Saturday, January 23, 2010

Christmas Eve Dinner

Obviously there has to be at least one special dinner during the Christmas holiday, although I loved cooking big dinners almost every night. I'm not a big turkey fan, although I seriously dream about cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner. And I am not going to make a ham. Ever, if I can help it.

And, a fancy meal deserves a fancy bread, right? And did you know that rosemary-onion-parmesan focaccia is fairly easy to make? This could have been ready in a little over two hours, but it waited all day. The recipe, of course, was from Oracle Crocker. I should totally work as a chef at Olive Garden.

People tell me all the time that baking is an exact science; that you have to have the perfect amounts, conditions, etc. Bah. If I can make yeast breads, you can too. And I still don't measure. (And on the off occasion that I do, I run and get my husband and say, "See? See what I'm doing here??")

I didn't make ham, and I didn't cook a turkey. When I was younger, we'd have steak for Christmas dinner for just that reason. So what did I make for my first married Christmas in my very own home?

I slow cooked a roast allllll day for the main event. With cooked carrots, onions, and Yukon gold potatoes. Sure, it looks like an alien's organ in the picture. I can't take all the credit, though. The darling husband picked out the five-pound tri-tip and the Yukon gold potatoes. Tri-tip is an amazing cut, and Yukon gold potatoes are known for tasting extra buttery, naturally. I don't think he knew this when he was at the store, but we'll just say he's that good. OK? Oh, and the beautiful platter was a gift from my mom. I felt like I was having such a grown up party.

I'm not entirely sure Christmas Eve dinner went over better than Christmas Day dinner. For Christmas Day, I made Greek lemon soup and replaced the chicken with some chicken ravioli. It was a little risky, a little exotic, and completely worth it.

It was so much fun cooking big dinners that week. Anyone up for some dinner parties?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Christmas Cookie Roundup III

Does it seem like I made way more cookies than I did last year? That's because I've turned it in to three posts.

Bringing out the newest member of the family, the wintermint wafer.
I saw pictures of these in my holiday Real Simple issue, and wanted to make them. They're chocolate. They're mint. They're beautiful.

If they weren't coated in chocolate (or leftover royal icing, as the case may be), these would have been terribly crumbly too. I rolled them and sliced them in squares and circles. It's also kind of a bummer that peppermint extract is really expensive.

But, I got to use my fancy decorating stuff. Pearls from Target, and dirt cheap, and red & white peppermint flavored sugar from ... somewhere. Also cheap. I'm stocked.

Sadly, I never got a picture of the full glory of all the cookies I made. But, here's the final list:

  • Gingerbread army and barracks
  • Sugar cookies
  • Poinsettia (holly) cookies
  • Wintermint wafers
  • Haystacks
  • Red velvet cream cheese cookies
  • Buckeyes
  • Peppermint Bark

That's way more than I made last year. Here's to outdoing it in 2010!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Christmas Cookie Roundup II

This year I was going all out. This year I was going to make all of my cookies with real butter, rather than my old faithful Imperial sticks.

Things started off alright. I made sugar cookies (I'd heard my mother in law likes them) and I wanted to try my royal icing skills again. So I made a batch of Christmas trees ...

But if you look closely, the cookie doesn't quite look the like the same texture. Remember these? They were better, even if the decoration wasn't. Thank goodness the royal icing hardened, otherwise these might have just fallen apart.

Sort of like these.

My beloved poinsettia cookies just weren't the same, and I'm blaming the butter. I mean, sure the family recipe says "butter." What that means is Country Crock, or whatever was on sale or on hand at the moment. Whoops, I think I just cracked the code and spilled the family secrets. These were still good, but couldn't possibly make it to St. Louis in any form. I could hardly move them.

The verdict? Butter is not better. I love you, Imperial.

Next: the final countdown.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christmas Cookie Roundup I

Get ready for cookie overload!

This year, I thought I'd have lots of time for baking. I wasn't going to have to contend with final exams. We were only doing one leg of the midwestern whistlestop tour. I was going to be a lovely hostess for a week. So I surveyed last year, and started planning.

Of course, when you're in school and it's time for exams, you will find that your room/house/apartment is never cleaner. Procrastination wasn't on my side this year. Especially not when I had a guest bedroom and bathroom to finish up with all those nice touches like ... sheets. And curtains.

But, I wasn't going to let that stop me. And we'll start with the gingerbread.

Every year I make a batch of gingerbread using the edict of Oracle Betty. And every year the result is something to the effect of "@!#$% that's a lot of dough!!!" So, instead of building a complete gingerbread army, I split it up a little.

Of course, there were the gingerbread men. And women, this year. I made them in little couples, but didn't get very far in decorating before I ran out of time. These guys made it.

Some of the gingerbread ... people didn't get decorated per se. Some of them got chocolate-ified! My mother in law sent us this video on producing Christmas at Disney World (an online video, no less, since we're still to cheap for cable). Andy saw the chocolate-backed shingles of the gingerbread house there, and thought that might make gingerbread worth eating!

We didn't do the glaze, though, and to be honest I accidentally put double the ginger in than was called for. Don't worry, it was still good!

So that accounts for some of the dough. And the rest?

Now this is about the only kind of construction I can get in to. No kit involved! I did use a paper template to cut out the pieces before baking them, and I do wish I'd made the roof a little larger. I got the idea for the pecan shingles from a blog, but there were so many gingerbread houses that I forget where I saw it originally. And then I saw someone had made a gingerbread model of their house, and UGH! I wish I'd seen it before I'd baked the pieces.

Yes, that recipe really does make that much!

Next, the verdict on whether butter is better ...