Well, the holidays have come and gone and I apologize for my absence. I hope you all had a fun-filled Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year. I hope you had a glut of smiles, family, sharing, love, and of course, GOOD FOOD! The holidays are such a special time for all of us. They allow us to come together with people we may not see much, or at all, the rest of the year. They encourage sharing, giving, and celebrating love. If every day of the year could be like Christmas, I think that the world would be more peaceful and serene a place. But of course, then Christmas would cease to be special. So I suppose, every daydream has its limitations in logical reality. *Sigh* It’s a nice thought.
Christmas means to me and mine, the act of gathering. We gather en masse this one time of year to eat and drink and laugh. My family is very large, I believe we had 25 adults this year and 8 or so small children (give or take). They all live no less than three hours from us and we see them very rarely. My husband’s family, on the other hand, is small, and we live very close to them, so we see each other all the time. So Christmas for me has always been about one big yearly party. Someone hosts, and cooks, and everyone else shows up and enjoys food and family. We exchange gifts in a unique way because there are so many of us. Each adult brings one gift valued at approximately 25$. Each person’s gift is placed, unmarked, but wrapped, beneath the tree. Each person then draws a number out of a hat (usually the santa hat) numbers from 1 to however many adults are present, this year it was 25. Then each person, in turn, selects a gift from under the tree and unwraps it, showing the rest of the crew what he or she got. The next number in order then has the option to unwrap a new gift from under the tree, or to steal a previously open gift. If this occurs, the person from whom the gift was stolen may go back to the tree and unwrap another gift, or may steal someone else’s. There are only two rules in this game. 1. You can’t steal back a present that has been stolen from you. 2. A present can only be stolen 3 times before it is “out of play” and remains then with the last person who stole it. (there IS a strategy to this, especially if you have a very high number.) The result is laughter abounding and everyone ending up with one nice gift to take home. For example, we got a new set of sheets this year. One of my cousins got new bed pillows, one a set of bathroom towels, one a crock pot, etc. This is good fun for everyone and it has become a tradition among us very quickly. In the words of a very good friend of mine “fun was had by all.”
Now I think it’s back to business for me, however. I am going to backtrack somewhat and talk in my first post of the year about our Christmas dinner(s). We had the pleasure of hosting Christmas eve dinner with my husband’s family this year. I love to cook for people, the more people, the more fun it is for me. Our fare was simple, and affordable, but everyone enjoyed it immensely and left with full bellies, and struggled not to lapse into a food coma during church services. Our second Christmas was Christmas day dinner. This was very different, though no less special, a meal for just the two of us. I will go over both meals, how they were prepared, how easy they are, and how impressive the result. These meals would be perfect for any gathering of folks, not just exclusively holiday meals. So without further ado, here goes.
Christmas Dinner #1:
Savory pork roast, cheesy mashed potatoes, green bean casserole
5-6 lb Pork roast (you can use shoulder, butt, whatever you can get your hands on. I personally use a cheaper cut of roast with a lot of fat and a bone. Bone is GOOD. It makes for a more tender and flavorful result. This year I got a 5 lb pork shoulder roast that cost me a little over 8$. We fed 10 people and still had leftovers. Compare this to what you would pay for a 5 lb pork tenderloin and the savings are unbelievable. And while a tenderloin is a tasty cut of pork, a cheaper cut works better in a slow cooker. Just my opinion. Ok, side note over)
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, more if you love garlic like I do
Two sprigs of fresh rosemary (or about 2 tsp chopped dried rosemary)
5 or 6 sprigs fresh thyme (or about 1 tsp dried)
Two yellow onions, peeled and quartered
A dash of wine, red or white (a good use for any leftover wine that may be lying around. I used chardonnay because there was enough left in the fridge for the purpose, but not enough for a full glass, It was about ½ to 2/3 of a cup)
Bring the roast out of the fridge and make sure it is fully thawed. I did this at about 7 AM for dinner at 4. Preheat your slow cooker on about medium heat. Cut the garlic cloves into slivers. Use a small paring knife to make holes all over the pork, top, bottom, sides, and insert the garlic slivers deep into the meat. The more garlic you use, the more or its flavor will make it into the meat. Rub the roast all over with salt and pepper, be generous. If you are using fresh herbs, strip them from their stems and finely chop. Heat a skillet on high for a minute or two and place the roast directly in the skillet, brown it for a minute or two on all sides (yes even the ends). Stuff will stick to the pan, don’t worry, we want that. When you have some color on all sides of the meat, place it in the slow cooker. Rub it all over with the chopped herb. While your skillet is still hot, pour the wine into it to deglaze and get all those little browned bits or meat goodness into the liquid. Scrape the pan with a spatula if you have to. Pour whatever liquid remains with all those gooky bits into the slow cooker. It looks gross, but trust me. Put the quartered onions in and around the meat. Cover and cook. That’s it. I let it cook for about 8 hours, but it won’t take that long to be tender and fall-apart good. It smells heavenly and your guests won’t ever know it only took you 15 minutes to prepare.
Cheesy mashed potatoes.
Really there isn’t too much to explain about this one. It can be made the day before, as can the green bean casserole, and heated in the oven rather quickly. So, I boil a pot of potatoes in no specific quantity, then peel and mash them with milk and butter. Pretty basic so far. I add to this mix a healthy helping of sour cream, a big fistful of shredded cheddar cheese, some minced garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, cooked chopped bacon (or bacon bits), and some finely chopped green onion. I do it to taste, I never measure because, well, I dunno, it just always works out based on how we like our potatoes. I suppose the next time I make it, I will measure and update this. Just…someone remind me. Then I scoop it all into a casserole dish or rectangular baker and put it in the fridge until about 1 hour before dinner. Then all it needs is a heating in a 375 oven for about 30 to 45 minutes. The top will crisp and brown a bit, I usually top it with a little extra cheese and bacon, and it will be creamy melty and wonderful. Both of my brother-in-laws (or is it brothers-in-law?) are addicted to this side dish.
Green Bean Casserole
This recipe can be found in SO many places, on a can of French’s onions, or campbell’s soups, or even in ads in magazines. There are many variations, and some are better than others. But let me tell you how I do it, how my grandma taught me to make it. It never fails to make me drool.
1 can (10.75 oz) cream of mushroom soup
¾ c. milk
1 can (I don’t know the oz, but the little itty bitty can, I’ll get back to you on this one) mushrooms,drained
2 cans (14.5 oz each) green beans, drained, I like French cut, but use whatever you like
1 1/3 c. French fried onions
¼ tsp each pepper and salt
¼ c drained chopped pimento (found near the pickles in the grocery)
Whisk the milk into the soup until no longer lumpy. Stir everything else (except ¾ c. of the onions) together with the soup mixture in a baking dish, casserole, or cazuela. Mix well. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes until hot and bubbly. Stir again. Top with remaining onions and make 5 more minutes until onions are golden. Serve!
Hope you enjoy!!