“When I grow up, I’m only going to do the things I like to do.”
My son has lived a charmed life so far. In addition to two older sisters doting upon him and a mother and a father who find it difficult to resist the impish grin he inherited from his dad, he has a fun-loving nature which usually protects him from any drudgery that comes his way. This Autumn, though, he’s been a bit disgruntled by a change in his comfortable life.
With his oldest sister going off to college, he no longer can stay at home while my husband and I are attending meetings and carpooling our other daughter to various activities. The other day, while he was being taken against his will, to a meeting of mine, he declared that he was only going to do things which he liked when he grew up.
Being the terrible parent that I am, I laughed, and my confused son wanted to know what was so funny. I told him that unfortunately for him, life is very much made up of activities which people don’t often like to do but simply must. He didn’t understand, so I asked him how he’d feel if I gave up doing things I didn’t like as much as other activities such as playing 20 questions with him on car rides or reading the same book to him over and over again or doing his laundry or washing his dishes three meals a day every single day.
It’s been a couple of days now, and my son still hasn’t answered my question. *laugh* I’m thinking he didn’t quite like the picture I had painted for him!
I was reminded of this conversation last night when I received an email: “Dear Paula,” it said. “I hate to cook, and I have to host Christmas dinner. Do you have any suggestions for something easy which will still impress my family?”
The fact is that many people don’t like to cook, and holidays can be stressful if suddenly you’re the one selected to host. Fortunately there are many easy menu suggestions, and I’ll share what I shared in my email:
If you’re hosting a large gathering, don’t want to do a lot of work, and want something which will taste good no matter how poor a cook you may be, you can’t go wrong with a tenderloin. It’s a very tender meat, needing very hands-off cooking, and can withstand any overcooking you might do. Plus you have choices: beef, pork, or turkey, and if you make a special sauce to spoon over it, people will think you’ve slaved away when in reality you’ve done very little.
Easy Holiday Dinner Menu:
1. The tenderloin: Choose which type you prefer, mix together some dried herbs of your choosing with a tiny bit of olive oil and rub all over the tenderloin. Put the tenderloin into a pan which just fits the meat, cover with aluminum foil, and cook in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes per pound. Most packages will suggest you use a preheated 400 or 425 degree oven, but you can also cook the meats at 350 or 375 degrees for a slower roasting time. When it’s done, you can simply turn off your oven, and let the meat sit in the oven until you’re ready to serve it.
2. The sauce: You can find all sorts of sauce recipes for tenderloin online, but one I always get rave reviews for is an artichoke cream sauce which I make: Drain a 14 ounce container of artichoke bottoms (can be found at the grocery store next to artichoke hearts), keeping the liquid. Mix the liquid with enough “milk” to make 2 cups. (I usually use soy or flax, but any will do.) Puree the artichoke bottoms in a food processor with 1/4 cup dry or cooking white wine (if you don’t want to use the alcohol, just use 1/4 cup of water or “milk”). In a large shallow pan, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil for about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup flour (I usually use a gluten free oat flour, but any will do), whisking well. Slowly pour the artichoke liquid/milk mixture into the rue, whisking well to combine the liquid with the flour mixture. Keep stirring, and let the mixture thicken, usually just a few minutes will do it. Add 1/8 tsp of black pepper and 1/4 tsp of dried thyme. Mix in the pureed artichoke bottoms until the sauce is smooth and creamy. Serve in a pretty dish with a ladle or in a gravy boat. Note: This can be made ahead of time and then just reheated before use.
3. The veggie side dish: Choose any frozen vegetable you like, but one my children love is green beans. Put the frozen veggies into a large shallow pan with 1/2 cup or more of frozen diced onions. Add dried herbs of your choosing and black pepper to taste. Sprinkle a bit of olive oil, maybe a tsp or two, and simply saute the frozen veggies over low heat until they are cooked through. Starting with frozen veggies and cooking them over low heat means you don’t have to do more than occasionally stir the veggies, and if you forget about them, and overcook them a little, they still taste good, because the slow cooking allows the flavors to meld more.
4. The starchy side dish: You can’t go wrong with rice, ever. It doesn’t require a lot from you, and you can jazz it up very easily. I have a rice cooker which makes things even easier, but even if you have to make the rice in a pot on a stop, it’s still very hands-off: Purchase an uncooked rice medley. I like a Trader Joe’s mix which is long grain brown rice, black barley, and daikon seeds, but any will do. Cook the rice according to instructions (which is usually to just let it simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally) but instead of water use a low sodium, fat free vegetable or chicken broth, and add finely chopped veggies like carrots, zucchini, broccoli, peppers, or squash. When the rice cooks, the flavors of the broth and veggies, as well as the pretty colors, will make for a special side dish which required very little work.
5. The dessert: If you want something which seems fancy and is very pretty, but also quite easy, an upside down pineapple cake is the way to go. You can prepare this ahead of time.
At your grocery store, pick-up a fresh, peeled, cored pineapple. My store usually has it in a clear 18 oz container in the fruit section. Remove the core, and slice the pineapple into eight slices (they’ll be about 1/2 inch thick). Decide what you want for your cake: circles, half circles, or 1/4 fans. (I usually cut the circles into the 1/4 fans, because I think it’s prettier that way.)
In a shallow, large pan, melt 1/4 cup “butter” (I use Earth Balance soy-free, vegan butter) with 1/4 cup Agave. Add the pineapples and cook for 5 minutes, flipping them after about 2 1/2 minutes. Remove the pineapple slices, putting onto the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan. Cook the butter mixture another minute until it’s thickened, and then evenly pour it over the pineapple slices.
Mix 2 cups of a brown rice gluten free flour blend like Authentic Foods or King Arthur with 1/2 cup sorghum flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/tsp cardamom. Set aside.
Mix 1 cup Toffuti sour cream with 1/2 cup safflower oil, 2 eggs, and 2/3 cup Agave.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and quickly mix them together just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Carefully spread the batter over the pineapples. If the batter doesn’t go completely to the edges, don’t worry, it’ll spread when cooking.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. The cake will be golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean. When you take the cake out of the oven, you can cool it on a wire cooling rack and then flip it or you can flip it immediately and then let it cool on a wire rack. Either way, though, be sure to flip it onto a pretty platter which has a rim for catching any of the syrup. If a pineapple is stuck on the bottom of the pan, just pull it off and insert it back into its missing space.
When you serve the cake, you can serve it with whipped cream or ice cream or just plain, by itself.