- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The dish that makes a meal Christmas dinner is the entree,whether it’s leg of lamb, turkey, goose, crown roast of pork or prime rib. But ask anyone what they’d miss most if it were gone, and you will likely hear about their grandmother’s oyster stuffing or Aunt Mabel’s jiggly gelatin mold with raspberries and sour cream.

That’s exactly why my friend Chou Chou Grant choreographs her Christmas dinner as she does. “I have a swarm of family, friends and loose ends every year,” she says, “but I like to cook the whole meal. So I tell them, ‘Bring the dish that means it is Christmas dinner for you,’ and I serve it along with all the things I like to make.”

Chou Chou makes her living gluing natural-looking lashes on the lids of Los Angeles ladies. (She also bakes muffins for her Aunt Henri’s Gift Baskets business.) She lives in a barn-sized house, but her kitchen is so modest it looks like it belongs in a New York apartment. So she likes to herd her flock into the living room while she wrangles the finishing touches for her meal.

“I set out a tray of celery root bisque in cups so (guests) don’t need to sit or use utensils, and there is a platter of crudites for them to graze around,” she says. “The soup and salad course are out of the way, once they sit down at the table. That way I can stay sitting down after hours of being on my feet in the kitchen.”

You might find Chester Hopkins, a retired advertising man, fussing over a holiday meal in his New City York kitchen or relaxed in a roomy farmhouse kitchen in East Hampton, sauteing cashews for the brussels sprouts he wouldn’t think of going without for any holiday meal.

“I don’t waste the flavor of the sprouts by poaching them first,” Chester told me. “I cook them all the way in sweet butter, instead.”

Rickie Harden, a retired nurse, is the best neighbor anyone could dream up. Living near her is like having a stand-up comic across the street who will walk your dog, water your lawn, let the plumber in and give him a cold drink if he does the job right, keep an eye on you while you are up a ladder, fix you up after you fall off, and make you laugh about it.

“I don’t know where I’m eating dinner this year, but wherever it is, it isn’t in my house,” she says. “I’m done with that whole business. I’ll bring my banana yamas to anybody else’s house. Why make sweet potatoes sweeter by adding brown sugar and marshmallows?” she wondered. “I just whip them up with a little butter and milk and then top them with sliced bananas that I brush with a little maple syrup. They’re so delicious I just want to sit on them while I eat a dinner cooked by someone I love.”

John Kelly makes his living photographing food, including the pictures accompanying this story. But John and his wife, also a photographer, are vegans. In their case a meat entree is not a given; it’s forbidden. But this man’s entree could be another’s side dish. John, who is the cook in the family, likes to make a wild rice and mushroom forestiere. (That’s French for “of the forest,” referring to dishes usually made with some kind of game meat and wild mushrooms.)

John makes his for holiday meals with a combination of wild rice, mushrooms, brewers’ yeast and other replacements for more standard animal ingredients.

We could substitute the meat and dairy stand-ins in John’s recipe with, well, meat and dairy, if we like. (This could make a lovely day-after dish using the leftovers from a meat-eater’s Christmas entree.) When you plan your meal, just remember to include the most important things that make the meal mean Christmas for you, whether it’s the food or the people who share it with you.

Rickie’s banana yamas

8 medium yams or sweet potatoes

1/4 cup butter

cup milk

1 teaspoon cinnamon


2 to 3 ripe but firm bananas, sliced about -inch thick

Maple syrup

Chopped pecans, optional

Scrub and pierce yams or potatoes in several places to prevent bursting. Place yams or potatoes slightly apart on oven rack. Bake about 1 hour in preheated 375-degree oven, or until tender when pierced with knife. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Cut in half and scoop out flesh, transferring it to a large bowl.

Add butter, milk and cinnamon, and mash until blended and smooth. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to buttered casserole.

Arrange bananas overlapping slightly on top of mashed yams. Brush lightly with maple syrup. Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired. Return to oven and bake about 20 minutes, or until bananas are golden. Makes about 8 servings.

Chou Chou’s celery root bisque

1/4 cup butter

1 pounds celery root, peeled and chopped

1/4 cup chopped chives, plus more for optional garnish

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups peeled and diced potatoes

1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

cup milk

Salt and pepper

Crudites of choice

In large skillet, melt butter. Add celery root and saute 5 minutes. Stir in chives. Add broth, potatoes and parsnip. Bring to a boil.

Cover and simmer 25 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Let cool slightly. Transfer in batches to blender or food processor and process until pureed, returning to pan. Keep hot over medium heat.

In small bowl, whisk egg yolks with milk.

Whisk in about cup hot bisque mixture. Return this mixture to pan. Keep mixture hot but do not allow it to boil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in cups or mugs, garnished with chopped chives, if desired, and pass crudites. Makes about 8 servings.

Chet’s cashewed sprouts

1/4 cup butter

3/4 cup cashews

2 pounds small brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

Salt and pepper

In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add cashews and saute, stirring frequently, until just beginning to brown. Add brussels sprouts and stir to coat with butter. Cover and simmer until tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 8 servings.

Savory wild rice forestiere

1 cup wild rice

2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided

1 cup diced yellow onion

1 cup diced celery

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 pound wild mushrooms, chopped

cup white wine

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

1 cup ground toasted walnuts

1 cups oat milk (see note)

2 tablespoons powdered egg substitute such as Egg Replacer (see note)

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (see note)

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups fresh sourdough bread crumbs, divided

1 teaspoon salt

teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Rinse wild rice. Place in deep pot and cover with 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 35 minutes, or until tender. Drain well. Heat 2 teaspoons canola oil in large skillet.

Add onion, celery and garlic. Saute until onion is translucent. Add mushrooms and saute 2 minutes. S

tir in wine and simmer 4 minutes longer. Stir in marjoram and sage.

Combine rice, mushrooms, walnuts, oat milk, egg substitute, yeast, baking powder, 2 cups bread crumbs, salt and pepper.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan with 1 tablespoon oil. Press 1 cup bread crumbs on bottom and sides of pan. Fill with rice mixture. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 1 hours. Let stand 15 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve. Serves about 12 as side dish; 6 as entree.

Note: Oat milk, egg replacer and nutritional yeast are available in natural foods and health foods stores. Cow’s milk can be substituted for oat milk, eggs for egg replacer, and nutritional yeast can be omitted.



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