jillpickle: We like to invite friends to our house for supper for the holidays but we wanted to choose a simple menu. After all, Christmas with all its preparations can be exhausting! We chose to serve Creamy Red Pepper Soup as a first course, followed by make-your-own paninis and winter fruit salad. Then for dessert, we served Flourless Chocolate Cake topped with fresh whipped cream and raspberries. Bill made the soup which was great as always, especially with the homemade croutons and a spoonful of mascarpone cheese added. The fruit salad was a colorful concoction of kiwi, orange slices, Clementine sections, pineapple, pomegranate seeds and Asian pear slices. The Asian pear was sliced and added about 30 minutes before serving so it didn’t turn brown. For the paninis, we offered a variety of cheeses, meats (prosciutto, turkey and salami), homemade pesto, mayo and various tasty mustards from the Mustard Museum! It was fun making our own sandwiches which quickly grilled on our panini maker. Our dessert was a sweet ending being particularly chocolaty and rich but tasty with the cream and raspberries!
Bill: I had fun recently making some of our favorite Christmas cookies to get ready for the holidays. I made:
Date-Nut Pinwheels. These are one of my favorites which my mom made for our family. They take a little time to make, but they’re worth the extra effort.
Molasses Sugar Cookies. These are favorites of everyone in our family. Jill says to remember to underbake them a little so they’re squishy. Here’s the recipe from Jill’s mom. I used butter (no salad oil).
Brown Eyed Susans. Here is another family favorite that originates from Jill’s grandmother. The recipe calls for oleo which is also known as margarine. I used butter in place of the oleo and also used butter flavored Crisco.
5 in 1 Bars. Here is another family favorite that Jill got from her sister Patty. We make half of the pan with butterscotch chips and half with Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips. I also added a cup of chopped up pecans. Here’s the recipe.
Bill: We had our traditional Christmas breakfast today. Jill made Danish Puff from Betty Crocker’s cookbook. It tasted great! Jill remembers her mom making this for their family as they were growing up. We use ground pecans and maraschino cherries cut in half for toppings. An excellent breakfast!
Matthew: I was having a party with some work friends and I decided that I should try making cheese fondue since I hadn’t ever made it before. The photo above shows the cheese that was used along with the other food and beverages for the evening. I only ended up using the Emmenteler and Gruyère, since that was enough, and saved the Jarlsberg for later.
I used the simplest fondue recipe which called for:
1/2 garlic clove
1 pound Gruyère
8 ounces Emmentaler
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I used an Italian chardonnay)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 tablespoons kirsch (I didn’t add this)
You just rub the garlic clove in the saucepan (and to the fondue pot), then add all the ingredients to the saucepan and stir in a figure 8 motion over medium heat. Then I just transferred it to the fondue pot and it was ready. To dip in the fondue, we used chunks of bread, summer sausage, pretzel crackers, tiny pickles, and broccoli. I thought it was really good and I think my friends did too. It was definitely worth splurging on the fancy cheese. Later in the evening, we enjoyed the salted caramel cocoa with some Baileys and the Toblerone chocolates while playing a couple intense rounds of Skip-Bo!
Matthew: Now that the Willy Street Coop has a second location just a 10 minutes walk from my apartment, I’ve been stopping by a couple times a week to get amazing produce and specialty items that you can’t find at the other grocery stores. Tempeh is one of those items. I’ve made it a few times now and finally got this recipe down. Tempeh is basically a fermented soybean cake that still has the texture of the soybeans (which is why I prefer it over tofu). It doesn’t have a ton of flavor, so I crumble it up and marinate it for ~30 minutes in a good amount of soy sauce, a splash of rice wine vinegar, a small glug of toasted sesame oil, and some minced garlic. In the meantime, I used my mandolin to slice some carrots and cabbage, which went in the hot pan first and were later joined by the tempeh, green onions, and cilantro. To make the dish go a little further, I served it with soba noodles. This is a really quick weeknight meal to make. The actual chopping and cooking takes less than a half hour. I will definitely keep making this throughout the winter.
Katie: Now that pumpkin season is sadly coming to an end, I’ve moved on to another source of Vitamin A: sweet potatoes. We bought a bunch of sweet potatoes when we saw them on sale at the grocery store, and I’ve been looking for different ways of using them. I don’t think I’ve ever had shepherd’s pie before, but this recipe for Winter Vegetable Pot Pie sounded interesting. It’s basically a pot pie base made with roasted vegetables and topped with mashed sweet potatoes. I wasn’t quite sure how the apple juice would work with the other flavors, but it turned out really good! The base would probably also be good topped with a more typical pot pie biscuit topping. Here’s how I made it:
Sweet Potato Winter Vegetable Shepherd’s Pie (adapted from the McCormick website)
- 1 pound sweet potatoes (I used 3)
- 1 cup apple juice, divided
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 6-7 cups cubed winter vegetables (I used orange carrots, yellow carrots, parsnips, red potatoes, and celery), cut into 3/4 inch pieces
- olive oil
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 1/2 pound brown mushrooms, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 tsp. garlic salt
- 1 tsp. ground mustard
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork and bake on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper for an hour or until they are tender when pierced with a fork and are caramelizing. Remove from oven and cool. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees F.
- Toss chopped vegetables (excluding mushrooms and onions) with 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a large bowl. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with black pepper. Roast for 25 minutes or until vegetables begin to brown.
- Peel sweet potatoes and mash with 1/4 cup apple juice, butter, and nutmeg until smooth. Set aside and keep warm.
- Heat 1 tsp. olive oil over medium heat and saute the chopped onions and sliced mushrooms in a skillet until soft. Set aside.
- Mix vegetable broth, remaining 3/4 cup apple juice, cornstarch, garlic salt, mustard, thyme and in large skillet with wire whisk until well blended. Bring to boil on medium heat. Reduce heat to low; simmer 2 minutes. Add roasted vegetables, onions, and mushrooms; stir gently. Pour into a glass casserole dish. Top with mashed sweet potatoes.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes or until sweet potato topping starts to brown.
Matthew: Lately, I’ve been watching Two Fat Ladies, a British cooking show from the 90’s, and I was inspired to make something a bit old-fashioned and fancy, similar to the dishes they make on the show. I decided on Pommes Anna from the Joy of Cooking. The recipe has you pour a substantial amount of clarified butter into a cast iron skillet over low heat on the stove. You then layer in potatoes, overlapping the edges. I decided to spice up the recipe a bit with parmesan cheese and paprika between some of the layers. Once the potatoes are all in, it’s transferred to the oven and baked. Then, you drain off the excess butter and flip it over to reveal the crispy brown underside. Mine fell apart a bit when flipping since I used small potatoes that didn’t overlap too well. I’m sure if you used large baking potatoes, it would hold together. It was very tasty and I’m sure would be nice alongside some fish or other main course dish.