The only way to avoid that last-minute panic during the upcoming holiday season is planning ahead. Whether you are trying to tie up loose ends at work so you can escape for a holiday, searching for that elusive toy on a special Santa list, or preparing to host a dinner for 12, this time of year is stressful.
I can’t do your work and I definitely won’t do your shopping, but maybe I can help with dinner.
Beans and Greens Soup
Soup or salad is the most often skipped course at a holiday dinner. I understand the thinking — so much food to get through and everyone aching to get at that turkey — but a brothy and flavourful bowl stimulates the appetite for the substantial dinner to come and slows the pace so the cook can take a breath.
This is an easy soup that you can put together up to two days in advance. The servings should be small so you can even reheat it in the microwave to save stove space. It will also sit happily at a low simmer for quite a while if you are running late. Just be sure to stir in the parsley at the last minute — have it chopped and ready in the fridge, but don’t leave it out because it elevates this soup with a fresh herby hit. Save yourself some time by buying pre-cut squash, available in most grocery stores. This amount makes 12 smallish servings.
1 tbsp. each olive oil and butter or margarine
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 large onion, finely diced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed (or 2 trays of squash pieces)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. each salt, freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes
1 bunch mustard or collard greens, thoroughly washed
8 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 14-oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
Heat oil and butter together in a Dutch oven. Fry celery and onion until starting to soften. Add squash and fry until the vegetables take on a little colour. Add garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and continue cooking until fragrant, another minute or two. Remove ribs from greens and chop leaves into bite-sized pieces. Add to pot along with broth, beans, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Simmer 20 minutes or until the greens are tender. Add corn and cook another 5 minutes. Add parsley and serve.
Christmas Pudding Phyllo Tartlets
Dessert is also often neglected at holiday dinner. A Christmas pudding is perfect because a morsel is plenty to satisfy even the sweetest tooth, and if you’re a keener perhaps you have one in the fridge already. It’s not too late to get those same traditional flavours in an updated dessert.
These tasty morsels are elegant. Serve them with a glass of port alongside a bunch of crisp cold grapes and maybe a fine hunk of cheese for the perfect holiday dessert. This recipe makes 24 small tarts.
You can do this without a food processor, but it will require quite a dose of patience and a sharp knife.
Don’t use store-bought breadcrumbs. Take two slices of ordinary sandwich bread and toast in a toaster until barely starting to brown. Cut off the crusts and break up the rest directly into a food processor and buzz to crumb.
Finally, if you prefer, buy the phyllo cups ready made in the frozen dessert section of the grocery store. They are fine, although not quite as satisfying as playing with a box of papery pastry.
1/2 cup each peeled whole almonds and hazelnuts
1/4 cup soft dates
2 tbsp. firmly packed brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each allspice, cloves, nutmeg and salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2/3 cup melted unsalted butter (divided)
1/4 cup good quality liquid honey
2 tbsp. dry sherry
12 sheets thawed phyllo pastry
Combine almonds, hazelnuts, dates, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, salt and lemon zest in a food processor and process until finely chopped, like coarse crumbs. Stir in breadcrumbs. Combine 2 tbsp. of the melted butter along with honey and sherry. Stir into chopped mixture; set aside.
Work with one sheet of phyllo at a time, keeping the rest covered by a large sheet of plastic wrap to keep it from drying out. Don’t worry about little breaks or tears — the end result will be all the better for a bit of rough handling.
Place one sheet of pastry on a large cutting board and brush lightly with melted butter. Top with a second sheet and more butter. Continue until you have 6 sheets in a stack. Cut the pastry into 4 strips along the long edge then 3 along the short edge to end up with 12 squares. Press each stacked square into a greased medium-sized muffin cup, leaving the corners sticking up. Drop a nice spoonful of the filling into each cup. Twist together the corners of pastry sticking up but don’t try to seal tightly, just allow the dough to stick to itself to form a poofy twisted bit at the top. Brush the topknots with more melted butter. If you have another muffin pan then repeat the whole process; otherwise bake one off then start over.
Bake at 350 F for 20 minutes or until the phyllo is crisp and golden brown. Cool in the pan until they can be safely lifted out then cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher
in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her
c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86,
St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.