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Holiday triumphs/disasters

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So who made a terrific dish or a terrible one over the holidays?

For New Years Eve I was elected to do the fish - both fried and baked.

My extended family has pretty basic tastes so for the baked I layered Orange Roughy with thin slices of tomatoes, onions, and lemons added capers and some salt and pepper.

For the fried fish I made a basic beer batter and opted to fry outside (10 lbs of fish) to avoid making the house smell for days. The first batch of fried fish lost all of it's batter so I waited until the oil was hotter. The rest of the fish worked out quiet well and I warmed it in the oven on parchment paper.

The only problem was that with the cold air outside and the constant temperature fluctuations I think the oil (which was new peanut oil) became rancid by the end of the frying process - which made me feel like I never wanted to smell fish again.

I gathered up all of the food and brought it to my sister house where I avoided the kitchen and fish smell. There wasn't enough space in the oven for the baked fish so I told her to go ahead and cook it in the microwave. When all was ready I noticed some puzzled looks on the people who tried the baked fish. Apparently my sister's new convection microwave was on the wrong setting and although the fish was not overdone, it wasn't flaky like white fish should be. By the end of the dinner all of the fried fish was gone and the baked remained virtually untouched - even as a take home leftover. (My family is typically a bunch of vultures when it comes to leftovers)

Next year I'll let someone else handle the traditional Christmas Eve fish.

I had much better luck with the New Years Day dinner. My husband made his 'famous' turkey mole while I was left to the side dishes. I made a guacamole and a chick pea, lentil, hominy stew. The latter turned out to be very good but filling enough to be a meal on it's own. Tonight I'll cook up the leftovers and throw in some lime black bean chicken sausage.

What were your winners/losers?

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  1. I had success with the damp lemon-almond cake from Nigella Lawson's "How to be a Domestic Goddess." I didn't wrap it in foil for the recommended two days, but it was damp and delicious anyway -- no leftovers there. It was served with my mother's signature whipped cream (cream, Cointreau, dessicated coconut).

    Also, made some thin, chewy cookies which were originally supposed to be "cream-cheese gems," but I substituted fresh goat cheese and they were fabulous. Butter, goat cheese, sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla.

    I baked both with spelt flour -- it's popular and easy to find in Germany, where I live.

    2 Replies
    1. re: gus

      I made galleygirl/Laurie's pear cake. We were having a lot of people and wanted to make sure that everyone could have a slice of Bouche and cake, so we made two- one in an 8 inch pan and one in a 9. The general consensus from people on the board was to take it out underdone if there was a question. I was a little too afraid about overcooking and so the 8 inch one was a little too underdone. The sides were fine but the middle was not cooked enough. The 9 inch was in the oven for about the same amount of time but came out perfectly (because it was slightly thinner I think.) The pears also didn't really disapear into the batter as much as I had anticipated. Overall, they were both great though, and luckily the 9 inch served enough people that only close family members had to eat the undercooked version.

      1. re: Meils

        I, too, made the Pear Tart after reading so many postings on it! I made the 8" and was afraid it wouldn't turn out well as the pears seemed very hard and tasteless (Bosc, as I recall) in spite of having bought them a week before! I also threw in parts of two VERY ripe pears (Comice) that were so ripe they wouldn't even slice properly. To my amazement, it all turned out perfectly and was quite moist and delicious....and SO easy, plus it looked nice! I sprinkled it thoroughly with vanilla sugar before baking and cooked it for 45 min. which seemed just right as far as still being VERY nice and moist yet the toothpick came out clean.

    2. I had a New Year's day brunch and made a Quiche from the Southern Living Magazine which I layered canadian bacon on the bottom of the pie dish like a crust and poured in the filling of brie cheese and baked alltogether. Not one piece left and everyone raved about it. Super simple to make and so elegant looking and tasting.

      Brunch was a huge success.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Roxy

        That sounds great - can you paraphrase the recipe please.

      2. I made the braised short ribs that everyone raves about on this board. (The simple one with wine and tomato paste). I didn't think it was that great. Next time I will make short ribs with the brisket recipe Nina W posted a while ago with prunes and Knorr oxtail soup mix, substituting the brisket for the short ribs.

        1 Reply
        1. re: rkn

          I also made short ribs--maybe from the same recipe, with wine and whole grain mustart. I have made them before with 1/2 the meat (the usual 4 lbs)and loved them. This time I did it with 8 lbs and doubled the recipe. The sauce was thinner than I would have liked. Nobody seemed to mind though, I got the most completment on those. The best part about this was I started it in the morning and didn't have to do much until it was time to eat.

          I also made scallops with porcini, onions and brandy and served them on top of pea sauce. The scallops were cooked perfectly but the pea sauce wasn't quite hot enough. I had made it earlier in the day and nuked it to warm up but obviously not enough. I think the taste was enough to make people happy though. Also, this dish looks so elegent when plated. I defintely will do it again.

        2. The Blintz Cheese Puff from Sundays at Moosewood was great (again).

          1. For a friend's party made the Cake Bible's Buche de Noel, which I found aggressively so-so. The cake was so delicate it was barely noticeable next to the whipped cream in was rolled in, much less the ganache it was coated with. This is disappointing, as I was thinking of trying it as a Buche de Pesach for Passover. If anyone has a somewhat assertive, flourless, rollable cake they really like, pls share. I think I'd flavor the whipped cream next time, too.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Tatania

              I made Dionne Lucas's flourless chocolate roll in lieu of Buche de Noel recipe (decorated in the Buche de Noel manner). I much prefer it.

              The recipe I like is in Maida Heatter book on Cakes, but Epicurious has Gourmet recipe that looks quite similar


              I usually use Grand Marnier to drizzle the cake (makes it extra moist) in addition to flavoring the whipping cream.

              1. re: Tatania
                Jeff Roberts


                The chocolate roulade in "Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home" is amazing. It is basically a bittersweet chocloate ganache folded into a meringue, which is baked. When cool, you spread the cake with cognac-flavored whipped cream, and then sprinkle the roll with cocoa or powdered sugar. Very delicious, although not particularly spring-like.


              2. My triumph: I made a GREAT "authentic" Caesar salad. I used Cardini's recipe as retold by Julia Child. It was garlicky, lemony and delicious.

                My not-so-triumphant moment: I made Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake. It wasn't a disaster, but it was drier and less flavorful than I expected. I was disappointed.

                1. My first standing rib roast: a whopping 13-pounder. I prepared it according to Julia's instructions – trimmed the fat, frenched the bones, rubbed it with olive oil and S&P, roasted it at 325° to an internal temp of 120° & let it stand for half an hour while we ate the appetizer. Served it with a port-enriched veal demi-glace. Superb.

                  Also, great success with the Mikado Cake from Payard's dessert book.

                  My fruitcake this year was the best yet.

                  I totally hosed the Macadamia Toffee (used evaporated cane juice rather than refined white sugar, inadvertently undercooked it slightly...turned out like sweetened macadamia gravel. Yuck.)

                  1. Turkey is always a big success when serving people who have never had a bird cooked to the correct 165 degrees instead of the standard 180. It makes such a difference! My friends were shocked that turkey could be so juicy.

                    The other big hit was the Winter Squash Galette, made according to Deborah Madison's recipe (her book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, is a gem!) but using a flaky pie crust instead of time-consuming yeasted galette dough. The galette is a delicious, savory, elegant alternative to marshmallows on sweet potato.

                    1. c

                      Failure: the sweet potato/cream/chipotle gratin someone posted on the board. The flavor was great, but it all curdled horribly. Don't know what I screwed up, but clearly I did something very, very wrong.

                      Failure 2: I am trying to perfect coconut macaroons. First I tried the Stars Desserts recipe, replacing half the coconut with unsweetened. That was great, but not the ultimate, so then I tried replacing the flour with almond flour, which made a sticky mess of the first batch I baked (couldn't get them off the sheet), so I added some white flour, which made the rest of the batch as good as the original, but no better, no almond flavor. I'm going to try almond paste next.

                      Triumph: This year's truffles rocked, and the winner of my holiday baskets were, strangely enough, the pink cinnamon lollipops. These were really nice, almost like barley pops in their smooth mouthfeel, with a bite of hot cinnamon and cute as the dickens. And easy. Also, New Years dinner was the spiced roast pork with port au jus from epicurious, and that was great.

                      7 Replies
                      1. re: curiousbaker

                        Baaaah! The sweet potato gratin was my post. Don't have any idea what happened to yours - mine didn't curdle. Sorry about that. It's irresistible when it works out.

                        1. re: Nyleve

                          Don't worry - I'm sure it was all my fault. I did substitute 2/3 half and half for the heavy cream. I wasn't trying to skimp, really, I just was lower on cream than I thought, and I thought someone had said you could get away with it....sniff. Anyway, the flavor was great, and I'll definitely try it again.

                        2. re: curiousbaker

                          Re: the gratin--did you use whole cream or sub w/ a lower fat version (ie, half and half, milk)? I've found that even half and half (esp. when mixed w/ any citrus or acid) always results in some curdling. If I were going for a healthy version (which I rarely do), would omit liquid dairy and sub in chicken broth instead.

                          1. re: Carb Lover

                            I used about 2/3 half and half, 1/3 heavy cream. I feared that was the problem, though I've never had curdling with even 100% half and half in a regular potato au gratin, and I thought someone had said s/he had done it successfuly with all half and half. It didn't look great, but the flavor was fab - I'll do it again properly, if I can convince my guy to leave the kitchen long enough for me to sneak all that cream into the dish.

                            1. re: curiousbaker

                              When in a pinch, I have used half and half before in gratins w/o a curdling problem; however, since your dish had chipotles, the acid content may have reacted w/ the half and half. I don't cook w/ cream everyday, but for a holiday, why scrimp? I don't know your recipe, but if I were trying to cut down on fat and calories, I would just use less cream, maybe add broth if you need more liquid. BTW, what kind of cheese (if any) is called for? Would be interested to see the recipe if you can provide a link. Thanks!

                              1. re: Carb Lover

                                Here's the link to the original post. I've made it and it IS all that.

                                Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                                1. re: GretchenS

                                  Thanks! Oh my--3 cups of heavy cream, which OP reduced from 4 cups. No wonder it tastes so good. Very scary since I just bought a small can of chipotles in adobo. My post-holiday restraint may have to be delayed...

                        3. The herb-cristed prime rib, the roasted cream of mushroom soup, and the mashed potatoes all came out perfectly. The red wine reduction was good too if not stellar.

                          That's the good news. I was more verclempt than usual this year, even though I tried to keep things more low key than I have in the past.

                          Instead of green asparagus, someone picked up white. I hate white asparagus so I decided I'd make a blender hollandaise to cover up the taste. I was distracted by several other last minute details so I didn't blend enough to thicken and the sauce separated when I poured it over the steamed asparagus, which was still quite stringy. Overall appearance and texture: yech.

                          My other mistake was forgetting to pour the melted butter into the popover batter (We found it in the microwave when the popovers were half cooked). The popovers looked lovely but were lacking in flavor and had a somewhat rubbery texture because there was no fat, which is essential. Overall result: passable but I won't forget the butter next time.

                          Thank God we bought dessert -- a lovely fruit tart from Fresh Fields. And good champagne helped to wash everything down.

                          1. Don't accidentally bake cookies on wax paper instead of parchment paper.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Sixy Beast

                              What's the difference between wax and parchment paper? Is it just the wax? How does each affect the cooking process? TIA

                            2. I purchased *Prime* prime rib (only $5.99/lb on special!). Wow, what a difference from Costco's meat--it was like butta!

                              Also, I tried many new cookie recipes this year. The lime/hazlenut cookies were very disappointing, and Epicurious' cardomom squares were just okay. (My spice cookies, loaded with cloves, are still the best--clear the sinuses too!)

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Funwithfood

                                You might try EPI's Ginger Spice Cookies...I think the recipe is still on the most popular list (or "buzz box")...they are excellent, made them last week...though it sounds like you already have a very good recipe!

                                1. re: Funwithfood

                                  Wow! *Prime* prime rib for $5.99? your butcher must have a crush on you.

                                2. Triumph:

                                  I cooked my very first crown roast of pork (using Kurobota pork from John Dewar in Wellesley, MA), using Mark Bittman's roasting instructions and Judy Rodgers' seasoning instructions, including salting three days ahead or time. It was incredible, the best pork I have ever eaten.


                                  I forgot AGAIN that stuffing with prunes in it burns three times as fast as regular stuffing. I'm going to stop calling it burned stuffing, and just call it special seasoning.

                                  1. Triumphs in the kitchen:

                                    Paella (thanks to fragrant saffron from Trader Joe's)
                                    Seared scallops w/ salad of sliced fennel, Braeburns, and citrus vinaigrette
                                    Gratin w/ russets, cheddar, chives (went well w/ Xmas ham)
                                    Creamy polenta (cornmeal source makes a BIG dif.; slow-cooking grains also seem better than quick-cooking IMO)
                                    Parsley pesto (excellent condiment to keep in fridge--have been mixing it in w/ butter, frittatas, soups)

                                    Sweet potato pie (for Thanksgiving) and rustic apple tart (for Xmas) had delicious filling; however, ultimately a travesty for me since both crusts were on the tough side. One recipe from Bon Appetit, other from "Baking w/ Julia." Not tender, not flaky, even though I used a stick of butter in both and took care to not overwork dough.

                                    PLEASE if anyone has a great all-purpose, no-fail, fool-proof recipe for a flaky, tender crust, fork it over! Cooking I can do, but baking still eludes me...

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Carb Lover

                                      The butter's for flavor - you need at least some crisco or lard if you're going for flakiness. I think the minimum is about 15% crisco. It won't be super flaky, but won't be cookie-like, either.

                                      1. re: Tatania

                                        I successfully made the Cook's Illustrated pie crust in the "Best Recipes" book with the creme brulee on the cover without lard/crisco. It was by mistake. I misread the recipe. Flaky, buttery, beautiful. Took third place in a huge cherry pie contest.

                                        Though my mother swears by a kneaded pie dough (yuck), I think the less you touch it, the better.

                                        1. re: MkeLaurie

                                          Well, I have no objections to using Crisco or lard if need be; however, I don't have them in my pantry since I don't use such lipids for other cooking/baking. I also remember making crusts w/ only butter before that were flaky, so don't know what's different.

                                          Can you post the ingredients for the Cook's Illustrated recipe? I think I have the technique part down. Thanks!

                                      2. re: Carb Lover

                                        One word: LARD!!!!

                                        Can't beat it for a flaky crust. And since it's the holidays, go for broke! If you want to be virtuous, cut it with margarine. Yes, margarine. The hard kind in bricks, not Becel. I know, it's hard to believe, but really, it is the best thing...so sayeth my husband the professional confectioner! I hate to admit it, because I am a butter girl to the end, but he is right. It has something to do with water content and steam formation. Sigh. Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride along with the pie.

                                      3. Dalvay's sticky date pudding was both a triumph and a disaster. The first time I made it, it was heavenly -- perfectly done (maybe a bit underdone in the center), but still wonderful. The second time I made it I used a convection oven instead of a regular oven. Funny, a convection oven is supposed to cook food faster than a conventional oven. Well, to my dismay, when I was cutting my second pudding into slices, raw batter oozed from everywhere in front of eight guests! Because of lack of time, I had to scoop the batter into smaller dishes, microwave it and serve with the toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream.

                                        1. c
                                          Caitlin Wheeler

                                          Triumphs: The Mincemeat Pies from Dede Wilson's Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies. The mincemeat was extraordinarily easy to make, and our little pies (for Christmas Eve) were very well received. Also the Oyster Stew from the New York Times Cookbook, and the Onion Toasts on Epicurious (which I've made before and are always wonderful). We made a fantastic roast prime rib for Christmas dinner. The chocolate gingerbread in Nigella Lawson's Feast was wonderful.

                                          Failures: I had the bright idea of subbing panetonne in for the poundcake on my trifle recipe, which didn't work (got soggy and too sweet -- the texture that's good for bread pudding but not trifle). I made Cinghiale from Nigella Lawson's Feast for New Year's and didn't much like it. I overcooked the pork, which was bad in and of itself, but I wasn't a fan of the marinade. We made up for it by stuffing ourselves with Texas Caviar and bacon wrapped dates.

                                          1. j
                                            Jeff Roberts

                                            My wife and I did our usual New Years lunch. We were fourteen in all, nine adults, four kids, and a baby. It was over the top, but amazing (if I do say so myself). The menu?

                                            pre-lunch nibbles (washed down with a magnum of vintage champagne, courtesy of good friend Michael):

                                            *home-made blini with smoked salmon and creme fraiche
                                            *cheese pastry shells filled with shitaki/cepes ragout and topped with a qual egg half and hollandaise
                                            *slow roasted onion and anchovy confit crostini
                                            *cheese biscuits (an old Joy of Cooking recipe) for the kids

                                            appetizer (at this point we had moved on to the 97 Chave Hermitage magnum, thanks again to Michael):

                                            *foie gras terrine from d'Artagnan with a small salad of greens and roasted hazelnuts tossed with a hazelnut vinagrette

                                            main course (with more Hermitage!):

                                            *roast goose with two stuffings, one of apples and the other of sausage / goose liver forcemeat

                                            *crunchy roast potatoes (the roasting fat was duck fat)

                                            *mashed parsnips

                                            *Savoy cabbage sauteed in olive oil with juniper berries

                                            *prune and Armagnac compote

                                            dessert (with an coffee and, for those still standing, Armagnac, calvados, or cognac):

                                            *English trifle

                                            *chocolate roulade

                                            Everything was delicious! I forgot to put two Tbs of sugar into the roulade mixture, which made it a bit more bitter than intended, but the only ones to object were children,

                                            Raise your hand if you are jealous!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Jeff Roberts

                                              Not so much jealous, but wishing I had friends like you!! (I am the only obsessive/compulsive in my circle when it comes to cooking and entertaining--most of my friends entertain with Costco "specialties".)

                                            2. No wonder nobody ever answered my post about the Honey Baked Ham ham. Blech. It was so salty but I have done that to myself by cutting out all salt that I can help. I should have listened to the others that ordered online :-) Oh well, theres next year to start planning. PS I had to stand on line outside the store for 20 minutes plus the standing inside. Live and learn

                                              1. Love to cook, not much good at it. Have no business posting here (just read through entire thread: definitely out of my league!), but thought I'd share anyway:


                                                Cuban GF and I plan early holiday meal for group of 25. GF is called out of town last minute on business, Novice BF (that's me!) left to prepare Cuban menu all on his own (under strict instructions, of course):

                                                1. Boliche---Cuban style pot roast. Two 12 pound hunks of cow rump, stuffed with mashed garlic and chorizo. Braised in Vino Seco, with tomato, olives, and a truckload of cumin for 6 hours

                                                2. Black Beans and Rice---from scratch. Beans soak overnight, slow cooked all day: more cumin, fistfuls of bay leaves, forearms sore from constant stirring.

                                                3. Tostinos---Plantains, deep-fried a little, hammered flat, deep-fried again until crisp. Liberally salted. Cuban-style steak-fries, kind of...

                                                Served with salad. All food is devoured, scant leftovers. Attendees rave.


                                                GF decides to make ceviche to fulfill our duties for my family's large Xmas dinner (15 peeps). She's done it many times from memory, always delicious: A few pounds of Dover Sole, liberal amounts of fresh lime juice, tomato, avocado, serrano chiles. Several gardens worth of cilantro.

                                                GF preps, combines. Looks and smells great. After a few hours of marination, Novice BF (that's me!) worries aloud that ingredients are not steeped in enough liquid. GF dismisses. Novice BF privately panics, knowing supply of fresh limes has been exhausted. Novice BF---unbeknownst to GF---looks for and discovers processed lime juice (appealingly packaged in a plastic lime). Novice BF empties one plastic lime's worth of juice in ceviche concoction, satisfied that all ingredients are submerged.

                                                Resulting dish is horrifying: tastes like chalk, with subtle hints of hydrogen peroxide. Guests politely hide their frowns. Novice BF privately fesses up to the errant last-minute touch. GF is understandably angry, and eventually forgives me by The New Year...

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Eric Archer

                                                  Hey hey hey, don't put yourself down! It's important to hear from novices as well as experts here. And BTW that Boliche sounds scrumptious!

                                                2. CHRISTMAS EVE DISASTER

                                                  Transporting food to my Mom's house for x-mas eve dinner. Chocolate leaves to garnish trifle spread carefully on cookie sheet in passenger floor board. Yeast rolls rising on cookie sheet in passenger seat w/ a Gourmet mag for my Mom under them. Guy on DUI scooter stops suddenly in middle of road, I brake hard. Rolls fly into floor board, breakng many leaves. Mag then follows rolls, smearing many into the cookie sheet. I hold triffle in lap with one hand, drive w/ other (already difficult in a stick), helpless to assess damage.

                                                  Recovery - reformed rolls, let them rise again, they were fine. arranged broken chocolate leaves carefully interspersed w/ whole ones, still looked spectacular.

                                                  CHRISTMAS DAY DISASTER

                                                  Making 7 minute frosting, somehow not paying attention to time correctly, didn't cook it long enough, icing failed. Dumped out, started over. Just beginning to think maybe I had cooked it long enough when front door opens and husband says "come look at this" w/ urgent tone. What is in my dining room but a cardboard box of 5 kittens that some evil human scum had dumped in the woods across from my driveway on x-mas eve to die.

                                                  I made it back to the stove, the icing well cooked into a into a very small mass of thick, thick paste. Layer cake has coconut filling oozing out between 5 layers. I slap on icing which is not nearly enough to cover, smear filing, pull crumbs into icing, the worst looking frosting disaster you can imagine.

                                                  Recovery- Coconut is a miracle! It sticks to any thing. I slapped coconut on that cake like edible bondo. It looked great, you would never have known there was a problem. Delicious. AND I got to keep 2 of the kitties and found a "no-kill" shelter for the other 3.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: danna

                                                    My Theory:
                                                    A really good cook is one who can compensate...and triumph through the inevitable disasters--kudos to you!!!!!