Make It Yourself -- Better

Stirred Custard Among the Herbs

Stirred Custard Among the Herbs

It's Christmas Day, or it's the day your loved ones gather to renew and revel in mutual affection. You would like to make the food and drink wonderful, without making yourself (and maybe others) miserable with complex preparations. Some possibilities to consider:

Make an easy sauce for meats or fish. Stir one tablespoon prepared horseradish into one cup sour cream. It is good just like that (or with more horseradish.) Or keep going with optional add-ins: lemon juice, salt, pepper, cayenne, a garlic clove put through a press or minced.

Dress up vegetables with browned butter. Heat 2 Tablespoons butter (or more) in a small pan with a heavy bottom. Watch (and stir) after the butter melts and foams. As the bits of milk protein start to turn golden, and then light brown, the butter will smell heavenly. Pour over steamed broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, or other veggies. Optional add-ins: Chopped pecans, finely chopped onions or shallots, 1/2 teaspoon mild chili powder.

Make biscuits, rolls, cornbread or homemade bread distinctive. Add in rich flavors and textures: Crumbled cooked bacon, onions cooked until lightly brown in butter or olive oil, whole kernel corn, toasted walnuts.

Some possibilities if you have a bit more energy and time, or if you have the freedom to contribute something wonderful to a meal that is primarily another person's responsibility:

Make and offer Homemade Hot Chocolate, especially to children.

If you have eggs from a trusted source, make homemade mayonnaise for dips and dressings. I have never needed a bailout when I use the recipe from the Joy of Cooking. You can make perfect silky mayo in about ten minutes, including cleaning the blender, provided you work with ingredients that are all at room temperature. If you need to warm your eggs in a hurry, put them whole into a small bowl and cover them with warm water for about four minutes.

Only if it sounds like fun and not stress - you might consider making stirred custard, a Kentucky holiday favorite, especially in country homes with a proud tradition of great cooking from homegrown ingredients. This cooking project will be much easier if you have a thermometer that works with hot liquids. Some old recipes suggest using a dozen eggs per gallon of milk, with sugar varying from 1/3 to 1 1/2 cups. During the holidays I make a gallon at a time, using 10 eggs, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup sugar, plus a little pinch of salt. (I like my custard more eggy than sweet.) I follow a process that is something like this one, but I use a heavy-bottomed stock pot instead of a double boiler. I cook to 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and then pour through a strainer into a glass jar. Once the custard has cooled -- which takes a long time for a gallon -- I add lots of vanilla extract and refrigerate. Start the custard early in the day to serve it chilled in the afternoon or evening. Offer stirred custard in small glasses about an hour before the meal, or serve it after the meal as a light dessert.  Cooking stirred custard using a thermometer makes it more kitchen science than risky adventure, so enjoy.

In fact, my wish for you is deep pleasure in the cooking and eating -- and even the cleanup -- whether it's made from scratch or fast food carryout.