Here we are, 34 days ‘til Christmas and because of this column, I’m forced to give it a thought.
I know there are folks out there who are finished their shopping already and some are even putting the Christmas tree up, but that’s not me! At the rate I’m going this year, we may get our dock in and the summer stuff put away by December; that’s my goal after all. Whatever happened to fall?
For many of you, myself included, who might like to lessen the stress of food preparation during the holidays, I suggest doing as much as possible ahead of time. There are countless recipes out there that can be made ahead and refrigerated or frozen until you need them.
Today I’m offering four you might like to try. The first is a lovely Christmas cake that only makes one; yes you read correctly: one cake. The second is a good make-ahead mashed potato dish. Following that is a great recipe where crispy tater-tots, bacon and eggs come together in one amazing and easy breakfast bake! And finally a deliciously moist alternative to the traditional pudding, and the kids won’t be complaining about the lumps of fruit or nuts. Caramel sauce and whipped cream make it a great dessert during the holidays.
Best Christmas Fruitcake
1/8 cup chopped maraschino cherries
1/8 cup chopped dried or candied mango
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons chopped candied lemon
1/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsulfured molasses
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup dark rum, divided
Start by soaking the cherries, mango, cranberries, currants and lemon by covering them in a bowl with 1/4 cup of rum. Cover tightly and let the mixture sit for at least 24 hours in room temperature.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
Butter a 6×3 inch round pan (or a small loaf pan if you don’t have a round one) and line with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg until nicely mixed together.
Mix together flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon and add to the butter and sugar mixture in three batches, alternately adding molasses and milk. Stir in soaked fruit and chopped nuts. Transfer batter into prepared pan. Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons rum.
Cut out one piece parchment paper and one piece cheesecloth, each large enough to wrap around the cake. Moisten cheesecloth with 1 tablespoon rum. Arrange cheesecloth on top of parchment paper, and unmold cake onto it. Sprinkle top and sides of cake with remaining rum. Wrap the cheesecloth closely to the surface of the cake, then wrap with paper. Place in an airtight tin.
This cake is great if you age it for a while — you could make it as far ahead as 10-12 weeks — but it will be just as good in a week!
Creamy Make-ahead Mashed Potatoes
3 pounds potatoes (about 9 medium), peeled and cubed
6 bacon strips, chopped
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup butter, cubed
1/4 cup 2% milk
1-1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
3 green onions, chopped
Place potatoes in a Dutch oven; add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, 10-15 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon; drain. Drain potatoes; return to pan.
Mash potatoes, gradually adding cream cheese, sour cream and butter. Stir in milk and seasonings.
Transfer to a greased 13×9-inch baking dish; sprinkle with cheese, green onions and bacon. Refrigerate, covered, up to 1 day (or freeze for up to three weeks). Preheat oven to 350 F. Remove potatoes from refrigerator and let stand while oven heats (if frozen, let stand til almost thawed). Bake, uncovered, 40-50 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 10 servings.
Impossibly Easy Bacon, Egg & Tot Bake
(with make-ahead directions)
1 cup Original Bisquick™ mix
2 cups milk
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 lb. bacon, crisply cooked and chopped
6 cups frozen crispy golden tater-tots
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (4 oz.)
1 tablespoon sliced green onion (1 medium)
Ketchup, if desired
Heat oven to 400 F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.
In large bowl, stir Bisquick mix, milk, pepper and eggs until blended; pour into baking dish, and top with half of the bacon.
Place frozen potato nuggets in single layer on ungreased large cookie sheet with sides. Place both the baking dish and cookie sheet in oven. Bake 20 minutes.
Place potato nuggets evenly on top of Bisquick bake; top with cheese and remaining bacon. Bake 10 to 15 minutes longer or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. Top with green onion. Serve with ketchup.
Make-ahead directions: Make Bisquick bake as directed. Cover and refrigerate up to 12 hours. Keep potato nuggets frozen until ready to bake. Uncover, and bake as directed in steps 3 and 4.
Sticky Toffee Christmas Pudding
3/4 cups packed pitted dates (about 10 oz.)
2 cups water
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 F and butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan (2 inches deep), knocking out excess flour.
Coarsely chop dates and in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan simmer dates in water, uncovered, 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in baking soda. (Mixture will foam.) Let mixture stand 20 minutes.
While mixture is standing, into a bowl sift together flour, baking powder, ginger and salt.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating after each addition until just combined.
Add date mixture and with a wooden spoon stir batter until just combined.
Pour batter into baking pan and set pan in a larger baking pan. Add enough hot water to larger pan to reach halfway up sides of smaller pan and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove smaller pan from water bath and cool pudding to warm on a rack.
Caramel sauce: stir the sugar, cream, butter and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat for 5 minutes or until smooth. Cut pudding into wedges and pour over the caramel sauce. Serve with cream or ice-cream. Pudding freezes well.
Cathi Litzenberger is The Morning Star’s longtime food columnist, appearing every other Wednesday and one Sunday per month.