by Jolene Adams
I can hardly believe it’s time to flip the calendar to November! Wasn’t it just 80 degrees a couple of weeks ago? I’m not ready for the cold temps, blustery winds or the snow … definitely not ready for snow! In fact, who’s ever ready for snow?
What I will be ready for is the holiday season. In the first days of November I’ll start planning holiday dinners and baking. While many people start counting down the shopping days left until Christmas, I start counting the number of Saturdays I have to bake this season. I also have to start menu planning for the several big family dinners I will host over the next two months. As much as I would like to make everything on every holiday-themed Pinterest board, let’s face it, there just isn’t time. With a little planning, I hope to make the best use of the time I do have to put a wonderful spread on the table and bake plenty of sweets to share with family, friends and co-workers.
First thing to do is make a good, old fashioned list. Write down every dish you think you’d like to have for a holiday dinner, or if it’s about baking, then every item you want to bake. A list always helps me to drill down to exactly what will be on the menu or what I will bake. Evaluate the list for like items. When planning a dinner, are there multiple dishes that are similar on the list? Although it is perfectly acceptable to have numerous sides during a holiday feast, it is another thing to lack variety. Take starches for instance. Are there several russet potato dishes on the list, like mashed, baked, casseroles, etc.? If so, switch it up a little. Try incorporating a different starch such as sweet potatoes, a rice pilaf or a creamy noodle dish.
Sometimes the variety of foods isn’t the issue, but lack of variety in cooking techniques can become apparent from a dinner list. Are you roasting a turkey, roasting root vegetables, making roasted red pepper soup, etc.? If so, try changing up the techniques by deep frying the turkey or making glazed carrots instead of roasted.
Variety is important when baking too. When I think of items to bake for a gift basket, I try to include a quick bread or muffin, cookies, some sort of breakfast pastry, something chocolate or some type of candy and maybe a mini pie or fruit crisp.
Lastly, use the list to choose items that complement each other for a meal. I’ve made lists for dinner that have everything from lasagna to apple stuffed pork loin to chicken and noodles. Once I zero in on an entrée, then I can plan the sides accordingly. For example, I might serve baked mac and cheese with pork loin, but choose something like a green bean casserole to go with the lasagna instead of the mac and cheese.
Next I use the list to divide and conquer. When planning a dinner, I try to select items for appetizers, desserts and sides that can be made ahead of time, or at least some of the components can be, in order to focus on the main dishes the day of the dinner. When baking, I look for recipes that can be frozen and items that keep well so they too can be made in advance. Last year I made both cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies ahead of time. Cinnamon rolls can be rolled and placed in disposable pie pans, covered and frozen until ready to bake. Sugar cookies can be rolled out, shapes cut out and frozen in stacks between layers of parchment paper, ready to be thawed and baked. Dinner items such as a cheeseball, a ragu sauce, a salad dressing are all things that can be made days ahead of dinner.
Last but not least, I always try to include some classic dishes or baked treats in dinners and gift baskets. Although it is fun to try new recipes and incorporate new flavors, you should always have a few of the good old favorites for your friends and family. Remember, not everyone likes change. One holiday I decided to make saffron rice instead of rice pilaf for my family. They were not impressed and I was slightly offended; hey, saffron is expensive! They were much happier with the traditional pilaf. Lesson learned.
All and all, just enjoy the coming together of loved ones for holiday dinners, and hopefully you have the time to share some sweet treats with friends and family. Here are a few of my favorite holiday go-to recipes.
Pancetta Crisps with Goat Cheese and Pear
12 thin slices pancetta (about 1/3 lb.)
1 Bartlett pear
4-ounce package goat cheese, crumbled
Freshly cracked pepper
Garnish: fresh thyme sprigs
Arrange pancetta slices in a single layer on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.
Bake at 450° for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer to a paper towel-lined wire rack using a spatula. Let stand 10 minutes or until crisp.
Core pear with an apple corer. Cut pear crosswise into 12 thin rings. Arrange on a serving platter. Top evenly with pancetta and goat cheese; sprinkle with pepper. Drizzle with honey just before serving. Garnish, if desired
1 large egg white
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 1/2 cups pecan halves, or assorted nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, or almonds
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Beat egg white until soft and foamy. Combine all remaining ingredients except pecans; whisk into egg white. Stir in pecans until well coated; spread mixture in single layer onto an ungreased baking pan.
Bake pecans for 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Using a metal spatula, toss, stir and separate nuts. Reduce oven to 250 degrees and return nuts to bake until medium brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven; toss and stir again. Place baking pan on wire rack to cool (they will crisp as they cool.) Break up any that stick together.
16 ounce package of large button mushrooms
8 ounce cream cheese
8 ounce package of imitation crab, flake style
4 ounce parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Olive oil for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
Rub dirt from mushrooms and remove stems. Set aside.
Mix cream cheese, crab, cheese, sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper in food processor or mixer. Mix until it comes together.
Spoon mixture into centers of mushrooms, laying them on parchment-lined sheet pan.
Dust with paprika and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake at 325 for 20-30 minutes depending on size of mushroom.
1/3 cup chopped dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 wheel (8-ounce) Brie
1 egg white
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine cranberries, apricots, almonds, honey, thyme, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Roll puff pastry to 12-inch square. Trim top rind off Brie and center cheese on pastry. Top with fruit mixture.
Beat egg white and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and brush some egg wash along pastry edges. Gather dough up around Brie, twisting into a topknot. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes.
Brush pastry lightly with egg wash and place on a parchment-lined baking pan. Bake for 35 minutes to 45 minutes or until golden brown.
Lincoln Land Community College offers credit programs in Culinary Arts, Hospitality Management, Baking/Pastry and Value Added Local Food, and non-credit cooking and food classes through our Community Learning Culinary Institute. For more information, visit our website at www.llcc.edu. Cooking or food questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org