Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

The Christmas Table

Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition

by Diane Morgan

The Christmas Table offers "Recipes and Crafts to Create Your Own Holiday Tradition"

Setting the scene for an inviting holiday celebration involves a synergy of festive decorations and special seasonal dishes. In The Christmas Table, Diane Morgan covers both. She guides you on how to prepare yuletide crafts like mantle garlands and glistening snow pinecones, as well as on how to fill your table with colorful dishes that capture the smells and tastes of the season. Her "12 Planning Tips of Christmas" help you organize and realize your entertaining ambitions, while offering hints on how to increase your own comfort and joy in the process (hint: recruit kitchen "elves"). The book's sample menus and timetables run the gamut, from tree-decorating parties to Christmas brunch. Given Morgan's own Jewish heritage, she's sensitive to interfaith celebrations, offering a smattering of Hanukkah recipes and a sample menu for "Chrismukkah" dinner—a Christmas/Hanukkah hybrid. If you're not hosting your own celebration, the book also includes ideas for homemade gift basket items like Diane's Christmas Pecans.

Any holiday party will get off to a jolly start with Christmas-y cocktails like the ginger and apple hot toddy or the merry bloody Mary with a fennel and salt rim. Bite-sized appetizer ideas include spicy crab in wonton cups and pistachio-chive goat cheese on puff pastry wafers. Salad choices, such as a radicchio Caesar and a blood orange salad with mache, incorporate seasonal produce. The main courses are showstoppers like a juniper-brined roast turkey, whole roast salmon with farro-herb stuffing, and a garlic and herb rubbed crown roast of pork. Side dishes like the whipped garnet yams with a pecan praline crust or cranberry relish made with Lambic beer, however, could steal the show. For dessert, the eggnog cheesecake with candied kumquats is a standout. There's a whole chapter on cookies for your annual cookie exchange, where the holiday-hued, cranberry-pistachio biscotti are sure to be a hit. If you have any appetite the morning after the Christmas feast, there's a chapter on breakfast, too.


Diane's Christmas Pecans

 ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 egg whites at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
1 pound shelled large or jumbo pecan halves

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet, preferably nonstick for easier cleanup. Melt the butter on the baking sheet in the oven. Be careful not to let the butter brown. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Add the salt and beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Pour the vanilla over the brown sugar. Add the sugar 2 tablespoons at a time to the egg whites, beating on high speed to form a strong, shiny meringue with stiff, glossy peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the nuts until they are well-coated.

Carefully tip the rimmed baking sheet so the butter evenly coats the bottom of the pan. Using a rubber spatula, spread the nuts over the butter, without stirring, to form an even layer without deflating the meringue.

Bake the nuts for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir with the spatula, moving the nuts at the center of the pan to the edges and the nuts at the edges closer to the center. Return the pan to the oven, bake the nuts for 15 minutes longer, and stir them again. Continue baking, stirring every 15 minutes, until the nuts are separated, have absorbed the butter and glisten, and are beautifully browned but not dark brown, 45 minutes to an hour.

Immediately turn the nuts out on a counter lined with a long sheet of aluminum foil, spread them out, and let cool completely. Store in an airtight tin or covered glass container, or wrap in gift boxes lined with decorative waxed paper. The nuts will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 weeks.  

Reviewed by Rachel Levin

(Updated: 11/08/11 JM)

There's more to this sensual herb than just its looks. Brew it, bake with it or massage it into your skin for a myriad of health benefits.

Take those weight-loss goals to the next level with the expert advice, effective recipes and guided regimes found in these Top 10 Diet Books.