Happy December, Readers! I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving surrounded by people you love best. The T. family had a wonderful, turkey-free holiday in Mexico. Well, it wasn’t totally turkey-free: on Thanksgiving, some oddball, highly energetic dude was dressed up like a giant turkey and was traumatizing unwitting guests around the pool area, but that was the only turkey action we encountered. People are strange and mysterious creatures.
Although the weather was a bit more temperamental than usual (we have el Nino to thank for that), there was still enough sunshine to allow plenty of swimming/waterslide time for the girls and Miss D. was a tireless beast at beach volleyball. This is the first year she’s really gotten into it, and every afternoon she’d walk up from the beach looking like some kind of sand creature.
We stayed at a different resort than the one we usually vacation at, and I must say, I had some issues with this one. It was just too dang big, and it was an all-inclusive, which I’ve decided that I really don’t care for. Too many buffet lines (with B- food), watered down cocktails and a Vegas-type hotel vibe. Plus, some people go absolutely bananas with the booze at all-inclusive places. Holy cow, some of those Brits and Canadians can pack it away! My husband and I looked like Puritans in comparison.
Still, it was lovely to feel the sun on our faces and get a change of scenery, so I can’t complain. Now that I’m home, though, I’m beginning to panic about the holidays. I’m not at all prepared, and the sheer amount of work facing me in the upcoming weeks is daunting to say the least. We’re going light on the gifts this year, but I still need to put something under that tree. And wrap those somethings, which is my most-loathed holiday chore. Not only do I not enjoy wrapping gifts, but I suckity-suck at it. Why waste the time wrapping presents when they end up looking like the dog wrapped them? Argh! It’s pointless! Anyone else out there wrapping-challenged like me?
After I tackled the gigantic mountain of post-vacation laundry this weekend (and hauled in a buttload of groceries), I was too tired to think about getting holiday decorations up in the house. Once the Minxes were back to school yesterday, though, I decked some of the halls. The tree will have to wait, but we’re looking a little festive here, now, and it’s a relief to check that box (at least partially).
Another holiday issue that needs attention? Holiday menu planning. Miss D. already has informed me that she needs her Honeybaked ham this year, so the main course is taken care of, but I need to drag out my cookbooks and find some inspiration for the rest of the feast.
When I plan my Christmas day menu, I always make sure to have some side dishes on the table that don’t need to be served piping hot. Oven and stovetop space are at a premium during the holidays, so it’s nice to have a few low-maintenance side dishes. This Winter Caprese Salad recipe definitely fits the bill, and I’m definitely including it this year.
I know, I know, you all are thinking I must be nuts–Caprese salad in the winter? Sacrilege!! Caprese salad belongs to summer, when tomatoes are sweet and juicy and loaded with flavor. Winter tomatoes are nothing to crow about. In fact, they’re hardly worth eating at all. What kind of lunatic plans Christmas Caprese?
Me. I serve Christmas Caprese because I have a little trick up my sleeve to rescue those sad-sack winter tomatoes. The trick is to slow roast them, which turns them into little flavor-bombs of concentrated tomatoey goodness. You can even roast the tomatoes for this salad a day or two early and refrigerate them, so all you have to do is assemble your salad about a half an hour to an hour before you want to serve it. How’s that for easy? Plus, look at those colors–doesn’t that just scream “holiday table?”
I also think your family and friends will thank you for offering something a little lighter than the traditional ass-busters; I like potatoes and gravy and rolls just fine, but it’s nice to serve up a few things that don’t send you into diabetic carbo-load. Who needs all that guilt? Save the guilt for the cookie platter and the tray of fudge.
Winter Caprese Salad
serves 10 (can easily be halved)
10 plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
salt and pepper
3/4 teaspoon dried thyme or herbs de Provence
2 cloves garlic, minceed
several balls of fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves
extra olive oil and balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Line a very heavy, rimmed baking sheet with several layers of heavy-duty foil.
Cut the tomatoes in half and toss with the olive oil. Arrange them, cut-side up, on baking sheet. Sprinkle tomatoes with sugar, salt, pepper. Drizzle the balsamic over them and sprinkle with dried herbs and minced garlic.
Roast in the oven until the tomatoes are deep red, reduced in size and the edges are caramelized, for about 3 hours (check them often after the first 1 1/2 hours–ovens vary wildly in temperature).
Tomatoes can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.
To serve, arrange tomatoes, mozzarella slices, and basil leaves on a large platter. Season to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
How about you, readers? Have you started holiday planning? Is there any holiday chore you dread most? What are you planning for your holiday feast, or can you just not even go there yet? Any genius tips or tricks to share with me? I could use all the help I can get! Happy Crazy Holiday Season!