Jo’s Healthy Kitchen – December, 2022 Newsletter


I have been tracking down Christmas crackers which are now gaining in popularity in the US and they are a far cry from the crackers of my youth which contained a tissue paper crown (no matter how glamorous you are a paper crown is a great leveler), a bad joke and a gift that was most usually left on the table. The best part of the cracker was the bang. I have come across all manner of crackers this year, mostly containing food, and I found the cutest pet crackers for a dog or a cat containing a nice toy – naturally I fell for those (www.caspari.com) or Hive if you are local. The other option is to make your own crackers.
World Spice Crackers – each cracker contains a jar of spices from different regions of the world – www.souschef.co.uk (UK only)
Neiman Marcus Jolly Friends Candy Crackers – www.neimanmarcus.com (US only)
John Lewis Fever-Tree Ultimate Gin & Tonic Crackers www.johnlewis.com (UK only)
Hotel Chocolat Mini Crackers – each has a chocolate inside www.hotelchocolat.com (UK only)
Piccadilly Crackers from Fortnum & Mason contain a recipe from Fortnum’s Cook Book and a miniature kitchen utensil www.fortnumandmason.com
Moet & Chandon Moet Imperial Mini Champagne Crackers – sadly sold out since I did my research but make a note for next year.

Quick, quick, I have one more present to recommend for Christmas – cookies/biscuits from www.biscuiteer.com (and they have a US version). These are the most whimsical iced cookies/biscuits and look so lovely that you almost don’t want to ruin the cookie by taking a bite. They also come in a lovely tin.

What am I cooking for Christmas? Well it has to be Beef Tenderloin and large enough for some lovely beef au jus leftovers. But what side dishes? Roast potatoes, but I am going to parboil them the day before and roast them the day of; Yorkshire Puddings (made ahead and frozen) so just a swift warm up; cauliflower cheese (made ahead and frozen) and Delia Smith’s Oven Roasted Winter Veg. – you can’t go wrong with Delia – her recipes are very reliable. I first made these years ago and a good friend of mine is still talking about them. As a pudding – see below – I am going to be generous and make two, one of which will be Sticky Toffee Pudding and the other, TBD, but I do like a good trifle.

Friends generally come over the day after Thanksgiving either to catch up with my family or to bring theirs along too.I find that canapes take much longer to prepare than you think and then they are gone in a bite so I have to be very organized. I try to find new ideas and this year I served the same items as pre-Thanksgiving nibbles and appetizers the day after which saved a lot of time. I served mini Yorkshire Puddings with roast beef and some horseradish mixed with cream, bruschetta rubbed with garlic, topped with a slice of Mozzarella and tomato brushed with Basil oil and some fresh basil, mini chicken skewers with a spicy peanut sauce and lightly crushed and fried baby potatoes topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I always have a cheese board spread with add-ons – salami or prosciutto, olives, nuts, fig spread, interesting crackers and maybe some dried fruit. Now I am thinking of new items to prepare for Christmas and the day after – I like trying to miniaturize food so maybe mini quiches…

OMG let me take the Brightline and maybe a friend or two to visit Marky’s in Miami. I was googling around to find blini’s for Christmas and I think I have found them nearby but the stockist (Amici Market, Palm Beach) showed a photograph of the product and it led me to Marky’s, famous for caviar, foie gras, truffles and SO much more – fish, meat, chocolates. Actively looking for participants to join me on this jaunt to buy goodies for Christmas.

Recently an American friend asked me what I meant when I used the English word ‘pudding’. I explained that it was really the same as ‘dessert’ but then I came across an article that totally confused the situation. Yorkshire Pudding is obviously not a dessert being traditionally served with roast beef and nor, God forbid, is Blood Pudding (actually blood sausage, savory and eaten at breakfast) and then there is pease pudding (mentioned in a nursery rhyme – Pease Pudding hot, Pease Pudding cold, Pease in the pot nine days old) which is described as a type of porridge made from peas. Some puddings are stand alone – Christmas Pudding – a sweet, dried fruit, steamed kind of fruit cake like dessert, eaten only on Christmas Day and served with Brandy Butter or a sweet white sauce and usually brought to the table surrounded by flames and sometimes containing money wrapped in aluminum foil which brings good luck to the recipient (not sure this would pass the Health and Safety test these days). Basically, to simplify matters, ‘pudding’ is the equivalent of dessert with exceptions much as there are in British spelling (cough is pronounced coff whereas bough is pronounced bow as in curtsy – let’s not diverge down this path!).

Just in case you need a quick refresher, especially if you don’t entertain much formally there is a certain, traditional way to set a table (and nowadays a water glass is necessary as is both sparkling and still water). Generally, the rule with cutlery is to go from the outside in with cutlery for each course and with the knife blades facing inwards and the spoon and fork for dessert are on the inside not above the table mat, though you often see them that way. The cutlery/silverware should actually be in line with the bottom of the plate which I didn’t know. Then you have the little bread plate on the left hand side and the glassware at top right beginning with the water glass directly above the knife and then the white, red, champagne or dessert wine glasses to the right of the water glass. One tip here is that if in doubt as to how to proceed and what to use hold back a little and see what other people are doing. I always have a blessing ready just in case I am ever asked to say Grace before a meal – For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful. Amen.

If I was having a cocktail party and lived in London (and money was no object) I would order the most interesting canapes from Ottolenghi – the style of the food is Middle Eastern/Mediterranean and introduces a wide variety of less common and interesting spices. Instead of pigs in a blanket they offer merguez sausage rolls with a chili and coriander chutney; instead of smoked salmon and a blini how about smoked salmon and sour cream on a sweetcorn polenta blini; replace bruschetta with a tomato garlic topping with bruschetta smeared with pumpkin pesto and marinated peppers. The dessert canapes are SO mouthwatering – Raspberry Marshmallow lollipop with popping candy, raspberry and white chocolate pavlova.

Here in the US you will have cooked your turkey, in the UK you will be thinking about it. You would imagine that I would know how to cook a turkey by now and, yes, I have cooked quite a few over the years and I have also been a consumer of many a turkey but I still find new turkey advice: Turkey can be dry – to try and prevent this place butter or oil both under and on top of the skin and. I also lay thick strips of bacon over the turkey but there are some parts that aren’t bacon friendly as they slip off, so butter those; stuffing is safer made outside the bird, in fact I would go so far as to say it should only be cooked outside of the turkey, as it may not get cooked thoroughly enough in the depths of the bird and if it does cook nicely the turkey may be overcooked. I presume that this is where stove top stuffing came into its own (and you can always put it in the turkey at the last minute and pretend it cooked there all the time!). My grandmother’s stuffing is sacrosanct and will soon be handed down to the 4th generation (see below). I cook it in little balls in a muffin tray (they freeze well). The other thing I have learned recently is to rest the turkey on vegetables – a mix of onion, carrots and celery (twice as much onion as carrot and celery is the ratio) and pour some turkey broth into the roasting dish. Remove the veg. at the end of cooking and make your gravy – this makes for a great tasting gravy. At this rate, by the time I have perfected cooking a turkey, I will no longer be in charge – the torch will have been handed over.

I like the idea of getting a tea towel printed with a family recipe on it – don’t thank me for the idea because it actually came from my friend Kitty. There are two options – go to someone like Shutterfly (the more expensive option) or buy your own plain tea towels and take them to a local printer. This year I am printing up Toto’s Stuffing and I hope to make a tradition out of it with a special recipe each year (darn it, I have let the cat out of the bag, Allison and Michelle!).

In the UK, Christmas cake is one of the traditional foods served around that period. It is a dense fruit cake topped with marzipan and then a thick frosting. If home made it is quite a production as the cake is made about three months before Christmas and has to be ‘fed’ with brandy, sherry, whisky or rum every two weeks. It is a handy thing to have for when friends pop in and in Yorkshire the tradition is to serve it with a slice of Wensleydale cheese. It is a great combination and one you wouldn’t necessarily think of.

As we head into 2023 we are bound to be making a resolution or two though whatever is decided generally doesn’t last long – at least not in my case. Many people try Dry January by not drinking for the whole month or you could push it out a bit and postpone it until Sober October! Not smoking used to be popular but has dropped off the radar as hardly anyone smokes anymore. I wouldn’t be averse to losing a pound or two but what I am really going to concentrate on is checking food labels. It is amazing how much ‘bad’ stuff is in what appears to be a healthy choice, fats for example, or salt or sugar. Recently I went through the frozen vegetarian section at the supermarket and you would think that that was a healthy place to start but, surprisingly, not. Nearly all the items I looked at contained saturated fat and some had trans fat and the salt percentage was for the most part in the double digits. I really think that to avoid the bad things one has to cook from scratch which can be a chore if you don’t like to cook, time consuming and difficult to put on the table in a short amount of time. Here are a few ideas that can be on the table in 20 minutes:

Buy an organic rotisserie chicken (Whole Foods) because then you can use the carcass to make a good soup after you have eaten it (nourishing chicken noodle is a good one)
Serve it with veg. and potatoes (baby potatoes cook quickest)
Put it in a salad – see my Quinoa Melange, my Chicken, Blueberry and Avocado Salad,
Cut it into little chunks and serve it over rice noodles with my spicy peanut sauce (takes minutes to make)

After the chicken comes the egg:
Omelet with chives, with ham, with mushrooms, with spinach served with a salad
Eggs – poached and put atop some toast smeared with mashed avocado
Eggs – scrambled with smoked salmon on the side

Fish cooks quickly and a can of good quality tuna mixed with cannellini beans, some red onion served over arugula and with a vinaigrette is one of my standby’s
Pasta fits the bill with a simple sauce.
Steak – see my A Really Scrumptious Salad) chops, chicken escalopes (love chicken paillard with arugula and fresh tomatoes, a little red onion, some thin slices of parmesan cheese and a lemon dressing) all cook quickly.

PRODUCT OF THE MONTH – Zulay Metal 2-in-1 Lemon Lime Squeezer (www.zulaykitchen.com)

I have a very old – I mean decades old – plastic juice squeezer and it will probably never wear out but I have a hankering for this juicer and it is very handy as it can do both lemons and limes by changing the size of the bowl you squeeze. It is meant to get out more juice than a regular juicer (and I like the bright yellow and lime colors!).

BOOK OF THE MONTH – Apron Anxiety, My Messy Affairs in and out of the Kitchen by Alyssa Shelasky

A good, engaging page turner – beach read, if it was summer. Girl can’t cook, dates a chef, teaches herself to cook and loves the process. Some recipes included.

MOVIE OF THE MONTH – Fanny Cradock – Christmas Part 1

We don’t have TV presenters like this any more. Fanny Cradock was the first TV cook in the UK and mixes a plummy accent with a bossy attitude and provides some gasps of ‘did she really say that?’. Luckily, in this episode her hapless husband, Johnnie, is absent. She is talking all about the various birds you can cook for Christmas – turkey, goose (the stabbing of the goose is hysterical), duck, chicken and capon – and she proceeds to carve a chicken with garden secaturs! If you like this episode there are more to follow and not all based on Christmas.

RECIPE OF THE MONTH – Lightly Smashed Baby Potatoes with Cream Cheese and Smoked Salmon Topped with a Caper

Baby potatoes – take as many as you think people will eat, 2 or 3 per person – boil until tender, drain then squash gently with a palette knife (handy tip – if they break, don’t worry, you can glue them together with cream cheese).

When potatoes are cooled, fry them until browned on both sides.

Cut smoked salmon into pieces that will fit on the potato and smear with cream cheese and set aside.

Keep the potatoes warm or prepare ahead of time then warm them up. Top with smeared smoked salmon (cream cheese on the bottom) and finish off with a caper or two.

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