Oh my goodness…how can it be December? Autumn just flew by and now it’s time for Christmas? I can barely believe it! I hope that all of you had a truly wonderful Thanksgiving. I did, spending it in Boulder Colorado for the very first time with my husband’s side of my family and of course Alex who came with us. It was a wonderful trip and of course I spent all of the holiday in the kitchen doing what I love to do best. I had a wonderful time but Thanksgiving this year was made even more memorable by the fact that my mother –in-law (a fabulous cook in her own right) cocked her head and proclaimed my turkey absolutely delicious. This was truly big deal as she makes it for the family every year and I was very nervous about stepping on her toes. I got up at 6:00 in the morning and began to cook. By 8:00 am I’d made two pans of Brussels sprouts au gratin, twocasseroles of creamy, garlicky, parmesan laced spinach and a huge stockpot of chestnut, sausage and dried fruit stuffing. My darling husband spent his time peeling at least 20 of the largest baking potatoes that I’ve ever seen. The man is definitely a keeper; the best sous chef that any woman could ask for… exceptionally good with his hands!
Mine is a family that loves them mashed and there had better be plenty of them. Fortunately for me by the time it came to mash them my niece Nicholle had arrived bringing her boyfriend Ian who is a wonderful cook in his own right. Grateful for the help, I tossed him the hand mixer! We made three kinds; one with lots of butter and sour cream, one with plenty of infused garlic, butter and whipping cream and onewith sour cream, butter and cream cheese. Of course everyone was happy! There were so many left over that the next night my sister- in -law Barbara used them to make homemade pierogies with smoked sausage and sauerkraut. I was reminded all weekend of how much fun it can be to spend time in the kitchen with the people you love. Cooking together is such a wonderfully simple way to enjoy each other’s company. When Monday came I left Colorado very reluctantly but completely refreshed and soul satisfied.
So now I’m home and I’ve a goal this year starting on December the 1st (Yikes that’s NOW!) to make some sort of delicious homemade gift at least every other day. I’ve already got a beautiful spiced apple syrup in the refrigerator just waiting for the addition of a few cups of Red Stag bourbon that when bottled will make a lovely addition to any bar.
Next week I’ll start making chocolate bark…several different kinds just filled with fruits, nuts and crystallized ginger then drizzled with lots of chocolate, both white and dark! I’ll be making marrons glace’ too and if you’ve never had those delectable morsels you really owe it to yourself to taste them just once. Simply put, they are chestnuts that are boiled in a bath of thick simple syrup over and over again until the water in them has been replaced with sugar. They are crystalline and wonderful; a very French Christmas staple. I make them almost every year and eat them as quickly as I bottle them. Crumbled over vanilla ice cream and drizzled with a bit of brandy there is almost nothing more luscious, unless of course you take those same chestnuts and layer them amid folds of whipped cream, custard and jam to create a perfect English trifle. I intend to make my own Yule Log this year for my annual Solstice party, covered with dense chocolate frosting, meringue mushrooms, filled with ganache laced with those very same chestnuts, whipped cream and dusted with powdered sugar snow!
I’ve been working at Williams Sonoma this season and of course for someone like me who’s kitchen obsessed that’s quite a lot of fun but my trip to Colorado actually inspired me to make more presents myself and buy less of what I could actually be creating. These days in America the holiday season is full of built in obsolescence and I’ve begun to grow weary of store after store filled with trendy merchandise blessed with approximately one year of a shelf life. I believe that it’s time to reclaim the traditions that we love instead of allowing a marketing department somewhere far away to dictate our plans for the season. When I was a child we made garlands of popped corn and cranberries and strung ribbon candy with streamers and bows. It was a homemade holiday, butthose are the ones that I loved the most, spending hours with my family creating the beautiful decorations for our tree. I for one am tired of being frantic by the time that I get to Christmas eve and I’m determined this year to take a trip back in time and reclaim the traditions that fill my Christmas season with all of the old fashioned beauty and love that I remember.
So to start I’m going to make my mother’s fruitcake! I already hear your groans, but trust me her fruitcake is really very good, full of fruits, nuts, plenty of spice and very little batter. The loaves smell like heaven when they’re baking, but the fun really comes when I cover them in sherry soaked cheesecloth and spend the next couple of weeks soaking them in spiced rum. My mother taught me to make them one year when I had very little money for gifts. Wrapped in a pretty Christmas towel and bow and gifted with a recipe for hard sauce (brandy, butter and confectioners sugar!) they make a delicious present. This is the recipe that she used, straight from Southern Living magazine, but as old as the hills. I promise you that it’s delicious!
More Fruit and Nuts than Cake Fruitcake
2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cup dry sherry
2 cups chopped candied pineapple (about 1 pound)
1 1/2 cups chopped red candied cherries (about 3/4 pound)
1 1/2 cups chopped green candied cherries (about 3/4 pound)
4 cups chopped pecans
3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 cup butter or margarine, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground mace (optional)
3/4 cup whipping cream
1 (10-ounce) jar strawberry preserves
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 teaspoon orange extract
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Soak raisins in sherry 8 hours; drain and set aside.
Combine pineapple, candied cherries, pecans, and 1 cup flour, tossing to coat. Set aside.
Beat butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add sugars, beating well. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Combine remaining 2 cups flour, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and, if desired, mace. Add to butter mixture alternately with whipping cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Add preserves and extracts, beating well. Stir in reserved raisins and fruit mixture. Spoon into a greased and floured 10-inch loaf pan.
Bake at 275° for 3 hours or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 20 minutes; remove from pan, and cool completely on wirerack. Soak cheesecloth in 2/3 cup dry sherry, wrap around cake, and place in an airtight container; refrigerate 7 to 10 days. Every other day, baste the fruitcake with your choice of spiced rum or brandy.
My other long-standing holiday tradition? A dab or two of Caron’s gorgeous Nuit de Noel perfume from Thanksgiving til New Years day. A dear friend sent me a bottle of the vintage perfume last year as a special gift and I am so enjoying its loveliness. I know that it’s a cliché, but no other perfume says Christmas to me!
So tell me, what are your holiday foodie traditions? What do you do to make the season your veryown?
Next week ? My mother's recipe for Christmas Pears with whipped cream and bittersweet chocolate!