Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Busy Season -- Look Ahead to Dinner!

Tori asked me why I hadn't done the cooking part of my Looking Ahead posts for the holidays. The truth is I was running out of time! The other reason is that cooking in December varies widely from culture to culture so my getting ahead may be far away from yours.

For example, my Cleveland family does both Hanukkah and Christmas (and I wish I was down there for the latkes!). I'm not really up on those food traditions, apart from what I read in the same magazines you probably do. One year I did make this Cooking Light cinnamon apple cake, which was in a Hanukkah article and it was delicious!

In an off-blog correspondence with another blogger from England, she mentioned that their traditional Christmas dinner is framed around an incredibly abundant salad. While we might think of English Christmas food as plum or Yorkshire pudding and roast beef or turkey, that isn't always the case!

I suspect the same things happen round the world -- traditional dishes of your country that come out at the holidays even if you never see them at other times of year. (Share some in the comments if you choose! In fact, no matter where you live, share your holiday faves!)

Often times we go to the family tree for our holiday recipes, and in larger gatherings find that there are a collection of those recipes from the various branches of the family tree. In the past, our Christmas Eve dinner has always been that of Rick's grandfather -- roast beef, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and salad.

Christmas morning breakfast is the same, too. My mom's sausage and egg strata recipe, which I make the night before and put in the fridge. It only takes 45 minutes to cook, so while we are doing presents it goes into the oven. We'll serve it with mimosa and maybe fruit salad or coffee cake.


And who knows what this year will bring?  We will be celebrating with Kevin and Molly at their home. Will we do the same, add some of Molly's family traditions or new ones they've decided? Stay tuned for that!

I know a number of people who have fish on Christmas Eve as part of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and some for other reasons of faith. I'm all for fish -- a few years ago we introduced friends to Shrimp and Grits on Christmas day. I'm not sure if we'll do that again this year but to be honest, I could eat Bobby Flay's Shrimp and Grits recipe any day of the year!

The year we introduced shrimp and grits as a Christmas favorite!

Cookies are another huge part of the holiday season. We have always spent Christmas Eve frosting cookies. This started out as a "cookies for Santa" thing and developed into one of my favorite traditions. Those and peppermint stick ice cream make Christmas day dessert a snap!


(If you are into something that is pretty easy but takes a bit more time, try this peppermint stick ice cream cake roll recipe. I made it for Cork Poppers and it was a hit with hot fudge, whipped cream and crunched up peppermints on top!)

I know people who have been baking cookies and freezing them for weeks. I salute you. I just can't live up to you! I usually do cookies and baking in one fell sweep over two or three days, making enough to give away (because I really do not have to have dozens of cookies in my house!).

My favorite shortbread recipe is decked for Easter here. At Christmas I use peppermint or dried cherries.
My favorites include Cousin Bonnie's Jingle Balls (those little white balls of nuts that explode in your mouth and all over your black shirt -- busted!); my easy shortbreads which I change up with peppermint or dried cherries or whatever else happens to be in the cupboard; ginger cookies; peanut butter bars that rival Reese cups and Ina Garten's Raspberry Crumble bars. Together they make a pretty versatile cookie plate with different shapes, flavors and textures.

Small bread loaves (like this blueberry bread) or crackers or scones are always a treat to include. My Italian neighbor always has these little glazed donuts that I snap up as soon as I get her cookie plate! They're the best!

(If you are interested in adding any of these to your recipe collection, include what you would like in the comments and make sure you are either a no-reply blogger or include your e-mail address!)

I'll often include my favorite nut recipe from former blogger-still friend Anno, which are peppery and spicy versus sweet. Those are always a crowd pleaser!

I have fond memories of my friend Stephanie's cookie party, long discontinued but like yesterday in my memory. We would bring 13 dozen cookies, packaged individually in groups of six (and packaging counted -- people were extremely inventive!). We went home with 12 dozen (there was one dozen for the table) and didn't have to bake all season! And boy, did everyone bring out their best.

Here are some quick tips for a cookie exchange -- I've done my share.

  • Figure out the number of guests and get firm commitments so you can tell your guests what to bring.
  • Allow for a half-dozen to take home for each guest. Stephanie was bold to have so many guests -- and 13 dozen is a lot to make (I recommend bar cookies!) -- but everyone loved to participate so no complaints. You might want to keep the crowd a little smaller!
  • Ask guests to include at least a half dozen for the table.
  • While sharing the recipe isn't a must, it's nice for guests to have the recipe to take home. Years ago at a Schweddy Balls cookie party Jan and I threw, we asked each person to bring their recipe on the cards we sent them. (This was just a party, not an exchange.) The cards were pre-punched and I had covers made in advance. We just put them together with a binder ring and everyone had a party favor with good ball-shaped cookies!

No matter which holiday you celebrate, I wish you a great season of delicious dishes, family traditions and lots of fun.

And a gym membership for 2016!


Tami Hacker said...

Looks like a lot of family love celebrating...what JOY!

Little Wandering Wren said...

Hi Jeanie - what a sweet Christmas Haha! No seriously what a great idea a cookie exchange sounds a wonderful fun evening. We don't bake, well I'm sure some do bake.... I don't bake!!
Our traditions growing up was always presents at 11am, turkey lunch at 1pm and Queen's speech at 3pm followed by a walk round the block, cup of tea and Christmas cake at 5pm, turkey sandwiches with celery sticks at 7pm and then a sing-a-long round the piano with my Grandmother playing at 8pm.
Happy Days - your family Christmases look lovely I love seeing what everyone else is doing, glad you have an advent calendar!
Wren x

Tammie Lee said...

traditions are a lovely thing
something to look forward too
to share and enjoy
lovely holidays to you and yours

Bella Rum said...

I used to make five or six different kinds of cookies. Not anymore. I may make a batch of sugar cookies and refrigerate them so the grands can cut them out and decorate them. They would like that. We usually have oyster dressing, turkey, country ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, etc. I think that's pretty normal fare for the South and probably a lot of places. I wish the whole world could have what we have at Christmas and year round. A lovely post, Jeanie. Thanks!

Bella Rum said...

And... Your mother's sausage & egg strata looks yummy.

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

Yum, that strata looks really good. Does it have bread in it? If not, it's something I could eat. And really, even if it has bread I could use GF bread. If you have the recipe on hand and can easily share it, send it my way!!

I always love hearing about others' traditions around the holidays. Phil and I always do a celebration on our own and cook something special. This year he has requested lentil enchiladas which are easy to make and good so I'm fine with that! And then we bake something together to share with our families - this year we are trying a GF chocolate chunk cookie recipe. Fingers are crossed it turns out as GF baking is very challenging!! We are spending Christmas Eve with some of his extended family and Christmas Day at his mom's and she has told me not to bring anything but I will find SOMETHING to bring! And then we go to my parents for the weekend but I'll miss the big 'landmark' meals on Christmas eve/day so I think we'll have a lot of leftovers and such which is fine by me. So it will be a different holiday for me this year but an exciting one as I'll get to spend it with Phil and his family.

Jemma@athomewithjemma said...

All of the beautiful food, festivities, food and drink make me ready to bring in the Holidays with zest and zeal. I just feel your energy and passion for life in your posts and I love it!

Our food traditions usually include a fruitcake, gingerbread men or bread and the grandchildren and I bake and decorate sugar cookies!

Oh yes and like you a gym membership in 2016:)

bj said...

O, don't we love all the beauty of this holiday. Christmas is, by far, most everyones favorite...we love spiral cut, hickory smoked hams...fruit salads with pecans and whipped cream...cheese balls, cookies, cakes and delicious pies...ummmm...can't wait for Christmas Eve.....:)

Deb said...

Hi Jeanie - love all the photos at Christmas around the table. Nothing better. :) We have tourtiere and trimmings on Christmas Eve and then breakfast on Christmas of quiche,cinnamon buns, orange juice & champagne and of course, lots of coffee. Christmas dinner is the full turkey dinner at 4pm with my sisters' cookies and squares and my pumpkin pies. Oh I'm hungry. lol

Joyful said...

It's lovely to revisit old traditions and start some new ones from time to time. I am a traditionalist at heart so we eat our festive meal on Christmas Day (turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and all the extra likes cranberry sauce and pickles). But from time to time I've changed up the menu and started making mashed sweet potatos or mashed cauliflower instead of the regular mashed potatoes. We also have a green like brussels sprout and a mixed green salad. It is hit or miss about the Christmas cookies. This year I haven't done any baking. It helps me cut down on the sugar. Enjoy your holiday.

Victoria Zigler said...

Growing up, my Mam, Nan, and I used to bake cakes and cookies of various kinds leading up to the holidays, as well as sweet mince pies. Christmas Eve dinner would be something quick and simple (usually egg sandwiches, cheese on toast, or something like that) eaten while making a start on the cookies and cakes, and while we all worked together on prepwork for the Christmas day dinner. Christmas morning Dad would want a fry-up, and most other adults would join him in it, but we kids always just ate the oranges from our stockings with some chocolate and cookies. Then we'd have a turkey dinner with all the trimmings about lunchtime, which would have been cooking while we had the actual gifts. The next day we always had a party where most of the leftovers got used up.

Things are done different now we're not at home though.

My hubby always had ham for his Christmas dinner, and I've been a vegetarian for several years now, so we make a ham dinner for him, and I make something special that I'll eat in place of his ham. I think it was a nut roast I had last year. But this year I'm making a butternut squash and sweet potato mash, and serving it with roasted parsnips, roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots, stuffing balls, and cranberry sauce. Well, I may not be having turkey, but I still like stuffing and cranberry sauce. ;)

I don't bake as much any more either. I'd like to, but I just physically can't manage it. We'll have a little something sweet to enjoy over Christmas though.

Joanne Huffman said...

I always think of my cookie party as the official start to Christmas. And, I am happy to have peppermint ice cream in the freezer, waiting for Christmas dessert. I'll pick up my roast beef on the 23rd and think of all the Christmas dinners my mother made when I roast it.

Arti said...

I love all these delicious treats, Jeanie. You're right, I'm sure different cultures celebrate their festivities in their own unique ways. I don't know about other parts of the world in terms of Christmas celebrations, other than North Am and where I come from decades ago, Hong Kong. Due to the high population density, very few people in HK have single family houses, except the uber rich. People live in high rise apartments with little space for family gatherings. They go out to restaurants for those purposes. And at Christmas, we see people crowding the streets to see the lights on buildings, and yes, at restaurants for special Christmas dinners, and they can be uber fancy. This 'tradition' is being kept even in the diaspora of Chinese immigrants in NA. I just saw an ad for a chain of Chinese restaurants in our city offering special Christmas dinners for the season. :)

Marilyn Miller said...

I had to smile at the gym membership. That is why the gym is always so busy in January. I don't bake as much as I use to, but there will be a little baking. I am in charge of Christmas breakfast this year and have no idea what I will make. My daughter doesn't eat almost anything except veggies, salads, and meat, may she will eat granola. I must start thinking about this.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good evening sweet Jeanie! THat one particular photo of the cookie on the flowered plate; what a beautiful shot! Well, the holidays are coming - NO....they ARE HERE! All the preparations to me are part of the excitement! Much love to you as you celebrate both Christmas and the light of Hanukkah!

shoreacres said...

I would give anything to be closer to the midwest, where I could get honest-to-goodness Swedish potato baloney -- potatis korv. It's made with onion, potato, and pork, and it's the best thing ever. You actually boil it to cook it, but ... well... you'll just have to trust me. Grandma always would make pounds and pounds of it, because her kids (like my dad) would whine and beg for THAT as their Christmas present.

I have to content myself with Sprits made with her recipe, and the standard items: hard cheeses, pickled herring, and so on. Now, I'm hungry.

Tracy said...

Oh, I feel hungry just looking at all this... YUM! I enjoy reading/learning about all the different foods folks make this time of year for all kinds of occasions. Growing up in my family Thanksgiving was usually turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole and all the trimmings. But for Christmas we mixed it up a bit In a couple days we're flying home for the holidays. Though living in Norway now, we don't actually do a lot of Norwegian traditional Christmas food, which has a VERY heavy focus on meat, which I don't care for much. We do a crossover of British and American. But in a couple days we're flying home to the US for Christmas... and I'm sooo eager for a taste of home!! So glad i had a chance to stop by here before we left! Wishing you & yours the HAPPIEST of days, Jeanie! Looking forward to catching up with you in the New Year:) ((HUGS))

Barb said...

Love reading about your traditions and seeing these yummy photos, Jeanie! We'll be in Denver over the holidays and will have our family dinner in a private dining room at the Four Seasons. We've been doing the dinner at a restaurant for about 6 years - the kids dress "fancy" and can move around since we aren't in the main dining room. It's always a feast and a lot of fun. I've been baking pumpkin bread for the last month but have given most of it away. I don't bake a lot of cookies because Bob and I shouldn't overindulge (which we would!). We're bringing our oldest Grandson, Ben (12), up to Breckenridge with us on Christmas Day - he'll ski with Pop Pop into the next week.

Jennifer Richardson said...

Mouth is watering.
Now I've got to have something sweet:)
Thanks for the yumminess,

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