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Saturday, December 18, 2010

TIS THE SEASON

It’s that time of year again. In November we give thanks for what we have. What we know. Part of that process is remembering to appreciate anew those that are present in our lives, and missing those that no longer are. Maybe we can be grateful for things too in addition to the people who add to our lives. An amazing sunset, a beautiful flower or piece of art or music can go a long way to helping to see how lovely life is. But since I retired and have the time to spend observing humanity I have to say that I just love the people! Oh not each individual and everything but the interesting and distinct personalities and thought processes. Wow! I am grateful for that!
But let’s face it; Thanksgiving is a holiday primarily about the food. A recent survey I saw stated that a large percentage of the respondents thought the side dishes were the best thing about the Thanksgiving meal. My reaction to that is “of course”. You can’t do that much with turkey. Okay, in recent years people have learned to grill, deep fry and stuff a turkey with duck and chicken (turducken?) Sounds fowl to me. So there is some added “creativity”, and I have heard people say they love the idea because it’s so unusual. Unusual is not always the best indicator of a good meal, I should think. In any case it’s usually still basically turkey and that is the preferred for the holiday.
What’s great about the sides is they do allow for a lot of variation. In this blog in past times I have featured a dish called root vegetable gratin. (Gastromusings ; Nov 22, 2008) It is wonderful tasting and everyone who has had it seems to love it. I love it because it not only utilizes vegetables that are currently in season and available, but also because they are vegetables that I normally don’t use that much. And I do love the different taste. So it’s a food holiday, really. One more reason to give thanks I suppose. That simplifies the whole process.
Speaking of simplification, desserts are pretty basic too. Regardless of how many types of ideas Gourmet, Bon Appétit, and Martha Stewart offer, the reality is most people prefer pie. And of that, pumpkin is the clear winner, backed up by other reliable favorites like pecan and apple pie. We always opt for pumpkin, since like so many foods associated with this holiday, it seems like this is the only time of year we have it. We and our dinner companions depend on certain things being the same year to year. It’s the tradition of course.
Here’s a mystery; why do we only eat those things on the holidays? Turkey, dressing, pumpkin pie are all available and good tasting all year round. I get it that when you rarely have something it makes it more special, but still, why not have dressing in say, June?
This year daughter Bonnie was prevailed upon to make her Harvest Pie. She made this pie for us some years ago before her life in the Bay area took her over and we have never forgotten how good it tasted. It qualifies as a fairly traditional dessert for the holiday, having apples, walnuts (or pecans) and cranberries, among other good things. Presumably I could have obtained the recipe and made it myself but I think it belongs to her and will only be good since she makes it.And, it definitely was!

Bonnie’s Harvest Pie
Serves 8
Pie crust for a 9” pie, unbaked.
For Filling
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch salt
2 lbs green apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼” wedges
2 cups fresh cranberries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
For Topping
½ cup(1 stick) butter
¾ cup brown sugar
2 tbsp evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350
Mix first 9 ingredients in large bowl to blend
Add apples, cranberries, lemon juice and toss until well blended
Pour into pie crust, mounding in center
Bake, approx 1 1’2 hours until apples are tender, then cover with
Foil and bake 15 minutes more
Place on rack uncovered to cool.
Topping
Melt butter with sugar and milk in a heavy medium skillet over low heat,
Stirring frequently. Increase heat to simmer, mix in vanilla,
Then walnuts. Remove from heat and Pour into a bowl and let stand 10 minutes
Until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about another 10 minutes.
Spoon over pie, covering completely. Let stand until topping sets approx 30 minutes
Can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead. Store at room temperature


Christmas Cake


In December the eating continues. We are in agreement that it is a lovely time to get together with friends and family and almost always over a meal, formal or informal. There’s lots of food, and a lot of it is special stuff that we don’t always have so is hard to resist. This is a time to get into the spirit and just enjoy what comes, so I try to-do just that. I will get healthy again in January, I vow.
It is my tradition at Christmastime to make a small cake/bread to give to family and friends. I usually agonize over the idea that I should try something new and start looking at appealing recipes around September. Invariably I give up in confusion around this time and end up making the same thing –wine cake. It’s not for lack of desire to branch out and it’s not because I can’t find any new and interesting recipes. I can’t give out something I haven’t tried and really, the holidays seem to be the worst possible time to try new stuff. One of the reasons is that we are already eating a lot! So adding to that seems undesirable. Then there’s the time crunch. By the time I come to the point that I must get to baking somehow it has gone from early Fall to mid-December!
Even when you’re not employed and don’t have small children somehow the days get eaten up and run out quickly. So it is an act of supreme will to try to bake something that may or may not be acceptable to give as a gift. However, this year I did that. I found a recipe that piqued my curiosity enough since it is so different. I just had to try it! It is Olive Oil Cake and since it sounded so tempting and so different I gave it a try. I baked five min-loaves as my test.
I have to say it is interesting. Steve my in-house taster/tester was not enthusiastic. I, however, liked it. It’s not real sweet and has a nice texture, and as mentioned, is quite different. So the question is does “different” translate into good enough to gift? We decided yes for the ones that were already baked. So a few of the regular recipients will receive those, and the rest will get my traditional Wine Cake. Oh well.

Olive Oil Cake
Ingredients:
For cake:

3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ cups whole milk
1 cup good‐quality extra‐virgin olive oil
¼ cup limoncello
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 ½ cups all‐purpose flour
½ cup coarse‐ground cornmeal
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Powdered sugar, for garnish


Procedure:
For cake:
Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in middle. Coat a 9‐inch round cake pan with olive oil and flour; tap out the excess. Or use, as I did 5 min-loaf pans.
In a bowl of stand mixer, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until well blended and light in color. Add milk, olive oil, limoncello, and lemon zest and mix well.
In another bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Switch mixer attachment to paddle and add dry ingredients, mixing until just blended (the batter will be slightly lumpy; do not overmix).
Pour batter into the prepared baking dish or pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
When the cake has cooled, run a knife around the perimeter of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar.

The cake does benefit from a topping of fresh berries or a good jam spread.

Merry Christmas to all!
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