Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Drive-by Post: Holiday Menus

Ok, so I realize that I've missed a week or two, so I think it's time that I share something helpful to get your through the holidays before you mutiny.
So, this week, I give you The Holiday Menu.  No, not the Holiday Menu From Hell, but, rather, some easy suggestions for holiday menus that will keep you from sitting in the kitchen for hours and hours while your guests drink all of your booze and wonder where you are.

Holiday Menu #1:  Buffet for a Small Casual Gathering
Cranberry-Feta Salad
Your Favorite Spiral Ham 
Assorted dinner rolls and small sandwich rolls (if you REALLY want to, you can serve these yummy-o-licious yeast rolls, but I think you should just buy some good ones to keep from pulling your hair out)
Cream of Wild Rice Soup (or another cream soup of your choice, like Creamy Potato or Corn Chowder), but here is the recipe.  DO NOT judge when you see the ingredients.  This soup has absolutely NO trait of any other type of food I make, but it is delicious and super-rich and everyone LOVES it.  Just make it and trust me on this one:  You will enjoy it!
1 pkg Uncle Ben's Original Wild Rice Pilaf Mix
1 lb bacon, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms
3-3/4 cups Half and Half (can use fat-free)
2 cans (10-3/4 oz) Cream of Potato soup
1 8-oz loaf of Velveeta (can be reduced fat), cubed
3 cups chicken stock
Cook wild rice mix according to package instructions, OMITTING the seasoning packet.  Set aside.
Cook bacon in Dutch oven until crips, remove and drain, reserving 2 T drippings.
Saute onion and mushrooms in the drippings until tender
Stir in rice, Cream of Potato soup, and Velveeta until cheese is melted.  (At this point, you can refrigerate this "base" until you are ready to serve)
To serve, return base to pot over medium heat and add Half and Half, chicken stock, seasoning packet and bacon until thoroughly heated through, but do not boil.  You might need to add a little more stock, depending on how thick or thin you want this soup.

Holiday Menu #2:  Dinner for a Crowd
Tomato and Romaine Salad:  Chop two hearts of romaine lettuce and spread on platter or shallow serving bowl.  Cut 1 cup cherry tomotoes in half and arrange over lettuce.  Chop 2 green onions (white and green) and sprinkle over tomatoes.  For dressing:  3 T red wine vinegar, 6 T olive oil, 1 t oregano, 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, 1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes and 1 - 2 cloves of minced garlic.  Drizzle over salad just before serving and toss well.
Lazy Girl Lasagna and/or Pasta e Fagioli
Loaves of crusty, yummy Pane Paisano

Holiday Menu #3:  Mediterranean Cocktail Buffet
Hummus, Pita Wedges and Crudite with Olives and Chunks of Feta Cheese
Spanakopita Triangles:  You can buy these frozen, or you can make 'em.  
Lemon Chicken Skewers:  Marinate chunks of chicken breasts in olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper and lemon zest.  Skewer and grill until cooked, cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to serve.  Add 2 T water to the pan, keep covered and heat in oven at 350 degrees until hot.  Remove chicken from skewers and arrange on tray; squeeze fresh lemon juice over the chicken.
You can always add a bowl of Cocktail Meatballs with your favorite red sauce or pesto, served hot, for the diehard meat-eaters.
Tray of Baklava

Holiday Menu #4:  New Year's Day
Hoppin' John:  On a bed of white rice, pile some black-eyed peas and then top with shredded sharp white cheddar cheese and chopped tomatoes and green onions.
Collard Greens
Slow-roasted Pork:  I simply layer boneless country-style pork ribs and loin chops with lots of minced garlic, salt, pepper and a little bit of crushed red pepper in a baking dish, cover it and roast for 4 to 5 hours at 300 degrees, or until it falls apart.
Honey Wheat Cornbread

All of these salads hold up well to being made ahead and dressed just before serving, while pretty much everything else can be made ahead and frozen or refrigerated.  The entire New Year's Day meal can be made ahead and reheated and will actually taste better on Day 2.   For dessert, I always set out a tray of assorted holiday treats and sweets, unless you have some traditional holiday dessert you just have to make.  
For beverages, keep apple cider and mulling spices on hand:  I keep a percolator of mulled cider going throughout the holidays for pop-in visitors and dinner guests alike.  If you like serving a punch, make it ahead of time and freeze the base.  My favorite is a Sparkling Cranberry Punch, which has a base of cranberry juice, pineapple juice, sugar and almond extract, which I make in a big batch and freeze in 2-cup tubs.  I then pull out a frozen base, let it mostly thaw in the fridge and pour ginger ale over it just before guests arrive.  My sweet mother even gave me her lovely pressed glass punch bowl from when she got married, and it has become part of my holiday decor, it's so very pretty and yummy!  And, of course:  It's cold out, so keep beer and white wine, as well as mixers, on the back porch, chilled and ready to serve!  
Okay, now I am starting to sound like a total '50's housewife, so I am going to stop here.  I wish you all the best during this holiday season and hope that each meal is relaxing and fun as you visit with friends and family, because that is, afterall, what the holidays are all about.  I am looking forward to Menu #5:  Our holiday brunch on Sunday with old friends from medical school.  I'll share that menu with you when I finish figuring it out!  
Happy Holidays!