Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Preparations

For Christmas, I'm catering again for my parents.  We cook the meal at my house, then pack it all into a cooler with a couple of bricks that we bake, along with the ham, to keep the hot stuff at least warm until we arrive, and keep the stuff that needs to stay cool separate.  Then we drive over to their place, and unpack it all, to be served buffet style.

My dad loves ham, and the rest of us like it, too, so that's what we serve for Christmas.  There must be stuffing, for my dad, and potatoes au gratin for me.  Dad also loves his cranberry sauce, so there must be that.  I make it with fresh cranberries, apples, and a handful of craisins.  We call it "crapplesauce" in private; it tastes anything but crappy, though.  And, we have to have a pumpkin pie.  Why, I don't know, but we all like it, with vanilla whipped cream, so I make those from scratch, too.

In October, we buy our pumpkins from a local pick-your-own farm, then use them later for their food value.  It's not difficult to make and freeze your own pumpkin mash, as long as you use a food mill with the finest insert/die, and leave it to drain in a coffee strainer for a few hours before bagging and freezing it, by the pint.  One pint = one pie.  Or, a quart of soup, if that's the way you roll.

Cookies.  There have to be cookies.  I like to make spice cookies and cream cheese cookies, both of which utilize a cookie press.  The spice ones, if you ball the dough and just bake them like that, resemble and taste like pfefferneusse, minus the anise.  For the cream cheese ones, it doesn't really matter what die you use in the press, but the star shaped one makes nice wreaths, which I can sprinkle with green sugar, just to give them a holiday look.

I used a BB&B coupon today to get bucks off a few kitchen gadgets I wanted:  a really sturdy silicon spatula, one of those things to measure out shortening or lard, so you can scrape it off the top, rather than trying to carve it out of a measuring cup, and a small "ice cream scoop" to use for measuring out cookie dough for drop style cookies.  Yes, the small pleasures of (small) kitchen gadgetry make me happy, as long as they're not too expensive.  The fat measuring thingy is the only one trick pony in the bunch, and I can live with that.

The candy has also been made: peppermint bark and peanut brittle.  I was a little too low on butter to make a batch of English toffee, even though I had all the rest of the ingredients, so peanut brittle it was.

We'll still need to make a grocery run over the weekend for fresh veggies and few other items, but we basically have Christmas covered.

We already bought the frozen duck for New Year's Eve.  I saw it in the grocery store last week, and grabbed one, because they don't always have them when I want one.  Besides, we had the freezer space.  I make that with a mushroom, sage, long grain and wild rice mix, and whatever other side dishes grab me at the time.

My family never had a New Year's Eve tradition when I was growing up, but duck has become ours over the past decade or so.  We got stuck doing a goose one New Year's Eve, because we couldn't find a duck; the goose was fine, but not worth the cost, and the mess the dog caused when he toppled the roasting pan  full of grease from the stovetop (minus the goose) onto the floor took me an hour to clean properly, so that we wouldn't slip.  No.  More.  Goose.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sweet and Sour Pork

I've made this before with chicken instead of pork.  The sauce is the main thing, along with pineapple chunks.  For veggies, I'll use practically anything that needs to be used -- broccoli, zucchini, or whatever.  This evening, I went with bell pepper and onion, and butchered a fresh pineapple, rather than having to resort to canned in juice.  Sweet and sour sauce recipe follows the picture.

Sweet and Sour Sauce (makes approx. 2 cups):
3/4 c. sugar
1/3 c. white vinegar
2/3 c. pineapple juice (or water)
1/4 c. soy sauce (preferably reduced sodium)
1 Tbs. ketchup (or tomato paste)
2-1/2 Tbs. cornstarch

Mix ingredients; they will thicken when boiled.  Add more water, if you like it thinner.  Can be made in a saucepan ahead, and stored in the refrigerator for later use. 

For the meat portion of the dish, cube it, and marinate it in soy sauce for an hour or so before starting to saute the veggies.  The meat and pineapple chunks go in after the veggies are nearly done, and the sauce at the end, after the meat has browned.  The meat will finish cooking as the sauce comes to a boil and thickens.

Monkey Bread

The recipe is from Beard on Bread.  It calls for pre-soaked dried currants, but I didn't have any, and opted to use pomegranate "craisins" instead.  I'm sure it would work with raisins, dried cranberries, or even dried blueberries.  My bag of dried pomegranate seeds was brand new, so they seemed moist enough that I didn't bother to soak them, but did give them a rough chop to be closer to the size of dried currants.

I've made this recipe by the book before.  Today's improvisation worked extremely well.  Monkey bread is a sweet yeast bread that requires two risings, plucking off balls of dough to roll in a butter/brown sugar/dried fruit mix, and uses a tube or angel food pan.  The texture and moisture is a bit like a sticky bun.