Fast, affordable holiday recipes can be as close as your pantry and refrigerator. Last Saturday, my food demonstrations at the Tam-O-Shanter Life, Home and Leisure Show showcased classics that are just as good for celebrating special occasions as they are as year-round favorites.
I started with Pimento Cheese. It's so simple: three ingredients (sharp cheddar cheese, pimento, and a little mayonnaise) blended in a food processor.
I think it is an American favorite. My Midwestern mother-in-law often made it for Sunday suppers. It can be used in sandwiches on rye bread, as a spread on crackers, or stuffed into celery for appetizers. The orange color makes it great for Halloween, but this tasty nibble is good while you're waiting for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners.
The only difference between her recipe and cookbook author James Villas' recipe in The Glory of Southern Cooking (Wiley, $34.95) is that he adds freshly ground black pepper, salt to taste, and cayenne pepper. He notes that the large, heart-shaped red pimento pepper that plays such a part in Southern cooking is not the same as the humbler red bell pepper. He writes that pimentos are indigenous to the Americas and were taken back to Spain by Columbus. Today, all pimentos are canned in the states of Georgia and Tennessee, which makes them available nationwide.
Next came ambrosia, which Mr. Villas dates to the 19th century, when it was served as a salad, although sometimes it is used as a dessert. It's a luscious, inexpensive combination of fruits mixed with coconut and a dressing which is chilled and served in a pretty dish. It's a popular item on buffet tables.
My recipe is inexpensive and simple, using drained canned fruits (peaches, pineapple, and mandarin orange segments garnished with maraschino cherry halves) and miniature marshmallows with sour cream as the dressing. But it can also be made with fresh fruits.
Mr. Villas' recipe includes oranges, grapefruit, fresh coconut, crushed pecans, and a dressing of orange juice and confectioners' sugar. In The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, the authors' recipe of tangerine segments, canned pineapple chunks, mini marshmallows, and shredded coconut is dressed with mayonnaise.
Ambrosia is a great dish for a holiday brunch table, luncheon, or a quick tree-trimming supper. The ingredients can pretty much be pantry staples.
Canned cranberry sauce is always nice to have in your pantry. But now is the time to make it with fresh cranberries, when the cranberry harvest is in process.
My recipe is made with fresh cranberries, sugar, and water. Rinse and drain the cranberries, removing any twigs or leaves. Simply boil the cranberries in the sugar and water and within minutes there is a nice sauce. Cool to serve or refrigerate. It thickens as it stands.
Note that you should cook cranberries in stainless steel pans.
Although a version of this recipe is likely available on the back of the cranberry bag, it's a recipe not easily found in cookbooks. The Harvest Eating Cookbook by Keith Snow (Running Press, $29.95) does have one which is seasoned with one-fourth teaspoon each of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, and the juice or zest of two medium oranges. But I'm a purist with my three-ingredient recipe.
I serve the cranberry sauce with poultry or with acorn squash that's been baked with melted butter and brown sugar.
I've been having fun with puff pastry this fall making Palmiers, which my family has fallen in love with, and apple tartlets. For those who have never used frozen puff pastry, it's far easier to use than you may think.
When using the pastry, follow the instructions closely. I use it for Palmiers (the crisp cookie made from puff pastry dough sprinkled with granulated sugar, folded over several times, then cut into strips). When baked to golden brown, the caramelized pastries are sometimes likened to a heart shape. I use the recipe from Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home by Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter, $35).
The secret is to use parchment paper and a regular baking sheet; dark baking sheets, nonstick baking liners, and insulated pans affect the baking time and final product. I made a batch while visiting my daughter, using her insulated pans and then a regular pan. What a difference the pan makes: the insulated pan didn't allow the cookie to caramelize - you could still see the sugar crystals instead of that nice brown syrupy color that makes the cookie a bit chewy.
As for those apple tartlets, a sheet of puff pastry can be used for six individual tartlets or two oblong shaped desserts that can be baked and then sliced, or even one whole one that will be cut in pieces.
The apples need to be peeled, halved, and thinly sliced so that they can fan out over the pastry. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar and drizzle with melted butter before baking. When golden, the tartlets or tarts are removed from the oven and drizzled with maple syrup to give a little sheen.
It's a great little dessert that is best served the day it is made but can be held to the next day if refrigerated.
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