There’s a messy corner full of little shopping bags that need to be sorted out for wrapping and a basket containing odd baking ingredients–still unused–in the middle of the kitchen counter.
For anyone with Scots background, shortbread is the Christmas cookie. In whatever “shape or form”, to quote my Dad, it might come. It also happens to be my very favorite cookie of any season and you can find it on the blog in a few incarnations... The endless variations are a large part of its intrinsic attraction for this baker:
Holiday breakfasts, for many people, are laden with tradition. Such as: We always have pancakes. OR My best friend makes scrambled eggs with peppers and onions. OR Bacon gets fried up in huge quantities for me.
Whenever I run into savory little cheese cookies someone’s served with a glass of wine, I’m happy indeed. These days, they’re usually they’re made with Parmigiano-Reggiano, but older food memories include homemade crispy little cheddar crackers that were just as good with beer as with wine. Back in the day, these were called “Cheese Pennies” and while they were usually simply round, occasionally a creative baker would even roll them out and cut them out into shapes (suits, of course) for bridge club.
Things that grow together go together
is the saying–Cheddar and Beer being two things the British do very well and Parmigiano-Reggiano and Wine being two things the Italians do just superbly. So, whichever way you roll –to coin a phrase –these savory bits are luscious.
Checking through my top choice cookbooks for such recipes (and tooling around the internet, of course) showed me there’re just as many varieties of not-sweet cookies as there are baking (or other) books on my cookbook shelves.
By the time Christmas or New Year’s comes you might not have the energy for a dessert just for the holiday dinner. This especially if you’ve entertained or baked throughout the season and simply feel all the cookies and goodies you’ve gotten through the kitchen must certainly be enough. If that’s the case, and you’ve frozen a few of each of your favorites, pull them out and arrange them in loving fashion on your favorite platter and call it quits. If, however, you haven’t worn your dear baking self out by now, make my gorgeous cranberry compote cheesecake. Even if you’re not a baker at heart, this is a fairly easy endeavor as long as you have a 9-inch springform pan and said ingredients.
There’s no special skill needed to make a cheesecake. The filling can be made with a hand-held electric mixer, a standing mixer, or with my favorite machine, the food processor. If you’ve strong arms or can borrow some, and have your cream cheese truly at close to warm room temperature, you can make this with no machines at all. Imagine. (I went without an electric mixer for many years of my baking life, so I know wherein I speak.) You can crush the graham crackers in a bag with a rolling pin or a hammer. If you’ve any sauce pan at all, you can make the cranberry topping. So go ahead. Start now; it’s better really well-chilled and keeps for days and days. Baking blessings, friend.
I’ve worked on Christmas Eve for many years, so our Christmas Eve dinner was always something like a soup I left in the crock-pot while I directed the choir at church. Or it might have been a made-ahead casserole like cassoulet that finished up in the oven while “Silent Night” was sung. One year I made a fish stew base early in the morning, heated it around 9pm, and threw in the seafood and fish for a few minutes until it had just cooked through. On a rare occasion we’d go out for dinner before the first service or in between services if I had to direct an 11 o’clock. (at left: PPUMC Choir, Minneapolis)
I’m home and don’t have a church job this year as I’m cheffing for Jenn-Air and DACOR, so have the opportunity to make a fancy dinner. As I’ve had the chance to cook several lovely meals this season for friends and neighbors, instead I think I’ll still stick with something easy-to-serve–which will give me the chance to spend the evening with my family. In fact, I bought the ingredients for beef stew the other day and it sounds wonderful to me; we all love it. I could move it up to beef burgundy and, since I have tiny onions frozen and a great couple of bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir, I just might do it. The dogs might even get a tiny bite…
If you’re in the mood for a bit more than stew (or have a few more coming), try my make-ahead Christmas Eve menu, which is a collection of totally tried and true recipes tested this year in my favorite way–cooked by me and then eaten by Dave and good friends. The best part is that you truly can make everything 1-2 days (or more) ahead and have it all ready to serve or heat and serve. Don’t feel like buying lasagna? Buy a tray from the Italian deli or local red sauce joint. Make sure to order ahead. Just for fun I’ve added the wines/drinks we’ve tried with these dishes. There’s easily enough food for 8, with extras for those big appetites who go for a second serving of lasagna. Otherwise, you could squeeze 10 or maybe 12 servings if you’re very careful and throw a ham in the crock-pot four hours ahead of dinner, increase your salad and bread accordingly.
A few days ahead, spend a few minutes locating your serving dishes and checking on your dishes, silverware, and glasses. There’s nothing worse than running around the house trying to locate the green Christmas tree platter at 7pm. Wash anything that needs it, borrow what you don’t have (or run up to your local thrift store and buy it), and if you have no soft fabric napkins (many of the new ones are made of expensive, horrendously stiff or unabsorbant fabrics), buy some good and attractive large, thick paper napkins. You can put a candy cane in the middle and tie up with green ribbon, or get kids to decorate a small corner of each–no more than that.
At home Christmas Eve service: Listen to King’s College Lessons and Carols on the radio if you’re home in the morning on December 24; they’ve been worshiping thus since 1918 and it’s one of the best parts of Christmas! On at 8am on KCME (88.7 FM) here in Colorado Springs, I’m guessing it should be on 9am CST and 10am EST in the U.S. Download booklet and read about it here. Listen to another year’s service here.
Christmas sing-a-long; click here.
Pinterest Christmas game page; click here.
Christmas stories to print and read; click here.
Cooking together; click here. Or make the chocolate crinkles together (recipe below) as they’re best fresh.
I might love brunch more than any meal...perhaps I like the laid-back time involved or the old-school approach. There’s barely a noted beginning –sitting around drinking coffee as the food is put out — and there needn’t be any end. (Movie with the coffee and brandy??) It’s almost always a group. Nearly certainly a special occasion. More fun at home than at some swanky, pay-through-the-nose, eat-til-you-drop place, I think. Even the dogs are at ease.
This easy, luscious but not fancy brunch menu with all the popular notes (eggs, potatoes, etc.) has several make-ahead options. It features quick crustless mini-quiches made in muffin tins that are fun to make together or for you to make yourself. The parmesan-garlic crispy potato dish prep is divided into microwave and skillet sections; the microwaving could be done ahead and the browning done while the quiches cook or re-heat. I provide two choices for breads (My two-pepper Pumpkin or an easy, no-yeast stollen) and each is handily made and frozen a week or two ahead. Brunch really needs a little alcohol and here the drinks are simple, familiar fruity-type tipples with tiny twists like tequila instead of vodka in a Bloody Maria or cranberry juice instead of orange for the Cranmosas. (Add a fresh cranberry in the bottom of the flute.) A nice brandy coffee at the end won’t hurt anyone and provides just a bit of the digestif needed. Make-ahead notes are in green.
I don’t make brunch nearly enough, but loved making part of this menu for my job cheffing for DACOR. (Not pushing appliances here; I cook on a Blue Star range.) I hope you’ll take a hint and invite your nearest and dearest or maybe just pull this together Christmas or New Year’s morning for the troops. Divvy up the menu between a few of you if it’s too much. If you have a smaller group, go ahead and make the full recipes as the leftovers are lovely and you won’t have to cook the next day.
MENU for 12:
These tasty gluten-free (check all labels) baby quiches—12 green chile-cream cheese and 12 Italian sausage with mozzarella– are topped with an “X” made of red bell peppers and are a wonderful and fun holiday morning breakfast alongside a coffee cake and juice or fresh fruit if you want an even simpler meal. Cook the sausage and onion a day or two ahead to speed the process in the morning. If you’d like, you can change up the fillings to suit your taste: ham and Swiss cheese with cooked broccoli/chopped fresh spinach or cooked bacon and cooked mushrooms with Gruyere, for instance. One small shrimp with tarragon, perhaps? If you’re terribly self-sufficient and unflappable, you could line up a wide variety of ingredients and let folks create their own tiny quiches. Serve with bowls of salsa and marinara on the table. Don’t want to cook so early? Why not make them ahead? (See Cook’s Notes for make-ahead instructions.)
Read through before beginning; this is easier than the recipe length would have you believe.
Makes 24 cupcake-size crustless quiches: 12 Green Chile and 12 Italian Sausage
24 paper muffin cup liners (You could grease the muffin tins, too, if you’d rather.)
For the custard for all of the quiches:
For the Green Chile Quiches:
For the Italian Sausage Quiches:
To top all of the quiches:
2 red bell peppers cut into very thin matchstick pieces (or one red and one green)
1 cup each salsa and marinara sauce (put in bowls on the table)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place paper liners in muffin cups.
1. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, half and half, salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
2. For the 12 green chile quiches, into each of 12 muffin cups layer:
3. For the 12 Italian sausage quiches, into each of the other 12 muffin cups layer:
4. Using a ¼ cup measuring cup, pour into each muffin cup enough of the custard (milk-egg) mixture to come about ¾ of the way up the sides of the cup. It may be a ¼ cup or, in some cases, just a bit less depending on the amount of ingredients in the cup.
5. Top each quiche with two of the matchstick peppers laid on top of one another to form an “X.”
6. Place pans in oven and bake 25-30 minutes or until puffed and golden, switching pans mid-way through to ensure even baking. Cream cheese may puff through in the Green Chile Quiches and make them appear to be underdone; they’re not.
7. Remove pans to racks and let cool a few minutes before serving hot or at room temperature. See green notes before to make ahead. Garnish with salsa or marinara sauce.
Cook’s Notes: The idea for the green chile quiches comes from Betty White’s Mexican Quiche. It may have originally been in the BAKERY LANE COOKBOOK.
If you’ve greased your muffin tins rather than used paper liners, you may want to let the quiches rest a couple of extra minutes after baking; the green chile quiches are more apt to fall apart without the liners, but are firmer with a little more cooling time.
TO MAKE-AHEAD AND REHEAT QUICHES: Bake, cool completely, and store in single layers in well-sealed containers in the fridge for up to two days. Heat them briefly, 7-9 minutes, in a 350 degrees F oven. Quiches are also good cold or at room temperature if you’re traveling or don’t feel like lighting the oven.
Want a simple, fast, pat-in-the-pan crust for your baby quiches after all? Use Krusteaz pancake mix. Recipe here.
These oniony potatoes are cooked to a perfect crisp with very browned chewy shreds of Parmesan cheese and garlic. A little crushed red pepper adds a kick. To make one-two days ahead, chop onions and cook as in step 2, then chop potatoes and cook only in the microwave. Store separately in the fridge overnight. Finish the potatoes, frying them with the onions, garlic, and Parmesan cheese(step 3), just before serving. You’ll need to add a little extra oil to get everything cooking again.
1. Place half of the potatoes, seasoned well with black pepper, in a microwave-safe casserole, cover tightly, and microwave at full power for 5 minutes. Drain potatoes. Repeat with the other half of the potatoes. Drain second batch.
2. In the meanwhile, divide the crushed red pepper, butter, olive oil, between two large, deep skillets and heat over medium-low heat for 30 seconds; add onions, dividing again between the pans. Cook 5- 10 minutes, stirring regularly, or until onions are softened. (continued below the photo)
3. Divide the microwaved, drained potatoes potatoes between the skillets and raise the heat to medium. Season with a 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pan and cook, stirring regularly, until potatoes are browned and tender–at least another 10 minutes. Add 1 clove garlic and 1/4 cup parmesan to each pan and cook another 5-8 minutes or until cheese is oh-so-crispy and onions are very brown, bordering on burnt. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve hot.
|This is a great pumpkin bread pan often available at Williams-Sonoma. (Design changes year to year.) Any 9×5 pan will do, of course. The recipe also makes lovely muffins:
ALYCE’S PUMPKIN BREAD WITH CANDIED GINGER AND TWO PEPPERS–makes 2 9×5 loaf pans or 24 muffins
Make ahead, wrap well, and freeze for up to two weeks. Defrost overnight without unwrapping. Serve with softened butter, cream cheese, or butter mixed with a little honey.
Cook’s Note: I began making pumpkin bread years ago with a recipe from FANNY FARMER BAKING BOOK. It has morphed into this, but Marion Cunningham, one of my idols, gets the credit and remains in my heart as she now surely is busy making the best pancakes ever eaten in heaven.
If Pumpkin Bread doesn’t sound quite right, try this Stollen; it’s miraculous as it uses no yeast and is done so very quickly. It’s addictive.
I make a simple stollen (yeast-free) that’s done much more quickly than the traditional loaf and keeps much longer. Best fresh, but you make it a day ahead and wrap well and store on counter overnight. I use THIS RECIPE from Susan Westmoreland from GOOD HOUSEKEEPING. I’m not sure you can beat it and it should be part of your Christmas –if you celebrate it — forever. Just add butter!
To make further ahead: Do not add powdered sugar right after baking. Double-wrap it in plastic and foil and freeze a totally cool loaf for no longer than two weeks. (Leave wrapped while unthawing.) Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.
Fancy table? Sure, if that’s your thing.
Paper plates? Why not once in a while?
Do as you like.
Sing a new song,