You can keep your caviar. When New Year's Eve rolls around, give me crab cioppino. In San Francisco, where I grew up, winter is Dungeness crab season, so cooks are always looking for ways to serve it before it disappears until next year. Nothing warms the soul and makes me look forward to a year of great prospects than a meal of hot cioppino with sourdough bread and Champagne.
Bûche de Noël is one of my first choices for the Christmas dinner dessert. It has a traditional feel, and looks seasonal, and everyone at the table loves it. While there are two versions, vanilla and chocolate, I usually gravitate to the later because it is easy to embellish with secondary flavors like orange and peppermint. This year, Black Forest bûche, is making its debut. With some chopped cherries (available canned or frozen--I have never seen Black Forest cake made with fresh cherries!) and cherry liqueur (kirschwasser is typical, but any cherry booze will do), this will be a Christmas dessert that will require seconds. Interested?
I've already gotten a few personal emails wondering what I am going to make for my own Christmas dinner this year. Usually, it is a big hunk of roast beef, but this year, I need to keep to down to a dull roar with lots of make-ahead dishes. Lasagna has got to be the All-Time Classic Make-Ahead Dish. I've been making this one with both red and white sauces and a light chicken-spinach filling for years. In fact, it gave me one of my first moments of pride as a young chef when I served it at a catered dinner for one of my university professors. He told me, "This is the best lasagna I've had since I left Rome...and I am not kidding!" You just might agree--whether or not you've been to Rome! (Photo by Ben Fink.)
My Christmas cookies are done! I come from a long line of Christmas cookie bakers, and they took the job very seriously. My great aunts taught me to make an annual list of my cookies, and to take notes on the yields, adjustments to make next year, and other details. They also showed me that while those gorgeous cookies in food magazines are inspiring, you had better balance the time-consuming ones with some more practical offerings. Karen Tack, I'm not, but I still manage to make some pretty nice-looking sugar cookies. My secret is to keep it simple. By doing just one design (this year, green trees decorated with nonpareil sprinkles or shiny dragees to simulate ornaments), I am whip through many dozens in no time. Read on to find my favorite sugar cookie recipe, and click here for more cookie making tips.
The other day I was on Martha Stewart's radio show on XM with my good friend Betsy Karetnick and we were talking duck. One of my favorite holiday meals is duck--especially for New Year's Eve. But it isn't a very friendly dish to make for a crowd. Here's my way of doing it--saute the breasts and roast the legs.
Eggnog, in all of its creamy, luscious glory, is a must-have at my holiday parties. I love its nutmeg aroma and thick, booze-spiked flavor, even when the flavor is artificially produced with the extract in the supermarket version. Here are my two favorite homemade eggnogs.
For a guy who went to cateschism every Saturday as a kid, I feel as if latkes have been a part of my life forever. Although I didn't know a latke from a lollipop until I moved to New York, I have been making up for lost latkes ever since. Instead of making individual pancakes, I often make a ginormous latke, filled with sauteed leeks. Serve it with sour cream and applesauce, or with grilled chicken sausage. The flipping is a little daunting, but you'll get the hang of it.
Roast goose isn't a typical American holiday tradition, but it does evoke warm and toasty Dickens-like emotions, thanks to the Crachit's dinner in A Christmas Carol. I have roasted many a goose for various Christmas articles and books. My friends still joke me about the time I served roast goose for a July dinner because I had tested it for a magazine article with a long lead time. There are many caveats to putting a goose on the holiday table.
OK, you know the drill. You think of your toughest seasonal cooking dilemmas, and post as Comments them here. Then I will do my darnest to be sure that your holiday entertaining is merry and bright. Turkey, ham, eggnog, candy, cookies, food gifts for giving, menu issues...lay it on me!
Need to take a break from holiday shopping? I will be giving a short talk, with delectable tea and treats and a copy of either TEA AND COOKIES or COFFEE AND CAKE included, at Sweet Tease, a delightful shop in Manasquan, New Jersey. Tickets are available at Sweet Tease or Booktowne, an independent book seller also in Manasquan. Hope to see you there!