- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2003

For many people, holiday dinners can be a source of seasonal stress. There is more preparation, planning and excitement connected with this traditional meal than all others year-round. The biggest quandary, however, is what to prepare for the holiday spread during the most hectic month of all. People have their own ideas about what the holiday feast should involve. High on the list are tradition, family and food. Tradition means gathering at the same house annually, enjoying the same menu and being with the same people time after time.

Although we look forward to this time of year with anticipation of the traditional meals, we also enjoy a menu that is a little different each year so that it remains interesting. The dilemma is in how to create a new but traditional dinner and feed a crowd while still surviving our busy schedules.

Organizing the meal is an absolute must, and selecting a menu based on a balance of make-ahead recipes and those with minimal preparation time helps ensure a successful feast.

For a stunning presentation with incredible flavor, grace your holiday table with glazed ham with pecan crust.

A quick trip to a specialty store to order a precooked ham is a good shortcut, but my easy five-ingredient recipe requires only basting the ham with apple cider and adding a fabulous sugar-pecan mixture in the final baking stages.

Seasonal ingredients, such as crab apples or pomegranates accented with leafy parsley, can provide the final decorative accent to the platter.

Although the attention is usually on the turkey or ham, the side dishes should not be neglected.

Traditional dressing can make its expected appearance, but also select some new and exciting recipes to enhance your holiday table. Asparagus prosciutto bundles fall into the simple-yet-sensational category.

Perfect for the time-conscious cook, this recipe can be made ahead of time, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to bake. The bundles are packed with flavor and are a colorful addition to the holiday table.

Pies have been touted as the traditional holiday dessert for decades. Pecan pie is a popular choice, but when you prepare my pecan pie with honey-crunch topping, the traditional dessert is enhanced and updated.

For those who prefer a cake, cranberry cake with vanilla sauce is a great choice. Cut the cake into squares, drizzle it with vanilla sauce and garnish with fanned strawberries, and this simple recipe turns into a fancy presentation.

When it comes time to set the table, pull out the fine dishes and stemware. No need to stress about flowers and decorations. There is nothing more beautiful than a clear vase filled with cranberries and flowers. A holiday wreath can be an ideal serving-plate holder for a platter. Festive napkin rings can also double as votive candle holders, making use of props you already have at home.

The following recipes are from “Holly Clegg’s Trim & Terrific Home Entertaining the Easy Way: Fast and Delicious Recipes for Every Occasion” (Courage).

Glazed ham with pecan crust

There’s no need to buy a honey-baked ham at the store. This stunning ham has incredible flavor, yet it’s simple to prepare.

1 10-pound pre-cooked, bone-in ham

2 cups cider

1 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1½ cup finely chopped pecans

Place ham in baking dish, and pour cider over. Bake in 325-degree oven, basting with cider every 30 minutes, for a total cooking time of 12 to 15 minutes per pound or until thermometer registers 140 degrees. (Insert meat thermometer into center of ham without touching bone.)

Meanwhile, combine brown sugar, mustard and pecans in bowl. Remove ham from oven before the last 40 minutes and firmly pat the sugar-pecan mixture all over the ham. Return ham to oven and continue baking it until crust is brown and ham is heated through.

Slice and serve with sauce. Serves 20 to 25.

Asparagus prosciutto bundles

This elegant, simple side dish can be made ahead of time, covered and refrigerated until ready to bake. The unique and distinct flavors of goat cheese, prosciutto and asparagus merge for a lively taste. The bundles also make a delicious, easy-to-eat option for a cocktail buffet.

1 pound thin asparagus spears, trimmed

3 ounces sliced prosciutto ham

2½ ounces herb-and-garlic goat cheese

Cook asparagus in large pot of water until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water, drain and pat asparagus dry. Cut prosciutto slices in half crosswise, and spread each with about ½ teaspoon of cheese.

Place asparagus in each slice of prosciutto, and wrap tightly around spear. Transfer to a baking sheet, and bake in 400-degree oven until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 10 to 12 bundles.

Pecan pie

For the most incredible pecan pie ever, splurge by adding the honey-crunch topping that follows. For a chocolate variation, add ½ to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips to pie filling before baking.

3 eggs

¼ cup sugar

½ cup light brown sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 tablespoons margarine, melted

1 cup chopped pecans

1 9-inch unbaked pie shell

Honey-crunch topping, optional (recipe follows)

In a mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and brown sugar until creamy. Add corn syrup, vanilla and margarine, mixing well. Stir in pecans. Pour into the pie shell and bake in 350-degree oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until pie is set. Glaze with honey-crunch topping, if desired. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

HONEY CRUNCH TOPPING:

Indulge by adding this fabulous topping to your pecan pie, and you’ll earn bragging rights for years to come.

⅓ cup light brown sugar

3 tablespoons margarine

3 tablespoons honey

1½ cup pecan halves

In a medium saucepan, combine brown sugar, margarine and honey. Cook over low heat until sugar dissolves, stirring constantly. Add pecans, and stir until well coated. During last 5 minutes of baking, remove pie from the oven and spread the crunch topping evenly over top. Turn on the broiler, return pie to the oven and broil until the topping is bubbly and golden brown, watching carefully. Makes topping for one 9-inch pie.

Cranberry cake with vanilla sauce

I usually cut the cake into squares before drizzling it with vanilla sauce.

4 tablespoons margarine

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup light brown sugar

3 cups flour

1½ teaspoons baking soda

1 12-ounce can fat-free evaporated milk

2 cups chopped fresh cranberries or 1½ cups dried cranberries

½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Nonstick cooking spray

Vanilla sauce (recipe follows)

In a large mixing bowl, beat margarine, sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl, mix together flour and baking soda. Add flour mixture and evaporated milk, alternately, to margarine mixture, mixing thoroughly.

Fold in cranberries and walnuts, if desired. Pour batter into a 13-by-9-by-2-inch pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake in 350-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or just until top springs back. Cut into squares, and serve warm with vanilla sauce (recipe follows).

Makes 30 to 35 squares.

VANILLA SAUCE:

3 tablespoons margarine

⅓ cup sugar

⅓ cup evaporated milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan, combine margarine, sugar and evaporated milk, and bring to a boil. Boil for 4 to 5 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and add vanilla. Serve warm over cranberry cake.


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