Monday, December 26, 2011
The Meaning of Christmas Is Food
I realize this isn't really true—Christmas is about different things to different people, things like the birth of Jesus, time with family, the comfort of nostaglia, the joy of celebration—but at just this moment, coming off of a weekend spent largely in the kitchen, it feels as though Christmas might be about food. There were four of us in the house for two days, and that means a lot of cooking, mostly on Sunday.
We began with a late breakfast of French toast made with croissants. I wouldn't have come up with that idea on my own, but I found a recipe in Bon Appetit. It was your basic French toast recipe but with croissants cut in half horizontally into this slices of butter, flaky goodness.
Then later in the day, we created a vegetarian buffet. No. 1 and Eustacia are vegetarians these days, so this seemed appropriate. I assigned them each a dish to make, and we worked side by side so that all three dishes were ready at the same time. No. 1 made a Parmesan-olive torte—pie crust stuffed with leeks, fennel, olives and cheese. I made simple tomato tarts with puff pastry, Roma tomatoes, Parmesan and fresh mozzarella. And Eustacia made a wonderful artichoke dip with roasted red peppers, green onions, spinach and Asiago cheese. We filled our plates with all the tasty samples, like a Christmas tapas setting, and had a nice lunch by the tree.
There was time to rest up after all of that food prep and clean up before launching into the big feast for the evening meal, so no one could claim they slaved all day in the kitchen. It was all nicely paced. Here is what we had for our Christmas dinner—Ina Garten's roast turkey breast and gravy (except for the vegetarians, of course), sage stuffing made with fresh buttermilk cornbread (using vegetable stock instead of chicken), sauteed green beans, dinner rolls, cranberry chutney, and sweet potatoes with blue cheese and pecans. It was all great except for the potatoes, and I was so looking forward to them. Sweet potatoes and blue cheese—I mean, how can you go wrong? The weird thing about this recipe is that it calls for a huge hunk of cream cheese, so much so that the color of the potatoes changes from a rusty orange to a bright color like candy, and it just doesn't look appetizing. I loved the flavor and got past the color, but not so with everyone else at the table. I think this dish would be great with just butter added to the roasted potatoes and then the blue cheese and pecans as called for. Next time.
So, the kitchen was buzzing for hours on end, but after dessert—pumpkin cheesecake—and the final clean up, I declared it closed to consumers. In fact, it's still closed, and we went out for Japanese this evening. Tomorrow, maybe we'll order in, or maybe some kind soul will open up the room again and create another meal we'll enjoy, vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Christmas may not be specifically about food, but good food sure helps make the celebration something to, well, celebrate.
Most of the recipes I used were keepers, but the artichoke dip was a real hit. Here's how it goes:
1/2 cup Asiago cheese, grated
2 tablespoons flour
1 14 oz. jar artichoke hearts rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped
1 8 oz. container sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup roasted red peppers drained and finely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 cup frozen spinach thawed and drained
Preheat oven to 350˚F. In a large bowl, toss together the cheese and flour. Stir in all other ingredients until well combined and pour into a 9-inch pie plate. Top with additional cheese if desired and bake for 25 minutes. Top with additional sliced green onions and serve with crackers.
at 10:47 PM