January is the start of a new year, but what if it was also the beginning of new cooking adventures? Many of us spent months during the recent holiday season replicating generations' --old family favorites that we know are tried-and-true and much appreciated by family and friends. In fact, a lot of us recognize that we would have a virtual riot on our hands if we didn't make those beloved holiday dishes.
Good cooks understand it's not a good idea to prepare recipes for the first time on the holiday. Disappointment on all ends can run deep if the results aren't up to par. That's why every January, when the weather is still cold and similar to that of the holidays and the same season's ingredients are still front and center is the perfect time to treat your family to some experiments that can expand your holiday repertoire for next holiday season.
If, for instance, turkey and ham have always been your go-to selections, what about a festive holiday fish dish? If sweet potatoes have been de rigueur, why not dazzle with a spicy potato medley? Following are ideas for those and a few additional festive selections that just might get a seat at your future holiday tables, all of which also take ease and economics into consideration.
The "feast of seven fishes," is, in fact, a Christmas Eve tradition in many homes in Italy. You don't need to prepare near that many, though, to make a splash. Fish stew makes the perfect experiment. Pick a few of your favorite varieties of fish and shellfish, bone up on the best cooking techniques for your choices, add complementary spices and pitted olives and raisins if you'd like to give it a Sicilian flare.
A RAINBOW OF POTATOES
A golden idea when it comes to both presentation and flavor is to create a pretty plate of gold, red, blue and white roasted potatoes. Before cooking dab with olive oil and sprinkle with cumin and turmeric. Serve topped with dollops of store-bought of homemade hummus that you've mixed with shredded carrots and tiny amounts of carrot juice and ginger.
RECREATING CRANBERRY SAUCE
Rethink the mighty cranberry for some diversity. Other combinations could pep up your sauce and condiment portfolio, such as these substitutions in your favorite cranberry sauce recipe: Fresh minced pear, lime juice and curry powder; tangerine segments, golden raisins and freshly ground black pepper; and turnips, parsnips, carrots, curry powder and orange marmalade.
YOU'LL BE ON A ROLL
Ditch regular dinner rolls and serve store-bought or homemade mini muffins with fun glazes, like apple-mint, chive-scallion-vanilla and cinnamon-green tea.
PIE BOTTOMS THAT ARE TOPS
Cut thick slices of any of the following (store-bought or homemade pumpkin bread, banana bread, date bread or carrot cake) and push them down firmly on top of (and shaped the same way as) store-bought or homemade graham cracker pie crusts before filling the innovative double-crust pies:.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
Chef and cookbook author Rocco DiSpirito's weight loss was our gain when he started focusing on recipes that pack on the flavor instead of the pounds. One of his latest, "Rocco's Healthy & Delicious: More Than 200 (Mostly) Plant-Based Recipes for Everyday Life" makes you pay attention to what you are eating much more than what you are missing. Standouts include: Pumpkin spice trail mix; kiwi veggie burgers; cauliflower risotto; and pomegranate chia overnight oats. The dashing DiSpirito's huge smile on this book cover is much wider than his pre-diet days, but he himself is much thinner after making innovative, flavorful choices such as these.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.