Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

December 9, 2016

img_3554I’m still licking my fingers from a delicious Thanksgiving feast and already I’m figuring out the spread for Christmas. In our family, the menu is pretty similar – although the Thanksgiving turkey can give way to other main dish meats. Easter’s not that different either, although there are more marshmallows involved. Sometimes we’ll throw in a wild card – curried something, or a little Tex Mex. For the most part the recipes are the favorite familiars. It’s a way, I think, of recalling the favorite familiar people who may no longer be at the table with us.

My mom passed away in 1994 but whenever I attempt a Christmas coffee cake, she’s with me in the kneading, wearing my flour-dusty apron with me, spreading the powdered sugar glaze on the apricot wreath hot from the oven. And then she’s right with me when I give them to the neighbors.

My dad died in 1973. He was quite a cook and among the tastiest things he made involved pork sausage and apple slices. Even if we’re not stuffing a bird, we make his apple-sausage stuffing and there he is at the table smiling, telling stories about the Chicago Motor Club where he used to work and longing for the day the Cubs might win.

Rice pudding is another recipe that invites a lot of our loved ones to the table. My sisters (with our half-Swedish heritage) and I agree that this is a side dish to be eaten with the main meal. My husband’s family, with its Danish heritage, considers it a dessert. My dynamic mother-in-law, who died in 2012, was always true to her roots. She tucked an almond in the cooking pudding and gave a marzipan pig to the lucky eater who discovered the nut in their portion. I have no problem eating rice pudding as both a side dish and a dessert.

My father-in-law, who died just this past November 21, favored a simple treat any time of year – one enjoyed by his pioneer ancestors: bread and milk. That doesn’t show up on our holiday groaning board, but what a great nighttime snack and a sweet invitation to spend time again with Dad in at least a symbolic way.

In case you want to invite my relatives and assorted forebears to YOUR Christmas spread this year, I’ve included the how-tos. Care to share some of your own favorites and the people they represent?

The recipes:
My mother’s coffee cakes recipes were more on the order of a-little-of-this; a-little of that. Here’s one that looks close, but we made ours without so much cardamom and with apricot preserves instead of almond paste: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/swedish_coffee_bread/

Albert Hoffman’s Apple-Sausage Stuffing
1 pound pork sausage
¾ cup butter
¾ cup chopped onion
1 ½ cup chopped celery
8 cups cheap, soft white bread, torn into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. poultry seasoning
¾ tsp. ground sage
¾ tsp. ground thyme
½ tsp. black pepper
3 apples (Granny Smith are great), cored, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Brown pork sausage. Remove sausage from drippings and set aside.

Melt butter in pan with sausage drippings. And onion and celery and stir until tender.

In a large mixing bowl, put about 2 ½ cups of the torn bread. Pour in the butter and vegetables. Mix until damp. Add spices, sausage, apples and remaining bread. Mix, preferably by hand, until well incorporated. Stuff in poultry for roasting or bake separately in a covered dish 325 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

Elegant Rice Pudding (throw in an almond if you want to)
1 c. water
1?2 c. short or medium grain white rice
1?2 whole vanilla bean, split
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
1 c (1?2 pint) heavy cream
1?2 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1?2 c. dried sour cherries
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon boiling water

1. In 2-quart saucepan, heat water to boiling. Add rice, vanilla bean, and salt. Cook 10 minutes.*

2. Add milk and cook over very low heat until rice is tender – about 10 minutes.*

3. Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter 1 1?2 quart shallow baking dish.

4. In small bowl, combine cream, sugar and eggs; fold into rice mixture along with raisins or cherries. Remove vanilla bean and pour rice mixture into buttered baking dish. Sprinkle top of mixture evenly with cinnamon.

5. Place baking dish into a large baking pan in oven. Pour boiling water into baking pan to a depth of 1 inch. Bake 30-45 minutes or until pudding is firm and top surface is golden brown. Cool to room temperature on wire rack.

Serve at room temperature or refrigerate (covered) to serve chilled.

*If you’re cooking at high altitude you’ll probably have to boil longer. This recipe is the flatlander version.

Edward L. Kimball’s bread and milk
Tear up some bread and put it in a bowl. Pour milk over it. Enjoy.

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