The people's voice of reason

Cooking for the Holidays

We made it half-way through two of the biggest holiday meals. Thanksgiving is the holiday when the meal is the showcase and the time to show off your skills to the family and friends that are gathered. The next meal at Christmas is secondary to the reason for the holiday. But the Christmas dinner is still important and it is another time to show off your skills as a cook.

Besides just the holidays themselves, I like cooking this time of year. There is a nip in the air and sometimes it gets downright cold. When you live in a home built in 1830, with 13 “nine on nine” single pane windows plus 10 regular single pane windows on the first floor, a change in the weather is noticeable. So cooking this time of year is to warm my body and soul and my house.

Changing the food you eat at your meals reflects the change in seasons. Going from cold cereal and fruit to a bowl of grits or oatmeal for breakfast, a cold cut sandwich to hot soup for lunch followed by a crock pot of slow cooked meats and vegetables for dinner will satisfy your body’s need for warmth.

The meats cooked are the same throughout the year except for the traditional meats such as turkey and ham mostly eaten at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the method does change somewhat, using thicker cuts and tougher cuts that can withstand longer cooking times.

The vegetables this time of year like root vegetables can handle longer cooking times and are flavorful and healthy additions to soups and stews. Roasting vegetables in the oven, low heat simmering on top of the stove or crock pot cooking are ideal methods for winter cooking.

Winter squash, beets, turnips, parsnips, kale and leeks are common in cold weather cooking. Except for spaghetti squash, almost any winter squash can substituted for any other in any recipe.

Christmas dinner at Mount Vernon in the 1790’s has the same ingredients found in somewhat more modest dinners served today. Roast beef, roast turkey, baked acorn squash, baked sweet potatoes and baked pies are some of the items still served.

A Christmas dinner in 1847 was much the same, Roast turkey, cranberry sauce, Ham, turnips, beets, winter squash and mince pies.

But one hundred years later we have an article from the Washington Post, Dec. 22, 1959 saying,

“For modern homemakers who are short on time, the turkey dinner offers a batch of quick tricks. Here they are: Buy a frozen stuffed bird. Leave it in the refrigerator to defrost for 24 hours before roasting time. Roast in a slow oven, 325 degrees until done...Make gravy with condensed, canned soup and drippings. (Cream of mushroom, cream of celery or cream of chicken soup, right from the can, does wonders with turkey drippings. A few turns of a wooden mixing spoon—and presto—creamy gravy with no lumps). Use frozen or canned peas combined with canned with onions (the tiny ones) and buts (?) of chopped pimento for a colorful vegetable dish that ready in 10 minutes. Whip up the smoothest-ever mashed potatoes by using packaged, instant potatoes. Open a can of cranberry jelly and make individual salads.”

My oh my what have we become?

The fifties was not a good decade. Thank goodness for a menu from Bon Appetit, Dec, 1998. “Crab Cakes and Baby Greens with Lemon Vinaigrette, Champagne, Crown Roast of Pork with Apple and Pork Stuffing and Cider Gravy, Butternut Squash and Rutabaga Puree, Sweet and Sour Red Cabbage, Pinot Noir, Chocolate-Orange Buche de Noel”

What we can do is come to a happy median between the labor intensive costly banquets of the past and the “open a can and make a meal” of the fifties. One way to do this is roasting vegetables. The different root vegetables that are available today are nutritious and flavorful. And this recipe can not be much simpler. For a side dish, this adds flavor and color to your plate.

I lamented over the menu for Christmas dinner in the 1950’s. A menu that didn’t make you think about the food you were eating and didn’t take much imagination on the preparation. And short cuts that don’t take much skill to prepare. There are short cuts that you can take that have the same ingredients but the method has been up-dated usually because of the utensils and equipment that is now available. An example is Hollandaise Sauce.

When I was in my chef apprenticeship, we had to learn to make hollandaise the old fashion way, in a warmed metal bowl, whisking until your hand hurt. I thought I would never make it as a chef if I had to do this everyday. Well except for that one time, I never made it that way again. And in all the kitchens I worked in, I rarely saw anyone making that way. It was usually another apprentice learning how in front of the Chef. If you are making it for one or two dishes and you want to show off, go ahead. But in a large banquet kitchen where you needed a gallon or so, the metal bowl would hack it.

They would not have invented the blender if they didn’t want you to use it. So this Christmas if you want to add a touch of grace to your meal, add some hollandaise to your vegetables or turn your breakfast egg and muffin sandwich into a Eggs Benedict.

When what to my wondering eye should appear----but 10 extra pounds on hips, thighs and rear.

The fondest memories are made gathered around the table.

Please see Davids recipes on the pdf of this page.


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