Merry Christmas, y'all! We went on a bit of a crazy roadtrip (which I will tell you about later, because there are restaurants involved) and didn't get back til late on the 22nd, which left us in a bit of a scramble to get ready for Christmas. We managed to get some outdoor decorations up (check out the wreath I made!), but no tree or anything indoors.
We also spent all our holiday money on travel, so no presents this year. But we did have a nice Christmas dinner (I mean, come on - how could I not, right?). Honey Baked Ham (going store bought on the main let me focus on sides); Spinach and Gruyere Strata; Sweet Potato Gratin with Caramelized Onions; and Bacon Popovers.
And a Cranberry Raisin Tart with orange zest and spices for dessert.
Oh yeah, and breakfast! Can't forget Christmas morning sweets! I made these Cranberry Orange Rolls by Smitten Kitchen - yum!
I halved the recipe and we still had leftovers, ha. I also forgot to brush the butter on the dough before putting the brown sugar, cranberry, and orange zest filling on - doh! I had to get creative to fix that, but I managed to avoid freaking out.
The nice thing about this recipe is that the rolls rise in the fridge overnight, so in the morning you can just pop them in the oven. The pan will be filled with cranberry juice in the morning, but don't worry - it turns into a sticky sauce in the oven.
I opted for an orange cream cheese icing, which was a little lumpy because I got lazy with my whisking - oh well.
On to dinner - this strata needs to soak overnight, so I made it the day before, which was actually very helpful. The more you can get done ahead of time, the better! Cubed bread is layered with sauteed onion and spinach, Parmesan, and Gruyere; then an egg custard is poured over top.
Once baked the next day, it becomes golden brown and gooey and totally decadent. It needs to sit out for 30 minutes to come to room temp before baking, so while that was happening I started on my next dish...
... the Sweet Potato Gratin. These are grown up sweet potatoes, no marshmallows here. Thinly sliced and layered with caramelized onions, sage, and cream - yum. The original recipe used chipotle powder as well, which I skipped because of my spicy aversion. But feel free to go for it if that is your thing.
A topping of buttery bread crumbs is added at the end to take it to the next level. This was yummy, but I had some major problems - the top layer did not cook through for me. I think the problem is that when the recipe said 1/4 inch slices, it actually meant 1/8 inch or thinner - 1/4 inch is actually pretty thick, so I will correct that in my version of the recipe. We ate the bottom layer of sweet potatoes, and I plan to re-cook the top layer.
The last side I made was popovers. Jasper requested ham and Yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner, but Yorkshire pudding is made with the drippings of a rib roast. So what to do? I decided to make popovers with bacon grease to complement the ham.
Puffy, crispy, soft, and chewy bacon flavored morsels of heaven. I might have to make these every day for the rest of my life, which would end fairly quickly from a heart attack. Worth it. Do not be afraid of the popovers, they are easier than they seem. No fancy mix or pan required.
Lastly, we come to dessert. I made the filling for my Cranberry Raisin Tart a day in advance to make things easier. Fresh cranberries and golden raisins go into a pot with brown sugar, orange juice, and zest and cook to become a kind of jam. As I was making it, I wondered why there were no spices involved. I mean, that's just silly. So I added a pinch each of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
The next day, the filling is spread on some pie dough and folded up to become a free form tart, or galette. Sweet and tart at the same time, this is best served with either ice cream or fresh cream to mellow out the acidity.
Cranberry Orange Rolls
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
yields 12 buns
I halved the recipe, which wasn't hard except for the eggs in the dough. I decided to use 1 whole egg, and 1 egg yolk. The leftover egg white went into the strata.
4 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
6 tbsp (85 grams) butter, melted, plus additional to grease pan
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated (to be used in dough and filling, below)
3 3/4 cups (470 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter
1 packet (7 grams or 2 1/4 tsp) instant dry yeast (also sold as Bread Machine or Rapid Rise yeast)
1 1/4 tsp coarse or kosher salt, or more to taste
1 tsp oil for bowl
1 1/2 tbsp (20 grams) butter
1 cup (190 grams) packed light brown sugar
1 cup (115 grams) fresh cranberries
Orange zest leftover from above
3 1/2 tbsp (55 ml) orange juice
2 cups (240 grams) powdered sugar
1/4 cup (2 1/2 oz) cream cheese, softened
3 tbsp milk (*Or do what I did and use OJ here)
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
Make the dough: In the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, buttermilk, and 3/4 of the orange zest together (saving the rest for the filling). Add 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; stir until evenly moistened. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and let the dough hook knead the mixture on low speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Scrape the dough into a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, which will take between 2 and 2 1/2 hours.
Prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set it aside. In a food processor, pulse the whole cranberries until they’re coarsely ground, but not pureed. You’ll need to scrape the machine down once or twice. Set them aside.
Assemble the buns: Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish, a heavier ceramic or glass dish is ideal here. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is 18 inches wide (the side nearest to you) and 12 or so inches long. (It’s okay if it goes longer/thinner.) Brush the dough with the melted butter. (Don't forget to do this because you left your butter in the microwave - doh!) Sprinkle it with the brown sugar. Scatter the ground cranberries over it, then the remaining orange zest.
Roll the dough into a tight, 18-inch long spiral. Using a sharp serrated knife, very, very gently saw the log into 1 1/2-inch sections; you should get 12. Arrange the buns evenly spread out in your baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 16 hours.
The next morning, bake the buns: Take your buns out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’d like to bake them, to allow them to warm up slightly. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden, approximately 30 minutes.
Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Make the icing by whisking the preferred ingredients together. Spread a little on each bun, or drizzle it over the whole pan. Serve immediately.
Spinach Gruyere Strata
adapted from Annie's Eats
serves 6-8 (I halved it, using 4 eggs and the leftover white from the rolls)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 a medium onion)
2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 tsp salt, divided
1/4 tsp pepper, divided
Dash freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed French or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
6 oz coarsely grated Gruyere (about 2 cups)
2 oz finely grated Parmesan (about 2/3 cup)
9 large eggs
2 3/4 cup milk
Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onions to the pan and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 tsp of the salt, 1/4 tsp of the pepper, and the nutmeg, and continue to cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the spinach, remove from the heat and set aside.
Butter the inside of a 2 1/2 - 3 quart baking dish. Layer the bottom of the dish with one third of the bread cubes. Top with one third of the spinach mixture and one third of each of the cheeses. Repeat these layers twice more with the bread, spinach and cheese. (I ended up doing 2/3 on the bottom, then cutting the remaining 1/3 bread cubes in half and putting them on top.)
In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, milk, the remaining 1/2 tsp of the salt and 1/8 tsp of the pepper. Whisk together until blended. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread and spinach layered in the baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.
Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 350˚ F. Bake uncovered until puffed, golden brown and cooked through, 45-55 minutes. Let stand at least 5 minutes before serving.
Sweet Potato Gratin
adapted from The Kitchn
serves 6-8 (I halved it)
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 medium onions, peeled and sliced into thin half moons
3 lbs sweet potatoes or yams (3 to 4 medium potatoes)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1/4 tsp chipotle pepper powder (optional)
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp finely chopped sage leaves
1/2 cup fine dried breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Heat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9x13 casserole or gratin dish with olive oil or butter. Heat the butter in a heavy skillet (cast iron, ideally) and when it foams up, add the onions. Sprinkle them lightly with salt. Slowly caramelize the onions over medium heat, stirring frequently. This will take at least 15 minutes, probably more.
While the onions are caramelizing, peel and slice the potatoes in thicknesses of about 1/8-inch. Tile half of them in a the prepared casserole dish, overlapping them in tight rows or a spiral. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper.
When the onions are dark brown, add the garlic and cook just until golden. Finely chop the sage and add this to the onions, along with the chipotle powder and cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until the cream is slightly reduced then remove from the heat. (Mine reduced immediately when it hit the pan.)
Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions and garlic from the cream. Spread the onions over the layer of sweet potatoes in the dish. Layer the remaining potatoes on top, forming a tight spiral or rows. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt and black pepper. Pour the cream over the top. It will look like there isn't enough cream; it won't cover the potatoes or fill up the dish. Resist the impulse to add more cream, however; there is plenty to cook the potatoes, and adding more may cause the potatoes to get mushy and fall apart.
Bake uncovered for 25 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are just tender and the cream is golden brown and bubbling. (Note: Baking time is highly dependent on how thick you cut your potatoes. The 25 to 30 minute time is based on 1/8-inch thick slices. Any thicker and the baking time may rise.)
Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in the skillet and toast the reserved chopped sage and the breadcrumbs until golden and fragrant. Remove from the heat and toss with the Parmesan. Sprinkle this over top of the gratin and drizzle the top lightly with olive oil. Return to the dish to the oven for about 15 minutes or until brown and crispy. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.
adapted from Food Network
3 tbsp melted bacon grease, divided
1 cup milk, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave (should be lukewarm to warm)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Using a pastry brush, coat 8 muffin cups with some of the melted bacon grease (should be about 1 tbsp) and put the tin in the oven for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a blender until light yellow. Add the warmed milk and blend. Add the flour, salt and remaining melted bacon grease, and blend until smooth. Pour the batter into the warmed muffin tin and return it to the oven to bake until golden, about 25-35 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm.
Cranberry Raisin Tart
adapted from Blogging Over Thyme
Cranberry Raisin Filling:
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp freshly grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice (from about 2 oranges)
2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over
1 cup golden raisins (soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and drained thoroughly)
1/4 tsp salt
pinch each of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted very cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1 tbsp cold water
1 egg + 1 tbsp water
Prepare Filling: Combine all of the filling ingredients in a small saucepan and stir together. Bring mixture to a low boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to burst and mixture begins to thicken slightly. Remove from heat, transfer to heatproof bowl, cover, and allow to cool completely in the fridge (you make the filling up to a day or two in advance to save time).
Make Dough: Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into bowl of a large food processor. Add the butter. Place entire bowl in the freezer for about 5 minutes to thoroughly chill. Meanwhile, whisk together the (cold) egg and water in a small bowl.
Remove the bowl from the freezer and pulse several times, or until the butter is in very small pieces and the mixture resembles coarse meal. While pulsing, slowly add the egg and water mixture and continue to pulse until the dough just comes together (be careful not to overwork the dough).
Press the dough together and flatten into a small disc, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 deg F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Remove the dough from the fridge, place on a lightly floured counter top, and roll into a 12-inch circle (don't worry if its not exactly round or edges are slightly jagged), moving the dough as you go to ensure that it doesn't stick to the counter top.
Place the rolled out dough on the lined baking sheet and chill in the fridge or freezer for another 5-10 minutes. Spoon the filling into the center of the dough, leaving a 2 1/2 - 3 inch border on the sides. Fold the edges of the dough over, pleating them slightly, but leaving the center of the tart exposed. Lightly brush the exposed dough with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Allow the tart to cool (on the baking sheet) completely on a rack. Serve room temperature (or slightly warm) with vanilla ice cream.