressing far too good to serve just once a year (don’t worry, I’ll be posting the recipe in plenty of time for Thanksgiving!), and it’s delicious served with mashed potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes and this cranberry sauce.
Getting back to the whole cranberry sauce/rich meat thing, let me leave you with a thought: If I were serving up cranberry sauce specifically to eat with a turkey or pork roast, I’d make it like this: Saute diced sweet onion in butter until it clarifies. Add curry powder, salt, and lots of cracked black pepper. Add fresh cranberries, maple syrup, and a splash of chicken stock. Cook down on low, adding more chicken stock as needed. You could sub chipotle powder for the curry powder if you’d like to heat things up, and/or cook bacon instead of melting butter, sauteeing the onion in the bacon drippings and removing the bacon and dicing it before adding it back to the pan. The sweet/savory/spicy cranberry sauce you’d get with this approach would perfectly balance fowl or pork.
OFB and I will stick with my own recipe, though. In addition to serving it as a side dish, we can use it as a topping on cheesecake or vanilla ice cream or pumpkin bread, or layer it in a vanilla or pumpkin or chocolate torte.
Bitter? Not my sauce!
‘Til next time,
Ultimate cranberry sauce. December 6, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: best cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce recipe, homemade cranberry sauce
1 comment so far
Silence Dogood here. For Thanksgiving week, I posted a recipe from Parade magazine created by Dorie Greenspan (see “Thanksgiving: Cranberry sauce and beyond” for the original recipe). Our friend Ben and I aren’t fans of traditional cranberry sauce because it tends to be bitter, but this recipe looked like it would be sweet and flavorful. I was up for it.
So, for Thanksgiving this year, I made Dorie’s cranberry sauce. It was in fact yummy and not bitter at all. Everyone loved it. But I thought it was a bit too sweet and a bit too bland, and I felt in my bones that I could do better. And yes, indeed I did. The cranberry sauce I evolved from Dorie’s original is spicy and orangey without being at all bitter, and it brings out the wonderful flavor and glossy, jewel-like brilliance of the cranberries without obliterating the supplementary flavors.
So, what did I do? I cut out all the sugar (after all, we were already using sweet orange juice and apricot preserves), doubled the orange juice, added cinnamon sticks, used ginger paste (or crystallized ginger or fresh minced ginger) instead of powdered, and used an entire 12-ounce jar of apricot preserves instead of 8 ounces. Oh, and I added Grand Marnier. To my tastebuds, it’s the ultimate. Try it this Christmas and see what you think!
Silence’s Ultimate Cranberry Sauce
2 12-oz. bags fresh cranberries*
1 12-oz. jar apricot preserves
16 oz. orange juice
1/2 cup diced dried apricots
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
2 cinnamon sticks
1 heaping tablespoon ginger paste, or 2 slices diced crystallized or minced fresh ginger
Rinse and drain cranberries and put them in a large, heavy pot. (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this.) Pour in orange juice and Grand Marnier. Add diced apricots, apricot preserves, cinnamon sticks, and ginger. Stir well to mix, then cook over low heat until cranberries “pop” and mixture thickens. Allow to cool, then pour into the container(s) of your choice and refrigerate until ready to eat. Serves 12, at any number of meals in any configuration. (Which is to say, we poured ours into two serving dishes and served one at a meal for six, and doled out the other over three meals for two.)
Try this, and let me know what you think!
‘Til next time,
* I’ve read some pretty convincing statements that frozen cranberries are actually better in cranberry sauce than fresh berries, but have never seen frozen cranberries available in any stores around here. If you’ve used them, I’d appreciate hearing your opinion!—Silence
Thanksgiving: Cranberry sauce and beyond. November 22, 2009Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
Tags: cranberries, cranberry sauce, Thanksgiving recipes
Silence Dogood here, kicking off a week of Thanksgiving recipes with that classic, cranberry sauce. Our friend Ben and I grew up in households where our mamas lovingly made cranberry sauce for every Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their recipes were pretty similar—fresh cranberries, oranges, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and cloves, cooked up into a glittering but bitter dish served up in elegant cut-crystal dishes. Yes, they looked gorgeous. No, we didn’t like them. We’d take that canned cranberry jelly any day.
So, how do you make cranberry sauce without making it bitter? I saw a recipe in the Parade magazine last week that I thought would do the trick, from noted food author Dorie Greenspan. I plan to try it this Thanksgiving (with the changes I’ve noted in the recipe). You might want to as well.
Dorie Greenspan’s Cranberry Sauce
2 bags (12 oz. each) fresh cranberries [Note from Silence: I have read emphatic assertions that frozen cranberries are actually better than fresh cranberries in cranberry sauce. I didn't even realize there were frozen cranberries, but I might try them if I find them and see what I think.]
1 cup orange juice
1 cup apricot jam
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. powdered ginger [Note from Silence: No way! I'd mince either fresh or crystallized ginger and add it instead.]
1/4 pound dried apricots, finely diced
[Note from Silence: I'd at least think about adding 1/2 cup of dried cranberries---aka "craisins"---or dried tart cherries, too. And I know plenty of folks add a splash of Grand Marnier in their cranberry sauce. We've never done it, but can't hurt, might help should you choose to try it.]
Stir all the ingredients together in a large, heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the berries pop and the sauce starts to thicken—it will thicken much more as it cools—about 8 minutes. Cool to room temperature, cover, and chill.
Okay, sounds easy and good, right? But you might want to halve the amount—Dorie claims this recipe serves 20. (It certainly wouldn’t here! We love our cranberry sauce.)
FYI, we posted lots of great Thanksgiving recipes and resources back in November 2008. To access them, use our search bar to look for the ones that speak to you: “Putting some heat in your Thanksgiving celebration,” “Curried pumpkin soup,” “Try this with turkey,” “Cookbooks to be thankful for, parts 1-3,” Silence’s Chili Surprise,” “Fabulous easy salad dressing,” “A good day for baking cookies,” “Pumpkin chili, glazed carrots, and sweet potato souffle,” “Time for pumpkin bread!”, “Picking pumpkins,” and “Silence’s Amazing Cranberry Stuffing.”
Meanwhile, keep an eye on this site for recipes and lore that will take you to Turkey Day and on towards Christmas! And please, we’d love it if you’d share some of your own favorite Thanksgiving recipes with us.
‘Til next time,