Feasting From Now to New Year's
Published November, 2008
Helen Puckett DeFrance shares how-tos from her book and her children’s cooking program that make the holidays yummy and bright
Sharing the passion for cooking that she learned in her grandmother's, Helen Todd’s, Southern kitchen with children throughout the nation is Helen DeFrance’s mission. The author of At Home Café, Great Food and Fun for Everyone (Rodale, 2008) and the newly released At Home Café, Gatherings for Family and Friends (Rodale, 2008), DeFrance runs a cooking program called THYME to Cook! in schools throughout the nation. Her classes, both in public schools, private cooking schools, and at Blackberry Farm resort, in Walland, Tenn., include children from ages 3 to 18.
Although DeFrance, of Jackson, Miss., is too young to be a grandmother, she understands that grandparents need tips now and then when it comes to having their kids help them with their holiday menu.
The best way to get and keep the little ones involved, she says, is to include grandchildren in every step of the preparations, from taking them to the supermarket to helping choose dishes to serve to kneading the dough for holiday rolls. The activities empower them by allowing them to make choices.
From now until New Year’s, we’ll be providing a weekly tip, courtesy of Helen DeFrance, to help you make the kitchen a place for holiday activities and festivities with your grandchildren.
Week 1, for Thanksgiving: Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Apples
Helen DeFrance's Brussels sprouts with apples have the flavor of autumn
"Pulling yellow or damaged leaves off Brussels sprouts is a task for little hands that can be a big help and time-saver," advises Helen DeFrance in her new book At Home Café, Gatherings for Family and Friends (Rodale, 2008). If your Brussels sprouts are large, cut them in half, a perfect activity for slightly older grandchildren.
"As the leaves change," says DeFrance "so do our taste buds. We long for heavier, heartier dishes with the flavors of autumn fruits and vegetables." Come autumn, farmers’ markets and supermarkets feature an abundance of Brussels sprouts, DeFrance’s favorite fall and winter vegetable.
If the children help prepare the Thanksgiving grocery list, they will be good shopping partners, suggests DeFrance. In the process, they will learn ingredients and their uses. Remember, too, all this time together can be considered playtime for both the grandparents and their grandkids.
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Yield: Makes 8 servings.
Week 2, November 30: Helen DeFrance's Savory Cheesecake
A zesty new take on a no-bake cheesecake appetizer
Helen DeFrance writes in her new book, At Home Café, Gatherings for Family and Friends (Rodale, 2008), “Cooking with pecans always brings back loving memories of fall days spent with my grandfather. A giant pecan tree in my grandparents’ backyard provided a sturdy limb for an old tire swing and an endless supply of tasty pecans. My grandfather carried a big basket for us to fill with pecans that had dropped to the ground. He and I would spend the afternoon on the back porch shelling the pecans that my grandmother made into a pie as our reward. She would carefully bag and freeze the leftover nuts to use in the months ahead. Like my grandmother, I always keep pecans in the freezer for recipes like this.”
Although this is a simple recipe, it is a somewhat sophisticated appetizer, says DeFrance. The preparation is extremely fun and easy, and if kids help prepare it, they will eat it. "After all, what kid doesn’t love bacon and cheese," says DeFrance. The savory cheesecake is a play on a sweet dessert and DeFrance believes that tweaking convention is a great learning experience for kids, since it allows them to experiment with new ideas. Although this is a "cheesecake," it is salty. Allowing kids to taste the sweetness of the raspberry jam and saltiness of the bacon and cheese in one bite will expand their palate.
DeFrance advises grandparents to buy pecans in their shells and let their grandkids shell the nuts, like she did when she was a child in her grandparents’ kitchen. Kids of all ages can crumble the bacon, although grandparents should make sure it has cooled enough for little hands to handle. You can also make an extra piece or two to snack on while you cook.
1 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
1. In a large bowl, combine bacon, cheese, green onions, mayonnaise, and 1 cup of the pecans.
Yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Week 3, December 7: Grandmother's Dinner Rolls
Helen DeFrance's rich rolls are the pillowy perfect accompaniment to a holiday meal or any meal
"No dinner party is complete in my home without the soft, buttery, fragrant dinner rolls made by my grandmother, Helen Todd," says Helen DeFrance in her book At Home Cafe, Gatherings for Family and Friends (Rodale, 2008). "As her namesake, I knew it was up to me to carry on her roll-making tradition. For years I was deluded into thinking that [baking] something this heavenly just had to be hard, but I was so wrong. Making these rolls is incredibly easy, and the rewards are more than worth the effort."
Grandparents can let their young grandchildren do simple, fun tasks, like sifting the flour and rolling out the dough. It is okay, and even advisable, to let your grandkids get messy, as long as they help clean up at the end! Allowing them to use their hands and make a mess will help [them] let their guard down (and yours!) and open the door to a special bonding experience.
The secret to these rolls is refrigerating the covered dough overnight, says DeFrance, a secret she learned from her grandmother. You can prebake the rolls for 4 to 6 minutes at 400 degrees F and freeze (do not let them brown). Thaw, then bake in a 400 degree F oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until browned.
1/2 cup sugar
1. In a small saucepan, melt sugar and shortening in milk over low heat. Let cool. In cup, dissolve yeast in warm water.
Yield: Makes 3 to 4 dozen rolls.
Week 4, December 14: Helen De France's Deviled Eggs
Stuffed eggs are a nontraditional tasty treat at a casual Chanukah celebration
When Helen DeFrance's assistants asked her what was on the menu in her kindergarten cooking class and she answered "deviled eggs," her colleagues all agreed the students would not like them. They watched skeptically as the children collected the eggs, ever so carefully peeled and sliced them, scooped out the yolks and mashed in all the ingredients, Worcestershire sauce, and all. When it was time to eat all they had prepared, the deviled eggs were gobbled first, and the next week the children asked for them again — proving that when kids are directly involved in the preparation, any food is fair game to become a favorite.
These eggs are perfect appetizers for holiday parties or lunches for a crowd. Although not a traditional Chanukah recipe by any stretch, they are a festive and unusual addition to the traditional latke spread.
2 dozen large eggs (preferably several days old)
Sun-Dried Tomato Eggs:
1. Cover eggs with cold water in a large pot and bring to a rapid boil. Cover and cook for 15 minutes.
Yield: Makes 8 servings.
Week 5, December 31: Helen DeFrance's Sugar Cookies
Helen DeFrance shares recipes for Very Merry Sugar Cookies With Our Favorite Buttercream Frosting, Ooey-Gooey Fudge, and Holiday Holly
Making Ooey-Gooey Fudge is an annual tradition for Helen DeFrance and her son, Martin. "A plate of this delicious fudge is a popular gift for friends, neighbors, and teachers," says DeFrance, a cookbook author and kids-cooking guru. "Little hands are wonderful for greasing the baking dish, counting the marshmallows, and chopping pecans.
"Another favorite gift from our kitchen is the sugar cookie dough, wrapped in red or green cellophane and tied with holiday ribbon. Present it along with the icing recipe and a cookie cutter. I get a jump on the busy holiday season by starting to make my Christmas cookie dough right after Thanksgiving, as it freezes beautifully."
After making and rolling out the dough, DeFrance suggests leaving the cutting of the cookies to the kids. "While the kids have the cookie cutters out, let them make Ho Ho Sandwiches," she suggests in her new book At Home Cafe, Gatherings for Family and Friends (Rodale, 2008). “Have them cut out shapes from [the] sandwich bread of your choice with the holiday cookie cutters. Fill with fillings the kids and adults like and place the sandwiches on a platter for everyone to enjoy. They can save the crusts from the bread to feed the birds.
"When it was time to decorate the cookies when I was young, my mother would put the icing in a bowl and then put out small bowls of various sprinkles. She would leave the kitchen and let us use our imaginations and create the cookies of our dreams," DeFrance recalls.
DeFrance's Holiday Holly are vibrant green, and a favorite with the little ones. "Make sure to let an adult melt the marshmallows and the butter," she says. "If in a hurry, it can be done in the microwave. When stirring the cornflakes, which your grandkids can do, fold in gently."
Very Merry Sugar Cookie:
1. For the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Stir in eggs and vanilla and beat until fluffy. Stir in flour and baking powder until well combined.
Yield: Makes about 6 1/2 dozen cookies and 2 cups frosting.
1. Grease a 9-inch by 13-inch glass baking dish. In a large saucepan, combine sugar, evaporated milk, butter, and salt. Mix well. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium. Continue to cook at a low boil for 9 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from the heat.
Yield: Makes 4 dozen small pieces.
30 large marshmallows
Melt marshmallows and butter in the top of a double boiler over simmering water. Stir in food coloring. Remove from the heat. Add cornflakes and stir just to cover the cornflakes. Be careful not to crush flakes. Drop by teaspoons and tablespoons (to vary sizes) onto wax paper. Decorate with candies before the holly sets.
Yield: Makes 2 dozen treats.
Week 6, for New Year’s Eve: Helen DeFrance's Sweet and Sour Meatballs
Helen DeFrance’s meatballs are simmered in a sweet and sour sauce that makes them pleasing to holiday celebrants of all ages. Simple to prepare, they are also a perfect quick fix for a hectic holiday meal.
Let your grandchildren assist with the preparation, says DeFrance. Allowing the young ones to roll the meatballs, which should be the size of golf balls, and cleaning up afterward will teach them the dos and don’ts of handling raw meat. "When handling raw meat, wash hands immediately," she says. "The kids that I teach sing 'Happy Birthday' to themselves and 'Happy Birthday' to a friend while washing their hands. By the time they are finished singing, they know their hands are clean."
DeFrance suggests baking the meatballs on a wire rack set on top of a pan, instead of directly on the pan, which will allow the grease to drip down, making less of a mess.
Allowing the children to spear the meatballs with toothpicks adds another element of fun to this tasty tidbit that serves as an easy cocktail appetizer for the grownups’ New Year’s Eve bash. Leftovers can be tossed with cooked rice for a delicious second-day meal that teaches children how to reuse and economize.
1 pound ground beef
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine beef, soup mix, egg, and bread crumbs in a large bowl. Shape into 24 small meatballs. Place meatballs on a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until cooked through.
Yield: Makes 24 meatballs.