Friday, December 27, 2013

Catching Up On Christmas

Sometimes the holidays sneak up on you—or rather, you are able to disregard their advancing pace—while you are getting your work done. I have gotten good at that—simply not thinking about Christmas until, well, I can: until all the grades are in, and I’ve given myself a day to recover. This seems to be a little later every year, as judged by the dwindling number of types of cookie I manage to make. This year, only two. Will there be, in some not too distant future, a cookieless Christmas? Or will I retire, and once again be able to bestow (to the worthy, of course, and assuming I still had the energy) tins bursting with an assortment of my critically collected, carefully curated favorites?

Time will tell what cookies lay in my—and your--Christmas future. But for 2013, Christmas was simple all around.  No fancy dinner like last year or so many others. In fact, Christmas Eve this year was almost like a weeknight supper—homey, comforting, easy-peasy, special only in that it was a little rich for nowadays. You all know this old-fashioned meal very well: a glazed ham (with a sauce made with preserved Little Compton sour cherries); scalloped potatoes; roasted cauliflower with hazelnut buttered bread crumbs; a Christmasy red and green salad. A deep fried appetizer, cheddar cheese puffs, for a little festivity, with champagne. My favorite chocolate cake for dessert, which we did not eat until last night, as it turned out. All in all, a pretty good dinner for a Christmas Eve that arrived early, or to which I arrived late. 

I hope you had a happy holiday, whenever yours began, and that you had time to make at least one cookie.

Scalloped Potatoes

Something creamy for Christmas is always in order; something that can be assembled ahead is doubly so. Here is how I make scalloped potatoes, learned by watching my grandmother. Do not expect measurements(and none needed)! Serves 2-3.

2 large russet potatoes (I urge this  variety on you.)
2-3 thin slices from a large onion, chopped
Unsalted butter
Salt, freshly ground pepper, freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ cups light cream or half-and-half

Butter a 1-qt gratin dish. Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin, about 1/16.” Place a layer of potatoes neatly into the dish; sprinkle with a little of the chopped onion;
strew lightly with a little flour from your hand; dot with a little butter; sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and—sparingly—nutmeg. Repeat, filling the dish to within about ½” of the top.  You will use about 1-2 T each of butter and flour in all, but don’t measure, just use your judgment and keep a light touch with the flour.

Barely scald the cream and pour it over the layered potatoes; press the potatoes down lightly with the back of a wooden spoon. Bake about 1 ½ hrs (the cream will bubble up) until golden.