So many relatives would squeeze into her grandmother's wood-frame house in Thornwood, Penn., each Christmas that "we'd have to eat in shifts," recalls B. (for Barbara) Smith, 51, host of the syndicated show B. Smith with Style. Her mother, Florence, a cleaning woman, always made sure plates were piled high with corn pudding, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, pumpkin pie and red and green Jell-O molds with walnuts. Smith's father, William, a laborer for U.S. Steel, "was the holiday baker and used to make mincemeat cookies," Smith says. At the age of 5, Smith was already pitching in by peeling and mashing potatoes, she remembers. In high school she formed a home economics club and named herself president. Later, as a top fashion model, Smith became known for her elegant dinner parties. So when it came time to shift gears in 1986, opening a New York City restaurant (B. Smith's) came naturally. These days, Smith—who lives in Sag Harbor, N.Y., with husband Dan Gasby, 46, a TV producer, and her stepdaughter Dana, 14—is still "into abundance for the holidays," she says. The holiday dishes (right) are gussied-up versions of her family's faves. But she hasn't grown too sophisticated for tradition. On Christmas Eve, Smith gives all her guests flannel pajamas to sleep in while Santa comes down the chimney.
Roasted herb-stuffed capon with warm mincemeat sauce
1 6-to 8-pound capon or roasting chicken
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Herbed stuffing (recipe follows)
Melted butter for basting
Warm mincemeat sauce (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse the capon under cold water and dry thoroughly inside. Season the capon inside and out with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string. Rub or brush butter over the skin of the capon, Place the capon breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan in the oven and lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Baste frequently with pan drippings and melted butter. Roast approximately 20 minutes per pound or until the skin is golden brown and the juices run clear when it is pierced at the thigh. Let the capon rest at least 20 minutes before carving. Serve with the warm mincemeat sauce.
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
4 cups dry or slightly-toasted white bread cubes
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves or ¾ teaspoon dried sage leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves or ¾ teaspoon dried thyme
2 finely chopped fresh parsley
2 large eggs lightly beaten
½-1 cup chicken stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a sauté pan, melt the butter. Sauté the onions and celery in the butter until tender. In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with the onions, celery, poultry seasoning and herbs. Add the eggs and enough chicken stock to slightly moisten and barely bud ingredients. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place stuffing in lightly greased, shallow baking dish. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, until lightly browned and cooked through.
Warm mincemeat sauce
Makes 3 cups
2 cups roasting-pan drippings and/or chicken stock
1 cup bottled mincemeat
¼ cup of port
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
1 tablespoon grated orange zest (optional)
In a small saucepan, heat the drippings and/or chicken stock, Add the mincemeat and port and stir in until blended. Simmer 5 to 8 minutes. In a small cup, mix together the cornstarch and cold water until dissolved. Stir into the sauce. Let simmer about 2 to 3 more minutes until desired thickness. Add zest and serve warm.
Cranberry persimmon sauce
Makes 2 to 3 cups
12 ounces fresh cranberries
1½ cups sugar
2 ripe persimmons, peeled and cubed
¾cup orange juice
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon triple sec or orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)
In a large saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, persimmons, juice and zest. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Simmer about 10 minutes, until most of the berries have "popped." Stir in the ground cloves, triple sec and walnuts if desired. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate until ready to serve, at least 2 hours.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a recipe for bûche de Noël (Yule log) that calls for oysters and a bit of the bubbly, but for a young Jacques Pepin those ingredients were as much a part of the classic French Christmas dessert as the meringue mushrooms that top the cake. After working into the wee hours of Christmas morning at his family's restaurant, Le Pelican, in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, Pepin remembers, "We were exhausted. We'd eat two oysters, drink a glass of champagne, eat a piece of bûche and go to bed."
The dessert is still a must-have in France, where it symbolizes the tradition of burning a large log in the hearth on Christmas Eve. "People buy it like they buy bread," says Pepin, 64, who moved to New York City in 1959 after serving as personal chef to three French presidents. A best-selling cookbook author (he wrote the classics La Technique and La Methode), Pepin has also hosted seven television shows and taught cooking at Boston University and Manhattan's French Culinary Institute. In addition, he has his own line of copper cookware and kitchen textiles. As busy as his schedule keeps him, though, Pepin still enjoys the holidays with his wife of 34 years, Gloria, 63, at their home—a converted brick factory in Madison, Conn. "Usually," he says, "it's Christmas Eve with the family—8 or 10 people," including daughter Claudine, 32, a winery representative, with whom he has filmed two PBS series (they're now making a third to air next October). "New Year's Eve we either do a big party—25 or 30 people—or we go out." But Pepin doesn't need a holiday to celebrate. "Basically," he says, "anything is an excuse for a dinner in France."
Known in France as a bûche de Noël, this classic dessert is shaped and decorated to resemble a Yule log. The cake is made at Christmas in France to commemorate the legend that a large log should burn continuously on Christmas night, with any interruption in the burning signifying bad luck for the coming year. According to tradition, if the log burns the whole night, the ashes are saved and used as a good luck charm during the year to ensure health, success and happiness.
Bûche de noël
Jelly roll cake
8 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 egg yolks from large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons bourbon
2½ sticks unsalted butter (10 ounces)
Green food coloring for ivy decoration (optional) on log
Rum-chocolate ganache or glaze
About 4 ounces (½ cup melted) bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dark rum
A few meringue mushrooms (optional)(available at specialty stores)
½ cup fresh raspberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a jelly roll pan (12 by 16 inches) with buttered parchment paper.
To make the jelly roll cake: In a bowl, beat the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla together for about 1 minute with a whisk, until very fluffy and smooth. Then add the flour and mix well with a whisk until smooth.
Beat the egg whites by hand or with an electric mixer until firm. Pour the egg yolk mixture on top of the whites. Fold the yolks gently into the whites to retain most of the volume.
Spread the cake batter on the lined pan, making it of equal thickness throughout. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. The cake will be puffy when removed from the oven but will deflate and shrink slightly as it cools, while still remaining soft and pliable.
For the bourbon-vanilla buttercream: Pour the cream into a bowl. Pour the milk into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Put the egg yolks and sugar in another bowl and beat with a whisk for about 1 minute, until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. Combine the boiling milk with the yolk-sugar mixture. Pour the custard into the saucepan and return it to medium heat, stirring continuously with a spoon until it reaches about 180 degrees and thickens. Strain immediately through a sieve set over the bowl containing the cold cream, Stir in the vanilla and let cool until tepid. Add the bourbon, The custard should be just thick enough to coat the spoon. (A finger run across the coated spoon will leave a mark.)
Meanwhile, beat the butter with a whisk or hand mixer until fluffy and soft. Start adding the custard cream to the butter, ¼ cup at a time, beating after each addition until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy. Keep adding until all the custard cream is combined with the butter. Hold at room temperature until ready to use.
If you want to make an ivy decoration on the cake, spoon 3 tablespoons of the buttercream into a small bowl, add three or four drops of green food coloring, and mix in well. Set aside. Spread the remaining buttercream on the cake. Using the paper lining underneath, lift the edge of the cake at one of the long sides, and begin to roll it up on itself. Keep rolling, still using the paper, until the jelly roll is rolled up tightly. The buttercream is now completely enclosed in the cake roll.
To finish the Yule log assembly, place the cake on a serving platter, Cut off both ends of the log at an angle. These pieces will be used to simulate stumps on the log.
To make the rum-chocolate ganache: Melt the bittersweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler set over gently boiling water. Combine the cream and the rum in a bowl and, when the chocolate is melted, add it, and beat with a whisk for 15 to 30 seconds, until the mixture lightens slightly in color and becomes about the consistency of buttercream. Do not over-whisk because incorporating too much air will whiten the ganache and make it set too hard as it cools. If this should happen, remelt slightly and beat again.
Using a spatula, coat the whole cake with a thin layer of the ganache. Place the two end pieces of cake on top to simulate tree stumps, and continue coating the cake and stumps with the ganache. When thoroughly coated, draw the tines of a fork through the soft ganache to create a bark design. Using the point of a knife, make circular designs on top of the stumps and at either edge of the log to simulate the design on a cut log or stump. If decorating the log with ivy, spoon the reserved green buttercream into a paper cornet and pipe an ivy design on the cake. At this point, the cake can be refrigerated. When cold, cover loosely with plastic wrap.
At mealtime, decorate the Yule log, if desired, with a few meringue mushrooms (make your own or buy them at a specialty store). Sprinkle some raspberries around the log, cut it into slices and serve.
Tyler Florence, the 29-year-old star of Food 911 on the Food Network, feels your pain—for your fallen soufflés, burned rice and mushy vegetables. Since January, the former owner of the Manhattan eatery Cafeteria has been leaving the Brooklyn home that he shares with girlfriend Evyn Block, 28, beauty director of W magazine, to make televised house calls to viewers who write in about their failures. "I've developed the knack for teaching people how to cook," he says. His own family of southern cooks doesn't have much need of a rescue operation. At Thanksgiving dinners in Greenville, S.C, "everyone has their job," says Florence. "My grandfather makes the turkey. One aunt makes a sweet potato soufflé that's great, and the other aunt makes a cranberry gelatin salad." The festivities also include Florence's son Miles, 4 (from an early marriage), his magazine-publisher dad, Winston, or his businesswoman mom, Phyllis Olson (the two were divorced in 1979). It's meals like these that sparked Florence's interest in preparing food for other people—something he has been doing since he was a self-described latchkey child whose working parents left him to his own devices in the kitchen. "I love seeing the spark in somebody's eye," he says, "when they take that first bite."
Overstuffed pumpkin with corn bread, apples and turkey sausage with sauvignon blanc
1 10-pound pumpkin
¼ cup melted butter Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh sage, divided
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cubed
2 pounds ground turkey sausage
¾ cup sauvignon blanc wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 14-ounce package corn-bread stuffing
2 eggs, beaten
1½ cups chicken broth
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, Cut off the lid of the pumpkin and set it aside. Pull out seeds and strings from inside pumpkin. Brush the inside flesh with melted butter, season with salt and pepper. Place pumpkin on a roasting pan and' bake for 30 to 45 minutes until it starts to become tender.
In a large, deep skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Add onion, celery, garlic, celery seed, fennel seed and 2 tablespoons each of parsley and sage. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the ground sausage, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, and brown until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Add the apples and cook 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with wine, cook down 2 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Stir in the cream and check seasoning.
Scrape the sausage mixture into a large bowl and fold in the corn bread. Gradually blend in the eggs and chicken broth until the stuffing is evenly moistened. Add remaining parsley and sage. Fill the pumpkin with stuffing, return to the oven and bake about 2 hours or until the stuffing is cooked through and has a little lift.
Serve stuffing in the pumpkin bowl topped with lid.
Starring in the Food Network's cult hit Iron Chef might make anyone anxious. Just ask Masaharu Morimoto, executive chef of the elite Manhattan restaurant Nobu, who is also the Japanese Iron Chef (there are French and Italian counterparts as well) known for waging kitchen warfare against other renowned cooks on what is perhaps TV's most unusual game show. "This last year was really intense, to the point where the night before I couldn't sleep," he says. At the beginning of the program the chefs are given ingredients to work with; at the end their recipes are judged by a panel of food critics and celebrities, mostly from Japan. "The pressure is to make something new, to invent something—and you can't do that over and over," says Morimoto, 45, who emigrated to New York City from Hiroshima 15 years ago. But don't suggest to him that the Iron Chefs might have a little edge over the competition, since they almost always win. "It's not fixed!" he yells. "I've lost seven times. They don't always show those times!" Although the program has already stopped airing in Japan, where it originated in 1993, old episodes continue to play in the United States, and a few original specials have also been taped here.
Morimoto's future plans include opening restaurants in Philadelphia and Manhattan, where he lives with his homemaker wife, Keiko. Doubtless he will produce meals that combine American and Japanese elements, like this one, where the main dish is turkey. "When you cook turkey, it usually becomes dry, right?" he says. He suggests boiling the bird with rice until it is soft and moist. "That's my style: American holiday ingredient but using a Japanese cooking technique."
Masaharu Morimoto's holiday turkey
1 small turkey (about 10 pounds)
2 cups uncooked white rice (preferably short grain)
Chicken bouillon Pepper Garnish: chopped scallions, trefoil leaves (available in Japanese markets) or chopped cilantro
Remove giblets from turkey. Rinse outside and inside of the bird well; drain. Place it in a large pot (if you don't have a large enough pot, turkey can be cut into pieces) and fill the pot with enough water to cover the turkey.
Add rice. Simmer for about one hour, skimming any foam that forms on the surface.
Remove the turkey and strain the broth to separate the rice from the thickened liquid, You may use the rice for another purpose if you like. Put turkey back in pot with the broth that has been thickened by the rice.
Add enough additional water to cover the turkey. Simmer for one more hour.
Add chicken bouillon, either powder or cubes, to the broth. (Determine quantity of bouillon needed by following package directions.) Boil the turkey for ½ to 1 more hour until cooked through. Season the broth with pepper.
Remove turkey, pull meat from bones, shred. Place some shredded turkey meat in a soup bowl. Ladle the broth over it, and garnish with chopped scallions, trefoil leaves or, if those are unavailable, chopped cilantro.
Optional: You can add lemon or lime juice, croutons, soy sauce, spaghetti or noodles, butter or cream, depending on what you feel like.
Variation: You can use a whole chicken instead of a turkey.
At the age of 5, Bobby Flay became mesmerized by a pot of My*T*Fine chocolate pudding simmering in his family's Manhattan kitchen. "I couldn't believe that the texture got thicker as I was stirring it," he recalls, adding, "Growing up, I liked the science of cooking, which is odd because I was the worst student in the world." Flay, 35, found his niche when he was set loose in a professional kitchen—starting as a busboy in an eatery co-owned by his father, Bill, a lawyer. It was while working as a sous-chef for renowned restaurateur Jonathan Waxman that Flay says he "fell in love with the flavors and colors and textures of the Southwest," which later became his trademark. Flay now owns two popular New York City restaurants (Mesa Grill and Bolo), has three shows on the Food Network and has written three cookbooks. Still, "I'm stuck making every holiday meal," he says with a grin. He cooks traditional fare for his family, which includes mother Dorothy, a paralegal, and daughter Sophie, 4, by ex-wife Kate Connelly (a former food show co-host). He can't help giving Christmas a southwestern twist, with the spicy pork tenderloin (below) that he has been making for many years.
Roasted pork tenderloin with sun-dried cranberry stuffing
1 1½-to 2-pound pork tenderloin, butterflied (or two 1-pound tenderloins)
¾ cup sun-dried cranberries
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
½ cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the cranberries, remove from heat and let rest 1 hour, Drain, reserving the soaking liquid, and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add pine nuts, cinnamon, cloves, brown sugar, chili powder and a few tablespoons of the soaking liquid. Pulse until coarsely chopped and remove to a bowl.
Place the tenderloin on a work surface and season both sides with salt and pepper. Spread a thin layer of the stuffing down the center. Fold each side over the filling and tie with butcher's twine. Dredge lightly in the flour.
Heat the oil in an oven-proof sauté pan. Sauté the tenderloin on all sides until golden brown.
Place in the oven and roast until almost cooked through, about 10-14 minutes.
Remove and let rest 10 minutes. Slice into 1-inch pieces.
Sauce for pork tenderloin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup apple juice
1 teaspoon crushed chipotle chili pepper
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon butter Salt
Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the next four ingredients, increase heat to high and cook the sauce until reduced to 2 cups, about 10-12 minutes.
Strain the sauce into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the butter and season with salt to taste.
Pour over sliced pork.
Sara Moulton subscribes to the small-is-beautiful school of thinking. "Maybe it's because I'm so short," says the perky 5-ft.-tall host of the Food Network's call-in show Cooking Live. It's no surprise, then, that Moulton, 48, who trained at the famed Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., loves to work with mini pumpkins. "Quite a few people think they're just decorative. But cooked up, they are really concentrated and really sweet," she says.
An eclectic chef who became food correspondent for Good Morning America in 1998, Moulton often strays from the expected. "In the past few years I've diverted from the turkey thing on Thanksgiving," making braised short ribs and rack of lamb instead, she says. (For Christmas dinner one year she served moussaka, a Greek casserole.) Although she lives in New York City with her husband, Bill Adler, a media consultant, and kids Ruthie, 14, and Sam, 10, the family spends holidays in northwestern Massachusetts with Moulton's parents, Elizabeth, 76, a writer, and Henry, 76, an attorney, who have a weekend home there.
Cooking runs in Moulton's family. Her late grandmother Ruth "went to the Fannie Farmer cooking school in Boston and was an accomplished New England cook," Moulton says. "She made beautiful pies and bread, which she let rise in the attic." Moulton's own fate may have been sealed while she was still in the womb, when her pregnant mother interviewed French chef Jacques Pepin (see page 28). Says Moulton: "He fed her this fabulous lunch, and we joke that I got the love of food in my system that way."
Miniature-pumpkin soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, fried sage and shaved parmesan
8 mini pumpkins
3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus vegetable oil for deep frying
1 cup thinly sliced onion
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4-5 cups chicken stock
½ cup fresh sage leaves Shaved Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Cut the top one-fourth off pumpkins, reserving the lids. Scrape the seeds out, clean and rinse them and pat dry. Toss the seeds with 3 tablespoons oil, salt to taste and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1¼ hours, or until they are golden and crisp.
Increase the oven heat to 350 degrees. Bake the pumpkins and the lids, cut side down, on lightly oiled baking sheets for 40 minutes or until they are tender. (The lids will probably be ready in 30 minutes.) When they are cool enough to handle, scrape out most of the pulp, leaving just enough in each pumpkin so that it retains its shape. Reserve all the pulp.
Cook the onion in the butter in a skillet over low heat for 5 minutes or until it is softened. Add the pumpkin pulp and the chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Puree the mixture in batches in a blender and transfer to a saucepan, adding additional chicken stock to thin if necessary.
Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil to 350 degrees in a deep saucepan. Add the sage in small batches (it will bubble up) and fry for 30 seconds or until translucent. Transfer to paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt to taste.
To serve: Warm the pumpkin shells and lids in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes. Heat the soup until hot, adding additional broth if necessary to thin it slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Put pumpkin shells into shallow soup bowls and ladle soup into each shell. Top with a few fried sage leaves, toasted pumpkin seeds and some Parmesan shavings. Put the lid, slightly askew, on top.
In this era of low-fat everything—from potato chips to ice cream—chef Joan Nathan draws the line at this Hanukkah favorite. "You might as well not have potato pancakes if you're not going to have some fat," says Nathan, 57, host of the PBS series Jewish Cooking in America and author of the book of the same name, as well as four others. Still, though Nathan makes potato pancakes the old-fashioned way—"If you don't draw blood by hand-grating the potatoes, you haven't done a good job," she says—she fries them in just a few drops of oil so they actually are lighter than traditional latkes. "I'm from the crispy school," she explains. "I like them almost lacy."
Nathan's interest in food goes beyond cooking to cultural impact. Born in Providence to Ernest Nathan, a German businessman who died in 1991, and Pearl, 87, a teacher, she spent summers in France and Italy as a teenager, becoming proficient in four languages. But it wasn't until 1970, when she worked as a foreign press attaché to Jerusalem's then-mayor Teddy Kollek, that she discovered that eating is about more than just satisfying hunger. "I realized food was a means to open people up," Nathan says. "In a city like Jerusalem, when people got together to have a meal, the tensions evaporated."
On a more local level, she uses food as a way of bringing people together at the five-bedroom Washington, D.C., home that she shares with attorney Allan Gerson, 55, her husband of 26 years, and their three children, Daniela, 22, Merissa, 18, and David, 15. "I feel fortunate that we have Friday night dinner with the family," she says. "Whatever your background, food is a great way of reinforcing who you are—and in the world we live in, that's really important."
Crispy traditional potato pancakes
Yield: about 2 dozen pancakes
2 pounds russet (baking) or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 medium onion
½ cup chopped scallions, including the green part
1 large egg, beaten Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste Vegetable oil for frying
Peel the potatoes and put in cold water. Using a grater or food processor, coarsely grate the potatoes and onions. Place together in a fine-mesh strainer or tea towel and squeeze out all the water over a bowl. The potato starch will settle to the bottom; reserve that after you have carefully poured off the water.
Mix the potato and onion with the potato starch. Add the scallions, egg, and salt and pepper.
Heat a griddle or nonstick pan and coat with a thin film of vegetable oil. Take about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture in the palm of your hand and flatten as best you can. Place the potato mixture on the griddle, flatten with a large spatula and fry for a few minutes until golden. Flip the pancake over and brown the other side. Remove to paper towels to drain. Serve immediately. You can also freeze the potato pancakes and crisp them up in a 350-degree oven at a later time.
Variation: If you want a more traditional and thicker pancake, you can add an extra egg plus 1/3 cup of matzo meal to the batter.