Let the Christmas Begin

Let the Christmas BeginI have always been one of those people that work better under pressure. Probably because I was a procrastinator in high school, but I digress…

When there is a lot going on, and even more to be done, I get hyper-organized and efficient. This is why I have spent the last hour organizing my shopping list for the holiday weekend. I have it split out by day (‘cause I am going to have to do multiple trips) and by aisle to make it easier to maneuver and get it home. You may be asking what could possibly require multiple trips to the store and aisle mapping? Let me explain…

Most years, I am responsible for Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas dinner—which is also my husband’s birthday dinner. This year my sister is hopping on a plane Christmas Day. Therefore I am responsible for Christmas Eve dinner for 14 people, Christmas Morning breakfast for 7, and Christmas/Birthday Night dinner for 8.

So, you see why my fridge may not be able to handle it all at once (and you can believe there is some wine on that shopping list!) It is also why I start planning the menu pretty far in advance so I can map out what can be made ahead and what is last minute.

In case you’re curious here’s what’s on the menu:

Christmas Eve
Spinach Salad
Roasted Fresh Ham
Ginger Glazed Turnips, Carrots and Chestnuts
Potatoes Au Gratin
Sticky Toffee Ginger Bread Read more…

Fig, Ricotta, and Goat Cheese Tart

Fig, Ricotta, and Goat Cheese TartFinger-Lickin’ Good
It’s the second week of December and holiday parties are in full swing. Between work parties and our own, I think I’ll see my husband for a total of 20 minutes this week.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a caterer at this time of year. I think I would lose my mind—those caterers are way better at the one party food that usually throws me for a loop, hors d’oeuvres.

I am known for my awesome guacamole. Most of my friends have enjoyed a Hot Cheezy Thing a time or two and I almost always have a cheese and cracker plate or veggie platter whenever I have people over. But the cute little bite-sized tasty tidbits? Not really my thing. I’m just not that great at coming up with that super yummy finger food idea.

The funny thing is that it can be difficult to find recipes for little appetizers unless you are looking just before New Years Eve. Hors d’oeuvres are to New Year’s as turkey is to Thanksgiving.

When I do come up with something, I tend to gravitate towards anything in puff pastry, cause it’s relatively simple to use and and it always impresses. Even better, you can take whole sheets and turn it into a tart (think carmelized onion, brie and pears!) that can be cut up into bite-sized pieces. Easy Peazy.

The recipe for Fig, Ricotta, and Goat Cheese Tart is a perfect example. And the tart is so pretty you may not want to cut it up…

Happy holiday partying!

Fig, Ricotta, and Goat Cheese Tart
Yields 20 to 24 bite-sized pieces Read more…

Red and White Pinwheel Cookies

Red and White Pinwheel CookiesCookie Conundrum
If it’s December, that means it’s cookie baking time. In fact, I was reminded over the weekend by my family that I hadn’t made the traditional batch of Swedish Gingies yet. It was December 2. My bad…

This week I am in full-on cookie mode because I have people coming over on Saturday plus two other cookie-friendly events next week. One is a cookie exchange that my sister is hosting—which presents a bit of a problem. I have a set of go-to cookies that I bring to such gatherings because they are always well received. The problem is they are a family favorite, so my sister tends to make the same cookies for her parties. This means I am on the hunt for a new recipe to try this year.

When it comes to finding new Christmas cookie recipes I don’t have too many requirements save one: A Christmas cookie is a cookie you only make at Christmas. Chocolate chip cookies are not a Christmas cookie.

The one exception I would make to this rule is shortbread. Every day is Christmas if there is shortbread.

As much as I love a beautifully decorated sugar cookie, the royal icing and the drying time can be a pain. So, I am thinking of going a little less labor intensive yet still colorful. I found a couple of versions of these tasty Red and White Pinwheel Cookies that seem to fit the bill nicely. I have never actually tried to make pinwheels so this might be a bit of an adventure. The good news is I have four impatient elves more than willing to do quality control sampling…

Red and White Pinwheel Cookies
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
These vanilla flavored cookies add a splash of pure color to your Christmas Cookie tray.  We recommend mixing the white and red dough separately rather than trying to add coloring to the already-mixed dough—the color incorporates better. Read more…

Cranberry Tea Loaf

Cranberry Tea LoafHoliday Hurry Up
Well, we survived Thanksgiving. For those of you who were out there in the trenches on Black Friday battling, good on ya. I used to do Black Friday when my kids were younger. Not because I needed to get the best deal on the latest impossible to find piece of plastic from China, but because it was kinda fun to get caught up in the holiday frenzy.

Now? I can make my own frenzy, thank you very much. Besides, my kids have moved on from the fun stuff. It’s all gift cards and clothes now. (Zzzzzzzzzzzz). Gone are the big boy bike reveals and the excited screaming of Christmas morning. We now have to wake them up…sigh.

The past few days could definitely be put in the frenzy category. But, I can’t figure out why I feel so anxious about the holidays. I’ve been freaking out about trying to get things done and it’s not even December yet. Sure, I picked through some of the fifty million Black Friday and Cyber Monday emails that landed in my inbox to take advantage of some really great deals. But, I do that every year—so that can’t be it. Yes, I will be hosting a couple of get-togethers with friends. But again, I do that every year so no reason to panic…except that I haven’t really started to figure out what I am serving and the party is next weekend. So, while panic may not be appropriate it would be a good idea to start planning.

I am certain that some of the anxiety is self-inflicted. See, I always have this impossible Norman Rockwell vision of how the holiday season will unfold. (Think warm fires, plaid ribbons, eggnog, and velvet.) This almost always includes the creation of homemade baked goods for friends and neighbors that we joyously hand out to one and all—spreading cheer for all to hear. The reality is, I ain’t got that much time.

I did manage to make this Cranberry Tea Loaf over the weekend with some leftover cranberries. It is the quintessential flavor of the holidays. And, when you bake it in little foil loaf pans, it becomes a perfect hostess gift (or peace offering to your neighbors who, because they are awesome, throw the errant baseballs back over the fence without complaint).

Even better, give it the Martha Stewart treatment and wrap it in a cute kitchen towel. It’s a very good thing….

Cranberry Tea Loaf Recipe
Adapted from the Silver Palette Cookbook

Cranberries freeze well, so purchase several extra bags now while they are still available. This recipe is easily doubled. Read more…

Two Easy Appetizers for Entertaining

Two Easy Appetizers for EntertainingThe Meal Before The Meal
While there are some who like to eat outside of the box, for the most part, we all eat the same stuff on Thanksgiving. There aren’t too many surprises from table to table. If there is one thing about Thanksgiving that varies widely, it is when we eat the feast. Turkey timing can pose some significant problems if you are trying to keep your sanity and still have room for the meal. Let me explain.

Those who eat their Thanksgiving meals in the evening have the easiest time of it. You can get up, eat a regular breakfast, do whatever you need to get done until it’s time for a reasonable lunch, and then you coast into the dinner hour for the main event.

For those of us who eat in the early afternoon, it’s a challenge to balance the need for sustenance and making sure there is enough room come meal time—all while the scent of roasting turkey taunts you from the kitchen. The struggle is real.

The truly blessed are the ones who have multiple stops on the turkey train. They have the early meal with family and/or friends at one house then head out to round two at another friend’s/family’s house, thus avoiding the problem altogether. And if there is pie at both stops, you, my friends, are the winners of turkey day.

The solution, obviously, is to have some snacks to keep you going until it’s time to dig in. But, the last thing you want to do is add more to the list of things that need to be cooked and/or prepped. Also, you don’t want it to be too filling.

A veggie platter is great ‘cause it’s easy and light but sometimes you just need a little bit more—probably because the kids have stuck all of the olives from the platter on their fingers. (And, sometimes it’s not just the kids.)

The following two easy appetizer recipes can get you through those hours ‘till Thanksgiving. They are no-cook, easy-to-assemble tidbits that require ingredients you can just throw in the cart when you pick up your turkey. It’s also a great way to entertain the teenagers who are soooooo bored! ‘cause they can assemble the appetizers themselves and leave you to the other stuff.

With both of these recipes, you can adjust the quantities for the size of your crowd. Check out these recipes for Cranberry Walnut Bread with Brie and Sliced Fruit and Endive with Dill and Smoked Salmon.

No matter what hour you choose to dig in here’s wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Two Easy Appetizers for Entertaining
Cranberry Walnut Bread with Brie and Sliced Fruit
This one is super easy.

Acme Cranberry Walnut Bread
Softened Brie Cheese
Pink Lady Apples or D’Anjou Pears

Grab a loaf of Acme Cranberry Walnut Bread and slice it thinly into single serving sized pieces. Smear your favorite brie on the slices and top with thinly sliced pink lady apples or D’Anjou pears.

Endive with Dill and Smoked Salmon

Several Heads of endive
Piedmont Grocery’s Dill Dip
Smoked Salmon
Optional: Capers

Separate the endive lives from the head, and swipe the leaves with a spoonful of our Piedmont Grocery Dill Dip. Top each with a piece of smoked salmon and three or four capers (if using) for a tasty and gluten-free snack.