To me, nothing says “Christmas” like all of the traditional kinds of food we make each year. Over the past week or so, we’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Both of us love to cook anyway – but at the holidays, we always ramp up to create our favorite treats. This year was no exception.
First up was dark chocolate bark, a base of semisweet chocolate with swirls of white chocolate, all covered with a mixture of toasted walnuts, pistachios, chopped apricots, dried cranberries, and tiny pieces of candied orange and grapefruit peel. I made a huge mistake while candying the citrus this year. After spending almost an hour (!!) peeling and painstakingly removing all of the white pith from about a dozen oranges and grapefruit, I gave the peels two baths in boiling water (helps remove some of the bitterness), and then submerged the pieces in a heavy sugar syrup to simmer. Somehow I got distracted and “forgot” about the project, until I detected the smell of burning sugar. Oops…the mixture was at a fast boil, and big bubbles of black sugar filled the pot. I left the saucepan on the stovetop and went to bed, and when I got up the next morning, the entire concoction had hardened into one giant lump of coal, with little bits of orange and grapefruit peel peeking out. Totally disheartened, I left for work, vowing to scrub the pan when I got home that night.
But when I got home, Peter had a wonderful surprise in store for me. He had added some water to the pot and left it to simmer on the stovetop. The gloppy mess reconstituted into a (dark) syrup and he rescued most of the citrus pieces and put them out to dry. So when I got home, I found my sugared citrus on the counter, ready to add to my bark. A Christmas miracle, indeed!
Vegetarians will want to steer clear of our next dish: country pate, a savory blend of ground pork, bacon, ham steak, good-quality Cognac, onion, garlic, and wonderful spices. Peter calls it his “fancy meatloaf”! A little slice on a cracker or piece of crusty bread, along with some spicy mustard and a cornichon is soooo delicious. Here’s the recipe from Bon Appetit that we use.
And our “piece de resistance” – our traditional devil’s food layer cake with peppermint frosting. Four layers high, this recipe was featured on the cover of Bon Appetit a couple of years ago, and when Peter – a huge fan of good chocolate cake – saw it, he was determined to try it out. Filled with dark chocolate ganache and billowy clouds of heavy cream and minty white chocolate, the cake is covered with a marshmallowy peppermint icing and decorated with tiny curls of dark chocolate. Making this cake is time-consuming – we usually spread the process over two days -- and you pretty much use every pot and pan in your kitchen. But the end result is so tasty and rich, that a tiny slice will suffice. In fact, I’d recommend you find a few friends who appreciate good cake and offer them a slab. We brought it over to our friends Doug and Jo Ann’s house last night for a wonderful Christmas evening dinner, and even after serving six guests and leaving some with our hosts, we still have half a cake left!
And what's not to like about our traditional Christmas Eve martini?