26 December 2007

Christmas Culinary Adventures

I'm the first to admit that I'm not at all handy in the kitchen. But while I'm not terribly skilled, I tend to enjoy making complicated, impractical gourmet types of dishes (this makes for some interesting scenarios). In fact, I actually took cooking classes when I lived in Paris as a student.

Around holiday time each year, I fantasize that I'll re-create the first Thanksgiving dinner and make my family come dressed in character. Each year, I have to give up that dream, knowing I'd be laughed out of town. Then I start thinking about how I'd like to prepare a traditional Christmas dinner like the one the Cratchit family shared in A Christmas Carol. Just what is figgy pudding, I've wondered, and why is it so celebrated?

Well, a few days ago, NPR ran a story which seemed to be directed precisely at me: It was all about figgy pudding. It didn't sound complicated at all, and with ingredients similar to a fruitcake, how could it be bad? So I borrowed my mom's bundt cake pan and purchased all of the ingredients without telling anyone what I planned to make. The only part I was concerned about was lighting the figs and raisins as they simmered in brandy (remember, I'm not that handy). For safety reasons, I summoned Spouse to the kitchen.

"You're making WHAT?"

In reality, the figgy pudding was very fun and simple (even festive!) to make. The instructions were clear, and even spouse enjoyed flaming the brandy. Figgy pudding is not what Americans would think of as a pudding: It is actually a fruit-studded spice cake, prepared by steaming it in a bath of boiling water. I had never done anything like this before, yet I was delighted with how well the process worked. And while Spouse and Daughter would have no part of it, I served my beloved figgy pudding to my parents and my in-laws, and they all loved it.

In addition to the figgy pudding, I also tried another new recipe: cinnamon spritz. This recipe (from Martha Stewart Living, December, 2007) called for scraping the seeds from a whole vanilla bean, something I'd never tried. Again, the recipe was simple to follow and the cookies turned out extremely well. Following the spritz, I made a batch of my favorite gingerbread cookies. The best part about gingerbread cookies (other than the taste, of course) is the wonderful smell that permeates the house as they bake.

All told, my Christmas baking (all done in one evening) went surprisingly well this year...that is, until my dipped pretzels stuck like glue to their drying plates and had to be chiseled off and my peppermint bark nearly overflowed its tray. I managed to mangle two simple recipes which could easily be made by young children.

But my figgy pudding worked, and I think that it is a sign that I need to make it again next Christmas. Spouse has a full year to prepare for his role as Bob Cratchit.


Sarah C. said...

Wonderful photos! Sounds like you had lots of yummy desserts. I've never had figgy pudding - and somehow I really don't think I'd even heard of it until this year. You've gotten me curious. Maybe I'll try it next year.

Stella said...

what a great idea to make figgy pudding. I have actually thought about doing the same.

Cheri said...

Great photos, and I just love the story...I was biting my nails when you got to the flaming brandy bit, since you appeared to be foreshadowing doom earlier with admitting you weren't handy in the kitchen. Whew! I'm glad this one had a happy ending:)

Darcey said...

Glad your Christmas dinner was a sucess! I probably would have lit my house on fire!

Maureen said...

Ah, I love Christmas pudding. My mom makes it (and mincemeat pie) every year and we top it off with carmel sauce (hot) and hard sauce (cold).... so yummy and sweet, it makes your skin crawl.

Hope you and yours had a terrific holiday, Janet.

creative-type dad said...

Wow, that sounds good.

I stopped at the Brandy part for a little while.

:: gingerkitty :: said...

Awesome blog entry I love NPR too. How did you make that collage photo? It is cool. ALL looks delicious

jp said...

Sarah and Stella - You should try making it! Not at all difficult, and it made the whole house smell great (at least I thought so)!

Cheri - Got ya, huh?? Believe me, I've had plenty of DISASTERS in the kitchen, including an exploding roast. Thankfully, this wasn't one of them!

Darcey - Yes, I worried about that, too! I don't usually set my dinner on fire, at least not deliberately!

Maureen - Caramel sauce sounds great! I have some here...I may have to try that!

Creative-Type Dad - Thanks for stopping by! Spouse paused at that step, too. :-)

Gingerkitty - Thx for your comment!! I'm a total NPR addict...listen to it all the time. Hey, the photo collage was made in Picasa, a free download from Google. It's a photo management and editing application. You just select photos and it puts them in a collage for you...simple! :-)