Merry Christmas, lovely everybody! Merry Christmas to you. I love yez all.
Before we do What’s for Supper, I wanted to do a quick plug for a New Year’s Eve sushi party, which we’re getting ready to do for the I think 5th year in a row.
Sushi parties are so much fun. As long as you’re not a perfectionist, sushi is actually pretty easy to make; and if you are, all you have to do is eat it real fast so you don’t have to look at it. You don’t have to make rolls, either. You can make individual sushi cones or even just little goblin bundles. I usually make a few basic rolls for anyone to try, and then people can come up with their own combinations. There’s something for everyone, and it’s great fun to buzz around the table, picking out different exciting combinations. If you do make rolls, there’s something like the suspense of cutting a paper snowflake and opening it up to see how it turned out.
This is not going to be a place for you to learn how to make authentic sushi (or nigiri, or maki). We just set out a bunch of ingredients that taste good, and people combine them as they like and have fun with them. If you live in a more cosmopolitan area, no doubt you can get more interesting ingredients than we did!
Here’s some of the things we’ve assembled in previous years:
sushi rice, obviously
tuna, mahi, and/or salmon steaks that were frozen at sea, (freezing is how you kill parasites in raw fish)
seared and seasoned tuna
sautéed calamari rings
small sautéed shrimp
imitation crab legs
ponzu sauce (citrus dipping sauce)
mayo with sriracha in it
caviar or other roe
toasted sesame seeds
pickled carrot matchsticks
cucumber in thin slices
toasted panko crumbs
The rice part is, obviously, pretty important. I always spring for a sack of good sushi rice, which is just a gorgeous tactile experience in itself. It looks like polished little wedges of mother of pearl. I cook it in the Instant Pot (rinse the rice thoroughly, put equal amounts of rice and water in the pot, close the valve, press the rice button) then make the sushi rice, which is a bit of a production.
I use my Instant Pot to get well-cooked rice, and I enlist a second person to help me with the second part. If you have a small child with a fan, that's ideal.
- 6 cups raw sushi rice
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp salt
Rinse the rice thoroughly and cook it.
In a saucepan, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.
Put the rice in a large bowl. Slowly pour the vinegar mixture over it while using a wooden spoon or paddle to fold or divide up the cooked rice to distribute the vinegar mixture throughout. You don't want the rice to get gummy or too sticky, so keep it moving, but be careful not to mash it. I enlist a child to stand there fanning it to dry it out as I incorporate the vinegar. Cover the rice until you're ready to use it.
The rest of it is just a matter of chopping and slicing and maybe a little toasting or sautéeing, and then of course assembling.
I have a rolling mat, but you could also make sushi rolls by putting plastic wrap over a dishtowel. Basically you want to lay down a rectangle of rice, leave a horizontal margin of an inch or so, add a horizontal stripe of fillings, and carefully roll it up as tightly as you can, then carefully take the mat or towel off the roll and slice it into little disks with a sharp knife. Try putting a sheet of nori down and spreading the rice over that, to hold it together; but once you get the hang of it (and if you’ve made your rice sticky enough) the nori won’t be necessary.
Not that I took a picture. But I swear, I’m a moron, and I managed to make sushi without nori on the outside! But I like nori on the outside.
You can also make individual sushi cones. Take a sheet or a half sheet of nori, lay it point down, spread the rice and fillings on one side, and roll it up diagonally.
These are less dainty, but there’s nothing wrong with that.
Or just take a sheet of nori, throw some rice on, pile on whatever looks tasty, bunch it up, and devour.
We also tried a Hawaiian thing, spam musubi, which is thin slices of spam simmered in a sauce and then cooked until crisp and caramelized
and then you strap it to a scoop of sushi rice with a strip of nori
I had my doubts about this, because the caramelized spam had a very harsh taste; but combined with the sweet, mild rice and the umami of the nori, it was great, and so stylish.
Okay! Just wanted to get that off my chest because it would make me immensely happy if you started a sushi tradition on New Year’s Eve, too. We usually throw in some eggnog and some Marx Brothers and, to be perfectly honest, usually a roast leg of lamb, because What If There’s Not Enough Food?
We use Tom Nichol’s grandmother’s leg of lamb recipe, which is tastier and easier than reason permits, and never again will I spend an afternoon cutting garlic into slivers and jamming them into meat slits, pleasant though that may be. This recipe is just better.Jump to Recipe
Looook at the laaaaaaamb.
And we just serve it with a sliced baguette and maybe some horseradish and cheese. Okay, now let’s do a little catching up from last week. Christmas Week.
Chicken burgers, veg and dip
Nothing to report, foodwise.
Monday we also made applesauce and cinnamon ornaments. Equal parts applesauce and cinnamon mixed together into a kind of clay, pressed into cookie cutter shapes and set out to dry.
We pressed star anise into some of the shapes. We had so much clay left over, I made it into beads, which took a very long time to dry and smell great but look somewhat turdly.
(I think I promised like 18 months ago to share pictures of my new backsplash! It’s no longer new, but there it is!) If I had made them sooner, I would have strung them in among the citrus garlands, but it didn’t occur to me. Now THIS was a completely successful project, for once. I just cut oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes, and grapefruit into thin slices and put them on paper towels on cookie sheets
and left them in a 170 oven pretty much all day.They still weren’t dry by bedtime, so I moved them to racks and let them continue drying, then eventually threaded them in two spots on hemp twine. Every 6-7 slices, I doubled back with the twine to anchor the citrus.
They are gorgeous. Really just like home grown stained glass.
I tried interspersing some cinnamon sticks and tying on some star anise, but eventually just stuck with citrus. The lemons went pretty colorless, but the rest of the fruit kept good color. Several people asked about the smell, wondering if it exudes a wonderful citrusy scent. In fact it smells faintly of hot orange juice, which is not great, but it’s very faint, and fading.
Italian wedding soup, breadsticks
Tuesday was the last day of school for all but one kid. We had been doing distance schooling for just over a week and it is . . . not my favorite. It is nobody’s favorite. But Tuesday was the last day, and I made a lovely soup to celebrate.
I had bought some ground pork on sale, so I made some little meatballs with it, adding in plenty of freshly-grated parmesan and Italian parsley, and fried them up in butter.
Then I removed the meatballs and fried up some carrots and onions and garlic in the butter, then put the meatballs back, and added chicken broth and white wine, plenty of pepper, some chopped kale and ditalini. More parmesan and some fresh Italian parsley on top.
Here’s the details:Jump to Recipe
It was just delightful. Friendliest, most nourishing soup I’ve had in ages. A very good way to round out the year. I made some frozen breadsticks so the soup haters would have something to sop up their tears with.
Tuesday we also made the cookies for the cookie tree I rashly promised we would make.
It wasn’t exactly a hard project, but, I don’t know, we made it hard. It’s just a set of star cookie cutters that comes in — there’s a word for this, but I mean that they come in small and work their way up to coming in big. Guys, I’m so tired. Everyone is so tired. Anyway, this set also comes with decorating tips and bags and instructions, but we lost those immediately.
We made a double recipe of my 100% reliable, no-chill, keeps-its-shape-in-the-pan sugar cookie doughJump to Recipe
and cut out two (or occasionally one, or three) of each size star, and baked them. You would think the cookies would bake at various rates, because they were such different sizes, but they all finished up at about the same time, go figure.
Then, we left the baked cookies hanging around on racks in my tiny kitchen, balanced on top of packages waiting to be mailed, and the dog ate one, and the tips fell off some, and people needed the pans for Lego projects, and we had to move them around so we could find the papers for the student loan thing, and people put them on top of the clean laundry, and people put five pound bags of flour on top of them because we were planning to make more cookies, and so on. You know, Christmas.
I have no idea. Oh wait, we decided to go run out right before dinner and buy a few last presents, and also the stocking candy, and stocking stuffers, and food for Christmas breakfast and Christmas dinner, tights, wrapping paper, and presents for the dog, cat, bird, and lizard, and in retrospect, that may not have been our finest plan. Most of the stores in town only had Valentine’s Candy, or Easter Candy, or Halloween candy, or just actual literal stuffing, like Stouffer’s stuffing with country herbs. Goodness gracious. It also turns out everyone was out of the canned cinnamon buns I decided would be good enough this year. We got about half the stuff and then stopped at Domino’s, and nobody complained.
Shredded pepper beef sandwiches, veg and dip
This was supposed to be pepperoncini beef, which you make by putting a hunk of beef in the slow cooker with some pepperoncini and its juice, and then shredding it when it’s done; but I forgot to buy pepperoncini. I forgot repeatedly, because I went to the store 327 times this week, and each time returned home with things like a stuffed shark or a Dungeons and Dragons dice box or YET MORE WRAPPING PAPER, but no pepperoncini. Instead, I added some banana peppers and some jalapeños, and the juices therefrom, and also a can of beer
and let it cook for several hours. Shredded it up, served it on rolls with cheese, and it was pretty good.
A little dry, so I used the cooking juice as a spicy dip.
FRIDAY, CHRISTMAS EVE
Damien made these and they were delicious.
We finished wrapping, stuffed stockings, and put together our first Barbie Dream House, and decorated the tree. And of course we iced and put together that fershlugginer cookie tree.
It turned out really cute!
But we all aged eleven years in the process and there was definitely threats, drama, crying, and apologies.
Even the kids didn’t suggest we make this an annual tradition. But look at this friggin cookie tree.
Then the middle girls decided to make their own cookie tree, so I made the more dough, and they baked and decorated a BTS tree, with some baffling details.
Oh, and I detangled about 70% of Corrie’s hair. I was doing so well, but it got away from me this last month, argh.
Then I got the cinnamon bun dough started. I decided to try Alton Brown’s recipe, rather than the Pioneer Woman one I usually use. Great choice. I didn’t have buttermilk, so I added some lemon juice to milk, and the dough came together great. I set it to rise and forgot all about it until about 10:20 PM, while I was sitting in the pew at the Christmas Eve Mass at Night and realized it was probably good and risen by now.
We did make it through Mass, which was lovely. We cleaned up really well this year!
But about those cinnamon rolls. You’re supposed to brush the dough with melted butter and the sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon on before rolling it up, but I misunderstood and mixed the melted butter and cinnamon and sugar together. So I had to spread that on the dough and . . . I think I’m a genius. It worked out great, and it way so much easier and tidier then trying to roll up dough with melted butter on it. I made 24 rolls, threw them in the fridge while Damien shlepped 9 stockings and 36 presents out of our room and under the tree, and we were in bed shortly after 1.
Breakfast: Bacon, cinnamon rolls, fruit, OJ, eggnog
Dinner: Chinese food, steak, and a sandwich
Cinnamon rolls continued! You warm up the rolls by putting them in the oven and putting a pan in the rack under them, and pouring boiling water into that pan, and letting it warm up for 30 minutes. Worked just fine. The rolls were just great. The glaze is made with cream cheese, milk, and vanilla, and it tastes a little bland. It’s richer than just a sugary glaze, but I think I will search for something a little more interesting next year. But overall, this recipe is absolutely everything I wanted for Christmas. Easy, no exotic ingredients or maneuvers, and the rolls were puffy and tender, sweet and rich. Absolutely ideal.
No great food photos, but it was a very happy morning. You can see some photos of the morning mayhem here.
Then we spent the day in a pleasant haze of games, candy, and napping. There had been so much drama around our traditional Chinese take-out Christmas dinner, it kind of defeats the purpose of doing something stress-free. So instead, Damien cooked a bunch of magnificent steaks. He salts and peppers them, heats up a ton of butter and garlic cloves in a cast iron pan. He has some kind of method that involves olive oil as well as butter. I don’t know, man. The steak was amazing. You could cut it with a fork. I didn’t get a great picture because I was in a hurry to eat it, but there’s this:
The meat noticer has entered the room.
Then of course we also ordered some Chinese food because What If There’s Not Enough Food? And Irene got a sandwich from Jersey Mike’s, because one time she had Chinese food and got sick, and Christmas has always been a bit of a trial for her, and this year we decided to finally do something about that.
Spiral ham, shrimp cocktail, various cheeses with crackers and spreads and salamis, pomegranates, baked brie with cranberries, and roasted mushrooms
This meal is a combination of food we were supposed to have for Christmas because we are ridiculous and we shopped thinking What If There’s Not Enough Food, and a ham that one of Damien’s editors sent because she is awesome.
And Damien made a big tray of wonderful roasted mushrooms using this Deadspin recipe. We haven’t had these for some time, and they are so tasty.
You get the rich, earthy buttery mushroom flavor and the sharp lemon and caper and the fresh herbs all frolicking together. Once you chop up all those mushrooms, it comes together really fast.
We got one of those sets of jams that’s supposed to pair with specific cheeses, but I immediately lost track of which was which, so I was forced to just eat everything.
And now it is Monday and there is so much food in the house. I am going to go out and see what I can rustle up for sushi, though, I guess (except for the actual fish). Also we have a birthday coming up, because we are 24/7 party people. I also ordered some flooring for my dining room. Because I am a 24/7 flooring person. I promise pictures. I promise.
Oh, one last thing. I was looking at our Christmas pictures, and I couldn’t resist a little comparison. Here is Christmas 2019, and Christmas this year.
Look at that! Damien has lost close to 80 pounds, and I’ve lost over 40 (I’m focusing on maintenance at the moment, because everything else is pretty overwhelming), and we’re both way, way stronger. As you can see, we’re still enjoying lots of yummy food. Just less of it. Yay us! It feels good.
And here are the recipe cards, whew. I think this was the longest What’s for Supper in this history of What’s for suppers. Hope you find something good! I really do love yez.
Tom Nichols' Grandmother's Leg of Lamb
- boneless leg of lamb
- olive oil
- garlic powder
- garlic salt
Preheat the oven to 325.
Slash the meat several times, about an inch deep.
Fill the cuts with plenty of garlic powder.
Slather olive oil all over the meat.
Crust it with garlic salt. Sprinkle with all the oregano you own.
Cover meat loosely with tinfoil and cook three hours. Uncover and cook for another 30 minutes.
Italian Wedding Soup with pork meatballs
Lots of variations to this pleasant, nourishing soup with little meatballs.
For the meatballs:
- 4-5 lbs ground pork (can mix in some ground beef or turkey)
- 5 eggs
- 2-1/2 cups bread crumbs
- 4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1 Tbsp oregano
- 1 bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped fine
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups freshly-shredded parmesan
- 1/2 cup butter for frying
For the soup:
- 3 lg carrots, diced
- 1 lg onion, diced
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- 16 cups chicken broth
- 3 cups white wine
- 3-4 cups raw kale, torn into pieces
- 2 cups uncooked small pasta like ditalini
- more parmesan and Italian parsley for garnish
To make the meatballs:
Thoroughly combine all the ingredients (except the butter) with your hands. Form them into small meatballs. In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter and lightly brown the meatballs in batches. They do not need to be cooked all the way through, as they will continue cooking in the soup.
To make the soup:
Remove the meatballs from the pot. Put the onions and carrots into the butter and cook until they're slightly soft. Add in the garlic and continue cooking until the garlic is fragrant but not too browned.
Add the meatballs back in. Add the broth and white wine, the kale, and the pepper to taste. Simmer for several hours.
About half an hour before serving, add the uncooked pasta and turn up the heat to cook.
Serve with shredded or grated parmesan and coarsely chopped Italian parsley for a garnish.
No-fail no-chill sugar cookies
Basic "blank canvas"sugar cookies that hold their shape for cutting and decorating. No refrigeration necessary. They don't puff up when you bake them, and they stay soft under the icing. You can ice them with a very basic icing of confectioner's sugar and milk. Let decorated cookies dry for several hours, and they will be firm enough to stack.
- 1 cup butter
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1-2 tsp vanilla and/or almond extract. (You could also make these into lemon cookies)
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 cups flour
Preheat oven to 350.
Cream together butter and sugar in mixer until smooth.
Add egg and extracts.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder.
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and sugar and mix until smooth.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch. Cut cookies.
Bake on ungreased baking sheets for 6-8 minutes. Don't let them brown. They may look slightly underbaked, but they firm up after you take them out of the oven, so let them sit in the pan for a bit before transferring to a cooling rack.
Let them cool completely before decorating!