Cheated Cherry Clafoutis
Cherry clafoutis is a dessert from the Limousin region of France, where, traditionally, it is served with unpitted cherries baked inside. Certainly a good trick to prevent your eating your cake too quickly.
I love it for the holidays because it is a family dessert—wholesome, rustic, and simple, but punctuated with those Christmas red, Rudolph nose cherries. Serve with vanilla ice cream and crushed green pistachio nuts and you have the perfect thing to eat while waiting for Santa to shimmy down the chimney.
Red Pepper Caviar in a Chilled Artichoke
I know food should be about flavor and not about color, but since you eat with your eyes first, I tend to a get more colorful with my themed food around the holidays. This appetizer is red and green, but it’s also elegant and refined—perfect for the holidays.
Vegetable caviar is not what it sounds like: no fish eggs here. It’s a kind of deeply flavored spread or dip made from the softened flesh of vegetables, usually nightshades. I most commonly pick up a tub of caviar d’aubergines (eggplant caviar) at the Monoprix in Paris and eat it with a baguette in the park. But two summers ago when passing through Antibes, I had a sweet red pepper version stuffed into mushroom caps, served with champagne. It’s colorful, garlicky, sweet, and a touch spicy.
Broccoli and Brie Soup
The best part about the holidays has to be the surprises. Glancing at that bulging stocking as it gets stuffed throughout the month. Wishing for Superman’s X-ray vision as you secretly and silently investigate those wrapped and bowed boxes from across the room. The news that so-and-so is coming home when you least expected it. Headlines that Santa really does exist seem somehow completely believable in a season where surprise is the rule of engagement.
Right now, I am back in Florida, where I spent some time growing up, celebrating the holidays amidst bedazzled palm trees, on the verge of a melt down–or rather, a freeze up. I suppose ’tis the season for a white Christmas, but anticipated wind chills below 20 degrees in Palm Beach? Now, that’s a surprise.
Orange Peel Shrimp
For all that I write about on this site, you might think that my grandmother and I sit around plucking escargots every time we meet for lunch. But our true tradition is a hedonistic Chinese lunch, with fortune cookie reading-aloud time for dessert. And while some of our other dishes may change depending on the week, the one thing we always order is orange peel shrimp: sweet, spicy, savory, and tart all at once, it’s meaty and perfect and the kind of thing I always thought I could never in a million years recreate at home.
How wrong I was.
Apple and Pear Beignets with Vanilla Sugar
For some, the holidays are about faith. For me, suffice it to say they’re about food. We all know the story of Hanukkah: a drop of oil burned for eight miraculous nights. Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah, how I adore you! I love grease—always have, and always will. So, if there’s a holiday that celebrates the deep fried, you can count me among the pious.
Every year for Hanukkah, I make two things: Maneschewitz granita and beignets. Last year I did a Provençal lavender and apricot edition, but this year, I wanted something more wintry, more Nutcracker. And though I didn’t use sugarplums, there’s something about the late autumnal fruitiness of apples and pears with the black dappling fresh vanilla seeds that goes so perfectly with Arabian coffee.
The Croque Monsieur Burger
Children are picky eaters. Some of them seem to be on a perpetual hunger strike. And while moral fortitude and tenacity are admirable at any age, parents mostly seem thrilled when their child finds one thing they are willing to eat. Although my parents might have been less than thrilled, because for me, that food was bacon cheeseburgers.
I can still remember my old bacon cheeseburger haunts: The Beach Café and Jackson Hole in the East Sixties in New York, and Joshua’s up in Woodstock. And many places in between, because like an honest addict, I couldn’t go very long between. I loved that rare, crumbling meatiness of the burger, mixed with the soft enveloping blanket of cheese that seemed as comforting as a down duvet on a December day, the way it stuck deliciously to the roof of my mouth. And on top of that, the crisp winter-fire smokiness of the bacon, like the smell of a nearby chimney on a cold day, just chewy on the verge of crisp. It was perfect, and I loved it. And I ate it.
Roasted Endive and Pear Salad with Roquefort
The endive and Roquefort salad is a popular one, but for good reason. The bitter crunch of the endive and piquant creaminess of Roquefort balances the smooth and the intense. The sweet pear and woody walnuts are the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of the salad—never far behind, and almost always found together.
I am not someone to stand in the way of whatever works. But there is a tradition in France of baking endive, usually in a gratin, where it’s rolled in ham and smothered in Gruyère: now that is delicious. So I thought, why not try roasting the endive and pears, to soften the former, and intensify the latter. I pile them into a composed salad with soft, baby arugula, the requisite walnuts, and a drizzling of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Planks of spicy Roquefort shingle the top. It’s a wintry take on the perennial salad.
Roasted Endive And Pear Salad With Arugula, Walnuts, And Roquefort
- 4 Belgian endive, quartered lengthwise
- 2 Bosc pears, cored and stemmed, cut into 8 pieces each
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for dressing the salad, to taste
- 1/2 cup walnut halves
- 4 cups baby arugula
- 4 ounces Roquefort, cut in 4 slices
- Balsamic vinegar, to taste
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- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
- Arrange the endives and pears in a single layer on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes.
- Arrange the walnut halves on a small, rimmed baking tray and put in the oven with the endives and pears for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. When toasted, roughly chop the walnuts.
- Allow the endives and pears to slightly cool. Arrange on top of a bed of baby arugula. Top with walnuts and slices of Roquefort. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste.