Vince Guaraldi is a wonderful composer and musician who brought us the music for “A Charlie Brown Christmas”. Always helps to put me in the spirit. Don’t let the holidays overwhelm you. Step out of your comfort zone and invent a new tradition for family and friends. Perhaps try a new recipe, host a small casual dinner party or just create a simple new decoration with greens from your yard (or the park). Most of all remember what Christmas is all about and enjoy this beautiful holiday season.
I have always been interested in the cuisine that other countries serve as part of their Christmas traditions. I recently met a fine British couple, Hazel and John (again at the Zijps). All of us at the table shared a common interest in cooking. We talked about ‘figgy’ pudding, plum pudding and now what in England is simply called ‘Christmas pudding’.
Plum pudding actually does not contain plums or have the consistency of a pudding (I will call it pudding as that is what the recipes are named). It refers to a customary dessert made with dried fruit. Some recipes have been handed down through families for generations and would never be excluded from the Christmas dinner.
Historically there were some wonderful customs in medieval England in association with plum pudding. For example, the pudding would be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. Also by tradition, every family member would stir the pudding from east to west to honor the Magi and their supposed journey in that direction. At times even a wish would be made while stirring the mixture. And of course Charles Dickens mentions the pudding in “A Christmas Carol”.
Many Christmas pudding recipes I found online were very heavy, dark in color and similar to fruitcake. If you have British ancestors and feel compelled to include this pudding in your celebration, please refer to Britishfood.about.com. I love tradition but personally, this is not my cup of tea. I mention it in the post only for its history and reference to the fun evening we had with friends.
Unless you love to cook like I do, the idea of even a casual get-together at the holidays can seem daunting especially after work, shopping, decorating, etc. Excuses be had! It can fun and stress free if you plan ahead. My friend, Linda E. is the queen of appetizer ‘happy hours’. We rarely eat dinner after leaving the Easters. Linda prepares most of her dishes but make things easy on yourself and purchase some foods already prepared. The rest can be simple small bites that you can whip up in a snap for your party. Here are some party suggestions for this festive time of year.
Drinks: One signature cocktail, wine and sparkling water
Purchased foods: Two cheeses-one hard and one soft, perhaps parmesan and a herbed goat cheese served with assorted crackers
Italian meats – soprasetta and/or prosciutto
Mixed olives and nuts
Steamed shrimp, shelled and deveined with cocktail sauce of choice
Small desserts or one big multi-slice, multi-choice cheesecake
Rack of Lamb for Six
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 2 T. fresh rosemary
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup Dijon mustard
- 1 T. white balsamic vinegar*
- 2 rack of lamb
*I use white balsamic vinegar as it does not ‘discolor’ the lamb but some cooks prefer a darker brown crust.
- In a food processor, mince the salt, rosemary and garlic. Add mustard and vinegar until blended.
- Place racks in a roasting pan, fat side up and coat with the mustard mixture.
- Roast lamb at 450 degrees for 25 minutes for medium-rare meat.
- Remove from oven and cover with foil to rest for 15 minutes.
- Cut into individual chops.
Lamb can be expensive these days like everything else but you can purchase ‘frenched’ racks at Costco or Sam’s Club for less. Worth the cost…
Fingerling Potatoes with Salmon
- 1 lb. fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1-1/2 T. olive oil
- 4 oz. smoked salmon
- ½ cup crème fraiche ( may substitute sour cream)
- 1 T. caviar or capers
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Toss potatoes in oil on rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
- Arrange thin sliced pieces of salmon on potatoes; top each with a small dollop of crème fraiche, caviar and ground pepper.
Asparagus Wrapped in Puff Pastry
- 1 sheet thawed puff pastry
- Grated parmesan cheese
- 15 spears fresh asparagus, cleaned
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sprinkle sheet of pastry with parmesan, then cut into 15 strips lengthwise.
- Wrap each spear with a pastry strip.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.
Better yet, roast asparagus tossed in olive oil and sprinkled with salt for 7-10 minutes. Remove pan from the oven, sprinkle with cheese and serve!
Serve all of your dishes buffet style arranged on platters at stations or one long table.
Last but not least, the decorations. Like the turkey at Thanksgiving, the Christmas tree is the focal point of the holiday. Go with what works for you and your family whether that is a popcorn/cranberry garland and ornaments made by the kids or one tree decorated to the nines with a theme.
On a final note, create something natural of cuttings from your favorite shrubs. Add dried seed heads sprayed with gold or silver paint for sparkle. This year I made a centerpiece for the dining room table using magnolia leaves and boxwood from the yard, candles I already owned and inexpensive ornaments. One of the door wreaths I’m using is actually a ‘Williamsburg’ plaque I learned how to make in a workshop. You don’t have to spend all your gold coins or be a decorator. Just go with what feels right and looks good to you. Search home decorating magazines or duplicate your talented friends’ designs like I do! Everyone will appreciate your efforts…
Bon Appétit and Happy Holidays to all!