Merry Christmas, everyone!
More than anything, the celebration of Christmas is defined for me by it's smells and flavors. The sights and lights are beautiful for certain but a whiff of tourtiere pie awakens memories of Christmases past in a flash. There are certain foods that we only ever had at Christmas. These include tourtiere pie, grapefruit, big fat purple grapes with seeds, salami with cream cheese, highballs and a no-cook fudge that my mother always made. Nothing fancy, but very very special. And of course the enjoyment thereof is made extra special by the romance of lights, decorations and the smell of evergreen in the house. Continuing these traditions is my pleasure in Christmases present.
As I have done for several years now, I spent Christmas with music (today it was Bach for a couple hours) and cookery: tourtiere, fudge and caramels (which I scorched so I'll have to redo that one tomorrow!).
Tourtiere is a traditional French Canadian meat pie. I made mine differently this year. Instead of a large pie, I mixed up a quick and easy, light and flaky pastry made very simply of butter, cream cheese, flour and pinch of salt. Cream the butter (2 sticks) with the cream cheese (8 oz.) with a mixer till blended, add 2 cups of flour and a pinch of salt and mix just till it forms a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for a while (I let mine rest for a couple hours). This makes a very flaky pastry for small turnovers, rolled 1/8" thick and cut into 3" circles. I placed a good tablespoon of tourtierre in the center, folded over and wet the edges of the circle with water before pinching into half moon shapes. Brushed with egg and milk whipped together then baked at 350 (I adjust down to 325 since I use a toaster oven for these) for 20 to 25 minutes.
It was a success beyond my dreams! Oh, they were so good. Their devouring was accompanied with moans of ecstasy. These are the ones I made this afternoon for Christmas supper:
I have a container of tourtierre filling and a good sized pat of pastry in the fridge so I can make several more tomorrow.
We always had tourtiere for Christmas breakfast. We'd open gifts to the smell of tourtiere wafting from the kitchen. At the kitchen table, each place was set with half a grapefruit sprinkled with sugar. This was really special. It was one of 2 days (New Years was the other) in the year that we tasted grapefruit. Lovely how special something becomes when it's enjoyed just once or twice a year.
It is said that everyone has their own tourtiere recipe. Mine is based on my mothers. Ground pork and beef (1 lb. of each--humanely raised, free range from the farmer's market), potato and onion (1 large of each, the former grated, the latter chopped), allspice (an absolute must in my book and I used about 2 tablespoons), pepper (lots of it, I probably used a tablespoon), salt to taste. I also put in a bit of ground sage. A touch of clove is a nice addition. I've seen some recipes that call for many more ingredients including cognac! But what I've just described is the tourtiere of my childhood. And I love it.
The fudge is also simple: 1 packet of graham crackers crushed with a rolling pin until slightly coarser than cornmeal, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, 1 package of chocolate morsels and 1 tsp. vanilla. Heat the chocolate with the milk in the top of a double boiler until chocolate is melted, stir to blend, add vanilla and pour over cracker crumbs. Mix well and pour (more like plop) into a buttered 9x9 pan. Cool. It's really quite good for non-cooked fudge. To me it means Christmas.
I won't write about the caramel. :) Tomorrow will be better for that!
I'll also make some candied orange peel and if I have time I'll make another batch of praline candy. I made some last weekend and took it to work to share around. They're also quite easy and very very good. Cook 1 cup sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar (light) with 1 cup half-and-half and 8 large marshmallows over medium heat until soft ball stage (~234-240). Without stirring or scraping the pan, pour into another pan and add 2 cups chopped pecans, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon. Stir vigorously until thickens then quickly drop into rounds on cookie sheet (lined with parchment or waxed paper). Flatten (if you can) with spoon. Need to work quickly when it starts to thicken as it sets up quickly. Delicious!
The salami and cream cheese: spread a thin layer of cream cheese on a thin slice of hard salami. Top with another slice of salami and spread that with a thin layer of cream cheese. Continue to build layers until 3/8" high or so. Wrap well and put in refrigerator over night. It needs the time for the cream cheese to absorb the salami flavors. Cut into small squares. Serve with highballs. Yum. Our traditional holiday drink was highballs made with Four Roses whiskey and ginger ale. Still tastes like Christmas to me!
Here's a candid admission: One of my favorite Christmas albums is the one The Partridge Family made. I just love it. It's cheery and happy and the arrangements are really quite nice. And yes, I do love Christmas carols. Seems to be going out of fashion, but not for me. I went carolling last night at the tree at the arch in Washington Square. I met up with a friend from our Knit & Schmooze group and sang our hearts out for an hour with at least 200 other revellers. Singing with hundreds of other voices... Special indeed.