Having one or more recipes on standby during the holidays is the entertaining equivalent of Bullwinkle the Moose’s “watch me pull a rabbit outta my hat!”
Here are a few, all of which can be made in advance.
▪ Olives with citrus zests and fried herbs. Refrigerate these for up to a week.
▪ Sweet potatoes with chicken and lemon grass. Surprisingly satisfying and bright-tasting, with fairly few ingredients.
▪ Orange-scented olive oil cake. The recipe yields two 9-inch rounds; they can be frozen for up to a month. To make it a chocolate cake, melt 3 ounces of coarsely chopped dark chocolate with 2 tablespoons of warm almond milk in a small saucepan over low heat. Cool slightly, then add to the egg-sugar mixture and proceed with the recipe.
Sweet potatoes with chicken and lemon grass
This thin-brothed stew is homey yet flavorful enough to serve to holiday house guests. It was inspired by the Hmong community in Minnesota, whose cooks tend to use simple ingredients.
The Hmong top the dish with an optional, lightly salted mixture of chopped Thai chilies, fresh ginger and cilantro, which we really liked in testing; see the NOTE, below.
MAKE AHEAD: The stew can be refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month. Prepare the chili pepper topping just before serving.
Adapted from “Smashed, Boiled and Baked (and Fried, Too!): A Celebration of Potatoes in 75 Irresistible Recipes,” by Raghavan Iyler (Workman, 2016).
1 pound sweet potatoes
2 stalks lemon grass
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (trimmed of visible fat), cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup water
1 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely cracked black peppercorns
Steamed white or brown rice, for serving
Fill a medium bowl with cold water. Peel the sweet potatoes and rinse them under cool water, then cut them into 1-inch cubes, submerging them in the bowl of water as you go.
Trim the ends of each lemon grass stalk to yield a tightly layered middle section that’s about 3 inches long. Use the flat side of a chef’s knife to smash the section, then cut that in half lengthwise, discarding the tough outer layer. Cut the halves into thin strips, then into small pieces.
Heat the oil in a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the chicken and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes or until it loses some of its raw look.
Drain the potatoes, then add them to the pan along with the cup of water, the lemon grass, salt and cracked peppercorns. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the sweet potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through.
Divide the stew, including the broth, among bowls filled halfway with rice.
NOTE: Stir together 10 to 12 thinly sliced red and/or green Thai chili peppers (not seeded), 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger root, 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro and tender stems, and a small pinch of coarse kosher or sea salt in a small bowl. Use some of the mixture to top each portion of the stew.
Per serving (using kosher salt): 300 calories, 27 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 10 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar
Olives with citrus zests and fried herbs
Serves 12 (makes 3 cups)
You’ll be happy to have these on hand when folks drop by for cocktails or a glass of wine.
Make ahead: The mixture can be refrigerated (without the garlic) for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Adapted from “A Recipe for Cooking,” by Cal Peternell (William Morrow).
3 tablespoons olive oil
20 sage leaves
20 rosemary leaves
1 small clove garlic (unpeeled)
1 pound mixed olives, such as black Niçoise and green Castelvetrano
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Use a vegetable peeler to cut 5 or 6 wide strips of zest (total) from the orange and lemon.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, sage, rosemary and garlic; cook for about 20 seconds or until the herbs stop sizzling. Turn off the heat.
Stir in the olives, citrus zests and the crushed red pepper flakes, then transfer to a deep bowl. Use a Microplane grater to grate the remaining zest from the orange and lemon directly into the bowl. Stir to incorporate.
Serve warm. Or cool, discard the garlic, cover and refrigerate.
Per serving: 80 calories, 0 g protein, 3 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar
Orange-scented olive oil cake
Serves 16 to 20 (makes two 9-inch round cakes)
This is the one cake that can see you through the holidays: It’s easy to assemble and serve, and it freezes well. Pastry chef-instructor and cookbook author Nick Malgieri likes to use pure olive oil rather than extra-virgin here, because it has a less assertive flavor.
You’ll need two 9-inch round cake pans with sides that are at least 2 inches high.
Serve with orange slices and a dollop of whipped cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream or orange sherbet.
Make ahead: The cakes can be double-wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day or frozen for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before serving.
From pastry chef-instructor and cookbook author Nick Malgieri, who credits the recipe to Fritz Blank, chef-owner of the now-defunct Deux Chemines in Philadelphia.
1 1/2 cups pure olive oil, plus more for the pans (see note above)
3 large navel oranges
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk (may substitute nondairy milk)
2 1/2 cups flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use some of the oil to generously grease the 9-inch cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper.
Grate the zests from the oranges over a mixer bowl (from a stand mixer), then use a knife to completely cut away the remaining skin and pith from the oranges. Cut the fruit into 3/8-inch-thick round slices; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Add the eggs to the mixer bowl, whisking by hand until well blended. Whisk in 1 cup of the sugar, then seat the bowl on the stand mixer and secure the balloon-whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until very light. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
Whisk in the oil by hand, in a steady stream, followed by the milk. (You can also do this with the mixer on low speed.)
Stir together the remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl, then whisk that mixture into the egg mixture in three separate additions, whisking smooth after each addition.
Divide the batter equally between the pans. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, until the cakes are well risen, deeply golden and firm in the center when pressed with a fingertip.
Transfer the cakes (in their pans) to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes. Run a table knife around the edge to loosen the sides, then invert to unmold and turn them right side up again, placing them on the racks to cool completely.
Cut into wedges and serve with the orange slices, plus other accompaniments, as you wish.
Per serving (cake only, based on 20): 320 calories, 3 g protein, 38 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 105 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 26 g sugar