Prepare your fridge for holiday guests
With family and friends coming and going during this festive time of year, why not take a few days to prepare?
Clean out your refrigerator, including the gucky vegetable bin. Then restock it with offerings that won’t completely undermine your noble efforts to behave during this month-long eat-a-thon. Lots of cut up carrots. A forest of broccoli and cauliflower florets. Tubs of lovely olives and pickled vegetables that can flavor-up a antipasto platter in a flash without a lot of fat.
Stock sparkling waters and healthful juices. You might even consider my favorite low-calorie thirst-quencher, a “Mer-tini.” It’s named after my niece, Meredith, because she and I, though living several states apart, came up with the same concoction: a 50-50 mixture of sparkling water and whatever juice you favor.
Over the next few days, when you can afford the time and the mess, double up on your cooking so meals can be pulled from the freezer later in the month.
Ditto for your baking — if you’re baking. I’m not guilting you into the concept. But the week right after Thanksgiving would be a grand time to tuck away any Christmas and Hanukkah goodies in the freezer.
Then it’s on to the alcohol purchases. Start with your beer collection.
Holiday beer drinkers tend to fall into two style camps: lager or pale ale. What should you stock to please both camps of beer drinkers? Well, for a basic-but-respectable showing, consider the following (you’ll have to decide how many bottles of each):
1 lager style, such as Corona or Budweiser. But there are a number of regional options to explore as well.
A pale ale style. This is one of the most popular of the styles produced by Oregon microbreweries; a medium-bodied ale with a complex, medium-dry flavor profile that complements a wide array of foods, from chips and dip to rich and hearty stews.
One IPA style, which is another of the most popular styles produced in Oregon. It’s heartier and “hoppier” than a pale ale.
A “stout” ale. Stout is a rich, dark, full-bodied ale with a creamy tan head and an incredibly complex flavor profile with burnt-malt and hints of molasses in the finish.
One or two “seasonal” ales. Most regional microbreweries produce one in time for the holidays. They tend to be somewhat rich in color and flavor, with hints of berries or spice. If you have one or two offerings on hand, your beer lovers will think you are very cool indeed.
For your wine selections, try to have at least three styles: one red wine varietal such as a pinot noir, syrah or old vine zinfandel that’s slightly fruity, but with enough tannins and complexity to stand up to a hearty stew or grilled beast of some sort; one white wine varietal that’s on the dry side (not sweet), such as a pinot blanc, pinot gris or Chardonnay, that would complement your subtle shellfish or creamy pasta dishes; and one white wine varietal that’s a bit fruitier, such as a gewurtztraminer or riesling, which would pair well with your spicy Asian-influenced dishes.
For the Freezer: Polenta’s a great thing to have on hand for last-minute gatherings. But I’m not a fan of the commercially made stuff that’s sold in a plastic tube (flavorless, with horrible texture). My homemade polenta can go straight from freezer to oven. While it’s browning and re-establishing its luscious gooey-cheesy texture, simply saute some sliced mushrooms (don’t forget, chanterelles are in season), onions, garlic and peppers in a bit of olive oil and butter, a splash of wine or brandy, several glugs of Worcestershire sauce, and a healthy shake of Tabasco.
Homemade soup can be thawed and heated in short order also, particularly when accompanied by a good quality loaf of artisan bread.
Another great thing to have lurking in the freezer is a generous batch of hot buttered rum mix. It’s truly delicious. I’ve provided my version below. Enjoy.
Jan’s Basic Polenta
This is a flavorful and tender style of polenta. Keep a batch in the freezer for last-minute winter suppers.
3 cups chicken broth (canned is OK)
3 cups half-and-half
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
1 cup semolina
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Ingredients for a simple option:
2 large sweet onions
4 to 8 slices pepper bacon, halved (use the best quality you can find — one that is elegantly smoked)
Additional grated Parmesan for garnish
Tomato slices for garnish
In a medium to large heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the chicken broth and half-and-half to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then whisk in the white pepper, polenta and semolina. Continue cooking over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. After about 3 minutes, as the polenta thickens to the proper consistency, it will begin to produce very large, heavy bubbles. Within another minute or so, the polenta will begin to pull away from the sides of the pan (and the bursting bubbles will be quite volcanic — both in temperature and character). Remove it from the heat and stir in the Parmesan.
Spread the polenta into a shallow glass dish to a level of about 3/4-inch thick. The polenta can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead; cover the top with plastic wrap so it doesn’t form a crust and then refrigerate; for long-term storage, cut it into serving-sized rectangles or diamonds and remove it from the dish using a wide spatula and freeze.
For a simple way to use the polenta: use the “ingredients for a simple option” above. Cut the stem and root ends from the onions and peel. Cut the onion into 4 (1/2-inch thick) rounds. Place serving size pieces of the polenta on a baking sheet, then arrange the rounds on top of the polenta, and drape each onion slice with 2 pieces of the bacon.
Bake the polenta in a 425-degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until the bacon is thoroughly browned. Remove the bacon and return the dish to the oven and broil just until the onions have browned. Use a wide spatula for serving so that each portion contains one entire round of onion slice. Arrange the bacon on top, sprinkle with additional cheese, and serve the tomato slices on the side. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Other options for frozen polenta: Saute sliced mushrooms and other vegetables, such as onions and peppers, in a bit of olive oil, along with a dash of your favorite seasonings, such as Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce or soy sauce. Serve on top of the polenta after it has baked in a 425-degree oven until soft and browned, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with shredded cheese, such as a high-quality sharp cheddar or Jack.
Frozen Hot Buttered Rum Batter
Makes 6 cups of frozen batter.
1 quart French vanilla ice cream, softened slightly
1 pound butter (4 cubes), softened
1 pound brown sugar
1 pound powdered sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
For the drinks:
In the large workbowl of a food processor (or in a large bowl, using an electric mixer), combine the ice cream, butter, sugars, cinnamon and the 2 teaspoons of mutmeg. Mix thoroughly. Pack into a freezer container and store in the freezer.
To use: place 2 to 3 tablespoons of the frozen batter in each mug. Add desired amount of rum (1-1/2 to 2 ounces), and 1 cup of boiling water. Stir to blend, then top with nutmeg.
Recipe adapted from “A Taste of Oregon,” by the Junior League of Eugene.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Email her at email@example.com, or see www.janrd.com.