Dining With Miss Lil: Keep or Create Family Traditions

By Lil Nickelson

The holidays are great times to teach your kids about cooking and entertaining with your style. Make them play different roles throughout the process so that they can observe and learn. Have them write down the names of the dishes you will prepare. Then have them make an ingredients list and the quantity needed of each item on the list. Now have them go through your kitchen and write the word “HAVE” in capital letters next to the items you have in the correct quantity needed. Let them know that you have to go shopping to purchase all the other items not marked with have on your list.

Take them shopping with you, and teach them which brands you buy and why. Make sure that you checks for expiration dates. Once you arrive back home, tell them they are now your “sous chef” (second in command) when you start preparing the various dishes. If you have more than one child then rotate the role from dish to dish so that each one gets a chance to assume the role.

I started toasting the bread and break it up for the turkey dressing when I was 5 years old. They let me break the cornbread up once it got cool for the cornbread stuffing. My older sister Helena would sauté the diced onions and celery, but I got to mix them in with the bread for the stuffing.

Dress up the table that the food will be served on with decorations in autumn colors. Pull out your best plates, glasses and silverware, and teach your kids how to set a stylish and practical table when you dine in your place.

This year I will be a guest at a close friend’s first Christmas in his new apartment. He asked me to bring two dessert dishes. I will make the Caramel Pecan Diamonds the night before, and the other dish, Pear Tartin, I will mis en place (assemble the ingredients out in their portion sizes before hand) that morning, and fix it while we are eating dinner.

World renowned Pastry Chef Nick Malgieri, who presently teaches at the Institute of Culinary Education is the source of the following recipe:

Caramel Pecan Diamonds

Sweet Pastry Dough:

2 cups all purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 stick cold, sweet butter (4 oz)

2 large eggs

Caramel Pecan Filling:

2/3 cup light corn syrup

1 ¼ cups light brown sugar

½ stick sweet butter

½ cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 tablespoon dark rum

3 ½ cups chopped pecans

Pre heat oven to 350 degrees.

  1. For the dough, combine the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well to mix. Cut the butter into 8 or 10 pieces and add to the dry ingredients. Rub the butter in finely. Be careful that the mixture remains cool and powdery. Beat the eggs lightly and stir them into the dough with a fork. Continue stirring until the dough is smooth. Form the dough into a rectangle about 1-inch thick and wrap in plastic. Chill the dough until it is firm, about 1 hour.
  2. Butter a 10- x 15-inch jelly roll pan (half bake sheet). Roll the dough onto the rolling pin, then unroll it into the pan. Press the dough well into the bottom and sides of the pan and fold the excess dough into the pan. Make a high fluted edge around the edge of the pan. Chill the dough-lined pan while preparing the filling.
  3. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Combine the corn syrup and sugar in a saucepan and mix well. Place on medium heat and stir occasionally, until the syrup comes to a boil. At the boil, add the butter and cream and return to a boil. Simmer the mixture for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and rum.
  1. Place the chopped pecans in a heat-proof mixing bowl. Pour the cooked syrup over the pecans and stir well to mix. Pour the filling on the dough in the pan and spread it evenly with a metal spatula.
  1. Bake the pastry on the lowest rack of the oven for about 30 minutes. Turn the pan occasionally to make sure that the dough and the filling bake evenly. Remove the pan from the oven and cool it on a rack to room temperature. Wrap the pan in plastic wrap and chill overnight.
  2. To unmold the pastry, run a small, sharp knife between the crust and the sides of the pan. Place the pan on low heat for a few seconds to loosen the pastry. Place a cookie sheet on the top and invert. Remove the pan in which the pastry baked and replace it with a cutting board. Invert, remove the cookie sheet and trim away the edges of the pastry.

7. Cut the pastry into 1 1/2-inch diamonds.

Pear Tarte Tatin

1 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons sweet butter

1 to 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

3 ¾ lbs. (6 to 7) firm ripe Bosc pears (peeled, cut lengthwise in half and cored)

1 sheet puff pastry (Pepperidge Farms sells 2 sheets in a package in the freezer section)

2 pints of vanilla ice cream (I recommend Breyer’s or Haagen Daz)

Pre heat oven to 425 degrees.

Follow the manufacturer’s directions for bringing the puff pastry sheet to room temperature and making it ready to use.

Melt the butter in a 9 to 10 inch cast iron skillet (or oven safe pan) over medium high heat and add the sugar.

Gently stir until the sugar starts to turn brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn the sugar, as it will continue to cook since the pan is hot.

Bring the heat down then arrange the pear in the pan, rounded side down. Cook about 5 minutes. Turn rounded side up and cook 5 minutes longer. Turns the pears over again so that the rounded side is down, and cook 5 minutes longer, or until the syrup is caramelized and thickened (reduce heat slightly if syrup browns too quickly before thickening).

Remove skillet from heat. Carefully invert puff pastry dough onto the pears in the skillet. Fold edge of dough under to fit dough into skillet and form rim around the edge.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack for 5 minutes.

To unmold, place a large platter over the top of the skillet over the kitchen sink or a counter top. Quickly and carefully turn platter and skillet upside down to invert tart; remove the skillet.

Let the platter cool to warm, and serve warm with the vanilla ice cream.

Happy Holidays!

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