Holiday Tips and Shortcuts

Time runs short when prepping for the holidays at one point or another for all of us. I’ve gathered up some tips and shortcuts to help you through the holiday season that have proven their worth in my kitchen.

Peppermint is Your Friend
Hard peppermint candy is a wonderful all-purpose garnish for the winter season. Peppermint sticks used as stir sticks for hot cocoa add a minty splash to each cup. Crushed candies can be used to accentuate cookies (see the cookies items below), cakes, and even sprinkled around the edge of plates holding sweet dishes or dusted over slices of chocolate pie. Peppermint isn’t the only mint around. Spearmint is also more available during this time of year, as are many other flavors of candy canes. Get creative with your combinations and surprise guests with a little something extra.

Spiral Ham Saves Time
A spiral cut ham, while a little more pricey, will also save a lot of time when it comes to carving. Guests may choose full or half slices, or even layering the meat into a roll for a quick snack later in the evening. Figure on 1/2 pound of ham per person. The saltiness of ham pairs well with crisp flavors such as apple, pineapple, and cranberry. A chutney of these fruits makes a lovely glaze for baking, and a colorful and tasty spread for snacking on those ham rolls.

Traditional Flavors – From Another Country
Take a step away from the usual at the dinner or gathering table by basing your meal plan in the flavors of someplace far away. Europe is full of possibilities, as are some places closer to home.
Surprise your family with a European flare. The flavors of goose, gingerbread, a cherry stollen, marzipan cookies, and mulled wine will are examples of foods that will change a holiday meal into something memorable.
Going with a Spanish flavors, using saffron, tarragon, fennel and cinnamon to flavor your traditional dishes. The change in spices will fill your home with elegant scents, and offer your family something they won’t be expecting.
A taste of Mexico is another popular change, usually done Tex-Max style. Instead of turkey and dressing, go with tamales and chili, refried beans, hot queso and queso flameado with tortillas and chips.
Let’s not forget Jamaica! Jerked pork, fruit salsas of mango and pineapple, sweet breads, and if you really want to go all out, try roasted breadfruit. The textures and flavors are amazing.

Cookie Exchange
If you find yourself in a time crunch for a cookie exchange, Bake simple cookies such as snicker-doodles or sugar cookies and dip each cookie half-way in chocolate. Add holiday sprinkles or crushed peppermint to add even more tasty appeal. Macaron style filled cookies are also quick with pre-made frostings that come in dozens of flavors. Store bought cookies can also be treated this way, though make them something exciting and special by choosing foreign imports (Mexico and England are popular). Gingersnaps and vanilla wafers make good sandwich cookies. Roll the edges of the filling with crushed hard candies to add color and a personal touch.

Holiday Cocktails
Bring the flavors of the holidays into your party season or family gathering with adult beverages based in apple cider. Mix dark rum, cider, and cinnamon in a pitcher to serve hot or cold. Cider is also a good base for brandy and mulling spices.

Use a crock pot to keep your warm drinks warm with a low setting. Serve as needed all night long.

Cookie Tins
Cookies make great holiday gifts. colorful containers, both plastic and metal are wildly available these days, making cookie gift giving simple and attractive for the holidays. Whether you buy specialty cookies, or bake your own, choose four or five of each type of cookie, place them in cupcake papers to separate them, and arrange them attractively into your containers. Each container should hold several different types of cookies. Make several containers at one time so as to not waste cookies! Use mini tins to make wonderful party favors for guests to enjoy after the event is over.

Brownie in a Jar
Another fun gift for individuals who like to bake is a recipe in a jar. Choose a pretty jar with a good lid. Mason jars are good for this gift, though other styles may be used. Layer the dry ingredients of your favorite brownie recipe into the jar. Recipes for cookies, pancakes, and other baked goods may also be used – the more colorful and different the layers, the better. Write out the instructions and wet ingredients on the back of a festive gift tag and tie it to the jar with a bright ribbon. Add a bow on top for that extra touch.

 

I hope you have as much fun – and time savings! – as I have had with these suggestions over the years.

— Ann Cathey

 

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Food Porn – Sweets!

Once again there is a back log of food photographs that long to be shared. This time around everything seems to sweet, and with a mostly Mediterranean flair!

 

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Freshly cut baklava

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Baklava ready to serve

DSC_0136 Persian Walnut Cookies

Persian Walnut Cookies

DSC_0138 Choclate and Oatmeal

Oatmeal and Chocolate Cookies

DSC_0140 Greek Butter Cookies

Greek Butter Cookies

Enjoy!

— Ann Cathey

Holiday Advance Prep

Save yourself some time and stress by preparing as much in advance as possible. Here are some suggestions from our kitchen to yours for simplifying your holiday cooking.

Cookie Dough
Cookies are a great treat! Most cookies can be mixed up in advance, rolled into logs and frozen. When needed, they may be pulled out and sliced, baked, and served warm to your guests. Any type of cookie that doesn’t require a little something extra like a sugar crystal dusting or toppings is great for this preparation. Frozen cookie dough can also be used as an activity for kids or adults. Get together in the kitchen and make cookies together with family chats and a glass of wine or juice.

Stuffing Suggestions
Stuffing isn’t always cooked inside the bird. It is often baked alongside the bird so there’s plenty for everyone. The dry ingredients for stuffing can be mixed up to 2 days ahead of time and refrigerated until needed. Mix in the wet ingredients just before baking the dish.

For an extra layer of flavor in your stuffing, add pre-cooked and crumbled sausage or bacon. The sausage can be spicy or mild, sage or Italian spiced. Use whatever suits your meal plan and give your stuffing a boost. Diced apple, apricot or pear will also add an extra dimension to stuffing.

Sweet Treats
Unless it’s something that you want to serve hot out of the oven, many desserts can be made up a day or two in advance. Pumpkin or sweet potato pies refrigerate well. Filling for fruit pies and tarts can be mixed up in advance, stored in an airtight container and refrigerated until it’s time to build the pie and bake it. Dry ingredients for gingerbread, brownies, and cakes can be mixed up and stored in airtight containers without refrigeration. Simply add the wet ingredients and bake when you are ready.

Thawing The Bird
Frozen turkey, duck, goose, or whatever flavor of bird you desire for your holiday feast may be purchased weeks in advance and kept frozen until it’s time for the thaw. Remember to reserve space for thawing your turkey or other fowl. These meats should never be thawed at room temperature to avoid bacterial infection. Always thaw your bird at 40F or below, and allow 12 hours to thaw per four pounds of bird. Place the bird in a pan to avoid leaking into your refrigerator.

May your holidays begin and end with love!

–Ann Cathey