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


Medicinal Purposes Bar and Grill – Galveston, Texas

Medicinal Purposes is a bar and grill located on the eastern end of Galveston Island near the University of Texas Medical Branch.  Unlike many of the restaurants and bars in Galveston, Medicinal Purposes – or MPs, as they call it – boasts it’s own large parking lot.

Inside, MPs is spacious and comfortable.  The decor is eclectic and a bit eccentric – think med school meets Mardi Gras – the staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and efficient, and the jukebox is just plain awesome (while I did not peruse the selections myself, a couple of staff members plugged an amazing array of songs in – everything from “Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles and Willie Nelson to “Beautiful Disaster” by 311, which should tell you all you really need to know about the personalities of the folks who work at MPs).

We did not try the drinks, though there are some specialty cocktails on the menu that sound delightful.  We went there for dinner, and dinner we got.  My dining companion ordered the boudain sliders while I opted for the daily special, the Islander Burger (with two sides).  My dining companion couldn’t pass up dessert, either, so we ended up getting the weekly ‘sweet’ (Louisiana Crunch cake) to go.  Our total tab for dinner, dessert, and two Cokes came to $31.35 (not including gratuity).  We walked away with dessert for later and enough leftovers for another meal.

As for the food itself…divine.

The boudain sliders – hand-breaded and deep-fried boudain patties, bacon, jalapeno, and cheese on tiny buns – were spicy with a hint of barbecue taste (likely from the bacon).  Though I needed to keep a drink handy, the flavor was simply amazing.  The sliders come with chips.  These are not your typical potato chips but thick cut slabs of potato fried to a perfect crunch.

The Islander burger is a sesame-teriyaki burger topped with pickles, lettuce, tomato, grilled pineapple, and roasted red peppers.  It may not have been the best burger I’ve ever eaten, as I have eaten a LOT of burgers in my time, but it was at least in the top five.  The patty was perfectly cooked, the condiments and toppings were in the proper proportions, and the flavors melded together beautifully.  The special came with two sides, and I opted for double fries so I could split them with my dining companion.  Much like the chips, they were not what we expected.  Instead of the standard fare, they were thick wedges (or, as I like to call them, real potatoes).  They were cooked just right, too: done enough to be tasty when ordered but with a little wiggle room for re-heating later.

We have not yet tried the cake, but I can only assume it will be as wonderful as the rest of the food.

So, in summation, Medicinal Purposes gets an A+.  I’ll be recommending it to anyone who will listen.  The food, atmosphere, and people are all amazing, and as an added bonus, they deliver.  I’m very glad we decided to give it a try, and we’ll be going back soon.

-LB Clark