Kitchens are hopping in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont!

By Robin Anish

Roast turkey, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, turnip, pies and puddings — traditional fare found on any New England Thanksgiving table — mark the start of a season of eating.

Amidst the holiday season that spans from November through December, there is no other time of year that people are more enthusiastic about cooking and baking. The creative juices of seasoned cooks bubble over with ideas for outdoing last year’s holiday fare and those who typically avoid cooking from scratch become inspired to try their hand at roasting a turkey or baking holiday cookies.

Recipes handed down from generation to generation, afternoons spent baking cookies with our children and grandchildren, and the special goodies lovingly prepared and packaged as gifts to friends and neighbors are the culinary joys of the holidays we celebrate.

Time spent with family and friends grateful to be together for a festive holiday dinner is like a great big loving hug that is most earnestly welcomed throughout the cold wintery days at holiday time here in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont.

Warm the hearts and souls of those you love with a memorable holiday meal. This menu is perfect for the busy season because it can all be made ahead of time. It’s totally stress free!

Port Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs

Beef short ribs slowly braising in the oven fill the kitchen with a mouth watering aroma and are special enough for the holiday dinner. Present this savory dish with your favorite holiday sides to complete the meal.

12 bone-in beef short ribs
salt and pepper
6 slices bacon
2 large carrots, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon each of thyme and rosemary
750-milliliter bottle ruby port
1 quart beef stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove and set aside. In bacon drippings, over medium-high heat and working in batches, brown short ribs well on all sides. Transfer ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from pot. Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add port and bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add herbs, 1 each teaspoon salt and pepper, beef stock and bacon, crumbled.

Orange Gremolata

Grated zest of 2 oranges, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bunch Italian parsley, minced
Pinch each salt and pepper

Combine ingredients. Store in refrigerator.

Cover dutch oven and transfer to oven. Cook three hours or until meat is falling of the bone tender. Remove from oven and let rest 30 minutes. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season to taste with salt and pepper, pour over short ribs, sprinkle with the gremolata. Delicious served alongside hearty mashed potatoes; outstanding served on a bed of creamy polenta.

Blue Cheese Ball

From my mother’s old tin box of handwritten recipes, this addictive Blue Cheese Ball was a family favorite.

2-8 ounce packages cream cheese
4 ounces of blue cheese
1 stick butter
Pulp and juice from 1/2 a small onion, grated on a box grater
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted

Mix all ingredients except the nuts until smooth. Refrigerate until firm. Form into a ball and roll in walnuts. Serve with crackers.

Apple Brandy Syllabub

Here is a little something different and quite special to serve along with family favorite holiday cookies, a syllabub. A syllabub is a centuries old English dessert like beverage once served during the holidays. Thick and creamy, enjoy this modern apple brandy version.

1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 cup sugar
2 cups chilled apple cider
1/2 cup apple brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream

grated nutmeg

Whip the cream to soft peaks. In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, sugar, cider, vanilla and salt. Fold whipped cream into cider mixture, then whisk until frothy. Serve in wine glasses garnished with a dash of nutmeg. Substitute an extra 1/2 cup of cider for brandy for a non-alcoholic version suitable for the kids.

Happy Holidays!

Robin Anish, a former caterer in the Berkshires, writes about food from her home in Lenox, Mass., for The Eagle, Banner, Journal and Reformer.

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