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This week is the best of the holidays

by: ,

I love this week between Christmas and New Years. Everyone you meet is cheerful, the joy of Christmas is still fresh in our hearts and as if to savor the splendor, life's pace slows a bit.

We usually get to spend part of this week visiting my parents in Klamath Falls, where Christmas is usually white with snow. We may iceskate; some of us may snowboard or ski. We catch up on movies, play cards, read, work on jigsaw puzzles and eat far too much fudge, popcorn balls and frosted sugar cookies. It is truly a vacation.

Growing up, my brothers and sisters counted on having snow for Christmas and during Christmas break. We would spend the Christmas vacation building the perfect sledding runs down the hill on the backside of the park across the street from our house. The entire roster of neighborhood children gathered to careen down the slopes again and again. We'd sled all day, with intermittent breaks back to the house for hot cocoa and dry mittens.

Even though it was coldest at night, I loved sledding by moonlight. At 7, I understood completely Clement Clarke Moore's lines from 'The Night Before Christmas':

'The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow

Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.'

The luster was awesome. Add that awe to the wonder of the week's events, and you couldn't help but feel that magic occurred during Christmas vacation.

Some of my most-cherished Christmas season memories are of spending the day sledding, ice skating or cross-country skiing out in the woods. My parents would pack a picnic lunch of Satsuma oranges, Christmas cookies, hot cocoa and a Dutch oven of chili to be warmed by campfire. Nothing warms bodies better than a steaming bowl of chili eaten around a campfire in the snow.

As I write this, I watch snowflakes drift gently onto the street outside our offices in downtown Lake Oswego. I can hear the voices of children who are enjoying an early holiday break. More snow is in the forecast, and perhaps - if we are really lucky - it's snowing as you read this article.

Whatever the weather, I hope you will capture some of the wonder of the season this last week of the year. Slow down and enjoy the holiday cheer and magic.

Creating a memory of the holidays can be as simple as dunking a few marshmallows into a mug of Homemade Hot Chocolate or sharing a warming bowl of chili. I am giving you recipes for both, and a bonus - a recipe to make your own marshmallows!

The chili recipe is one my brother Tom Smith created for a Faculty and Staff Chili Cook Off at Lake Oswego High School this fall. No surprise to me, Tom's chili won! Your family will agree it's a winner!

Bon Appetit! Enjoy the Season!

Mr. Smith's Chili

The two recipes that I blended were 'Pork Chili with Tomatoes' and 'Black Bean and Espresso Chili' from the Bon Appetite cookbook. The first has no beans and the second has no meat … go figure! I'm estimating some of the ingredient measurements - probably this recipe makes about '8-ish servings.' It is flavorful, but not too spicy. Maybe we should call it 'Wide Awake Pork Chili' or 'Keep that Pig Moving' because it has espresso in it. You decide.

TS

Ingredients:

2 pounds poblano chilies (8 +/- large)

4 pounds pork - suggest country style spareribs

Flour to coat meat (if desired)

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

4 cups coarsely chopped onion

6 garlic cloves - minced

2 tablespoons oregano

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoons chili powder (more to taste)

2 - 3 tablespoons instant espresso powder

6 - 8 cups chicken broth

1 28-oz can diced tomato in juice

3 cans black beans, rinsed and drained

Char chilies over flame or under broiler until blackened on all sides. Let rest in a paper sack for 10 minutes. Peel and seed. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Trim and cut pork into 1-inch pieces; season with salt and pepper. I used a minimal amount of flour to coat. Using high heat put oil in large, heavy pan - a Dutch oven gives it that authentic look - and brown the meat on all sides in batches. Cook about four to six minutes per batch. Place browned meat in a bowl using a slotted spoon.

Reduce heat to medium and add onions (and more oil as necessary) and sauté until tender and translucent. Add garlic, oregano, cumin and chili powder and sauté for another 2-3 minutes. Add espresso and stir just to mix in. Return the meat to the Dutch oven (including the juice that has been released), broth, chilies, and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the beans. Cook until meat is tender - at least 2 hours.

One recipe called for a garnish of sour cream, which might be a nice touch, especially if you spice it up. Enjoy!

Tom Smith

Five:30

A five-ingredient delight, ready in 30 minutes or less.

Homemade Hot Chocolate

Makes 92 8-ounce servings (5 ¾ cups dry mix)

3 ½ cups sugar

2 ¼ cups cocoa

1 tablespoon salt

Milk for serving

In a large bowl, combine sugar, cocoa and salt and whisk to combine. Store the mixture in an airtight container.

For individual servings, pour 8 ounces of milk per person into a saucepan. Warm the milk over medium-low heat, taking care not to let the milk boil. As it warms, add 2 tablespoons of the mix per each cup of milk. Stir to combine.

MarthaStewart.com

Bonus Five:30 Recipe

These won't be ready in 30 minutes (they need to dry overnight) but you can prepare them in about 45 minutes. They are fun and a real treat!

Homemade Marshmallows

2 ½ tablespoons unflavored gelatin

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

Confectioners' sugar (for dusting)

Combine gelatin and ½ cup cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer with whisk attachment. Let it stand 30 minutes.

Combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and ½ cup of water in a small heavy saucepan; place over low heat and stir until sugar has dissolved. Wash down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.

Clip on a candy thermometer; raise the heat to high. Cook syrup without stirring until it reaches 244ºF (firm ball stage). Immediately remove pan from heat.

With mixer on low speed, slowly and carefully pour syrup into the softened gelatin. Increase speed to high, beat until mixture is very thick and white and has almost tripled in volume, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla; beat to incorporate.

Generously dust an 8 x 12 inch glass baking pan with confectioners' sugar. Pour marshmallow mixture into pan. Dust with confectioners' sugar; let stand overnight, uncovered, to dry out.

Cut into squares of desired size or cut with cookie cutters sprayed with cooking spray.

MarthaStewart.com

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 ext. 101 or by email at brandall@lakeoswego

review.com .