Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Child's Christmas in Jersey (Second only to the literary epic, "The Goldbergs' Christmas", written by a very confused 6 year old Boo)

Dear Boo,

MMM, what a bacon-y and delicious first entry! As you mentioned, I'm sure half of our ancestors are davening in their graves while the other half are probably somewhere raising a pint and a bacon sandwich to your culinary adventures. Our christmas feast involved bacon as well, though in smaller, more contained portions than yours. I made the bacon wrapped goat cheese stuffed dates** (aka "Cherubs on Horseback", original name by Mouse,see below) which I am convinced are the key to paradise and probably peace in the middle east. The Boo: Speaking of davening in their graves...

I've heard a lot of vegetarians or former veggies say that bacon is the one thing they would either make an exception for, miss the most, or would run to first if the apocalypse were declared. (For me, my reconversion back to meat-eating came at my first job in New York in the form of little Old Bay roasted chicken wings* which I was serving day after day in the blistering heat at a certain painfully yuppified bakery-cum-restaurant to chelsea moms with enormous rocks and apparently nothing to do on a weekday except feed their brats $15 artisanal mac and cheese and generally make my life miserable. These chicken wings squawked at me day after day until I gave in and took a greasy and delicious bite...So. Chicken wings=delicious=bacon=the intersection between your Christmas and mine.)

Also in attendance at the appetizer party was the ubiquitous plate of shrimp with cocktail sauce, which oddly, was barely touched. that might have had something to do with the plethora of fried deliciousness that came in the form of many many little spring rolls made by our lovely cousins. They were stuffed with a combo of something like pork, cabbage, carrots, something something, and dried crushed angel wings. I ate about 12. seriously. Then there were the dates, (oh, the dates!), and ye olde baked brie with cranberries which I ate simply because I couldn't stand that no one else was eating it, especially since i'd made the topping. How I managed to eat a meal after this is a mystery even to me.

Mom had decided since we were 22 people, a 26 pound turkey was the only one that would do, so the enormous thing was heaved into the oven by our father who required a nap immediately after the effort. For the first time, we fell on the other side of the age old debate about stuffing in the turkey our out of the turkey. This year, due to the heft of the thing, we did out of the bird, which turned out to be easier and just as delicious. Even considering the fact that mother had made one of her first shopping mishaps and bought low-calorie whole wheat bread for the stuffing instead of white (i don't think it was ever detected. which just goes to show you, if you put enough butter and gravy on something, it ceases to matter what was underneath). On the subject of excess, there were not one but TWO enormous hams, one of which was never touched. Then there were minted peas (as a gesture towards something light and green), red cabbage (I refuse to ever do without this dish at Christmas), the best gravy yet, slightly soupy but delicious glazed balsamic onions, sweet potatoes which by some kind of odd chemical reaction, deflated and turned into a saucy kind of potato soup. Mom claimed she knew from the beginning that they were too liquidy and might end up with such a fate, but I suspect it had more to do with my discovery in the oven that they had been sitting at 350 to heat up with the saran wrap still sandwiched between the marshmallow topping and the tin foil cover. A chemical reaction between whatever frightening ingredients go into making and preserving a marshmallow and those that allow for a thin sheet of plastic to glue itself to all nearby surfaces is not all that surprising. Despite it all, they were a delicious saucy accompaniment to the turkey. The piece de la resistance was the brussels sprouts gratin which nearly gave me hardened arteries just from the smell. I think it involved a couple of sticks of butter, like an entire carton of heavy cream and a smaller one of light cream. Oh, and parmesan cheese. Oh, and proscuitto. Dad ate this and only this, which he declared "Brilliant!" and somehow got the idea that I had created it. So maybe I didn't deny it. What of it? Mom, aka Cholesterol-Party-Pooper found it slightly funky tasting and disappointing. But what does she know anyway.

For dessert, no pudding singing in the copper, as we decided to go light and simple this year. ahem. Remember that conversation, mom? So it was just a light snack of Ina's Outrageous brownies with ice cream, palmiers, a creamy lemon tart, a two layer coconut cake (baked by our fabulous aunt), and cognac balls which we made and then lost about 3 times somewhere between the kitchen and the basement fridge. I had a jolly old time wandering around yelling, "Mom! Where are my balls!?". Childish? perhaps. But it's only once a year.

The Mouse

* "Recipe" for Cherubs on Horseback (dubbed "Devils on Horseback" by the New York Times food editor, though his version involved stuffing them with almonds which i think sort of misses the whole point... Incidentally, "Angels on Horseback" are bacon-wrapped fried oysters with horseradish which is kind of amazing and which I had at a place called Fish in the west village).

Quantities are up to you--though I suggest making more than you planned since there was a near coup at my new years party when we ran out...
Use a soft goat cheese so it's easier to stuff into the dates. Take your pitted date and widen the hole with your pinky. take a pinch of cheese and squeeze it into one end until it's filled, kind of like spackling a hole in the wall. I use half a strip of regular-sliced bacon per date. Wrap around each stuffed piece and lay end-side down so you don't have to bother with toothpicks. Fill a tray with the dates about an inch apart. Put in the oven for about 5 minutes and when you're about to swoon from the aroma, use tongs to roll them over so each side gets crispy. I like my bacon on the well-done side so I'd leave them in another 7 minutes until they look browned and crispy and you can't stand it anymore. NOTE: people will want to grab these right out of the oven but for liabilities sake, dry them on a paper towel and let them cool SLIGHTLY before popping them in your mouth.

"* Recipe" for replicating Old Bay Chicken Wings (or drumsticks which I often use instead)

Take your chicken pieces. wash them. Yeah, yeah, I've heard you don't have to wash chicken, but come on. Gross. Dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Not too much salt because the Old Bay does a lot of that. Mince up some garlic and rub that on those birdies too. and some olive oil and maybe a squirt of lemon juice, but don't let it get too wet. Now, open a container of Old Bay seasoning (ask at the supermarket because I find they sometimes put it in a weird place, like by the ketchup instead of with the spices, or with the "ethnic" foods. (P.S., dont you just love that we still call it that??)) Sprinkle very generously with the Old Bay. Really, like go to town on those drumsticks because you really want them coated in the stuff. Now, stick them in the oven at like 350 or so. When they're partway done, squeeze a little more lemon on and maybe sprinkle more Old Bay on the bald spots. Then about 5 minutes before they're done, put them in the broiler to crisp them up. Serve with some glazed carrots or broccoli with butter and parmesan. Bring me some.

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