Holiday Tips and Recipes from ‘Tis the Season Class

24 Nov
cheese wafers spicy pecan crackers

Pecan Cheese Wafers from Saveur Magazine. These were the BOMB!

I was a goofy, disjointed mess at Friday’s ‘Tis the Season event at Central Baptist Church in North Little Rock, and that made it more fun. At least for me. I’m blaming my lingering cold, so there.

This annual women’s event includes a potluck the likes of which you’ve never seen (including some Burge hams provided by the church), door prizes, and the highlight: choosing three of nine available classes on topics from hair braiding and games to cake decorating and my class, holiday cooking.

I learned from the event flyer that I was sharing tips and tricks (ha), so I came up with these:

  1. Buy one good chef’s knife and learn how to use it. No need for a huge knife set! Maybe add a paring knife, and you’re set. I showed everyone my favorite santoku knife and said a regular chef’s knife is just peachy as well. Look for one in the $30-50 range for everyday use. I also demonstrated the very basics of knife work and how to cut things up safely.
  2. Take advantage of small appliances when tackling holiday cooking. For this class, we focused on the food processor and the magical things it can accomplish.
  3. Don’t be afraid to make a recipe your own! Take an old family favorite or something new you found online. Look in your cupboards for new ingredients you can use. Or just go crazy and make something up! Once you learn the basics of how ingredients go together (and I can help if you need it), the sky’s the limit.

The first item I made is a cranberry relish I’ve served at several Thanksgiving and Christmas events over recent years, from the Simply Recipes blog. Since it’s not my recipe, just click the link to check it out! This relish is super simple, with just four ingredients, and it freezes beautifully.

At the class I demonstrated in real time what happens if you overload your food processor with this recipe…you get perfectly-sized relish, with huge chunks of apple and orange throughout. Even if you have a big processor like mine, do half of the recipe at a time to ensure better uniformity, pulsing the processor until it’s just right. And if you have a meat grinder, use that instead for a PERFECT texture!

The next item was a pecan cheese wafer from Saveur magazine’s website. This is an innovative twist on the spicy cheese cracker I’ve made before (as here in culinary school), adding a pecan half with an egg white as “glue.” The pecan’s sweetness perfectly balances the salty, spicy cracker. This recipe is easily made gluten-free, too, since there is very little flour used and the low-protein GF flour keeps the crackers light. I used Cup for Cup for mine.

My only complaint about the Saveur recipe as published is the quantity listed. The recipe claims a yield of 2 1/2 dozen, rolling the crackers to 1/8 inch thick. This is actually pretty thick for a cracker, but I went with it since it’s easier to cut and transfer to a baking sheet that way. I QUADRUPLED the recipe and got just around 3 dozen. I imagine the Saveur folks actually rolled them much thinner in their test kitchens, likely 1/16″ or so. If you want to roll it that thin, try rolling it directly onto some parchment paper on the back of a baking sheet, baking it as a solid sheet. Once it’s crisp, break the sheet into “rustic” uneven pieces. (If you were at the class, you’ll get the joke about “rustic.”)

The final recipe was my own invention, a “Thanksgiving Dinner in a Bite” canapé (see below). This is the demonstration of tip #3 above, creating something completely different on your own. Using a few simple ingredients and fun techniques, I inventioneered this while planning the class. I couldn’t taste-test due to my gluten problem, but class visitors said it was pretty good! Somehow I managed to not take a photo both times I made it, so you’ll have to trust me. It’s pretty cute.

If you attended, thanks for coming by, and sorry I was a little crazy! But as I said, life is more fun that way, right? Let me know if you make any of these, and let me know if I can help!

***********************************

“Thanksgiving in a Bite” Canapé
Makes 24 pieces

  • One box of frozen puff pastry
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 thick slice of deli turkey or about 1 cup leftover roasted turkey
  • 4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 a standard box)
  • 1/2 cup cranberry relish
  • Optional: 2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Optional: 2 chives, cut into several 1-inch pieces

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees, and move the puff pastry and the cream cheese to the countertop about 30 minutes before starting the recipe.

The puff pastry should still be cool when you’re ready to cut out your circles. Dust a smooth working surface with flour and unfold the puff pastry onto it, then dust the top of the pastry with flour as well. Using a rolling pin or similar device, roll the pastry out just slightly to smooth it out.

Press straight down into the puff pastry with a 1 1/2″ round or scalloped cutter and move the cut rounds onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper. The sharper the cutter is, the easier this step will be and the higher the rounds will puff.

Bake the rounds for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and punch down in the middle with the round end of a wooden spoon or similar utensil. Place back in the oven for 2-3 minutes or until the rounds are slightly browned on the bottom. Allow the baked rounds to cool before filling.

If you would like to lighten up the cream cheese, mix it thoroughly with the sour cream or plain yogurt. (It’s fine without it, just a bit heavier.) Place the cream cheese or the mixture into a piping bag or a freezer bag (don’t use a standard sandwich bag or the seams will burst). Cut off a corner and pipe a small amount, maybe a half teaspoon, into each baked puff pastry round.

Place a small piece of turkey into each round on top of the cream cheese. If you purchased the turkey at the deli, cut it into cubes and smash it a bit so it won’t look so “manufactured.”

Scoop a 1/2 teaspoon or so of the cranberry relish on top of the turkey, and garnish with the chives if you want. Pretty and delish!

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