|By Jean Stratton|
Happy Holiday Feasting Is Followed By Delicious Arrays of Leftovers
It is said that on average without any effort at all people gain seven pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Not surprising! The Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings are followed by a rush of holiday dinner parties with scrumptious dishes not noted for their low caloric ingredients.
Christmas Eve features special dinners for many, often inspired by ethnic heritage. For example, those of Italian ancestry often relish a dinner of seafood, including calamari, bacalao, eel, and other fish of their choice. Homemade pasta, salad, vegetables, and Italian pastries are also highlights.
Other families enjoy different traditions. A neighbor always fixes a savory stew the night before Christmas before dealing with the last minute run to the store, wrapping gifts, assembling toys, and putting final touches on the tree.
During the celebration of Hanukkah, dinners center around latkes. These fried potato pancakes are the highlight, often served with applesauce or sour cream on the side. Meat, chicken or fish dishes accompany the latkes, and for dessert, some families enjoy the traditional rugulach and also Hanukkah sugar cookies and doughnuts.
A West Windsor friend reports that she and her husband started a tradition, right after they were married, of having a Hanukkah party. "We usually have between 25 and 45 guests. My husband makes the absolute best latkes in the world! He fries them while everyone is here. They are best made 'at the moment', although they can be made and frozen earlier."
Christmas dinner is a repeat of Thanksgiving for many people, while others enjoy roast beef, ham, duck, or pheasant. The dinner for a neighbor's family never varies, she reports. "If it changed, the diners would lose their appetites! We serve turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, our 'famous' green bean casserole, with French fried onions on top, a broccoli casserole, a creamed spinach casserole, a relish tray with olives, celery, carrots, radishes, etc.
"Of course, stuffing cornbread with pecans and apples or traditional bread stuffing. One year, I did both and stuffed each end of the turkey with a different stuffing! We also have sweet potatoes baked in orange shells, which are particularly delicious. The canned sweet potatoes are mixed with bourbon or brandy, chopped pecans, cinnamon and nutmeg, with a pecan half on top. One year, a friend and I set the oven on fire when we added extra bourbon! We have rolls too, and we finish with pumpkin and pecan pie usually a couple of hours after dinner because we are stuffed."
If time is a problem, she adds there are many ways to simplify "The Feast." For example, order a turkey already roasted from the local market, bake whole sweet potatoes, buy frozen veggies, such as Stouffer's spinach souffle or green beans with almonds. Frozen mashed potatoes can be quite tasty, and another friend vouches for Mrs. Smith's frozen cornbread stuffing.
Many markets and restaurants, such as McCaffrey's and Main Street, will prepare the entire dinner.
For a lot of people, however, the dinner and its preparation are tied together with ritual, tradition, and nostalgia. A Princeton friend, and terrific cook, remembers a special "turkey" story that took place a few years ago.
"A friend of mine, not experienced in preparing Thanksgiving turkey dinners, urgently needed to learn how to cook one because her new husband was going to be transferred to Norway for his work. An inordinately strong believer in tradition, she wanted to be able to 'do' the Thanksgiving feast there. In fact, I was with her when her husband set out for his foreign interview on the last plane leaving Newark airport as a blizzard was beginning to rage.
"We proceeded to her home, and as I got going with the various aspects of chopping and sauteing celery and onion and putting stuffing and turkey together, she took copious notes which became five index cards typed single-spaced on both sides. The turkey cooked as we edited her notes, and had some wine. When the turkey was almost done, we transferred it to another roasting pan to make the gravy. More notes, of course.
"Gravy done, turkey with stuffing done, I had the roasting pan with the turkey in my potholdered grasp when the storm took its toll. The lights went out, and we were in total darkness! What a lovely candlelight dinner we enjoyed .... having cooked that bird just in the nick of time. We have had many good times over other dinners reminiscing about that special turkey."
New Year's Eve is, of course, a major eating opportunity. Dinner parties are prevalent, and considering that the main attraction is not until midnight, there is ample time for grazing, nibbling, munching, and serious eating. A New York City friend, formerly out on the town every New Year's Eve, reports that she now likes to spend the evening at home with friends.
"It has really become another 'traditional feast' at the house. We gather five or six couples, and each couple brings something an hors d'oeuvre, rolls, vegetable casserole, salad, or dessert. Last year, we assigned 'hats and horns' to one couple whom we know do not really enjoy cooking, and we had some of the best noise-makers ever!
"We provide the main course: filet mignon and shrimp scampi. It's a relaxed night, with good conversation, good friends, good food, and champagne at the assigned moment."
New Year's Day parties for those who haven't been up too late the night before are also popular. Open houses, featuring egg nog, served in a festive punch bowl, a variety of hors d'oeuvres, finger food and sandwiches, as well as pastries, cakes, and cookies, are favorite ways to entertain.
If something more elaborate is the plan, there are all kinds of places in town to help with the food. Popular local eateries, such as Main Street and Bon Appetit, offer tempting appetizers and main courses to eat in or take out. Consider these mouthwatering possibilities: pistachio encrusted snapper, pork tenderloin lingonberry, wild mushroom lasagne, among so many others.
The enticing selection of ready-to-serve or easy-to-cook McCaffrey's, Whole Earth, or Bon Appetit main dishes makes it possible to put just the right foods together for all ages and celebrations, to please the entire gamut of palates and tastes, from the simple to the sophisticated.
Check out what the kitchen crew at Nassau Street Seafood & Produce Company has created with their panorama of exciting clam, crab, and oyster dishes, caviar from around the world, and chowders and bisques for the holidays. House-smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp with red sauce, and oven-ready fish dishes with easy instruction from Blue Point Grill keep guests hurrying back to the buffet table.
New Year's Day brunch has become another popular celebration in recent years, and Princeton is a great place to get a brunch together. The local restaurants and gourmet emporiums all have special dishes to provide just what you need, including cold roast beef with horseradish in whipped cream sauce; all the ingredients to make veggie melt sandwiches sliced avocado sprinkled with lemon juice and garlic salt; sliced tomato, mushroom and onions to saute together on which to melt the sliced cheese, and crusty wheat bread to pile everything on. Having a toaster nearby for the do-it-yourselfers is handy.
Lots of parsley and grape tomatoes surrounding everything offers festive finger food, as well as color. Celery stuffed with cream cheese, horseradish, and red caviar, and carrot chips, cucumber slices, and arugula bundles with which to scoop up the hummus, with roasted red peppers, give the health-food party-goers goodies for nibbling.
Croissants, plain and fantasy-filled, and all manner of rich sweet and savory buns and breads from Witherspoon Bread Company appeal to most breakfast and brunch tastes. Bagels and cream cheese go with all the above and win the hearts of traditionalists. And of course, the coffee, mimosas, ¬bloody-marys, or other libations. A dedicated brunch enthusiast suggests the following easy-to-do and delicious hot breakfast casserole.
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
Butter or "Pam" a 10 x 16 x 2-inch or equivalent size pan (may be made in two high-sided pans). Spread potatoes evenly as first layer. Crumble sausage as next layer, then add cheese. After beating eggs, milk and flour together, pour gently over layers. Bake one hour at 375 degrees. Serves 20.
One of the most popular aspects of all these holiday dinners and parties are the leftovers. No question many people look forward to the leftovers even more than the main event. Indeed, the "day after" is the best part of the Christmas feast, says a neighbor. "Turkey sandwiches (hot with gravy or cold with cranberry sauce), curried turkey salad with chutney, turkey hash, and of course, turkey soup are all favorites."
Adds another friend: "After you've eaten as many turkey sandwiches as you can and you have carefully wrapped the leftover turkey you cleaned off the carcass, it's soup time. My own favorite is to break up the carcass, put it in a soup pot, add two or more quarts of water and a clove of garlic. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer the pot for at least two hours. Strain the bones from the stock and put the pot with the broth where it can get cold enough to take the grease off the top after a good overnight chilling.
"Now, you can make whatever soup appeals to you. For zucchini soup, for example, with the defatted stock in a soup pot, chop two pounds of zucchini and mince a garlic clove. Flavor with some cayenne and curry and either blend smooth or eat it chunky, as I enjoy it."
Hustle and Bustle
My neighbor reports on his wife's turkey soup, which has become a ritual in the family. "The morning after Christmas, she makes the soup in a crock pot, adding a couple of carrots, an onion, some celery, salt and pepper, a little poultry seasoning, even a handful of stuffing and a cup of gravy to the turkey carcass. It cooks overnight, and the aroma is still there in the house when we wake up the next morning. Sometimes, she also strains it and adds tortellini and peas. "That night, we invite a few friends and neighbors over for soup and bread and leftover pies and Christmas cookies. It's a relaxing evening after all the hustle and bustle of the meal the night before."
Adds another friend: "Whenever we've been invited to someone else's house for Christmas dinner, we still cook our own turkey, either the day before or day after Christmas. We really like the leftover turkey, and this provides us with all the goodies."
The next main event for a lot of people, and which has become another eating tradition in recent years, is Super Bowl Sunday. A former east coast friend, now living in Arizona, looks forward to the big game, and especially to the socializing and eating that accompanies it.
"We have had a Super Bowl party since we moved here, and it's always the same. Most guests bring something usually their 'specialty' and we provide the spiral baked ham, a deli tray with turkey, cold meats, etc., and the creme de la creme: my two kinds of chili.
"The red chili includes stew meat plus ground beef, the usual chili ingredients, but this one has three kinds of beans, and our two secret ingredients: peanut butter and cheddar cheese. The white chili is also delicious, with chicken, white beans, chicken broth, mild jalapeno peppers and onions. Some people fill the bowl with half red and half white.
"Our friends bring cornbread, salsa and chips, salads, cold veggies, rye bread, and last year, one couple brought a huge bowl of shrimp (they will be invited next year!) Of course, there are lots of desserts: tiny pecan pie tarts, tiny cherry cheesecakes, layered nut, caramel and chocolate cookies, a few pies, and a layer cake, among others."
So much food, so little time! But with the arrival of Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year's, and Super Bowl Sunday, not to mention all those leftovers, the opportunities are upon us. Bon appetit!