Thanksgiving is for the turkey and dressing, the casseroles and the pies, but Christmas is a horse of a different color when it comes to loosening the belt or reaching for the fat pants.
I am sure the office Christmas party’s well-stocked bar led you to drink too much. We know you can’t resist a free cocktail or the chance at becoming ultra-photogenic. And you are not going to drink the Dirty Santa booze straight. That stuff is definitely for mixing. Even the Courvoisier can find its way into a high-calorie cocktail.
I’m also sure the sweet treats and Chex Mix aka Texas Trash from your coworkers gave you enough empty calories and sodium to blame the dryer for shrinkage. The tubs of fudge and the appropriately named Julie Sweet’s mountains of candy that arrive (fingers crossed) at your desk are for your consumption only. Your kids can get their own from schoolmates.
In this festive season we claim, sometimes reluctantly, that it is better to give than receive. With all the receiving going on it’s time for you to get into that kitchen and start cooking up some “givings.” I’m talking about dishwashers full of every vessel in your cabinet dirtied up to the nth degree in the name of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. I’m talking about the three Christmas food groups: candies, snacks and drinks.
Don’t skimp on the calories. We have until Mardi Gras to repent.
Strangers with candy
I’m not very fussy when it comes to most things edible, and Christmas candies are no exception. I love divinity and the bourbon balls I told you about last week, but some of my favorites this time of year are the simplest to make. The ease comes from the microwavable trays of white chocolate. No more double boilers for me and mine. I don’t have to melt things the way the Pilgrims did.
Just a simple pretzel in white chocolate is a treat. That’s just the start of it. Ritz cracker peanut butter sandwiches are the best in this stuff. Try Cinnamon Toast Crunch with peanuts and pretzel sticks as haystacks. You can come up with your own names.
I hit the pantry during this process and think of all the things I can coat in whatever chocolate is left over. Believe it or not, some successes have been any nuts, popcorn and corn chips. I’ve seen people do potato chips so I can’t lay claim to that idea, but corn chips are better anyway.
Peanut brittle is one of my favorites, too. I like it a little spicy. Here is a deceptively easy recipe, just follow directions to the letter.
• 3 tablespoons butter plus enough to coat a cookie sheet
• 1½ cups sugar
• 1 cup water
• 1 cup light corn syrup
• 1 10-ounce can of peanuts
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1½ teaspoons baking soda
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Make sure you have your baking sheet coated and ready for candy cooling. In a good-sized saucepan, cook the sugar, water and syrup until you reach soft-crack stage (270 degrees farenheit on a candy thermometer), stirring frequently.
Add the nuts and stir continuously until you reach hard-crack stage (300 degrees F). Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and butter. Add cayenne and baking soda. Stir like a madman.
Pour the contents on the prepared baking sheet and spread it out thin, ¼ inch thick. Allow it to cool and break it into sizable pieces.
Maybe just a midnight snack
I could write a book about snacks. Let’s cut to the chase and speak of my favorite holiday snack brought to me every Christmas by my stepmother, Andreé. These spicy pretzels are irresistible and rarely make it back to Mobile with me. I have to hide them in the trunk with the presents or I’ll be dissolving one pretzel at a time under my tongue the whole way home.
• 1 cup canola oil
• 1 envelope of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing/
• 1 teaspoon cayenne
• 1 12-ounce bag small pretzels
It’s so simple. In a gallon Ziploc bag combine the oil and pretzels to coat. Add the dry ingredients and toss them around. Squeeze out all of the air and lay the bag flat, taking care to not break the pretzels. Turn the bag every couple of hours for 24 hours or affix bag to a barbecue spit over no flame and go to bed. Do not wipe your eyes!
Potent Potables for $1,000
Wassail is never off the menu at Christmastime. An Old Fashioned reminds me of this season. Sazerac is one I can handle in the hot or the cold. Last week I had an amazing gin fizz at the Sazerac bar in the Roosevelt Hotel, but I don’t keep the ingredients in my liquor cabinet to get the job done. For this Christmas, I’m making an Old Fashioned with brandy.
• 1 teaspoon sugar or simple syrup
• 4 dashes bitters
• 2 ounces brandy
• 1 orange wedge
• 1 Maraschino cherry
• Lemon twist
Muddle the sugar with the bitters and a teaspoon of water if you choose. Add ice and the rest of the ingredients. If you add Sprite or 7-Up you are a sissy. You can use Bubble Up and still be considered manly. If you have no brandy, the preferred liquor is bourbon. Good bourbon.
Enjoy these holiday gems. Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Recycle.