Christmas

wassailing.jpg

“…Among the leaves so green… love and joy come to you,
and to you your wassail too,
and God bless you and send you a happy new year,
and God send you a happy new year.”

Though I’ve never actually gone wassailing per say, I have though, made a batch of wassail to fill my home with the scents of the season and share with friends and family. This Farmer’s wassail incorporates the garden and seasonal produce that will pack your home with fragrance for days to come. I actually make two versions of this wassail… the base basically the same for both, but one is much better for ingesting than the other, mainly because of the presence of sugar.

Wassailing is actually an act of celebrating somewhat noisily while drinking a concoction, wassail, of warm beer or wine seasoned with spices and fruit. An English tradition that was brought to the colonies, wassailing and making wassail became a source of delight, warmth, season’s greetings, and entertainment for merry folk; and rightly so! Making and sharing wassail is merry and bright!

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horns006.jpgMore than twenty years ago, when my Auntie Elinor was living in Riverside, Illinois, she began sending me the special holiday cookbook that her local newspaper published. It was packed with all kinds of recipes that readers had shared. I always loved reading through its pages.

One year, as I read through the recipes, I came upon an interesting cookie called Horns. Tender pastry dough, rich with butter and sour cream, is rolled out thin and sprinkled with a cinnamon-sugar-nut mixture.

Wedges of dough are rolled up and baked. The dough is very nice to work with and rolls out very easily. If you haven't had a lot of experience with pastry dough, this is one you'll want to try. It's very user-friendly.

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duckbreast.jpgGrowing up eating roast duck often, especially during holidays, stoked my love for all things duck. Foie gras, pâté, or duck confit, I love it all. It's a rich food in more ways than one. But for the holidays it's worth a little splurge. Most of my family's Thanksgivings were always about the juicy roast duck and not the dry turkey. As the years passed we've held to American tradition and dined on turkey for Thanksgiving, but we always have duck on Christmas day. Roasting is a great technique, but sometimes the breast tends to get dry since it cooks faster. I find the best way to cook it is by searing, which renders all the fat and crisps the skin, leaving behind a very flavorful, medium-rare cut of meat. Any steak lover would be pleased with the result. Plus searing is a fast and simple technique that does not have to be limited to holidays.

Duck always pairs well with something sweet, tart, tannic, and astringent. All of those lip-smacking aspects work to cut the richness of the duck. A good tart, tannic wine is also a must. But I knew I had the perfect pairing in pomegranate juice, pressed from the jewels or arils of pomegranates. The red, hexagonal pod fruit is readily available in the markets in the winter season. I had already been planning on developing a recipe to feature this duck-pomegranate pairing when POM Wonderful contacted me to see if I was interested in taking up a challenge of cooking with their juice. I agreed and was sent a box of juice bottles to experiment with. From that juice I was able to create the feature sauce and a complementary vinaigrette for the salad.

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mccrestaurantChristmas traditions abound all over the world. For instance, in recent years KFC has become somewhat of a Christmas meal tradition in Japan, mind boggling tidbit that it is. However did you ever wonder how noted chefs and restaurateurs celebrate Christmas? As it is usually their busiest season, with all of the parties and holiday dining, some shine it on and let someone else do the cooking, preferring to lay low and veg out on the couch in front of the tube. Others go the busman’s holiday route, keeping their home fires burning while stirring their pots and aiming those meat thermometers straight into the middle of the roast.

Michael McCarty, the iconic restaurateur, creator/owner of Michael’s in Santa Monica and Michael’s in New York City is definitely your DIY Christmas Traditionalist. He’s the whiz kid/enfant terrible who brashly and boldly opened the Santa Monica restaurant at the ripe young age of 25, and did he ever cause a ruckus! In what has proven over the years to be both his nature and his signature style, even at 25 he had the knowledge, taste, and chutzpah to wake LA and shake it up. He created a glorious outdoor dining patio and interior rooms where diners could look at museum quality art by LA’s top artists including David Hockney, Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses and Robert Graham to name a few. The excellent cuisine, made from the finest, freshest ingredients, was perfectly and elegantly served in this beautiful art filled environment. It may sound like a big reach for one so young, but not for Michael who set himself on this course 35 years ago and hasn’t strayed since.

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ricottapancakesJeff and I have been starving ourselves for the past few days. Well, not actually starving. We did have our morning coffee. Oh, and I sneaked in a couple of double chocolate pomegranate cookies yesterday. But those don't count. I was recipe testing.

Why are we starving ourselves? Because on Christmas Eve night, we will be enjoying a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. That means fried calamari, fried smelts, and crab cakes. Snail salad, bacala (a dried, salted fish), and shrimp cocktail. (Those are just the starters.) Then comes the pasta. Two types of pasta, actually -- one with mixed seafood including shrimp, scallops, and lobster; the other with olive oil, clam sauce, and parsley. Then we'll finish with jumbo stuffed shrimp and garlicky broccoli rabe.

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