That's really the great thing about cooking for the holidays: it gives you a reason to do something special, something beyond your ordinary routine.
The other day I made a wintery meal of pumpkin spice soup and salad with homemade cranberry vinaigrette. The cranberry part came from pure inspiration: we had a bag of fresh berries lying around without much of a clue what to do with them. I decided to make a sauce out of them, then turn that into a dressing with olive oil and red wine vinegar (recipe below). I poured the sweet-tart vinaigrette on crisp leaves of Boston bib lettuce and dotted them with chopped pecans and thin slices of pear. What a great salad that turned out to be. I may make it again on Friday.
Some families treat the holidays like Thanksgiving, Part Two, and make a turkey with fixings. In years past, my family kept turkey exclusive to Thanksgiving and made beef on Christmas. I always loved it when my mother broke out her ceramic goblets that she's had since I was a little boy and filled them with au jus for dipping. I'd slice off big pieces of rare prime rib and dab them in the jus lovingly -- now that was Christmas to me.
Our Italian feast this year is a deviation from the tradition, but one I'm excited about. Who knows, we might discover a new tradition in the process. Besides, there will always be a chance for prime rib and au jus next time around.
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So what's your family's holiday meal going to be?
1/2 pound of whole, fresh cranberries
Zest of half a lemon
1/4 cup sweet red or white wine (muscat works well)
1/4 cup or so olive oil
1/4 cup water
2 TBS or more honey
1 TBS red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper
Place the cranberries in a sauce pot with water, lemon zest, honey, and red wine, and place over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the berries start to burst and dissolve. Remove from heat and let cool (I stick the whole pot in the freezer for a few minutes to speed the process up). Place berry mixture in a wide bowl and add vinegar and a little water to dilute if it is too thick. Drizzle in olive oil slowly, whisking to incorporate. Season to taste with salt and pepper (you may also want to whisk in some more honey if the vinaigrette is too tart at this point). If the dressing is too thick, just add a little more water. Enjoy.