Holiday Goodies

stuffedsquash2.jpgIt's already in full swing. Thanksgiving turkey mania. You know what I'm talking about. The endless, frenzied debate over how to cook the perfect turkey. With all the food magazines, cooking shows and turkey hotlines available, I know you'll find more information than you ever wanted on the bird. 

That's why I'm posting about Thanksgiving side dishes: They're much less controversial. You can't brine sweet potatoes or deep fry cranberry sauce. At least, I don't think you can.

Last year I shared four Thanksgiving side dishes with a twist: Perennial favorites like sweet potatoes and string beans got a makeover. They looked fabulous. But we can't make the same veggies this year. Well, except for the String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Lemon. I have to make those again. Don't worry though. I've got a few new ones for you that won't disappoint.

Let's start with Festive Stuffed Acorn Squash. A robustly sweet and tangy filling of shallots, cranberries, prunes and pecans is nestled inside of a hot roasted acorn squash half.

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From the New York Times

widow cliquot
The Widow Clicquot,” Tilar J. Mazzeo’s sweeping oenobiography of Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, is the story of a woman who was a smashing success long before anyone conceptualized the glass ceiling. Her destiny was formed in the wake of the French Revolution when, Mazzeo suggests, “modern society — with its emphasis on commerce and the freedom of the individual — was invented.” Barbe-Nicole, daughter of a successful textile maker turned Jacobin, is portrayed as someone whose way of doing business helped define the next century.

Fate cursed or blessed her with the mantle of early widowhood. Her husband, a winemaker from whom she learned the craft, died when she was 27, leaving her a single mother — the veuve (widow) Clicquot. Officially, the cause of François Clicquot’s death was typhoid, which was then commonly treated by feeding the patient Champagne, believed to strengthen the body against what was known as malignant fever. “To think that a bottle of his own sparkling wine might have saved François!” Mazzeo writes, going on to speculate that it is also possible he killed himself because business wasn’t good.

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ImageMy first taste of goat’s cheese was at a tapas restaurant in Chicago many years ago. The soft, creamy cheese with a fairly mild, salty taste was topped with pine nuts. At the time, the flavors were so different from what I was accustomed to eating. During the years since that first introduction, I’ve become quite fond of the full, rich flavor of goat cheese.

One of my favorite ways to serve goat cheese is to spread the room-temperature cheese on a platter and top it with sliced sundried tomatoes in oil, smashed kalamata olives and slivers of fresh basil. I drizzle some of the oil from the jar of sundried tomatoes over the whole platter and serve it with baguette slices. Guests cover the bread with oil-soaked cheese and then top it with the tomatoes, olives and basil. The whole thing can be assembled right before guests arrive. It’s not a concoction I developed myself. Mary Risley, of Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco served it at the first class I ever took from her.

This holiday season I’ve combined those same ingredients and baked them in tiny little cream cheese tart shells. The rich custard holds all the ingredients together in a flaky cream cheese cup.

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chocespressocookiesAre you looking for that perfect cookie to round out your holiday cookie platter? The one that will please the chocolate lovers, the coffee lovers and nut lovers alike? This is it!

It is complex and full of goodness. I suggest tripling the recipe because it is crazily addictive. But, here is why I like it for a cookie platter. You need variety in your assortment of holiday cookies, but every cookie can't be a labor intensive nightmare. You'll never get it done. Listen to me, I'm so cynical?  But really, it's experience talking. You know what I mean. We all want these gorgeous plates of holiday cookie beauty, but it is so hard to do.

You have to have a few cookies that knock it out of the park on taste and are easy-schmeazy to make. This one doesn't need eggs and all that other fancy stuff. It's so easy to throw together between all the sugar cut out cookies.

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panatonefrenchtoastBack in Rhode Island, there was never much to look forward to after Christmas. The holiday decorations came down, it was depressingly dark by 4:30 pm, and that once-fluffy-perfect-for-sledding-snow had turned into treacherous black ice. But there was always panettone.

Panettone is an Italian sweetbread made with candied orange, zest, citron, and raisins that is closely associated with Christmas and New Year's Day. Growing up in Rhode Island, my family received a lot of panettone for Christmas because it was a go-to gift among Italians. Need a gift for your lawyer? A loaf of panettone is perfect. Invited to someone's house for coffee around the holidays? Bring panettone. Have an exceptionally good mailman? Give him a loaf of panettone, plus a shot of anisette when no one's looking. That always warms him up a bone-chillingly cold route.

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