Monday, December 17, 2007

Kicking Out Your Inner Martha

I can't believe how many folks are feeling stressed this holiday. Seems like more than normal. With tasks like being in charge of the family dinner AND having a little one running around, or just feeding the masses, and juggling work and getting the house clean, who can blame them?

It's that time of year. For a month or so, women who are working at home or out of home, taking care of kids, keeping up the house and already overwhelmed suddenly feel obligated to become a decorator, cook, hostess supreme, personal shopper, card writer, and pastry chef all at once. And on top of already busy lives. I'm not saying men don't help, many of them do. It just seems like women feel the most pressure to measure up to some perfect holiday measuring stick.

Kind of takes all the fun out of the holidays, doesn't it? I'm thinking maybe we should all do less of the trimmings and more of the tidings. That's right. Stop and enjoy the people you love. If the mistletoe is a bit askew, well, angle your head when you move in for the kiss. And have another rum ball — that some one else made.

For Mary, who requested a menu idea for EIGHTEEN, well, here's a few thoughts:

Sweet Potato and Gouda Gratin
This you can make ahead up to the baking step, then cover and chill until it is ready to go in the oven. Add some extra baking time.

Beef Braised in Red Wine — braising is great when your guests might run late. The meat stays moist and is an effortless main dish. Double the recipe, using two 3lb roasts.

Sauteed Chard with Clementine Oranges and Feta — adds a bit of color, quick and easy stove top. You can chop the chard and section the oranges and make the dressing the night before. Or, assign a guest to bring a salad.

Green Beans Saute├ęd with Roasted Tomatoes and Shallot — I am thinking if you just have one oven, it will be full, so this is also a stove top dish that is quick. Again, you can prep and chop all the veggies the night before.

Couple loaves of bread (bought from the bakery) and dessert.
Dessert could be as easy as having guests bring a few of their cookies from the season and served up as a whole smorgasbord of cookiedom. Another quick and easy idea is to make a pound cake (again, day or two before) and serve it with a topping like honey-chocolate ganache or even a store-bought ganache if needed. Pound cakes are usually moist, don't require layers or frosting. This makes a one-step dessert. We have a couple of those crazy bundt cake pans around here, even one that is shaped like a ring of Christmas trees. Dust on some powdered sugar and you look like a Domestic Goddess without the work.

I like this pound cake recipe, but use orange extract in place of the vanilla. If you love dark chocolate and orange, then you can add a couple tablespoons of finely chopped candied orange peel as well. I serve this sauce with it:

Dark Chocolate-Honey Ganache
8 oz bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped baking chocolate)
1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Put chocolate in a bowl. Heat the honey, cream and butter in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil. Pour over the chocolate. Whisk until smooth. You will have to warm this up before serving if you make it ahead. Store it in the fridge.

This variation on a ganache was inspired by this really tough-to-make frozen chocolate mousse dessert thing with truffle cake base. I made it once, and I think you would have to pay me to make it again, even though it was really good. The original recipe (it's the cover photo) can be found in Marcel Desauliners' Celebrate with Chocolate: Totally Over-the-Top Recipes.


jen said...

i'll stand up right now and announce i am not stressed at all about the holidays.

and i am very happy about that. but your menu makes me drool

mpg said...

Hey thanks for all the recipes - I've got a dinner party next week and I'll be using some of them for sure!

I haven't been too stressed out. I did all of my baking this past weekend and it was actually lots of fun. I decided to skip yoga and just enjoy myself and I did. And then on Sunday night the whole family went and looked at Christmas lights at a Longwood Gardens, one of the great places in the world to do so.

I think for me it's about letting some of the normal, day-to-day stuff slide a bit so I can fit the special stuff in.

The Expatriate Chef said...

That's what I am talking about! It'll get done when it does, and the most important thing is to make good memories with our kiddos. Not stressed mommy memories.