Part of the fun of Christmas, which is excessive to begin with, is topping it off – gilding the lily, making your Christmas dinner even more festive with some special touches.
"But Susan," you say, "Why would I be worried about making Christmas dinner more 'festive'? It's a family tradition my kids are sick on Christmas, my in-laws are staying with us for a week, I have to work Christmas Eve, and I've promised the maid the week off, ha ha. What I'm worried about is getting it to the table at all. "
Oh, for many reasons, I reply. Because of the memories, because it's soothing and fun, if you work it right (read on), because it looks so nice and is so appreciated it can make up for other things you could let slip. There are many reasons.
So hang on, here we go. All these tips are sort of like "sleight of hand." They're things you can do while you have to be in the kitchen anyway type of things. They're relaxing even. Trust me!
And the "oohs" and "aahs" will be oh-so-energizing. They're affordable, too. This Christmas-tree shaped butter ( http://www.webstrategies.cc/breakfast.jpg ) cost a couple of bucks at the grocery. I think it dresses up the little bun I made.
Here are some ways to dress up the traditional Christmas table.
Make your usual pie crust, 2-crust version. OK, who am I kidding. Buy the frozen ones. Thaw them and dump them out of their original tins, combine several (they're too skimpy I think), roll them out, begin all over again.
Line the pie tin, put in the filling, then roll out the second crust and cut shapes using cookie cutters, or cut out shapes free-form with a sharp knife. First one doesn't work? Pie dough is very forgiving. Roll it up and start again. Your "second chances" are infinite. You could also use something from a child's coloring book for a pattern.
What shapes? An angel, a gingerbread man, a star, a cross. If you don't have cookie cutters, cut out 3 rounds for holly berries using a bottle cap, and cut out some spiky holly leaves with a knife.
If you have the time and the inclination, when the pie is baked and cooled, then use frosting to decorate your crust. Of course this is frosting from a can or tube you bought. On another planet, in another lifetime, you'll make the frosting. Buy the plastic tips and plastic pastry bag so you can just throw them away.
Repeat after me – if it's pretty, it, like the well-chosen dress, can hide a multitude of sins. Get some candies 'n' stuff, like licorice for the belt on the Santa cookie. I would come home from working the Christmas Eve church service, you know a bit weary, and my sons would come in the kitchen to watch and "help out." It was cozy. Memories.
Any kind of liquor goes well with any kind of fruit pie, so splash a little rum in the pumpkin pie, or a little cognac in the cherry.
Or do the usual-only-very-different. Make a frozen pumpkin chiffon pie. The virtue of that is – you guessed it –it can be done so far ahead of time. Then at serving time, crumble candy canes and sprinkle them on top. Don't know who helps you at your house, but I had sons, and they loved to put the canes in waxed paper and then whack it with the rolling pin. Festive Family Fun at the Dunn household. Me 'n' the boys.
I hope by now you're beginning to see that we are playing and enjoying ourselves as much as anything.
Candy canes go so well with chocolate. You can make a chocolate dessert, like that instant pudding concoction with dream whip that kids like so much. Email me if you don't have that recipe. Then sprinkle crushed candy canes atop.
Mash canned yams and place in Pyrex. Then whip up meringue nice and stiff, with lots of sugar. Beating things is therapeutic as well, and the kids are fascinated by the process. ("Is it ready yet?")
Circle the bowl with the meringue, and then make dollops on top with peaks. Then you can (1) sprinkle it with colored sprinkles, or (2) in the center put 3 maraschino cherries and some pineapple leaves, like holly. Or put marshmallows around the rim and decoration in the middle. In your next reincarnation you will make Martha's homemade marshmallows and put them on top. Let the kids do it. It will be "too much" but that's half the fun.
BOULE DE NIEGE
Simple, cheap, elegant-looking, quick, do-ahead treat. Yay!
Use seasonal ice cream – peppermint, coconut, eggnog, pistachio.
Let the ice cream soften and scoop it into a round Pyrex® that you've greased lightly with Pam®. Put it in the freezer until well frozen again. (Don't you love the things you can do in stages?
Maybe at this point you'll need to run the dog to the vet because it ate 2 'of tinsel, like I did one Christmas, oh yes.)
Later … take it out, soak the dish briefly in larger bowl of warm water till you see the ice cream melting on the edges, turn it over on a pretty serving platter, and out it comes in a dome. Tear strips of waxed paper and place them all around the plate, under the ice cream. Now whip cream till stiff, put it in pastry bag, use a tip such as Wilton 2D and pipe, pipe, pipe, little shaped blobs, each one next to the other till the mound is completely covered.
Gently remove the waxed paper, wipe the serving platter with a wet rag, and place the ball back in the freezer till frozen. Once it's frozen, cover it with a bowl or wrap until ready to serve. "Boule de niege" is French for "snowball"!
If you want to use Redi-whip, you must do it right before serving because it doesn't last. How do I know? Well, it was a very sad "learning experience" involving a Christmas luncheon for my bridge group and I'll leave it at that.
Want it even easier? There's an ice cream baking kit available here:
Make a mixture of Dijon mustard red, green and white peppercorns (available here: http://www.famousfoods.com/71996.html ). Coat the beef with this before you encrust it. Put Christmas cut-out shapes on the crust like you did for the pie.
Mash them and put them in a serving bowl. Then sprinkle just enough cayenne and parsley flakes for color. Wait a minute, I forgot we've let the maid have the week off. Use mashed potato mix, plump it into those festive individual ramekins (Williams-Sonoma has some pretty bright red ones) and bingo! Oh wait, place a star-shaped pat of butter atop each one.
Bake your cake in a springform pan with a Christmas base – Christmas tree and holly patterns are available here:
Super easy, cheap, eye-candy, and doaheadable.
X-rated Version: Fill fluted glasses with any ice cream. Drizzle green crème de menthe and chocolate over it. Add maraschino cherry – red or green. If you use red cherry, add green mint leaf.
GP-rated Version: Drizzle with hot fudge sauce and sprinkle crumbled candy cane on top.
Trifle is the original LOW MAINTENANCE dessert. There are as many recipes as there are people making it. We love it because it's like that old "dump cake" recipe, remember? It just doesn't matter that much. Soak that cake in amaretto or schnapps, add what you like, layer it … it's got cheap ingredients, it's retro-new, and the presentation! It's so NOT FRAGILE. Put it in a huge brandy snifter type container. Or put it in a Christmas tureen and smooth a layer of whipped cream on the top (use warm wet flat spatula). This makes it look like a lid and people will keep trying to pick it up and there will be finger prints all over it (and lots of laughs).
Put chopped red peppers in among the peas, Brussels sprouts or broccoli; stuff tomatoes with hamburger, cheese, green peppers, parsley. Cut stars out of processed cheese slices and place atop casserole.
MORE GOOD NEWS
If you did even 3 of these things, it would be "gilding the lily." Choose one or two. That's all!
I'm sure you can tell my philosophy has always been 'if I'm going to have to do it, I'm doing to make a party out of it.'