Kitchen Gourmet: Perfect Timing

Every year those of us who lack the “organized” gene vow that this holiday season will be different. We’ve had enough of all-nighters and kitchen chaos, so we’re going to overcome our deficiency and prepare holiday meals with ruthless efficiency — and every year our resolutions come to naught. Usually it’s because our menus require too much last minute preparation.

The key to stress-free holiday entertaining is to plan meals that can largely be prepared ahead of time. The holiday bird or roast has to be cooked the day of the meal, but so many of the accompanying dishes can be made on the preceding days. Construct a menu and lay out a game plan (on paper) that specifies exactly what is to be done on each day before the holiday and you’re halfway there. This month’s recipes can be prepared in advance, and while all of them may not fit into your plans, those that do will relieve some of the pressure.

I love sweet potatoes, but I find them sweet enough without added sugar, so a sweet potato soup appeals to me. If you’re of the same mind, you might like to serve this version to start your meal. Prepare it a day or two ahead and simply reheat to serve.

Wild rice is a delicious accompaniment to holiday birds. For a change of pace, this wild rice salad can be made the previous day and served at room temperature. For another change, try including a vegetable puree that can be prepared in advance and reheated. This recipe for one made with carrots, turnips and parsnips is both delicious and nutritious.

Holiday dinners usually include pie — often pecan. It’s just about unthinkable to serve pecan pie without ice cream. Usually vanilla is the choice, but eggnog ice cream is a delicious and festive alternative. It can be made days in advance.

A great way to end the feast is with a demitasse of strong black coffee and pecan pralines. These are rich, though not as sweet as some versions. I like them made about the size of a silver dollar. And, of course, they’re prepared far in advance of the meal.

Wild Rice Salad

Combine 1½ cups chicken broth and ½ cup wild rice in small pot, bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl.

Toast ¼ cup pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add pine nuts to wild rice. In the same skillet, cook ¼ cup diced onion and ¼ cup diced celery in 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil until barely softened. Add to rice mixture. Blanch 1 cup green peas in boiling salted water for 1 minute, drain, refresh under cold water and add to the salad. Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1 apple, cored and diced, 1 tablespoon chopped scallions (green part only), 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and 2 tablespoons chopped mint and combine well. Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serves 4.


Puree Of Winter Vegetables

1 pound carrots
1 pound turnips
1 pound parsnips
3 cups chicken stock or broth
¼ cup butter
Coarse salt and cayenne pepper to taste

1. Peel vegetables and slice. Put vegetables and chicken stock or broth in a heavy pot with lid. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

2. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the cooked vegetables to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add some of the broth to moisten and process until you have a rough puree.

3. Transfer contents to another pot and repeat with remainder of vegetables. Add butter to puree and season with salt and cayenne. Reheat slowly, while stirring. Add additional stock or broth, if needed.

Makes 6 or more servings.


Eggnog Ice Cream

3 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon dark rum
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus additional for garnish
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar

1. Put brandy, rum and nutmeg in a mixing bowl. Set bowl in a larger bowl containing ice and water.

2. Heat milk and cream in a heavy saucepan to just below a boil. In another mixing bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until light and creamy. Slowly add hot milk and cream to egg yolks, a little at a time, while whisking constantly.

3. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof silicone spatula (or wooden spoon) until thickened. The mixture will coat the spatula when ready and a finger drawn across the spatula will leave a track.

4. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer into bowl containing brandy, rum and nutmeg. Stir to combine. Stir occasionally until cool. Refrigerate, covered, until cold, then process in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a container and freeze. Serve topped with a little grated nutmeg.

Makes about 1 quart.


Sweet Potato Soup

4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
6 cups chicken stock or broth
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
Coarse salt to taste
½ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons snipped chives

Melt butter in a large, heavy pot add onions, cover and cook on low heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chicken stock and sweet potatoes, bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender or, working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth. Reheat and season with salt. Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt sprinkled with snipped chives.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Pecan Pralines

Place 1 cup pecan halves and 1 cup pecan pieces on a baking sheet and toast in a 325 F oven for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup heavy cream, 1½ cups granulated sugar and pecans to a boil and cook until the mixture reaches 234 degrees. Remove from heat, add 4 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract. Beat until candy thickens. Drop by teaspoonfuls on buttered wax paper.

Makes about 30 small pralines.

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