Creative Holiday Cooking

The Creative Kitchen During the Holiday Season

Holiday magic often begins in the kitchen. Creating traditions is yet another way to build creativity, and the holiday season is a wondrous time to begin a new tradition or rediscover an old one. So as you step into your kitchen this month, involve your children, explore together, and have fun!

Tips for Holiday Cooking
Make it simple.
As with anything, if it is too complicated to keep up with, chances are good you won’t. When cooking with kids, start with simple recipes and creations that are not too involved in order to minimize that all too familiar feeling of being overwhelmed by the holidays.

Keep it festive.
Play holiday music while you are cooking or bring some of your holiday decorations into your kitchen. If you have room, set up a place in your kitchen where family members can take a break from cooking to make decorations for the windows or ones that can hang from the lights.

Let it snow!
Sifting flour, dusting with powder sugar, and other holiday cooking can often result in mess making. Be okay with a mess for the sake of holiday fun and creativity.

Things to Make and Do

Most families have a favorite sugar cookie or gingerbread recipe for using holiday cookie cutters with. Once you have made a batch, and before decorating, pop them in the freezer for use all month long. When packing a lunch, include a small container of icing and decorating items or pull out a few at a time after dinner for a special creative dessert.

Marzipan originates from Persia an introduced to Europe by way of the Turks. It is now widely used throughout Europe during the holiday season to make decorative sweets. Mix in the appropriate food colorings and you have a wonderful edible play-dough for your children to make animal scenes, or other festive and creative desserts. Try making a yule log cake and use marzipan to add your favorite woodland creatures and flora to the scene.

Tamales are a traditional Mexican Christmas dish that is sometimes too spicy for children, and even overwhelming for adults to try and organize. Tamales are actually easier than their reputation leads them to be. The steps are relatively simple:
1. Make masa by combining 3 ½ cups vegetable stock, 1 cup butter or olive oil, 1 T. salt, and 6 cups masa harina flour. Beat until the dough is a soft, paste consistency.
2. Soak dried cornhusks for about 30 minutes. You can also use banana leaves, if you prefer. When soft, spread desired amount of masa on cornhusk. Top with filling/topping of your choice. Let your kids experiment with what goes into their tamal. Try chocolate pieces, favorite fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, grated carrots, zucchini, or beets, corn, or cheese. Serve with your favorite cream topping, sauce or salsa.
3. Wrap your tamales however you would like your little presents to be: roll them up with bows on either end (you can use pieces of the cornhusks to make small ties), fold them over and ties in the middle, or however else your little present makers want them to be.
4. Place tamales on end in a pan (unless they are tied on both ends – then you can just toss them in), and steam for about 5 minutes.
Enjoy trying your hand at this wonderful tradition and let your kids make it their own.

Bread is a common holiday treat that easily lends itself to creating together. Nothing says holiday for me like braiding Nana’s Coffee Bread (see recipe at the end of this article) into a wreath and decorating it to suit my mood. If that is feeling too complicated for you, use quartered bisquits to make a tree and cover with your favorite stick blend of sugar, maple syrup, raisins and cinnamon, or for an easy bread foray with kids, try the pretzel recipe below.
Cheese Pretzels

1. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon yeast in 3 Tablespoons warm water. Watch it “work”. Spend some time talking about the yeast “eating” the sugar and needing (like all living things) food (the sugar) and warmth (the water) to grow. If the yeast takes a bit of extra time to work (which ours usually does), act it out! If you could only see us in our kitchen on days when we use yeast-- we, as yeast, don’t just “work”, we bounce, explode, and chicken dance all at once! It’s quite the sight.
2. Add
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ c. flour
- 2 Tablespoons cheese
3. Stir and Knead.
4. Cut into 3-4 pieces
5. Roll into “worms”, and shape
6. Brush with milk or a beaten egg
7. Sprinkle with salt, sesame seeds, or other topping of your choice
8. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes

Warm drinks are definitive for the holiday season. While it is always wonderful to see the emergence of egg nog in the stores this time of year, before stocking up on it try to make your own. In our house, we’ve been having fun making nut nog. Blend your soaked/sprouted almonds, cashews, or other favorite nuts and use a sprouting bag to strain out the nut meal. Add sweetener, nutmeg, cinnamon and other favorite spices to make your own nog. Explore with variations of hot chocolate, add spices, crushed candy cane or essence of peppermint. Keep a monthly tally of all the ways you have tried it and then take a family vote of the favorites.

So get on in there and cook up some holiday magic!

Nan’s Swedish Coffee Bread
Dissolve 2 cakes of yeast and a T. of sugar in warm water
Let it stand until it works.
Better than a cupp of sugar
1 ½ cubes butter
1-2 cups of boiling water
dash of salt
1 large can of evaporated milk
4 eggs or their equivalent
flour to thicken
add yeast
add more flour to thicken and 2 T. cardamom

Workout on floured board
Place in lightly greased bowl and cover with a towl.
Let rise to double.
Braid in straight loaves or circular wreaths.
Let rise.
Brush tops with milk and butter.
Bake at 350-375 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Brush tops with milk and sprinkle with sugar and nuts.
Enjoy with family and friends!