LET THE CELEBRATION BEGIN!
Hopefully, your meal plans and grocery shopping is done. These past few weeks we’ve shared tips for making it less stressful. Years ago I was so tired by Christmas Eve that I could hardly stay awake at Midnight Mass. It was then that I realized that I needed to think more about the “reason for the season.” Make a list of daily “to do’s” and stick to it! Whether your family has a brunch, a buffet-type meal, planning early is the key. Mother had baked ham and macaroni and cheese on Christmas Eve. The Thaman’s has soup. As for Christmas day or any major holiday the Smith’s had roast turkey so it wasn’t a once-a-year meat. These are my Christmas memories. It is up to you to create memories for your family.
Soups we’ve made for Christmas Eve include Gumbo, Bay Scallop Chowder and Choucroute. All have been on Mary’s Memo but the Choucroute may be the least familiar. It’s from cookbook I bought in 2001 called Soup Makes the Meal by Ken Haedrich. The author adapted it from a soup he was served at Sandrine’s Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Choucroute, pronounced shoo-KROOT, is French word meaning sauerkraut.
• 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced into half moons
• 1 clove garlic, bruised
• 5 cups chicken stock
• ½ cup dry white wine
• 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
• 1 large all-purpose potato, peeled and grated
• 1 pound sauerkraut
• 1 bay leaf
• ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt, to your taste
• ¾ pound kielbasa or other fully cooked smoked sausage
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar, to your taste
• Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat oil in a good-size heavy enameled soup pot over moderately low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring until very soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Stir in stock, wine, carrot and potato, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Drain the sauerkraut and squeeze it between your palms to express nearly all of the liquid. Add to the soup with the bay left and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and simmer gently for another 15 minutes. Slice the sausage into ½-inch rounds and cut the rounds in half. Add the sausage to the soup, then stir in the tomato paste and 1teaspoon of the sugar. Cover and simmer gently 15 minutes more, seasoning with pepper and adding more salt and sugar if necessary before serving. Note: If you’d rather, you can skip the wine. Just add stock in its place.
Makes 6 servings.
Haedrich serves the soup with Stollen Soda Bread. Although the dough is sticky, he advises cooks to keep your kneading surface well covered with flour.
STOLLEN SODA BREAD
• ¾ cup raisins
• ¾ cup pitted chopped dates
• ¾ cup diced figs or apricots
• Orange juice
• Cornmeal for dusting
• 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• ½ cup sugar plus a little to sprinkle on loaves
• 1½ teaspoons salt
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
• 3 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces
• 1 large egg
• 1½ cups buttermilk
• Finely grated zest of 1 orange
• Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
• Milk, for brushing on loaves
Put the dried fruit in a medium-size bowl and add orange juice to just cover. Set aside to soak for 30 to 60 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375ºF when fruit is done soaking. Lightly oil a large baking sheet and dust with cornmeal. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices together into a large bowl. Add the butter and cut into dry ingredients with a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Set aside. Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Whisk in the buttermilk and citrus zests. Drain the fruit; discard the orange juice (or drink it for that matter; there’s nothing wrong with it). Add the fruit to the dry ingredients and toss well, to coat. Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, add the buttermilk mixture, and stir briskly with a wooden spoon, just until the dough pulls together in a shaggy mass. Let sit for 3 minutes.
Dust your hands and work surface with flour. Cut dough in half right in the bowl, then place on the floured surface. Knead very gently for 30 to 40 seconds. Either shape into a stubby football, or shape like a stolen; pat into a disk about 1inch thick, then fold half of it over the other half, but don’t cover the bottom half entirely; it should look almost like a pair of pouting lips, the bottom half stuck out further than the other. Before you make the fold, brush any flour off the surface, so it makes a good seal. Repeat for other half of the dough. Place on prepared baking sheet with some space between them. Lightly brush the loaves with milk and sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake loaves on the center rack for 30 minutes. Turn the sheet 180 degrees. Reduce oven temperature to 350ºF and bake another 20 minutes. When done, the loaves will be a very dark golden brown color and very crusty. Let cool on a wire rack; they should be lukewarm before slicing.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!