With less than a week to go until Christmas, I thought I’d share a few of my family’s favorite holiday treats. Some have stood the test of time and others are recent additions, but all have proven to be worth repeating.
Yorkshire pudding is a sacred cow in our family; I can’t remember there ever being a Christmas dinner without it. My daughter even wrote a paper in college about the importance of Yorkshire pudding. We don’t eat a lot of meat over the course of the year—especially not red meat—but our Christmas dinner always features a cut of something that will give us the drippings we need to make Yorkshire pudding. It is moist and chewy and savory, and something I look forward to every year.
Michael Ruhlman put a version of Yorkshire pudding in his tome "Ruhlman’s Twenty" and then invited the originator of the recipe to do a guest post on his blog (he also later featured his own version)—but do not be intimidated by talk of rendering fat or dealing with muffin tins. The method at Chez O’Dea is quite a bit simpler.
Roast a cut of beef (or lamb or goose), and while it’s cooking, add a quarter-teaspoon of salt to one cup of sifted flour. Mix in three beaten eggs and then slowly stir in one cup of milk. Beat (vigorously by hand or on the low mixer setting) for two minutes, then let it rest for at least 15 minutes. When the roast is done, save a half a cup of its drippings (if you need to supplement, you can top it off with any other fat you have around, like lard or a high-smoke point oil). Pour the fat into an 8- or 9-inch square dish (this could be the pan in which you cooked the roast) and put it in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Turn the batter into the baking dish (it should sizzle in the fat) and bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. It will get crispy on the edges and uneven in the middle, with little pools of fat in the low points. Serve hot, straight out of the oven, cut into squares.
Feast of the Seven Fishes
This is a tradition that probably originated in southern Italy but is now more common in Italian-American communities than it is back in the old country. This is a very flexible meal that is served on Christmas Eve and can be simple or elaborate. My family tried our own version for the first time last year, and since our group was small—just four people—and we were trying to avoid leftovers (we had a big dinner planned for the next day), we didn’t meet the target of seven kinds of seafood. But we had a few (mussels, clams and salmon cakes) and it was a lot of fun. Wine pairings were easy, the food was light and scrumptious, and the atmosphere was very festive.
I had some haroset on hand one year, and on a lark, I put it out with other appetizers when we had friends and family over for a party. People couldn’t get enough! It goes well with matzo, crackers, bread and cheese. It is one of the traditional elements of the Passover seder plate, but it’s a lovely treat year-round and keeps well. It takes mere moments to whip up. There are a lot of versions out there (some are apple-based or include cranberries, nuts or maple syrup), but I’m fond of this Middle Eastern version, which features lots of dried fruit. Put a half-cup each of raisins, prunes and dates in a pot with the juice from two oranges and the zest from one, plus a peeled and grated apple. Add one cinnamon stick, bring to a boil, and cook over low heat until the fruits have all gotten soft. Remove the cinnamon, puree (in the blender or with a stick mixer), and stir in a quarter-cup of honey. Store in a jar in the refrigerator.
Basler Brunsli cookies
I don’t cook many confections for the holidays; there’s always so much already out there, and nobody in my house is all that much into sweets. When I had kids hanging around, I’d make cookies, but even a small batch is too many now. However, these chocolate, almond and spice crisps are a nice airy treat, and I’m a sucker for anything made with nuts, because even just a little bit is very satiating. They originated in the town of Basel in northern Switzerland, and I discovered them thanks to Saveur magazine.
Turrón de Navidad
This is another nutty treat that I tried for the first time this year and it’s a keeper. I found this traditional Christmas dessert from Spain on the Nourished Kitchen blog. It has just three ingredients: honey, almonds and egg whites. If you’ve got kids who are old enough to help at the stove, they will enjoy this prep because the mixture bubbles as it heats, making some fun noises and shapes in the pot. I didn’t have a lot of slivered almonds on hand, so I only made half a recipe—and I think I should have put it in a smaller pan to harden, because mine came out flatter than the pictures at the links above. But it was a delicious, gooey treat regardless.
Have a very happy holiday, everyone!
Alice O'Dea has lived in Chattanooga for over 20 years, but was raised among the mucks and dairy farms in rural western New York. She didn't really learn to cook until midlife. When she's not puttering around in the kitchen, she enjoys running, cycling, traveling, photography and trying to get food to grow in the backyard of her Highland Park home. You can email her with questions, suggestions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.