Christmas is over. Pants are too tight. Family is gone. Back to work. It’s freezing outside. If ever we needed a reason to smile, it is now. Today’s Happy Hump Day is a special edition: HHHHRHHD (Hungry Healthy Hilary Holiday Recap Happy Hump Day). I had oh so many reasons to smile over the holidays – here’s just a sampling (warning: much of what you are going to see is not “healthy,” but it sure made me happy while eating it).
# 1: Christmas Eve Fondue. My mom and I had Christmas Eve dinner with my Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt and Uncle. My Aunt was bringing a salad, but I was responsible for the main meal. Before I go on, you have to know, my grandpa, although I love him dearly, is one of the most boring meat-and-potatoes eaters I know. Fondue is something that we often eat on Christmas/New Year’s Eve in my family, but I wasn’t sure I could get him on board. The solution? It’s all in the marketing. Cheddar cheese fondue with bread, broccoli, apples/pears and ham for dippers? “It’s just like a ham sandwich in a different form.” Worked like a charm! The fondue was enjoyed by all – Ace bakery bread with cranberries and raisins made an especially tasty dipper.
# 2: Birthday Cake for Jesus. This is a long-standing tradition in my family. The type of cake changes with the year (growing up, it was usually made in either an angel or Christmas tree-shaped pan), but the cake is a constant, enjoyed on Christmas Eve. This year, I made this recipe for chocolate peppermint ice cream cake from Cooking Light (halved the recipe and made in 6 inch pans since it was just for 2). It was totally delicious, especially when enjoyed with a cup of Ghiradelli hot cocoa (hey, it was a special occasion) and Christmas marshmallows.
# 3: Real-deal Caesar. Christmas Day was pretty quiet for mom and I, since my sister and brother-in-law were in Ottawa visiting his family. We needed a nice meal that would feel special, but not make more food than we needed. Solution? Make Pioneer Woman’s Caesar Salad and roast a Cornish hen. If you’re a Caesar fan and have never made homemade dressing before, I highly recommend it. It’s really pretty easy (you just have to get over the slight ick factor of using anchovies) – just basically blend everything up and then let it sit in the fridge. The garlic oil croutons don’t hurt either. It’s not something you’d want to eat every day, but for a holiday meal, it’s perfect. I made this orange maple glaze for the Cornish hens that I found when I googled “how long to cook a Cornish hen.” Combined with the Caesar, fresh bread and butter, it made a perfect Christmas dinner for 2 (with leftover birthday cake AND cookies) for dessert.
# 4: Kitchen messes. Yeah, it does kinda suck when you make stuff and it doesn’t turn out like you hoped, and/or you make a big mess in the process. But, the way I figure, with as much time as I spend in the kitchen, I’m bound to have some failures. And when you sit back and think about it, they are pretty funny. The first two pictures you see are from an attempt to make real fruit jelly candies (recipe from Food Network magazine). As you can see, they didn’t quite turned out as intended. I’m pretty sure I didn’t cook them long enough. I saw the mixture starting to burn a little and got scared and pulled it. I tried rolling a few blobs of goo in sugar as the recipe directed (which I ended up throwing out eventually anyway), then scraped the rest of the mixture into a plastic container. It’s settled into a nice jam-like substance, so I plan to use it as such (given the fact that I used so much of the beautiful fruit I toiled at freezing in the summer, I didn’t want it to go to waste). Exhibit B is a minor cranberry explosion in my microwave. This was just a case of Hilary trying to multi-task a bit too much and not paying attention to what I had cooking in the microwave. I managed to clean up and even use some of the overflow, and nobody was the wiser.
# 5: Chocolate Babka. Yeah, I made that (with some help from my sister. I have to give her credit – she is the hand model in the photo to your left). Another tasty recipe from Cooking Light (although the magazine says that it cuts into 16 slices – who are they kidding?). Not to brag, but isn’t it gorgeous?!?! And might I add, SUPER-TASTY! This was for Christmas Brunch with my immediate family on the 28th (now are you beginning to understand why my pants are so tight?), served alongside fruit, many tasty cheeses, crackers, and leftover ham from the previous night’s Christmas dinner. Yeast breads take time to make, particularly when they’re rolled and filled with chocolaty goodness, but they are oh-so-worth it. And looking and something this gorgeous and tasty and knowing that you made it is a pretty fulfilling feeling, not gonna lie.
# 6: Family, food, fun times. I am extremely blessed, in that, I am 24 years old, have all 4 grandparents still living, and within a half hour’s drive from me. I try not to take that for granted, and I really cherish the time I spend with them, and the rest of my extended family. This Christmas, as always, I had 2 BIG family dinners, plus the smaller celebrations with immediate family. I was fortunate to see all of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins (and even cousins’ kids) on both sides, save for one cousin who lives in British Columbia with her husband and three adorable kids. As everyone gets older and busier, this happens less and less often, so I really cherish these times. We even re-united the “original kids’ table” at my mom’s side of the family gathering. It’s grown a bit though now, with the addition of one husband, one boyfriend and one girlfriend. The more the merrier though. Not gonna lie, we felt at the kids’ table that we were having a bit more fun than the “adults” (and I think the noise level proved it). All the delicious food didn’t hurt either….and then I got to do it all again 2 days later at my other grandparents’ house (no kids’ table though, just one big one in the basement). Both gatherings were amazingly fun and tasty.
It may sound kind of cheesy, but I’ll say it anyway. I like presents (and believe me, I got some good ones this year). But what I like even more is my family, and having them all together is worth more than anything that was under the tree.
# 7: Leftovers re-imagined. You already know how much I love leftovers. And it goes without saying that multiple holiday meals = lots of leftovers. I gotta say, I shined when it came to re-inventing them this holiday season. From this picture, you see a seemingly random, maybe a tad past their prime collection of ingredients: mashed potatoes, squash, turkey, bean salad, cheese ball, and lots of cheeses. They found their way into 2 mighty tasty soups. For the cheese one, I sautéed some onion and garlic in butter, once browned, I added the potatoes and squash and some broth, and simmered for a bit. Right at the end, I added a LOT of grated cheese and the rest of a cheese ball we had and pureed with my immersion blender, resulting in an oh-so-creamy, super-tasty potato cheese soup. The turkey soup was pretty simple – sauté a bunch of veggies and the bean salad, add chopped turkey, stock, seasonings, dried thyme and a couple of bay leafs, let it all simmer, and add in some cooked pasta right at the end. Simple, delicious, comforting and hearty, served alongside bread, crackers and cheese.
I also re-imagined some slightly stale Christmas cookies into cookie truffle balls by crushing them in the food processor, then adding in a few truffles, some icing I had leftover from scones I made for Christmas morning breakfast, and a touch of cream I had leftover from making the scones. I rolled this mixture in balls and coated in crushed red and green smarties and coconut. These guys were a huge hit and seriously YUM!
And, last but not least, I tore up cubes of the last bit of chocolate babka, along with some other bread we had leftover to make a seriously delicious French toast dish, topped with a fruit sauce I made with fresh fruit and some leftover juices and a delicious mix of cranberry goat cheese and Greek yogurt. Cooking with leftovers is such a fun challenge, because it forces you to work with what you’ve got and be creative, and I find it so satisfying to use what I have and not let it go to waste and create a new delicious dish in the process.
# 8: Family fries and Anne of Green Gables. My family’s kind of weird. I’d say we’re all foodies who enjoy cooking and making good food. But, we all have a serious soft spot for frozen fries, typically McCain Superfries, but in this case, it was 3 different kinds from M&M: original, curly and seasoned wedges. So, on our family Christmas, in the midst of all the homemade and seasonal holiday goodness, we made 2 big pans of fries for supper – so bad, but so good! And these fries were enjoyed while watching Anne of Green Gables (I got my mom the complete boxed set for Christmas). We had watched these on tv, but it had been a while back, and we forgot how much they loved them. There aren’t many things I can think of that I enjoy more than lazing around in yoga pants with my family while watching good movies and eating fries.
# 9: Exercise. I think it’s pretty clear that I indulged in a pretty serious way this holiday season. But the one thing I did stay on track with was exercise. Christmas Day we only went for a 10 minute walk to a neighbour’s house, but other than that, I got in quality exercise every day (more running than usual, since the gym was closed around the holiday). Wouldn’t it be AMAZING if running for an hour could magically undo all the damage done at a holiday dinner the night before? I know it can’t, but it still does have some pretty magical powers. It’s amazing how good a good sweat session makes you feel, even if you woke up feeling bloated and disgusting, am I right? Even though I intellectually still knew I had packed on some pounds, those runs and workout sessions in between holiday indulgences really gave me a boost.
So, you’re probably sick of hearing all about my Christmas, and that’s only a sampling of what I did and ate, but I’ll wrap it up for now. How was your holiday? What was the best thing you ate?