While cooking is inherently enjoyable, working under pressure is not -- especially if you want your family and guests to enjoy you as well as your cooking over the holidays.
So they may do both, allow ample time and serve dishes you've prepared before (you'll know how much time you need). And, of course, do everything you can well ahead of time.
Kulebiaka is a festive traditional dish from Russia -- its golden crust conceals a delicious mushroom and cabbage filling. Armenian Christmas Pudding makes a lovely finish to the meal.
KULEBIAKA (8 servings)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 cup warm water
1 large egg
2 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 to 3 cups whole-wheat flour
FOR THE FILLING:
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
3 tablespoons butter
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dill weed
6 cups packed, shredded raw cabbage
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
To make the crust: dissolve yeast and brown sugar in water in a large bowl. Combine egg, oil and salt; stir into yeast mixture when yeast begins to bubble to the surface. Add flour by the 1/2 cup, stirring vigorously until the dough is fairly stiff. Turn out onto a floured board and knead for a full 10 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover lightly, and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk.
To make the filling: saute' onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet with a lid. When onions are transparent, add mushrooms, dill, cabbage and parlsey. Stir to combine, then cover pan and reduce heat. Simmer until cabbage is tender but not soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. Lightly stir in eggs and salt.
To assemble: punch down the dough and divide into two equal parts. Roll out the first part into a 10-by-14-inch oblong loaf. Place on a baking sheet.
Mound the filling onto the rolled-out dough, leaving a 1 1/2-inch margin all around. Roll out remaining dough into another 10-by-14-inch oblong loaf and place over the filling. Crimp the upper and lower margins together, twisting a little to give a rope-like or braided look. Cut three slits in the top to let steam escape. If you have a scrap or two of extra dough, form it into a few pretty leaf shapes to decorate the top.
Set the kulebiaka in a warm, draft-free place to rise another half hour.
Bake for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven, then brush with remaining tablespoon butter, melted. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and bake another 10 minutes.
ARMENIAN CHRISTMAS PUDDING (6 servings)
2/3 cup pearl barley
1 1/2 quarts water
1 cup chopped, dried apricots
3/4 cup raisins or currants
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
FOR THE TOPPING:
1/2 pint whipping cream or 1 pint natural ice cream
1/2 cup slivered, blanched almonds
Cinnamon for sprinkling
Cook barley in water until tender. Add apricots, raisins, honey, sugar, salt and cinnamon and cook until apricots are tender -- half an hour or so. (If you use unsulfured apricots, which are dryer than the sulfured kind, soak them in hot orange juice or water for half an hour or so before you try to chop them. Also, watch carefully as the apricots can burn easily.
Serve the pudding into dishes, chill and serve topped with whipped cream, almonds and a sprinkle of cinnamon (ice cream is fine too, and for a lower-calorie version, try ricotta cheese thinned with a little milk)