Posts Tagged ‘New Year’s Eve Menus’

Year’s End (or Year’s Beginning) Peanut Soup

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008


I don’t see New Year’s Eve as a time for complicated cuisine. (Of course, I don’t actually see ANY holiday as a time for complicated cuisine. I’m a pretty basic cook!) I like to make something simple and spend the evening with friends and family.
It often snows on New Year’s Eve in Hawley, Massachusetts. In fact, it did today! Very small groups gather on my quiet street, grateful for congenial company and a wood stove. And no, we don’t always stay up until midnight. As my mother is wont to say, it’s always nearly midnight SOMEWHERE.
My simple new dish this New Year’s Eve is creamy peanut soup. Peanut soup is a classic dish for Kwanzaa, which ends on New Year’s Day. Like many Kwanzaa dishes and traditions, this soup is part African and part American: although peanuts are native to South America, early Spanish traders took them to Africa, and they returned to the Americas with slaves.
My version of peanut soup is adapted from a recipe from Colonial Williamsburg. It offers just a little spice and makes a cozy supper when served with cornbread near a warm fire.
Happy New Year–and Joyous Kwanzaa!


Creamy Peanut Soup
2 tablespoons sweet butter (plus a bit more if needed)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1-1/2 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken stock, warmed in a saucepan
3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
1 /2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)
3 splashes half and half (about 1/4 cup)
chopped peanuts or crumbled bacon to taste for garnish
In a 4-quart pot, melt the butter. Sauté the onion and celery pieces over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft (3 to 5 minutes).
Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes more. If the flour begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a bit more butter.
Pour in the chicken stock. Turn up the flame, and bring the stock to a boil, stirring. Reduce the heat to medium, and boil gently, partly covered, until the soup reduces and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid from time to time during this process, and stir frequently.
The next step depends on how you feel about the consistency of your soup. Several peanut soup recipes I saw (including the one from Colonial Williamsburg) asked the cook to strain the soup at this point, being careful to extract as much flavorful liquid as possible. If you are set on serving a smooth soup, you can also pulverize the soup carefully in a blender or food processor.
Personally, I rather like having little pieces of food in my soup so I bypassed this step altogether. My friend Raymond tells me that he has tried the soup both ways (he works hard in the kitchen!) and much prefers the blended version so I will probably try that next time, but I enjoyed the soup the way I made it.
Whisk in the peanut butter and the pepper flakes. I found that 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper added a lovely tang to the soup. If you love spice, add more; if you are not a spice person, leave it out. Continue whisking until the peanut butter is mixed into the liquid and the mixture comes just to a boil.
Whisk in half and half to taste, and continue to heat the soup just until it is warm; do not bring it to a boil.
Ladle the soup into bowls, and top with peanuts or bacon. Serves 4.


Our Apple Tree

Hawley on New Year's Eve: Our Apple Tree

Truffle in the Snow
Truffle in the Snow


A Snappy Christmas (or New Year’s!) Menu

Thursday, December 25th, 2008


          A few years ago I taught a recipe-writing workshop during reunion weekend at my college, Mount Holyoke. The participants worked during the workshop on linking memories to recipes. After the workshop ended, they were all supposed to e-mail me their finished recipes so that I could share them with the whole group.

          The weekend (and life!) got busy, and hardly anyone sent in the recipes. One exception to this rule was Mary McDowell of the Class of 1971. (Mary, I hope you don’t mind my giving away your graduation year!) I fell in love with her brisket recipe, possibly the easiest dish I’ve ever made! Chop onions, pour some stuff into a pan, and you’re done.

          Of course, I tinkered with it a bit. I do have trouble making recipes without tinkering. Mary bakes her brisket, covered, in a 250-degree oven for 8 to 10 hours (or more!). My sister-in-law Leigh and I were anxious to try out the All-Clad slow cooker, and the brisket seemed an ideal recipe for that pot. It was! We also cut back on the recipe. Mary originally called for a 10-pound cut of meat, but we have a small family. We used the full amount of beer and barbecue sauce she called for, although we might cut back on those a bit in future; the brisket was strongly flavored!

Mary wrote that this dish is a Christmas Eve tradition for her family. She caps it off with brownies topped with peppermint-stick ice cream, hot fudge, and crushed peppermint. We stopped after the ice cream, but the brownies à la mode did make an ideal (and snappy) finish. Add some noodles and a little green salad or vegetable, and the meal is just the thing for busy cooks who are tired from shopping, baking, partying, wrapping presents, and trying to be extra good for Santa!

I know I’m posting this too late for readers to prepare my menu on Christmas. I recommend it for New Year’s Eve as well, however. The tangy brisket and extra chocolaty brownies will keep you warm and start your year off deliciously.

Merry Christmas!


Mary’s Cousin’s Overnight Brisket (Adapted by Tinky and Leigh)

1 3-pound slab beef brisket

2 onions, sliced into rings

12 ounces beer

12 ounces high-quality barbecue sauce

1 pound carrots, cleaned and sliced in half


          The evening before you wish to eat the brisket, place it in the bottom of a slow cooker. Throw the onions on top, and top with the beer and barbecue sauce. Cook on the low setting overnight.

          The next morning, stir the carrots into the stew. Continue to cook all day, still on low. Two hours before you want to eat, turn the heat up to high. Serve with noodles.

          Serves 6 to 8. 


Fabulous Fudgy Brownies (Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter

2 cups sugar

2/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon vanilla

4 eggs

1 -1/2 cups flour

12 ounces (2 cups) chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with foil, and grease the foil.

In a good-sized saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. (The saucepan should be big enough so that it can double as your mixing bowl.) Add the sugar, and stir to combine.  Return the mixture to the heat briefly—until hot but not bubbling.  (It will become shiny looking as you stir it.)  Remove it from the heat, and let it cool briefly while you assemble the other ingredients.

Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder, and vanilla.  Add the eggs, beating until smooth; then add the flour and chocolate, beating well until combined.  Spoon the batter into your pan.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry (it may have a few crumbs). Remove them from the oven.  After 5 to 10 minutes, loosen the edges of the foil.  Cool completely before cutting and serving.

Makes about 2 dozen brownies, depending on how large you cut them.

Michael REALLY likes these brownies!
Michael REALLY likes these brownies!