I’ve been mulling over this year’s Christmas Dinner Menu for our big blended family. My goal is always to use recipes that are delicious, tasty, and pretty — but are no-brainers to make and serve.
For the main dishes, I decided on my never0fail, always juicy slices of Tri-Tip roast in au jus; and a nice center cut of grilled Norwegian salmon from Whole Foods, our favorite cut of fish. This should please the beef eaters and the fish eaters alike.
I recently discovered some delicate, amazing-tasting fresh “pasta purses” stuffed with cheeses and truffles at, of all places, Sam’s Club. After cooking them in boiling water, I gently ladled them into a quick rich sauce made of cream, a little garlic, Parmesan cheese and basil. To. Die. For. And silly easy. I now have my perfect fancy-but-simple Christmas side dish to put on the menu.
Finally, to add some freshness and crunch to round out the meal, I thought I’d make a salad. But I didn’t want an old boring salad. Then – faster than a speeding reindeer it came to me! I’d make a Christmas Wreath Salad. I’d arrange the greens on a plate like a wreath, dot it with red berries, both fresh and dried, sprinkle with nuts and top with feta cheese “snow” and tuck a bow at the bottom of the plate. Then, what could be more festive to drizzle on this pretty salad than a vinaigrette inspired by my favorite cranberry-orange relish?
As I write this, it seems the whole country is blanketed with snow and ice. Here in Denver it is a balmly… 1 degree. Our front yard proved to be the perfect place to chill the salad and snap some photos. Let me assure, I didn’t dawdle with the camera outside for long. In fact this was probably the fastest — and coldest – food photography session I’ve ever done. Greg and I sampled this trial-run salad as a one bowl supper tonight by topping it with some warm, sliced deli roast chicken. Big, Holly Jolly win.
By the way, if you are looking for an uplifting, fun gift for teachers, girlfriends, moms, grandmas or cooks in your family … may we suggest copies of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook?
Our memoir is truly one of those perfect, generic, happy gifts that anyone on your list will enjoy. The recipes at the end of each chapter add extra value. The book is available online everywhere, and in most bookstores; but if you would like an autographed, wrapped copy check out Rachel’s last blog post with instructions on how to contact us.
Christmas Wreath Salad with Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette
About 4 to 5 cups of salad greens (I used chopped romaine and arranged spinach leaves on top of the “wreath mounds)
½ cup of whole nuts (I used pecans and pistachios)
¼ cup of dried red berries – cherries or cranberries
½ cup of fresh red berries – slice strawberries or pitted fresh cherries
1/3 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (or if you prefer, grated white cheddar, parmesan, swiss or other white cheese)
On a large round plate, put a small bowl for the salad dressing in the middle. Arrange salad greens around the bowl to make a “wreath”, then dot the wreath with nuts, dried berries and fresh betters. Finally sprinkle with feta “snow”. Fill the bowl in the middle with the following vinaigrette and serve chilled.
Cranberry Orange Vinaigrette
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 medium navel orange or 2-3 clementines, peeled and broken apart
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion or dried minced onion
½ t. garlic powder
2/3 cup olive oil
Put all ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until smooth, and turns a gorgeous raspberry red. Keep in fridge until ready to serve.
People often ask me how I cook with Jackson around. In We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook, I wrote about how cooking with him was kind of like cooking on an obstacle course. For a long time, that was what it felt like. But recently, I realized at this stage–the two’s–cooking with him is one of the easiest things on my to-do list to accomplish with him around. Not easy…but it’s something he’s come to feel at ease around. It’s kind of “our” thing.
I left him with a friend the other day for a few minutes and when I returned she shared this little conversation they had.
Sarah: Do you have a dog?
Jackson: No, I have a mommy.
Sarah: Oh, well that’s almost as good as a dog.
Jackson: Yeth, I cook with mommy.
Well, there you have it. Dogs don’t make very good cooking companions for kids, but mommies are very good for that.
My other to-dos don’t have the same smiley affect on him. Writing with him around. Yeah right. Phone calls. Let’s just say, the last conference call I was on with our editor, I had to muffle the phone while I hollered, “Jackson, don’t stick your head through the fence” and then again while he hollered, “Noooooo! Don’t wipe meeee!” as I was trying to discreetly potty train mid-call.
Cooking is mostly a piece of cake…because he can participate, he can be a helper. And even when he can’t help with something like chopping onions, he’s still content because we’re together and I’m talking to him, not somebody else on the phone or looking at a computer screen.
And with a little creativity, there’s almost always a way to get a child involved in the cooking if they want to be.
I don’t cook every day, but the days I do, the moments we are in the kitchen together, are often the moments we enjoy the most. The kitchen is a place where our lives intersect, where my almost 30-year old female joys and interests cross with my two-year old little boy’s interests. I don’t have to pretend that the lego tower we just built is the tallest most amazing piece of architecture I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t have to be patient with me as I make a quick call or pick up groceries. The smells of cloves and cinnamon, the colorful block puzzle from butternut squash, the sound of the blender engine purring excite us both. We don’t have to pretend. We just have to be. Together.
Roasted Butternut Squash Mole Enchiladas
5 cups diced butternut squash
1 tablespoon oil (canola, olive, grapeseed)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
8-10 corn tortillas
1/2 cup raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in warm water and drained (optional)
2 cups Mole Sauce (I used this easy recipe from Vegetarian Times)*
Preheat oven to 400. Toss butternut sqaush with canola oil, brown sugar, chili powder, and cinnamon. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through. Resist temptation to eat all the squash now.
Reduce oven temp to 350. Ladle 1/2 cup mole sauce into bottom of a 9×13 casserole dish. Wrap corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and heat in microwave for about 30 seconds, just enough to warm them up and make them pliable. Dip corn tortilla into mole sauce. Fill with about two tablespoons of butternut squash and a sprinkle of raisins. Roll up. Repeat. Ladle a generous amount of sauce on top. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
Serve with black or wild rice. The nuttiness from the black rice went perfectly with this dish.
*I blended half of the sauce this time. I think I’d leave it unblended next time though, because it was a lot prettier unblended.
There comes a time in every gardener’s life when they ask themselves, “What am I going to do with all these tomatoes?” And until that day comes for me, I will pull up my dead plants with my black thumbs, quietly curse those gardeners under my breath, and smile graciously when they offer up some of their overwhelming bounty to me.
I’ll display them on the counter for a day or so until I can’t take their mockery anymore.
And then I will cook my way out of despair.
And remember the gifts I can offer my family, even if a plentiful vegetable garden is not one of them.
Instead, I will slow roast my way into their hearts with sweet peppers, carrots, onions, and garlic (store bought, but flavorful nonetheless), garden tomatoes (generously given to this less fortunate gardener), and a few sad looking twigs of rosemary and oregano (just barely surviving in my garden of doom).
And I’ll bring those flavors together in one delightful pureed sauce. My husband will declare that he may never eat jarred sauce again. My toddler will slurp his pasta up with messy reckless abandon. And I will stand over the pot eating the sweet rich roasted sauce by the spoonful, my self esteem having made a complete (near manic) turn for the better.
For those of you who feel the need to do something good and right by your family, I give you this recipe. It will restore their faith in you, and your faith in yourself.
Roasted Tomato and Sweet Pepper Pasta Sauce
~ 3 pounds of tomatoes (I don’t have a scale, but I used about 12-15 smallish tomatoes), cut in half
~15 mini sweet peppers (or 3 red, yellow, or orange bell peppers), cut in half and seeded
1 carrot, peeled and sliced thin
1 red onion, quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 twigs fresh rosemary, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 tablespoon fresh oregeno, removed from stem (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkle of fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teapoon salt
1/2 teaspoon molasses (or brown sugar)
handful of fresh parsley, rough chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried)
Other: 1 lb pasta, cooked (I used whole wheat thin spaghetti, use gluten-free if needed)
Heat oven to 400. Put chopped vegetables and herbs on a large deep-sided roasting pan or dish. Stuff the garlic cloves into the tomatoes so they don’t burn. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with salt and pepper. Roast for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
Carefully pour the veggies and their sauces into a pot on the stove and use an immersion blender to puree the vegetables. (If you don’t have an imersion blender, let the veggies cool to room temperature, then transfer to a blender or food processor and puree. Then pour into a pot on the stove.) Add parsley, salt, and molasses. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. My sauce was thick already, so I simmered with the lid on, but if you have really juicy tomatoes, you may want to simmer with the lid off until you reach the desired consistency. Check for seasoning. Adding more salt or molasses (adds sweetness and cuts acidity) as needed.
Make it Salsa: This base recipe could easily be turned into a salsa by switching up the seasonings — add a few jalapenos and cilantro, omit rosemary, oregeno, and parsley. Pulse in the food processor for a chunkier version. Would be delicious served hot or cold with chips.
Make it Soup: Add a little broth or cream for a delicious roasted tomato and pepper soup.
Make it a Meal: While you’re simmering the sauce and the oven is still hot, roast up some chickpeas tossed in olive oil and Italian seasoning for a crunchy protein-filled topping. Wilt some spinach into the sauce in the last five minutes to sneak in some greens.
Jackson is 22 months old now and at that stage where he’s learning new words every day and starting to string together words to make phrases and sentences like these:
“Hoo Hoo” (Whoohoo whith his hands thrown in the air.)
“Cool man” (I don’t know where he picked up this phrase, but it’s super cute.)
“Yayyy, I did it!” (Even if he didn’t actually do whatever IT is, he celebrates every little effort with such enthusiasm. It’s contagious.)
“Leeeeeet’s GO!” (That combined with “Run momma” is turning him into a little personal trainer!)
“Yes.” (Finally, he is saying “yes,” instead of always “no,” in the most adorably assertive and confident way.)
Of course, with this precious phase, also comes the less than adorable phrases, like “Chur turn” (Your turn…which actually means my turn. And it’s always “chur turn”) and “Miiiine!”
My favorite phrase of late, though, is “Tank choo ma ma.” He emphasizes each syllable and I can tell he really has to work to say it. It’s a sweet labor of love and it’s reserved for his truly most satisfying moments of deep gratitude, like when I served him chocolate “ice cream” made of bananas and cocoa for a morning snack last week. “Choc! Tank choo ma ma!”
This idea for banana soft serve has been circulating for years. It’s not new, but I’ve turned a few people toward it this week with my Instagram picture of Jackson enjoying his morning ice cream treat and thought maybe some of our readers have yet to try it as well. The basic recipe is just frozen bananas processed in a blender. It’s magical! The bananas just whip right into a thick creamy soft serve that is delicious on it’s own. You can make all sorts of flavors: chocolate peanut butter, strawberry banana, cinnamon and sugar…wherever your taste buds take you. This version is one of my favorites. You can use peanut butter instead of peanuts, but I really love the texture and flavor from the whole peanuts.
Ready in under five minutes, it makes the perfect healthy summer snack, or even breakfast. You’ll earn some serious cool mom or dad points putting a bowl of this in front of your kids first thing in the morning!
Banana Nut Soft Serve
2 frozen bananas, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons peanuts (I used organic unsalted)
sprinkle of sea salt (unless peanuts are salted)
Put ingredients in a food processor and blend, stopping and scraping the sides as needed until it turns to the texture of a thick soft serve ice cream. Then stop. You don’t want to over blend or it will have more of a melty soft serve texture (not bad, but not as good either).
For this portion size, I use the smallest bowl on my food processor so I don’t have to stop and scrape the sides as often. (It will be very loud at first, that’s okay, just be prepared.)
Serve immediately with a few extra peanuts and another sprinkle of sea salt on top for some extra crunch. I’ve heard this does not refreeze well, though I’ve never had any left to try. 🙂 You can buy yourself a little time keeping it chilled in the freezer, but it’s best to serve right away.
Have you made Banana Soft Serve?
What are your favorite flavor combinations?
What are your favorite toddler phrases and phases?
Zondervan, our publisher, has been so supportive of our book (coming out August 6). We’re having such a great publishing experience! They just decided to do an audio version of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook and invited my mom and I to record it. One of us will be recording in the studio most of the week, each of us having two 5-7 hour days in studio. Prayers for good health appreciated. The following week I’m heading to Colorado (with Jackson in tow) to join mom for a photo shoot for a major Christian publication. We’re so grateful for all the encouragement and support we’ve received…and for our fabulous readers at the blog.
We also got all of the endorsements in for the book. Wow! We are floored by the generosity of our fellow authors. Click on the picture of the book above to read the endorsements and find lots of knew authors to friend and follow.