Thanksgiving may be all about food (and football), but Christmas has myriad elements besides the Roast Beast. Gift presentations and all that oohing and aahing, to be more precise.
Growing up, we had a turkey dinner on both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am not allowed to repeat that tradition. For Dec. 25, "they" want an entirely different menu, and usually something different every year.
Serves me right. I created these monsters, albeit adorable ones. My mother used to call it being "hoisted on your own petard." Look it up.
It's not so bad, these days, as the little dears really seem to enjoy cooking together. So we do a co-op meal, with some of the elements cooked solo on their stoves and some cooked tout ensemble here at my place.
Whether you're on your own prepping the holiday meal this year or enlist help from family and friends, we proffer some elements from Christmases past at our house. No matter how your holiday takes shape, though, it's a good idea to keep in mind that it is the loving people with whom you spend your day(s) that makes the "season" something to anticipate every year. We wish you the warmest and merriest ever.
You can make this up to three days ahead. Bring to room temperature before serving. Besides the cheese wafers, you'll want to provide French bread toasts and/or crackers for spreading the pate.
1/3 cup each, dried currants and pistachio nut meats
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 stick unsalted butter
2 pounds chicken livers, trimmed
1/2 cup cognac or brandy
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
Pinch of ground allspice
In a bowl, cover currants with boiling water. Let stand 5 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
In a non-stick skillet, dry-roast pistachio nuts for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Watch carefully. Stir now and then. Let cool and chop finely. Keep currants and pistachios handy.
In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium heat, cook onion and garlic in butter until softened, about 5 minutes. Pat chicken livers dry, Add to skillet with onions/garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until barely pink inside, about 12 minutes. Add cognac and simmer 3 minutes. Transfer to a food processor (in batches, if need be). Add nutmeg, pepper and allspice. Puree mixture until very smooth. Cool.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in currants and pistachios. Pat pate into a large crock or 2 smaller ones. Cover surface with plastic wrap and chill well, about 6 hours. Makes about 3 cups.
These are nothing more than melted cheese, with nuts and herbs for extra flavor. If making ahead, cool completely and wrap in layers between wax paper. Overwrap with plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature before serving.
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyere cheese (best quality), about 5 ounces
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon each, coarsely chopped fresh thyme and rosemary, mixed
Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheets, divide gruyere into 32 small mounds (16 per sheet). Sprinkle some walnuts onto each mound. Sprinkle on the thyme and rosemary mixture. Bake about 5 minutes, switching shelves halfway through baking time, until wafers are a pale gold. Remove to a cooling rack and cool 1 minute. Carefully remove with a spatula onto a cooling rack and cool completely. Makes 32 wafers.
Stuffed pork roast
We use two pork roasts rather than a crown roast, so that we can put some of the stuffing between each rib rather than just in the center of the roast. As you may have noticed, we're big fans of nuts at our place, so we use more nuts in our stuffing, along with some dried fruit and some sausage. Oh, and some more cognac. This main event is a rich, fragrant, moist, tender treat.
Make the stuffing ahead and refrigerate. Use the microwave to bring to room temperature before stuffing the pork.
1/4 cup each pine nuts and chopped pecans, toasted in pie plate at 350 degrees for 3 minutes
1 cup brandy
12 each, dried apricots and figs
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 pound mild breakfast sausage
4 tablespoons olive oil (extra-virgin, of course), divided
4 garlic cloves, minced
Freshly ground pepper
2 (6-rib) pork loin roasts (about 8 pounds total)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced thyme
1 teaspoon rubbed sage
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups reduced-fat/sodium chicken broth
In a small saucepan, bring brandy to a simmer. Add apricots and figs, cover and simmer 2 minutes. Add orange zest, remove from heat and let stand 20 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer fruit to a work surface. Simmer brandy over medium heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 7 minutes. Cut apricots and figs into sixths.
In a large, non-stick skillet, cook sausage until no longer pink, breaking up large pieces as sausage cooks, about 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to a food processor and process until fairly finely ground. Transfer to a large bowl. Wipe out skillet.
In the same skillet used for sausage, over medium, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes. Stir in sausage in bowl. Add nuts, apricots and figs to bowl. Then add the reduced brandy. Add some pepper. Taste for balance. Add salt if you absolutely must.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Use a very sharp knife to cut a 3 1/2-inch pocket along the length of each roast, sliding the knife between the bones and the meat. Fill pockets with stuffing. Place roasts on a large, rimmed baking sheet, rib bones up. Rub roasts with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle on thyme and sage.
Tent roasts with foil. Roast pork for about 1 3/4 hours, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Remove foil for the last 35 minutes of cooking. Roast until an insta-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of each roast registers 140 degrees. Transfer roasts to a carving board, and let rest 15 to 20 minutes before carving.
For the gravy, tilt baking sheet and pour off most of the fat. Add a little chicken broth and scrape browned bits into a medium saucepan. Whisk in flour until smooth. Add remaining chicken broth, reduce heat to low and simmer, whisking often, until gravy is thickened but has no flour-y taste, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasonings, adding more herbs, pepper and/or salt if needed. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Make the pudding ahead (you have to chill it at least 3 hours anyway). Whip the cream and put the trifle together no more than a half-hour before serving.
Most supermarket bakeries have ladyfingers this time of year.
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup dry sherry
3 egg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 packages ladyfingers (about 3 ounces each package)
1/2 cup seedless raspberry preserves
1 (12-ounce) package frozen strawberries, thawed
1 cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons shaved bittersweet chocolate, garnish
2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds, garnish
For the pudding, in a 3-quart saucepan, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt. Over medium heat, gradually stir in milk and sherry and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir at least half the hot mixture into bowl with beaten egg yolks, stirring constantly so you don't "cook" the yolks. Stir egg yolk/milk mixture back into saucepan. Boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in butter and vanilla. Remove to a bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours.
To assemble, cut ladyfingers lengthwise into halves. Spread each half with a little raspberry preserves. Into a 2-quart serving bowl (preferably made of clear glass), layer 1/4 of the ladyfingers (cut sides up), half the strawberries and half the pudding.
Arrange remaining ladyfingers in an upright position atop the first layer of ladyfingers; place cut sides of these ladyfingers toward the center. You may have to gently easy ladyfingers down into the pudding about an inch or so that they remain upright. Cover and refrigerate.
Using an electric mixer and a chilled bowl, beat chilled whipping cream with the 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff; don't overbeat or you'll make butter (trust me, I know).
To serve, remove trifle from the refrigerator, spread sweetened whipped cream over center of trifle, then sprinkle shaved chocolate and toasted, slivered almonds. Makes 8 or more servings.