Sleigh bells ring, are you listening… Oh wait, those aren’t sleigh bells, that’s your ring tone, and your phone is ringing off the hook. The holidays can be a magical time of year, but it can also be quite hectic. Just getting a hot meal on the table can be a challenge this time of year, not to mention the added stress of guests. If you are hosting Christmas dinner, the pressure is on. This month, we are here to help alleviate that stress… well, at least in the kitchen.

December’s recipes are all about simplicity and convenience, while still being guest worthy and delicious. We have a new take on the standard sweet potato and an old English classic, Yorkshire pudding, adding a nice twist to your Christmas meal. We also have three, easy, one-pot meals to keep the family fed without a lot of fuss. The holidays are crazy enough, so let’s lighten the load in the kitchen by keeping things simple.

Rosemary Sweet Potato Stacks
Christmas dinner is typically considered the most elegant family meal you serve all year. For many, there are classic standards that are served every year, and many of us look forward to those traditional foods. But sometimes it’s fun to mix things up a bit. Here are two recipes to put a little extra holiday cheer in your dinner this year. The rosemary sweet potato stacks can be whipped together in a snap and are elegant, savory, and beautiful. Savory sweet potatoes are a nice change to the standard brown sugar version of sweet potato (not that those aren’t delicious). These pair nicely with any meat you may serve and are also vegan/vegetarian-friendly and fit into most restrictive diet plans. This recipe serves 12.

2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted
2 tbs. quality olive oil
2 tbs. grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
1 tsp. fresh rosemary, chopped, plus extra for garnish
Kosher
salt and fresh ground pepper
5-6 large sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and thinly sliced
Special equipment (optional): a mandolin and a muffin pan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together butter, olive oil, Parmesan, chopped rosemary, salt, and pepper. Add sweet potatoes and toss to coat evenly.

Layer potato slices into muffin pan and fill a little higher than the top, as they will shrink down once they are cooking.

Bake for about 45-50 minutes and edges and tops are golden brown and center in tender. Let cool for about five minutes and carefully remove with a spoon. Place on serving tray and top with extra Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped fresh rosemary. Serve immediately.

Yorkshire Pudding
Yorkshire pudding sounds like a fancy dessert, but it is a very misleading term. Yorkshire pudding’s origin isn’t really known. What we do know is that the pudding gained popularity in the United Kingdom and dates back at least to the 1600s, during a time when meat was typically cooked, hanging from a hook over an open flame. A runny batter was created and placed in a pan below the meat. As the meat cooked, the drippings would fall into the batter and it would soak up all the fat. This side dish is so prevalent in the UK that it is often served with Sunday roast. The dish is simple to make and perfect for sopping up tasty beef juice. A great accompaniment for rib roast, roast beef, and tenderloin. Recipe serves 12.

3 large eggs
3/4 cup whole milk (do not substitute 2%, 1%, or skim, as it will not set well)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
About 1/4 cup rendered beef or pork fat, olive oil, or melted butter (rendered fat will add the most flavor and be the most traditional).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, flour, and salt, mixing only until combined. Allow batter to rest on the counter at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Add a teaspoon of fat to each cup of a 12-cup muffin tin and transfer to the oven to heat for about five to seven minutes. Once hot, divide batter equally to fill the cups about halfway and return the muffin tin to the oven for ten to 12 minutes or until the puddings are golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

One Pan Balsamic Chicken and Veggies
So now that we have the fancy stuff taken care of, let’s talk about the rest of the month and how to keep everyone fed without eating carryout all the time. One pot or one dish cooking has taken a new rise in households. Everyday life is crazy and time is stretched too thin, but during the holiday season we are often overwhelmed with the flurry of activities, recital, parties, and everything else going on, making a home cooked meal seems out of reach. Well, we’ve got you covered, at least with three easy-peasy, one-dish meals that are sure to keep your whole crew happy and satisfied. These dishes really couldn’t get much easier.

Prep time: ten minutes
Cook time: 13 minutes
Yield: about three to four servings

1/4 cup + 2 tbs. Italian salad dressing (I recommend using Kraft Zesty Italian – it’s the perfect consistency)
3 tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tbs. honey
1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
1 1/4 lbs. chicken breast tenderloins
2 tbs. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed and snipped
1 1/2 cups matchstick carrots
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

In a mixing bowl, whisk together salad dressing, balsamic vinegar, honey, and red pepper flakes; set aside. Heat olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then place chicken evenly in skillet. Cook about six to seven minutes, rotating once halfway through cooking until chicken has cooked through. Add half the dressing mixture to skillet and rotate chicken to evenly coat. Transfer chicken to a large plate or a serving platter while leaving sauce in skillet. Add green beans and carrots to skillet, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp tender, about four minutes. Transfer veggies to plate or platter with chicken. Add remaining dressing mixture to skillet and cook, stirring constantly until thickened, about one minute. Add tomatoes to chicken and veggies and drizzle dressing mixture in pan over top (or return chicken and veggies to pan and toss to coat).

Pasta with Roasted Red Peppers, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Brie

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves four

12 oz. linguine, broken in half
1 cup packed basil leaves
1 1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted red peppers
1 cup sliced oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
3 to 4 large garlic cloves, pressed
4 1/2 cups water (may need more during cooking)
2 tbs. oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes
1 tbs. kosher salt, plus more to taste
Pinch red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
6-8 pepperoncini sliced, plus 2 tbs. pepperoncini brine
1/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz. brie cheese, rind removed and torn into pieces
Grated Parmesan, for serving
Good-quality olive oil, for serving

Combine linguine, basil, roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pepperoncini and garlic in a three-quart straight-sided skillet. Add the water, sun-dried tomato oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and a generous amount of fresh cracked black pepper and bring to a full rolling boil over high heat. Using tongs, stir and turn the pasta frequently to prevent sticking. Cook until al dente, approximately nine to ten minutes. You may need to add more water if absorbed during cooking. Remove the skillet from the heat. (If there is still a little bit of cooking water, pour some – but not all – into a separate bowl.) Add 1/4 cup cream and stir well.

Add the brie and toss with tongs until creamy and melted. Season with the two tablespoons of brine and additional salt and pepper to taste. The sauce will naturally thicken up after a couple of minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan and a swirl of good olive oil. (If the pasta does seem to need liquid, add back a few splashes of reserved cooking liquid.)

One Pot Italian Chicken and Orzo

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 17 minutes
Serves six

2 chicken breasts chopped into bite size (approx.1 lb.) or 3.5 lbs. of chicken thighs (I feel they have more flavor)
1 tbs. olive oil
3 tbs. pesto, divided
1 small to medium size onion, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup zucchini, quartered
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup uncooked orzo
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups crushed tomatoes
2 cups low sodium chicken broth (plus more as needed during cooking)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt or more for taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Garnish (optional): freshly grated Parmesan cheese or fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat until very hot. Toss chicken with one tablespoon pesto and add to pan with onions, carrots, and zucchini. Sauté for three minutes, then add red bell pepper, orzo, and garlic and cook an additional two minutes.

Stir in crushed tomatoes, two tablespoons pesto, chicken broth, and seasonings. Bring to a simmer, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 8-12 minutes, or until vegetables and orzo are tender, stirring every five minutes so the orzo doesn’t burn, covering pot after each stir.

Stir in Parmesan cheese. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Garnish with fresh Parmesan and parsley (optional).

And there you go – we made it through another year of cooking together! Can’t wait to share more great food with you next year. Life’s a Feast wishes you all happy holidays and a very Merry Christmas.

See you next year!

Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.

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