During the holiday season, we all tend to indulge more than usual, making us feel like royalty. We especially want to treat ourselves before guilt and gustatory resolutions of the New Year fill our consciences and plates.
Here's my A-List of C-things, some a little naughty, but all very nice. Season's Cravings!
Chestnuts — those glossy, mahogany gems — piled high in netted bags at farmers markets, roasting on an open fire, or pureed in decorative tins, visit but once a year, so grab them while they're good and plenty.
Unlike most nuts and seeds, chestnuts are low in fat content and calories, although they have a load of starch, similar to sweet potatoes, along with a rich store of nutrients, including immune-boosting Vitamin C, fiber, bone strengthening calcium, nerve calming B-complex vitamins, in addition to cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fatty acids.
When buying fresh chestnuts, it can be a little dicey removing the tough, thin-skinned shells that encapsulate the creamy white soft kernels. So score the flat side with an "X," then boil in a pot of water for several minutes making them easy to peel.
Now warm the cockles of your heart with a steamy bowl of chestnut and butternut squash bisque. Dress the holiday bird with a chestnut and wild rice stuffing, or stir up a Middle Eastern braise of lamb, chestnuts and pomegranate paste. Some just desserts include a brandied chestnut soufflé, and compote of dried fruits in Madeira sauce. Then wash it down nicely with soothing sips of roasted chestnut liqueur.
While Chocolate is always a blissful delicacy, during holidays this "food of the gods" seems to find its way into fun and festive treats — chocolate rum balls, Christmas profiterole puddings, chocolate mocha panettones, hot peppermint cocoas, chocolate-adorned gingerbread houses, fondues, fondants, spiced chocolate eggnogs and marvelous martinis.
With 70 percent or higher cocoa content, a morsel of bittersweet chocolate becomes a superfood from its long list of trace minerals to amp up skin, bone and blood health, as well as mighty antioxidants (flavonoids and polyphenols) to put the skids on cancer-causing free radicals, boost heart health and sharpen memory.
There's more. This sweet little darling elevates mood, tempers stress and makes us all more amorous. Ho, ho, ho!
Yes, Caviar dreams can be enjoyed on all budgets, not just those of the rich and famous. This ultimate indulgence whether the pearl-sized, glossy black roe from the Beluga species of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea at a jaw-dropping $300 an ounce, or the translucent gray, melt-in-your-mouth eggs from Paddlefish indigenous to the Missouri and Mississippi river systems are equally luxurious.
All caviar needs to be handled with kid gloves, served with a non-metallic serving spoon like mother-of-pearl since metal imparts an unappetizing flavor to delicate roe. Chopped scallions, hard-boiled eggs, bilinis (buckwheat pancakes), and crème fraiche are traditional accompaniments. Red, black and amber roe also add a pop of eye candy and salty oomph to chilled soups, seafood pizzas, pastas, risottos and frittatas.
Cream of all manners — the layer of yellowy butterfat that rises to the top of unhomogenized milk — makes even the simplest dishes divine. But not all creams are created equal. Higher fat content gives a richer texture and flavor, rarely curdles, and whips in a jiff. Clotted cream made in Devonshire by a scalding process that forms a golden crust has a whopping fat content. Thick and spoonable, almost custard-like, a dollop'll do you over fresh berries, apple strudel or scones.
Whipping cream is a thick liquid that swells into an airy mound of delicate peaks. Alas, once whipped, this cream tends to lose its volume quickly, so dig in. While heavy whipping cream with a higher fat content whips up to a denser consistency, and holds its shape longer.
Add vanilla beans to create Chantilly cream. Float on hot cocoas or icy lattes, fold into mousses, top sundaes, French toast and pancakes, or blend plain cream into sauces, stews, soups, and mashed potatoes for a smooth texture, and toothsome flavor.
Crème fraiche, the secret weapon of French chefs, is a thick, silky, slightly sour cream created by a bacterial culture similar to that used in yogurt, delightful in dips, bisques, casseroles, quick breads, and as toppings for cobblers and fresh fruit. While half-and-half is a blend of whole milk and cream, making a cup of jo or bowl of berries more indulgent without the full wallop of butterfat.
Recipe: Tipsy Whipped Cream
• Ingredients: 1 cup heavy whipping cream; 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar; 2 teaspoons Frangelico or Amaretto; a few drops almond extract.
• Method: Beat cream in bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Whip in sugar, liqueur and extract. Spoon on your favorite drink or dessert.