A Mad, Merry Dash to Christmas or a Frenzied, Fervid Rush to the Cash Register?

December 21, 2010 at 3:54 am 2 comments

Like many of you, I am discouraged by the “commercial sprawl” that has ads for Christmas indulgences seeping into mid-October. Being a rebel at heart, I stubbed my toe more than once between October 21 and November 26th, racing for the remote to mute the yuletide-themed commercials insinuating themselves into my consciousness well before their time.

I’ll grant that winter weather is definitely with us. The second Saturday of this month arrived at 19° degrees (a virtual 5° with the 25-30 mile an hour winds) with a snowfall rate of 1-2” per hour that delivered an 18” accumulation by Sunday morning. But still, the premature storm of holiday spending whipped up by Madison Avenue has some strange effects, such as the neighbor’s plopping a Santa hat on his porch step jack-o-lantern and our local Garage Logician wishing everyone a Happy Hanaramakwansmas.

“You can slow down and find some peace,” I chant repetitively as I inhale (1-2-3-4), hold (1-2-3-4-5-6-7), and exhale (1-2-3-4) and start pulling gear out of the closet for my midday walk. Peering out the picture window onto the weird white winter wonderlandscape, my pup and I “wonder” whether we really want to leave the warmth of our cozy Kirknest to venture out into it.

“Even ye of the asbestos bladder cannot hold it for the next four months,” I remind my furry walking companion. So into cold-weather garb I stuff myself, giving new meaning to the phrase “the layered look.” Once wrapped in a quilted parka with my baseball cap on (for sun shielding), the hood from my sweater in use (for neck warmth), and my Dollar Store space alien sunglasses in place (for UV protection), I get a glimpse of the Unabomber staring back at me from our entryway mirror. I scare myself at this point, and I haven’t even encountered any neighborhood children yet.

 As I goose-step my way over snow-crusted walking paths, I mull over the holiday that has just whizzed past with so little fanfare, and decide to take back the holidays by revisiting Thanksgiving, making today’s subtitle Turkey Day Travails and Triumphs. With my helpful, downloaded “Countdown to Thanksgiving” checklist in hand, and after more years of cooking than I care to specify here, I thought I would have this feast down pat. Not so, perhaps because I will insist on trying out new recipes when I have twelve dinner guests sitting at my table. But there were some royal successes, too, so I will share both with you for your “helpful-and/or-amusing hints” file.

Not-So-Hot Ideas:

Basting a turkey with soy sauce, bourbon, and honey. This sounded to me like a luscious amalgam of several suggested approaches to getting that golden-glazed result we all strive for. Not so, as the soy sauce causes the skin to brown way too fast and you end up with turkey jerky instead of drumsticks and skin so dark it all has to be stripped and discarded – in spite of the foil tent. It also took me (and I am not taking literary license here) eight consecutive days of soaking and scraping and soaking and scouring to get the baked-on, caramelized honey off the bottom of my roasting pan.

My rescue plan was to reheat any slightly dry turkey meat in a hot bath of chicken broth, which does wonders to revive and moisten. I was ready to try this remedy on myself by the end of the day on 11/25.

Planning too many side dishes. I spent unnecessary time and effort making two types of cranberry sauce because I wanted to try a chutney and spices version alongside the traditional, and the gallon of red cabbage, red onion, and green apple relish got abandoned in the microwave after re-warming – lost in the rush and its absence unnoticed until I was almost ready to serve dessert. I love this stuff, but it gets a little old after two weeks of trying to work leftovers into every-other meal. Cinnamon-raisin oatmeal and cabbage, anyone?

Warming bread in a crock pot is a mixed proposition. It’s a great suggestion, but be sure to leave the bread in there no longer than the recommended thirty minutes. Even a crock pot on low will scorch its dry contents after 60-70 minutes, if you end up delayed while uncooperative menu items take longer than planned.

Really-Really-Good Ideas:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Grapes involve tossing 2# of sprouts, trimmed and halved, with 1# green grapes (mine had been in the freezer since last summer, when I overbought) in 2TB olive oil, ½ tsp kosher salt, ¼ tsp pepper, and ½ tsp garlic powder, and marinating overnight for day-ahead ease of preparation. Day-of, simply roast them all in a large flat pan at 375° for 25-35 minutes. This dish appealed to both the “tiny cabbage” lovers and the skeptics.

Garlic-Laced Lemon-Dressed Green Beans have shown up here before, but not with this lovely topping of Oven-Crisped Shallots. I sliced three large, peeled shallots crosswise into 1/4” rings, sprayed them well with canola oil, and crisped them in a 400° oven for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until evenly browned and crisp. At this point, you can salt and pepper them to taste, cool, then refrigerate them for several days, alongside the dressing: one clove of garlic, minced; 2 TB olive oil; 2 TB fresh lemon juice. Shake well. Refrigerate. Day-of, re-warm the shallots in a 350° oven for 10-15 minutes, cook up a large pot of green beans (I use the frozen Sam’s Club version with good enough results that and everyone assumes they are fresh), drain, and toss with the dressing. Sprinkle shallot crisps on top.

Red Onion and Red Cabbage-Apple Relish takes a surprising turn for the better when you add apple cider to the mix. A day or two ahead, saute a sliced large red onion in 1 TB olive oil and 1 TB butter for 5-6 minutes then stir in one medium red cabbage sliced thin and 2 shredded green apples and continue cooking for another 5-6 minutes. Combine in a large measuring cup ¼ C cider vinegar, ½ C apple cider, 20 drops of liquid stevia (or 2 tsp white sugar), and 2 tsp caraway seeds. Pour over cabbage mixture and toss to combine well. Store tightly covered.

Day-of, bring to room temperature and then reheat in a microwave for up to five minutes on high, stirring half-way through. And you may choose to set a back-up timer, so they don’t get left behind in the flurry of setting, seating, and serving. I’m jus’ sayin’…

-I also served a Bacon Cheddar Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuit using the recipe posted at www.cookingforseven.com.  which I altered by using white whole wheat flour (vs. whole wheat pastry flour) and into which I brazenly mixed 2 ounces of grated white cheddar and 2 strips of extremely crisp, finely crumbled bacon. The biscuits remained light with a hint of extra richness from the additions. Savory indeed.

-And saving the very best for the very last, our desserts this year were eyelid-fluttering successes. One would do, but two were even better, since we have some coconut-shunning family members – which just left more of the fabulous Coconut Chocolate Pecan Pie for the rest of us. The additions of chocolate chips and flaked coconut somehow creates a lighter, less cloying result than standard pecan pie, with its gooey corn syrup-dominated foundation.

You’ll find this exquisite recipe at http://www.bhg.com/recipe/pies/coconut-chocolate-pecan-pie/. However I recommend that you use the recipe provided by pastry chef Alan Carter on page 178 of the November 2010 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine for the best pie crust I have ever made or eaten. (Or try BHG.com/alancarterdesserts if you can’t lay your hands on a copy.)

There is an episode of Julia Child’s Baking with Julia in which her guest co-host makes a brioche-based dessert with several different custardy/creamy fillings and toppings which literally brings the maven of French cooking in America to tears upon tasting. When I laid a small scoop of vanilla ice cream next to a medium slice of this better-than-pecan pie in my first-ever perfect crust, waited a few minutes to admire the sight and let the ice cream relax into the filling, then took my first well-anticipated bite, I understood her reaction completely.

-Our last hurrah of the day was a lovely Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake found at epicurious.com. I again substituted white whole wheat flour and used evaporated skim milk soured with a few teaspoons of lemon juice instead of the buttermilk called for, but I almost had another absurdly sublime  transporting moment a week or so later when I did this: sliced a piece of the bundt cake about 2-1/2” wide and then sliced that in two and warmed it (a toaster oven would work very well); thinned a bit of homemade hot fudge sauce with an equal amount of crème de Cocoa and broke10-12 pecan halves into pieces with my fingers; laid the two warmed cake slices in a flat-bottomed bowl and topped them with two scoops of Stoneridge Creamery’s Caramel Cheesecake Ice Cream, then the warm fudge mixture, then the pecan bits.

This ice cream is subtly tinged with caramel and a whisper of cheesecake essence, with no chunks or candy-swirls to overdo things, and it is the perfect pairing for the flavors in the spice cake. Heavenly. And here I was criticizing advertisers for encouraging self-indulgence. Who needs them when you can take the occasional wallow in chocolate and pecans without going bankrupt?

Entry filed under: Musings of a Midwestern Foodie. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

When Evil Masquerades as Religion Christmas Passed…Or Did It?

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Trish Law  |  December 21, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Sueanne….Love your descriptions! You are so funny, and I can totally relate! Thanks for the recipes…..especially the coconut chocolate pecan pie. Yummmmmm!

  • 2. Keith  |  December 21, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    no doubt about it, the Unabomber look is for you!


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