About seven or eight years ago, I made a Martha Stewart version of the infamous Campbell’s green bean casserole for the holidays. Instead of a can of cream of mushroom soup and a can of french-fried onions, her recipe called for Gruyère cheese, which back then I could only find in Dublin, and pan-fried shallots. I had such high hopes for the recipe, but for all the fancy ingredients, Matt and I swore it tasted just the same as the casserole of our childhoods. It had a bad work-to-glory ratio. What I love about the ham, which I’ve made every Christmas for the past five years, and these maple pecan pie squares, which I made a couple weeks ago, is that they have a high work-to-glory ratio. The gist of the theory is that the recipes are simple but absolutely delicious, as opposed to something that’s time consuming or difficult that winds up tasting not much better than what you can get out of a can. As much as I love to cook and indulge at the holidays, I’m all for basking in the glory of a house full of well-fed people at Christmas with a minimum amount of work.
Mulled Wine (Glühwein)
adapted from Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen
Serves 6 to 8
1 bottle of red wine (you don’t need your best red, but something decent)
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/2 orange, cut into 4 chunks
1 lemon, cut into 4 chunks
1 cup (240 ml) brandy
halved orange slices from the remaining 1/2 orange, to serve
Put the wine, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, orange and lemon into a saucepan. Heat very gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep on a low heat, without boiling, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the brandy. Serve in glasses, each with a new orange slice in it.
Fully Festive Ham
adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 8 to 10
The only slightly tricky bit about this menu is timing the ham if you want to make the cabbage with the stock, since the ham takes about 4 hours to cook and the cabbage needs 1 hour. Just be sure to take note of that and leave yourself plenty of time.
7 1/2 to 8 lb (3.4 to 3.6 kg) ham
2 quarts (2 liters) apple juice
2 quarts (2 liters) cranberry juice
2 cinnamon sticks, halved
2 onions, halved but not peeled
1 tablespoon allspice berries (optional)
for the cranberry glaze:
4 tablespoons cranberry jelly or 6 tablespoons cranberry sauce
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon English mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Put the ham into a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then immediately drain and rinse the ham in a colander, which will get rid of any excess saltiness.
Rinse the saucepan and put the ham back in and add all of the above ingredients (except for the glaze). If the fruit juices don’t cover the ham, then add some water; it really depends on how snugly your ham fits into the pot. Bring the liquid to a boil and cook the ham at a fast simmer for about 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Partially cover the pot with a lid if the liquid is boiling away and the top of the ham is getting dry.
Once the ham is cooked, remove it from the hot and now salty juice, and sit it on a board (if you’re making the cabbage with the stock, don’t throw the stock away). If you want, you can cook this well ahead of schedule and let it get cold before glazing and roasting it. If that’s the case, cook it for half an hour less in the pot and then let it get cold in the cooking liquid.
But if you’re going ahead now, wait until the ham’s bearable to the touch – it’s easy to scald yourself on hot sugary fat – and then cut and peel the rind off the cooked ham, and make sure you have a thin layer of white fat off with it, or just use a knife to shave some fat off, so you’re left with a thin coating. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 420°F, though you can make this work with whatever setting you need your oven to be.
Heat the remaining glaze ingredients together in a saucepan until the jelly or sauce melts into the honey, mustard and cinnamon to make a smooth glaze. It needs to be thick enough not to run off the ham in the oven.
Cover your roasting tin with two layers of tin foil (to make doubly sure nothing gets through) and place the ham in the tin. Pour the glaze over the ham so that all of the fat/top is covered. Put the ham into the oven and cook for 15 minutes or until the fat is coloured and burnished by the sugary glaze. If you’ve let the ham cool completely before you glaze it, it will need a good 40 minutes at 350°F and you might have to give a final blast of real heat at the end too. And this is based on its being at room temperature, not fridge cold, when it goes in.
Fully Festive Red Cabbage
adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
1 to 1 1/2 heads of red cabbage, shredded
cranberry and apple juice stock from the Fully Festive Ham
Bring the ham stock back to the boil and add the shredded cabbage. Cook for approx. 1 to 1 1/4 hours at a steady simmer, covering the pan if it’s losing too much liquid. Strain to serve.
Cranberry Chutney with Crystallized Ginger and Dried Cherries
adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg
Makes about 5 cups
This will keep for a week in the fridge, stored in an airtight container. Note that this chutney reaches its thick, jammy consistency only as it cools, so it will still be somewhat loose when you first remove it from the heat.
24 oz (680 g) apricot preserves
3/4 cup (180 ml) raspberry vinegar (or 3/4 cup (180 ml) white vinegar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons raspberry preserves)
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup (60 ml) Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec (or orange juice for a nonalcoholic version)
24 oz (680 g) fresh cranberries, picked over
1/2 cup (70 g) finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 1/4 cups (150 g) dried cherries
In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the apricot preserves, raspberry vinegar (or vinegar and raspberry preserves), salt, cloves and Grand Marnier. Stir to mix, then place over a medium-high heat. Bring the mixture back to a boil and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it has thickened slightly. If will bubble, so stir it regularly with a long-handled wooden spoon to keep it from burning.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the cranberries and cook until they’re soft but not popped. When you hear one or two pop, it’s a good sign that the rest are getting soft. Add the ginger and cherries, stir well, and remove from the heat. Cool completely before serving. The chutney will thicken considerably as it cools.
Spiced Whipped Sweet Potatoes
adapted from Bon Appétit, November 2002
Serves 6 to 8
This dish can be made 1 day ahead (always a bonus for a big holiday dinner). Cover and refrigerate, then rewarm over a medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Alternatively, cover with plastic wrap and rewarm in a microwave oven on high until heated through.
6 x 8‑oz (225‑g) sweet potatoes (yams)
1/2 cup (packed) (85 g) golden brown sugar
1/4 cup (55 g) butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
cinnamon sticks, to garnish (optional)
orange peel strips, to garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) and position the rack in the center of oven. Line a baking sheet with tin foil. Pierce the sweet potatoes in several places with a fork and place on the lined sheet. Bake until tender when pierced with fork, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.
Cut the potatoes in half. Scoop out pulp into a large bowl; discard the peel. Add the brown sugar, butter, lemon juice, orange zest, ground cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg to the sweet potato pulp. Using an electric mixer or food processor, beat until the mixture is smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mound the sweet potatoes in a serving bowl. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and orange peel strips, if desired.
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Parsley
adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson
Serves 8 to 10
2 1/4 lb (1 kg) Brussels sprouts
9 oz (250 g) pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons (30 g) butter
9 oz (250 g) vacuum-packed chestnuts
1/4 cup (60 ml) Marsala
a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
Slice the bottoms off each of the Brussels sprouts, cutting a cross onto the base as you go. Place the sprouts into a large saucepan of salted boiling water. Cook the sprouts for 5 minutes, or until they’re tender but still retain a bit of bite. Remove the pan from the heat and drain the excess water from the sprouts.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the pancetta or bacon to the pan and cook until it’s crisp and golden brown in color, but not cooked to the point of having dried out. Add the butter and chestnuts to the pancetta and with a wooden spoon or spatula, press down on them to break them up into pieces. Once the chestnuts have been warmed through, turn the heat up and add the Marsala to the pan. Cook until the mixture has reduced and thickened slightly. Add the sprouts and half the parsley to the saucepan and mix well. Season the Brussels sprouts with freshly ground black pepper.
To serve, place the Brussels sprouts onto a warmed serving plate and sprinkle the remaining chopped parsley over the top.
Maple Pecan Pie Squares with Bourbon Whipped Cream
adapted from Ezra Pound Cake
Makes 25 squares
Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients and lengthy method. I made these in about 15 minutes, and with two little kids underfoot at that. These can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
for the crust:
1 1/4 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (60 g) firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (110 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 3/4‑inch pieces
for the maple pecan filling:
6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (80 ml) pure maple syrup
2/3 cup (120 g) firmly packed golden brown sugar
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy cream
2 cups (8 oz/250 g) coarsely chopped pecans (don’t chop them too small)
for the bourbon whipped cream:
1 cup (240 ml) whipping cream
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 tablespoon sugar
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9‑inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or baking parchment paper, letting the foil or paper extend up the sides and over the edges. If using foil, butter the foil, or spray it with nonstick spray.
To make the crust, combine the flour, brown sugar and salt in a food processor (or by hand). Add the butter and pulse (or use a pastry blender) until the mixture forms pea-sized coarse crumbs. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan and bake until the edges are lightly browned and the top feels firm, 12 to 17 minutes. Set aside.
To make the filling, combine the butter, maple syrup and brown sugar in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Stir until the butter melts and the brown sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the cream. Stir in the pecans. Pour the hot filling over the partially baked crust, spreading it to the edges with an offset spatula or wooden spoon.
Bake until the filling is set when you give the pan a gentle shake, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool until firm, about 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, to make the bourbon whipped cream, whip the cream, bourbon and sugar together until soft peaks form. Taste and add more sugar if you think it needs it to balance the bourbon. Set aside in the fridge until ready to serve.
Using the ends of the foil or paper liner, carefully lift the maple-pecan square in its liner from the baking pan. Run a knife around the edges of the square to loosen it from the foil or paper. Using a large, sharp knife, cut into 25 small squares. Serve with a dollop of the bourbon whipped cream on the side.