Every year around the holidays, there is an onslaught of articles about how to eat healthily, avoid weight gain and resist the temptation to overindulge.
This is not one of those articles.
I like food. I like champagne with appetizers. I love talking and eating over wonderful food prepared by loving hands. Should I apologize for that? No, it wouldn’t be sincere. So, I won’t.
When winter shortens the days and cools the air and brings Christmas to Florida, it will never be like Christmas in Connecticut. We’re more likely to be wearing flip-flops while picking out that blue spruce than donning fur-lined boots. I know because, like many Floridians, I’m a northerner by birth, but a Floridian by choice.
While we won’t be building snowmen or shoveling snow, we will be enjoying the comfort and seductiveness of good food and family. The tempting scents of vanilla, cinnamon, and pumpkin saturate stores and homes this time of the year. Impossible-to-resist food fills our refrigerators and our stomachs.
But, let’s talk about those lovingly prepared foods. Whether you’re stuck inside looking at a snow-covered mountain or sitting by the pool soaking up Vitamin D and drinking Mimosas (purely for the benefits of the Vitamin C), the winter holidays are for building lasting traditions and spending time with our loved ones.
I love to cook. I love to bake. I love to eat. Doesn’t everyone love at least one of those? With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror you’d think we would have had enough of turkey, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not in my home.
The act of replicating the holiday meal of our childhood brings comfort and joy. Some foods have changed for the better, thank goodness. The canned yams with marshmallows on top have been replaced with a smooth, creamy sweet potato casserole.
Here’s the recipe. Try it. You will never use those canned yams again. (Sorry canned yam industry.)
Sweet Potato Casserole
- Bake 3 pounds of sweet potatoes at 350 until soft. Discard skin.
- Mix in ½ stick softened butter with an electric mixer
- (combine the following ingredients)
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- dash salt
- 1 egg beaten
- 1 cup mini marshmallows
- mix and put in casserole dish
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- (mix together and smooth over sweet potato mixture)
- bake 325 for 20 to 25 minutes
Using turkey drippings for your gravy – while ridiculously delicious – clog the arteries, so the doctors say. But can using it once a year really kill you? I’m not a doctor so I don’t know, but I’ll take a chance. It’s not something I would do every day, every week or even every month, but once, twice a year? Come on, our mothers did it for years.
Most families have developed their own unique traditions. Whether they have their holiday meal in the afternoon, the evening or at midnight. Whether they’re on a sugar-free diet, a gluten-free diet, meat-free diet, the “what would Jesus Eat Diet,” (yes there is such a thing), it’s irrelevant. Enjoy your meal, guilt-free. After all, it’s only food. And food is part of the tradition of enjoying the holiday. Sitting down together sharing conversation and love is the goal.
For me, the most alluring scent of the season is the dessert portion of the meal. I have nothing against the smell of a baked turkey stuffed with dressing chocked full of onions, celery, bread and poultry spices; the fresh aroma of warm, newly baked rolls hot from the oven; and the wholesome, savory whiff of roasted potatoes. These aromas instantly transport me back in time to childhood. Good, happy, traditional memories.
Now, back to that dessert portion of the meal. I read somewhere that sweets increase our production of the so-called hormone of happiness. And, after all, chocolate does lower your blood pressure. Therefore, we’re happier and healthier after dessert. Sounds like a solid reason for a piece of Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake. After all, there is protein in peanut butter. It’s the dessert trifecta: happiness hormone, low blood pressure and protein. Here’s the recipe.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake
- 1 ½ cups Oreo cookie crumbs
- ¼ cup butter unsalted, melted
- Mix Oreo crumbs in a food processor
- Add melted butter
- Spray 9” Springform pan with Pam
- Press onto bottom of the pan and put in the freezer (the day before)
- ¾ cup of smooth peanut butter
- 4 8-ounce packages cream cheese (softened)
- 1 ½ cups sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2-teaspoons vanilla
- 4 lightly beaten eggs
- 2-cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
- ½ cup semisweet chocolate chip
- 3-tablespoons butter unsalted
- Coarsely chopped honey roasted peanuts
Place prepared Springform pan on a double thickness heavy-duty foil (18 in. square). Securely wrap foil around pan. Spray inside of the pan with Pam.
Beat the cream cheese, sugar, flour and vanilla until smooth. Add eggs; beat on low until combined.
Divide batter in half. Stir melted chocolate into one portion; pour onto crust and smooth. Stir peanut butter into the remaining batter; smooth over chocolate layer. Place Springform pan in a large baking pan; add 1 in. of boiling water to larger pan.
Bake at 350° for 75 minutes. Remove pan from water bath; remove foil when cooled (15 minutes). Cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight.
Heat damp washcloth in microwave and rub around sides and bottom of the pan (this loosens cake). Unclasp side of the pan and a run knife under the crust. Move cheesecake onto cake circle.
For glaze: melt chocolate chips and butter (65 seconds) in the microwave; stir until smooth. Spread over cheesecake. Top with coarsely chopped honey roasted peanuts. (refrigerate)
I hope you all enjoy your family traditions this holiday season – and maybe try a new recipe or two to incorporate into that tradition. While my childhood memories of the holidays are full of cold and snow and wonderful food, Florida is home. It’s where my children and their children’s traditions have been built and will continue.