‘Tis the Season

Ah, the holidays. Though it may vary depending on where you live and what you believe, there are usually pine trees or pine tree pieces about, annoying holiday-themed pop music playing in stores, images of an old bearded man everywhere, or perhaps a menorah.

My parents are both Episcopalians, and I was raised attending Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve right after a big dinner and gift opening. I think the main reason we opened gifts on Xmas Eve is the simple fact that it’s nearly impossible to tell four kids to wait until the next day for their presents. But we did get our stockings on Xmas morning, usually full of all sorts of random items picked by my dad at the convenience store sometime after we went to bed. Oranges, apples, mini notepads, pens and pencils, nuts, decks of cards, and of course, candy. Lots of it. By 8:12 the next morning, we were all in a serious sugar coma in front of the TV, my little brother and I on opposite ends of the couch torturing each other with our feet.

Things change when you become an adult. I married a man who has no super strong ties to the holidays. His family is not religious at all and his father was a cop, so the actual celebration often happened on a day that wasn’t the 25th. This particular tradition continues to this day, because Brian is an emergency physician with a random schedule. He was off the week of Thanksgiving this year, which I prefer, but it means he’s working all over Xmas.

And now we have a little one of our own. Edie is 2 this year, a little young for fully understanding all of it, but she does recognize “Atty Claus” and enjoys removing all the ornaments from the tree and hiding them in random locations. But as the years pass, I’ll be able to share the season with her when Brian’s working, which will be nice. We have no religious ties to the season, but I’m sure we’ll develop traditions of our own along the way. Brian particularly likes the story of The Polar Express and its bell that can only be heard by true believers, so he’s convinced me that when Edie rings the little bell that came with the book, we’re to pretend we can’t hear it. We’re good for a few years of entertainment with that one.

But for me, it really comes down to food. It always has and always will. I’m not sure yet when the actual dinner will be this year, but Brian’s parents will be here to share it. I had big aspirations of ordering something exotic, like pheasant, but I didn’t get my shit together soon enough. So maybe I’ll roast a huge hunk of beef or bison, or maybe that huge elk tri-tip roast I saw at the store. Whatever it is, my holidays would feel incomplete without it. If I could, I would completely eliminate gift-giving in favor of everyone gathering at my house for a good meal and friendly conversation mood-lit by the lights on the tree.

I also make treats for my local friends. This is my first holiday season as a Paleo/Primal adherent, so this was a fun challenge. I wasn’t aiming for 100% strict, I feel like the holidays are a great time to let loose a little. I decided to go for full shock value and made dark chocolate-covered bacon, festively adorned with either shredded coconut or chopped pistachios. Oh yeah. And some butter-and-beer-glazed mixed nuts, which are basically like crack and are super dangerous to have around. My vegetarian friends didn’t miss out though. In addition to the nuts, they got some macaroons drizzled in dark chocolate.

All of these are easy to make in bulk. I packaged them in clear cellophane bags with a silver twisty tie, but you could go wild with the presentation if you so desired. Check craft stores like Michael’s or specialty kitchen stores for fun ways to gift your treats. Think Chinese-style take-out boxes, decorative tins, or Mason jars. Again, I apologize for the lack of great photos. I meant to take some good ones of the whole process, but things were a bit hectic and hurried in the end. But don’t worry—it’s all pretty simple.

What are your holiday plans? Making any Paleo or otherwise tasty treats?

Butter-and-Beer-Glazed Nuts

Edited 12/21/11 – Mixed up some measurements from different batches…they’ve been corrected!

2/3 stick pastured butter

1/3 cup honey

1 cup medium- or dark-bodied beer (I used Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar—yum!)

pinch of salt

10 cups mixed nuts (Roasted or raw, doesn’t matter. I used a mixture of almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, and pumpkin seeds.)

1) Preheat oven to 350°F. Melt butter in large (4 qt. or more) pot over medium-high heat. Whisk in honey until combined. Add beer and salt, crank heat up to high. Let bubble and boil for 25-30 minutes, until reduced and syrupy.

2) Remove from heat and stir nuts in until thoroughly coated. Spread nuts in a thin layer onto two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Pop in the oven, set timer for 7 minutes.

3) Remove and let cool. Package and try not to eat all of them. Seriously.

Makes about 5 decent servings.

Dark Chocolate-Covered Bacon

I saw a few recipes out there that seemed unnecessarily complex. I’m too lazy for that stuff. Just dip and decorate ’em.

2 packs bacon (about 2 dozen pieces)

2 cups dark chocolate, either chips or chopped

1 cup finely shredded coconut

1/2 cup finely chopped pistachios

1) Bake the bacon, this is the best way to do it in bulk. It also allows the bacon to remain mostly flat. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lay bacon on rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper or foil, taking care not to crowd it so it crisps up. Bake for 10-15 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through to ensure even cooking. Remove from oven, let cool for 5 minutes, then blot with paper towels. As much as we love our bacon fat, it just doesn’t work in this case.

2) Melt chocolate, either in the microwave (use a glass bowl) in 1 minute increments or gently over medium-low heat on the stove. Using tongs, dip bacon into chocolate and place on yet another baking sheet with parchment paper. When half of batch is dipped and chocolate is still liquid, cover with one of the toppings. Repeat with other half of bacon and other topping and put sheets in the fridge to harden.

3) Package and gift. For an extra kick, don’t tell anyone what it is and let them discover for themselves.

Makes 2 dozen pieces.

Macaroons with Dark Chocolate Drizzle

6 egg whites (save yolks for later use)

Pinch salt

1/2 cup honey (make sure it’s liquid enough to pour)

1 Tbsp. vanilla

2 1/2 cups shredded coconut

1 cup dark chocolate, chips or chopped

1) Preheat oven to 250°F. With an electric mixer or beater, beat egg whites until almost-stiff peaks form. Add salt and vanilla, then slowly pour in honey while whipping the eggs. Fold in the shredded coconut with a spatula until thoroughly mixed, taking care not to deflate the eggs.

2) Using a large cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop the mixture onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about an inch apart.

3) Bake cookies until golden around the edges, about 50-55 minutes (they will continue to firm up out of the oven). Allow to cool briefly on the cookie sheet, then remove with a thin spatula to a cooling rack to cool completely.

4) Melt chocolate, either in the microwave (use a glass bowl) in 1 minute increments or gently over medium-low heat on the stove. Drizzle cookies with chocolate and place in fridge to harden. Package them up and give ’em to those you love. Or eat them all for yourself, I won’t judge.

Makes somewhere between 3-4 dozen, depending on size.

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3 Responses to “‘Tis the Season”

  1. the nuts look awesome! I went for it but ended up burning the pot. It was turning dark/black after about 10 minutes on high. Maybe it’s a dumb man mistake… do you have to consistently stir the butter/honey/beer/salt mixture for the 25-30 duration?

    Round two coming up!

    • OMG, you know what…I just realized that I forgot something and mixed up a measurement. Oh dear heavens. The butter and beer should be doubled. I made a small batch and a larger batch and mixed ’em up! Will edit to fix that.

      I totally owe you a new pot.

  2. Don’t worry about it! Thanks for responding so fast – I was able to double that stuff on the fly while cookin it up! We got tons of crate barrel/William sonoma gift cards anyway if that pot met its end!

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