On Sunday night, I had my family over for a holiday dinner. My New York family – uncles, aunts – is rarely together for the actual holiday days, so I wanted to be sure to do something warm and festive – to match the alarmingly warm but festive atmosphere these last few weeks in New York.
I definitely subscribe to the old adages about entertaining – serve at least one thing that you buy and another thing that you make ahead. And, I know I say it over and over, but I love American holiday meals because we are so adroit at mixing tradition with personal history. Which is just what I did – a bite of Brooklyn with a pinch of Provence.
The appetizer was pure New York – I bought potato pancakes at the historic German grocer up the street – perfect silver dollars that I just threw in the oven to crisp up. The whole apartment smelled like memories of my great-grandmother. And to go with them, sliced sable from the bagel shop around the corner. With that, I stirred together a cup of Greek yogurt (my go-to substitute for sour cream, which I never have) with three spoonfuls of prepared horseradish with salt and lots of pepper, and this cucumber salad from Bon Appetit.
The main course, my “thing that you make ahead” was a gorgeous brisket recipe – also very great-grandmother. But it is in fact from one of my favorite food writers, the incredibly modern and fresh Donna Hay, that I discovered while living in London (she’s Australian). It comes from her book The New Easy, and I can’t recommend it enough. So simple, braised together with rosemary, pancetta, red wine, and tomatoes. Making it ahead means you can skim away the fat, which I personally prefer, and the flavors penetrate and tenderize the meat. It was the best brisket I ever made – so juicy, soft, collapsing under the fork. Bright and tangy from the vinegar despite the inherent richness. And with the wintry, woodsy pine perfume from the rosemary that matched the bouquets of pine bough scattered throughout the apartment in giant glass vases.
With that, I took a page out of my French travels, and served buttered whole wheat elbow macaroni. That’s right! I always see beautiful French stews and daubes served with little elbows, baby shells, or ditalini, and I am captivated by how unpretentious it is! The whole wheat part may be a little pretentious – but I just prefer it, and I love the heavier flavor and texture with meat. With that, a green salad with my favorite new dressing – a very light take on Caesar that I will post soon. (For those near New York and Chicago, have you tried Gotham Greens? I really love them – particularly the “Queens Crisp”.)
For dessert, I stayed in France, by way of England. In the south, I always see peaches or apricots mixed with lavender, or verbena, or almond – I always order it. But Mr. English loves his crumbles and crisps – and it is winter. So I started with frozen organic peaches, and tossed them with a bit of cornstarch and almond extract – just a dash to give it that drunk-on-marzipan flavor. Amaretto would have worked too, had I thought of it. The crisp mixture was a combination of whole wheat flour, almond meal, sugar, butter, olive oil, and sliced almonds. I threw the whole thing in the oven, and the fruit collapsed from frozen-solid rocks into a soft, thick, bubbling, sweet, psychedelic orange mess that was topped by this hearty flavored and delicately textured crumb.
My father brought vanilla ice cream, which proves that he is a man of good sense.
For the peaches:
30 ounces of frozen peaches
3 tablespoons corn starch
¼ cup granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
½ – ¾ teaspoon of almond extract (depending on how much you love marzipan) (optional)
For the crisp topping:
¾ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup almond meal
½ cup granulated sugar
A pinch of salt
1 stick of unsalted butter, straight from the fridge, cubed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a buttered baking dish, toss the peaches with the cornstarch, ¼ cup sugar, pinch of salt, and almond extract, if using. Set the baking dish on a baking tray lined with foil (it makes cleanup easier), and set aside.
In a food processor, whiz together the flour, almond meal, sugar, and salt until combined. Then add the butter and olive oil and run until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add the sliced almonds and pulse a few times until just distributed, but not broken up. Pour the mixture evenly over the peaches, and bake until the fruit is bubbling and the crisp is golden – an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Vanilla ice cream, heavy cream, or crème fraiche is encouraged.print this recipe