Welcome to the messy and cozy world of holiday cooking. We are getting ready for Christmas and an unaccustomed houseful of folks. I hope they are hungry.
On this chilly day the toasty warm Spy Test Kitchens are littered with a colorful mix of containers of broth, cans of tomatoes, cans of beans, oranges, cloves, a fragrant chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a sack of all-purpose flour, a bag of white sugar, cutting boards, kitchen shears, ladles, and a melon baller. Currently in use: a Dutch oven, a frying pan, the oven, and a cheese grater. I do not know how I will react if I hear Mariah Carey belting out “All I Want for Christmas” one more time today.
Yesterday I made a batch of sausage balls, planning for Christmas morning, because we will all have better things to unwrap and play with Monday morning. This way no one needs to steal away to the kitchen to make breakfast. Just coffee.
Later this afternoon I will also be prepping a batch of brioche cinnamon rolls, for the sweeter-toothed among us. I’ll be mixing up the dough, rolling and cutting it, and then stashing it away in the freezer, which is burgeoning with hopes and fears. On Sunday night I’ve got to remember to take the dough out and tuck it away in a warm corner to rise overnight.
Mr. Sanders is methodically plowing through an old print version of Epicurious magazine as he plans dinners for Saturday and Monday nights. The magazine is festooned with multi-colored and festive Post-Its. There also his legal pad, filled with lists, which he keeps checking. Now he is weighing and measuring tomatoes, carrots, ground beef, Italian sausage meat, while reducing liquids, stirring, tasting and improvising. He has built an impressive stack of cans of San Marzano tomatoes which will become, as the afternoon wears on, an Italian Wedding Soup.
We have some Christmas traditions food-wise. Most of our traditions come from our favorite cookbooks and a pile of vintage Gourmet, Epicurious, New York Times Sunday magazines. (Print lives on in our house.)
New this year: Italian Wedding Soup
Epicurious Italy, September 2014
From Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Makes 4 servings
Time: 10 minutes
3 eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups milk or half-and-half
1/2 cup rum (optional), or more if desired
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until well blended. Stir in the vanilla, the milk or half-and-half, and rum if desired.
2. Beat the egg whites and fold them in thoroughly. (You need not be too gentle; they should lighten the drink but not be discernible.)
Top with freshly grated nutmeg and serve.
Christmas Breakfast Frittata
From The Joy of Cooking
Serves 6 hungry people
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add: 3 to 5 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch wide strips (or, use sausage, ham, Canadian bacon, etc.–with cured meats such as ham, there is no need to sauté)
Sauté until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crispy.
Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate.
Drain off all but 2 tablespoons bacon fat and add to the skillet:
1 small onion, finely chopped (or a few minced shallots, or green onions, etc.)
Sauté until translucent.
Add and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes:
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Remove from the heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
In a large bowl, combine:
3/4 cup whole milk, buttermilk, or half-and-half
Cheese, in some form, in whatever quantity you prefer (I used leftover cheese bits to equal about 1/2 cup)
• Combine the vegetable mixture and the egg mixture and pour into a greased 9 X 13-inch pan.
• Bake until set, about 30 minutes.
• Turn on the broiler and broil until nicely browned and slightly puffy on top, about 5 minutes.
Our Sausage Ball recipe comes from Paula Deen: Forget about the dip, though. We just eat them plain, and you should, too.
Flourless Chocolate Cake
From Lee Bailey’s Country Desserts
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 stick of butter, softened
5 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a springform pan with parchment paper – it is never pretty. Like hospital corners on the bed, I can never do this tidily.
• Melt the chocolate and butter together in a pan, over a low heat, stirring to blend. Be careful not to rush this process! Set aside to cool.
• Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow in color. This can take up to 5 or 6 minutes. Add the vanilla.
• Clean the beaters, and now whip the egg white with the salt until they are stiff.
• Fold the chocolate mixture into the yolks, then fold in about one third of the egg white, mix gently. Then fold in the rest of the whites, mixing until there are no more white streaks.
• Pour the mixture into the springform pan and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes, test with a toothpick to be sure cake is done. The cake will rise gloriously while baking, and suddenly crash and collapse when you take it out of the oven. Do not worry about this! It will be deliciously and deliriously luscious.
• Cool the cake for about 10 or 15 minutes and then remove the side of the pan. Flip the cake onto a cooling rack. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment. Let it cool completely before adding the glaze.
You cannot change one speck of this magic chocolate glaze! I have been using this glaze since 1989. The cookbook always falls open to this page, which is also the glaze I use for Flourless Chocolate Cake. It is covered with crumbs and splatters from the festivities from the last 34 years.
3 ounces semisweet chocolate
3 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon
Melt the chocolate and butter together over a low heat, stirring until smooth. Stir in the brandy. Pour over the top of the cooled cake, smoothing with a spatula, and let it drip down the sides.
Merry Christmas from the Spy Test Kitchen Elves!
“There is nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child. … Time, self-pity, apathy, bitterness, and exhaustion can take the Christmas out of the child, but you cannot take the child out of Christmas.”