And Now–The Holiday Countdown: Reasons I am Currently Fat

27 Dec

When I said I was ready for the holidays, I must have seriously been ready. For the past week, I’ve been cooking my ass off and turning out as much food as elves turn out toys around this time of year. Not only was I busy with my own holiday “tomfoodery” as I like to call it, but I was also caught up in a storm of orders from friends for holiday baked goods. You see, I felt that sending out an e-mail to all my mom’s friends to notify them that I was coming home and was available to bake holiday treats would be a fruitless effort, but it actually warranted significant response! So, through making food for my family and food for others, I made more holiday food this year than any other and probably gained more weight. Here we go:

1. Chanukah Dinner.
The first day I was home from school, I was back in my lovely kitchen, cooking for Chanukah dinner. Since it was a last minute affair, my mom and I decided to make chicken marsala (random); latkes (traditional); green beans with almonds; and a salad of grilled zucchini, chickpeas, goat milk feta, and olives. It was all delicious, and even though I didn’t make dessert, we really didn’t need it.

2. Momofuku Bo Ssam.
One of the first nights I was home from school, I decided to make the Bo Ssam from the new Momofuku cookbook that my mom got me for Christmas (it’s a long story, but I got the book early…) I made the shoulder, roasted with salt and sugar, and then made all the sauces (although I had to use onions instead of scallions because I am an idiot and didn’t buy scallions.) Everything was great!! We are still eating that pork, though; it was a lot for our family of six, even. The pork makes a great quesadilla!

3. Gemelli pasta with a basque style cream sauce.
This dinner was actually just a last-minute thing I made for my dad and my siblings. I was too tired to make sides, but I flavored a basic béchamel sauce with a stick of cinnamon and smoked paprika, and then I woke it up with some sherry vinegar. I tossed the pasta with some roasted cauliflower and green pepper and topped it with some julienne orange pepper.

4. Christmas cookies.
What are the holidays without some fuckin cookies? My cookie monster ginerbread man says, “Nothing!”

I made vanilla kipfly cookies, chocolate-toffee bark, s’mores bars (a new invention I made by making a graham cracker crust filled with fudgy brownie, and then topping it  with meringue), lemon sandwich cookies, and date-nut bars, and my mom made french macaroons, peanut blossoms, and pecan tassies.  A pretty good spread if I do say so myself.

s'mores bar!

5.  Stollen.

One of our favorite Christmas traditions is making a holiday stolen.  I always make it earlier in the week so we can cut pieces of it at our leisure for days.  I really despise store-bought candied peel, so I make my own candied kumquats every year.  The fruit I use depends on what I have at the time I make the stollen, but this year I soaked my kumquats, raisins, and chopped dried apricots in rum before adding them to the dough.  I always use the Joy of Cooking stollen recipe, and I am always pleased with the delicious, yeasty dough, which I think is greatly improved by the addition of a few teaspoons of vanilla.  Of course, the best part of the stollen is the almond paste or marzipan center.  To make my stollen festive, I usually decorate it with a Christmas tree pattern using almonds, cherries, and candied fruit, but this year I made a stocking with dried cranberries, almonds, and toasted coconut.

this year's stollen

6.  My baking business.

Before I get into what else I made for greedy little me, why don’t I tell you about all the delightful goodies my neighbors and friends bought from me for their holidays?  My favorite holiday treat, a crazy item I created last year, is a mincemeat sticky bun with hard sauce.  Nothing can really beat this, nor should anything try to beat this.  It’s just ridiculously beautiful and glorious.  The hard sauce oozes awesomely over the puffy, rich dough–a dough that tries to delay the deluge of mincemeat filling from spilling out everywhere–and barely succeeds.  The cloak of heart-warming hard sauce is the perfect answer to icing on a regular cinnamon bun, and it’s almost unfair how sadly the latter compares.

I also made over a hundred gingerbread men, chocolate-dipped orange-cardamom biscotti, two chocolate yule logs, and pecan sticky buns.  Everything was phenomenal, and I hope my customers thoroughly enjoyed the baked goods.

rolling out sticky bun dough

7.  Christmas eve dinner.

My mom likes the idea of having a spread of hors d’oeuvres on Christmas eve, and since so much fish is available around the holidays, we went a more aquatic route.  I made braised artichokes with maple, bacon, parsely, lemon, and shrimp (really amazing) and put them on top bread pudding that I infused with a shrimp demi.  Even if the dish seems far out, it was worth trying something new.  I also made crostini with shaved bottarga, olive oil, and lemon; my mom made oysters rockefeller; and we put out some cheese, gravlax, and matjes herring.

shrimp and braised artichokes on shrimp bread puddings

8.  Meanwhile: Cassoulet.

I’ve always wanted to try my hand at cassoulet, and finally I got all the ingredients to make it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know when I’d have the time to finish it, so we would have to be ready for it when it was ready for us.  I made the duck confit myself, and it came out great.  I used navy and cannelini beans, one and a half heads of garlic, wild boar and venison-pork sausages, pork shoulder, and fresh ham.  Ultimately, I brought it to my aunt and uncle’s abode for a Boxing Day party, and it was great.  The duck skin and pork skin I lined the casserole with were amazing, the flavor was delicious, and the meats were extremely tender.  Even the ham!  I had little faith that such a lean cut would braise well, but it did.  MMMMM.

cassoulet: browning the meat

cassoulet: simmerrr

cassoulet: simmerrr

9.  Christmas dinner.

On Christmas dinner, we kind of winged it.  The only thing I had prepared was a lobster dish from Eric Ripert’s book, On the Line. It was a lobster timbale with blached vegetables and a champagne sauce.  It was great, and my mom made a nice salad with radicchio, orange, olive, and herbs and some creamed spinach.  Sound like a mish mosh?  It was.  But it was a delicious mish-mosh.  My brother and sister asked about dessert, and since I had none and lied that I did, the best thing to whip up in a pinch was pudding-thick peppermint hot chocolate with barely-whipped cream spooned generously on top.  YEAH!  Even though I was exhausted, that Christmas was a great one, and the food was very nice.  We enjoyed a bottle of rose cava from my dad’s friend.

10.  A new cocktail.

For my mom’s Christmas gift, I decided to try infusing some vodka and making her homemade grenadine syrup from fresh pomegranates.  I ended up making her toasted cardamom and vanilla infused vodka and saffron infused grenadine.  She shook them together over ice, and the drink was very delicious.  Instead of being a light, glassy color, the reduced pomegranate, enhanced by the bright saffron, turned it a deep red, and the flavor was spicy and had the punchy strength of a good manhattan.

11.  Boxing Day

Because my aunt works in a hospital on Christmas, she and my uncle have been inviting our family over for Boxing Day on the 26th for a few years.  This year, my uncle invited me to bring some things and to come help him prepare the meal.  I brought the cassoulet, which was finally ready; a country pate with chicken livers in the middle; chopped chicken liver that I made with reduced balsamic and shallots; homemade grainy oatmeal-stout mustard, and a two-year old fruitcake I made and have brushed with liquor to improve over time.  When I got there, I helped make a salt-cod gratin in puff pastry cups, mashed rutabagas, and a kale salad, and my uncle made a mac and cheese with kale, a 20 pound ham, a lamb and lentil soup, and a cranberry trifle.  What a delicious feast!!  Perhaps the best part was when my aunt and uncle’s friend–an Englishman–complimented my fruitcake.  Only the English appreciate good fruitcake.

Now I am very fat; I never really said no to anything this holiday season, and all I can do is say, “at least I enjoyed it.”  It’s not as though I can cook with such vigor at school.

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