Thursday, December 6, 2012

Getting Ready...

We are getting closer to Christmas and I am starting to feel the Christmas spirit.  I have begun to get the house ready for the holidays -- putting up Christmas lights, taking out decorations, buying new wrapping paper and ribbons, and bringing out holiday tablecloths and napkins.  For me, so much of the warmth, welcome and cheer that comes during this holiday season begins in the kitchen.  And so the first thing that I think about is the food.  I have been pulling out my favorite holiday cookbooks for inspiration.  There are so many festive recipes to make this month.  It is time to think about cookies and holiday dinners.  Wrapping presents, decorations and the tree will come next week. But for now I am concentrating on favorite holiday foods, the ones that my family and friends expect each year.  A great recipe for a warm beverage that everyone loves is Spiced Cider Wassail Bowl from the book Parties! Menus for Easy Good Times.  It has all the flavors of the holidays and makes your house smell so good.  One of my favorite ways to entertain during December is to keep it casual.  I like to invite a small group of friends over for a cookie exchange or a tree trimming party and serve cozy, comfort food such as Brie with Pumpkin Butter wrapped in puff pastry, Spiced Nuts, a big salad, Butternut Squash Lasagna (recipe here) and Chocolate Crinkle cookies.

 More holiday ideas

Cookie dough needs to be made

My family's favorite -- Chocolate Crinkle cookies

Another favorite -- Gingerbread men

The ever present Brie with Pumpkin Butter in puff pastry and Spiced Nuts

Brie and nuts are ready to be enjoyed in front of the fire

Years ago I read a beautiful essay about Christmas traditions and rituals in "House and Garden" magazine.  The writer told the story of not appreciating all the efforts his mother made to get her home ready for the holidays -- the ironing of the linens, the unwrapping of precious ornaments, the holiday baking -- until one day after 9/11 he discovered the real meaning of the holiday rituals passed down from his parents.  He found that working on your home for the holidays is redemptive and that making your house beautiful and comfortable for Christmas is a positive thing because it shelters the people that you love.  The rituals of the holidays are comforting and make us feel safe.  He discovered that making a home for the holidays is an act of hope.  I've never forgotten that idea and each year, when I decorate and cook for Christmas, I keep it in mind.

By the way, if you want to get into the holiday spirit, read Pamela Terry's beautiful essay about Christmas on her blog From the House of Edward.


 Spiced Cider Wassail Bowl

8  cups good-quality cider
2  cinnamon sticks
10  allspice berries
8  whole cloves
1/4  cup dark brown sugar
2  cups of orange juice
1  tablespoon lemon juice
1  cup dark rum
1/2  cup brandy or Cognac
Quartered orange slices for garnish

In a large saucepan, combine the cider, whole spices, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring to dissolve sugar.  (Base can be made 2-3 days ahead.  Refrigerate.)  Stir in orange juice, lemon juice, rum and brandy.  Heat gently.  When ready to serve, float orange slices in wassail.  Ladle hot wassail into small cups, serving directly from the stove or placing pot on a warming tray on your table.


Brie with Pumpkin Butter Wrapped in Puff Pastry

1  20-ounce round of Brie
1  Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheet, defrosted for 20 minutes 
Pumpkin Butter (Dickinson's Country Pumpkin Butter is very good)
1  egg, beaten with 1 Tb. of water

Cut the top of the white rind off the brie with a sharp knife.  Roll out the puff pastry so that it will be large enough to encase the brie.  Spread a generous amount of pumpkin butter on top of the brie and place puff pastry around it.  In other words, lay pastry on top of brie, you will eventually be tucking it under.  Cut a circle out of puff pastry so it will be big enough to tuck under and encase brie.  After encasing the brie with the pastry and tucking under, seal it by pinching the ends together.  Save scraps for cutouts.
Cut fall or winter shapes out of leftover pastry.  With a pastry brush, brush egg wash over top and sides of brie.  Top with cutouts and brush cutouts also.
Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  Let sit 15-20 minutes before serving.


What are your favorite holiday foods and traditions?


  1. Yummy!
    It all looks delicious artfully arranged by the warmth of the fire.

    I love Mother's shortbread and rum ball recipes.
    We have a tree decorating event that always involves pizza which we started when the children were wee.

  2. That brie with pumpkin butter sounds fantastic. I'd love to know the recipe! I always like to plan to make a mix of old favorites and new recipes for my holiday baking and cooking. I think this year I'm going to try making traditional English holiday pudding for the first time.

    1. I just updated this post to include the recipe for the brie with pumpkin butter. It is delicious and always a hit with everyone. I hope you get a chance to make it this year! Good luck with making the English holiday pudding. I would love to try that some day.

  3. You are sweet to link to me, Sunday.
    I'm so pleased you enjoyed the essay.
    Now off to make that wassail for my party next week!!

  4. Thank you for the recipes and the link to the beautiful essay. I love our traditions and I love that my children, now grown, can't wait to come home for Christmas. It's another reminder of how important our responsibilities as keepers of the home and family really are. Thank you as always Sunday.

  5. I know I appreciate the Christmas rituals of my childhood and I try to recreate them for myself every year. Fudge & divinity are the two treats that my mom makes at this time of year and I love visiting her home where she always has them waiting. I would love to try chocolate crinkle cookies, too - they look delicious!

  6. Family Hanukkah Party the following Sunday. I'm out of town right now, but will begin preparing and decorating on Monday. Everything in all the photos look so fantastic and festive, and I love that fabric on the chair flanking the fireplace.

  7. Sunday...the brie with pumpkin butter in puff pastry sounds so good. Any chance you could send all of us the recipe? I too am in Christmas mode with the house almost finished and the cards half completed and some gifts purchased.

    1. Hi Judie,
      I updated this post to include the recipe. If you are a subscriber then you got the post without it. Just google my blog and you will get the new updated post with the brie recipe. Sounds like the are definitely in holiday mode!
      xx Sunday

  8. you included the recipes!!! Thank you!.....smiles

  9. For a small moment I was transported back to my childhood when I saw your delightful fireside photo,(no not the food that would have been stilton & port)it was the chintz covered chair,my Grand-mama had her sofa and chairs covered in the same pattern....classical English country home.
    Sorry to go off piste but I just had to comment,you have a beautiful home. Ida

  10. YUM! And it's only 7:30 am!! I know all my kids appreciate the holiday traditions and at least 2 of them have written about it for school essays at some point in their academic careers. They may occasionally grumble about helping to get the decorations downstairs etc but love it in the end. Your recipes sound delicious! Wishing you happy preparations - now to hop over to Pamela!

  11. This post and the recommended one from The House of Edward inspired a post about our family traditions. I linked to both of your lovely writings so my readers can enjoy them also. Thank You Sunday and Pamela