We've pulled together a special collection of holiday recipes each geared toward your own ability and ambition. Are you impressed when you manage to heat your frozen burrito in a microwave before eating it? Then choose recipes from the Special Ed category. Can you whip up an asparagus and Asiago omelet but wouldn't dare attempt brioche? Try the Prep School suggestions. Do you look to the holidays as a chance to show off with cooking stunts no less grandiose than a Seigfried and Roy finale? Then look for one of our Doctoral Degree recipes. Either way, you're guaranteed a holiday that's super special.


* Special Ed

No drink says "Holiday" like cranberries and malt liquor, but sometimes the stuff you get at the store just isn't festive enough. Here's a quick solution.

Cranberry "Juice"

- Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade

- Any available high-proof liquor

Fill glass with alcohol to taste, top off with Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade. Drink.

Alternative: If you don't have booze at home and the liquor store is closed (it's the holiday, stupid!), simply drink more malt liquor.

** Prep School

Warm alcoholic drinks are one of the unqualified joys of the holiday season... not only do they get you toasty, but they make the normally dank and stuffy air of your apartment smell delicious.

Wassail, Desperate Housewives Style

- 1 medium orange

- 1 small container of cloves

- 2 quarts fresh apple cider

- 1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar

- 2 bay leaves

- 3-4 green cardamom seeds

- 2 cinnamon sticks

- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

- 1 ounce per serving of dark rum, or more

Here's the Martha Stewart bit: Poke the orange with a fork, randomly or in a cute pattern. Fill each forkhole with a clove, using as many cloves as you like. Place the orange, the cider, the sugar, the bay leaves, the cardamom, and the cinnamon in an enameled or stainless-steel pot (aluminum will make it taste icky). Place the pot over medium-low heat and let simmer until the cider smells delicious and spicy, about 45 minutes. To serve, place holiday-themed cups or mugs onto a tray lined with holly berries. Pour rum into the bottom of each cup, then ladle warm cider into each. Just before serving, scratch a little nutmeg into each cup.

*** Doctoral Degree

Sometimes a simple classic is all you need to delight your friends.

Till a 10-acre plot of land and sow with wheat (or rye if you prefer). Let grow. Harvest and process the grain. Make into a mash with sugar, yeast, and water; ferment in a fermenter until airlock stops bubbling. Make a fractionating column still out of copper piping and some valves. Distill the mash, then tap the still and set vodka aside.

Meanwhile, make your vermouth: Plant a vineyard with white grapes, harvest them, then press them and ferment them to make a dry white wine. Add grain alcohol and steep with absinthe, coriander, bitter orange peel, wormwood, chinchena bark, elder flowers, angelica root, orris, gentian, cloves, cardamom, fennel, thyme, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, armoise, quinine, chamomile, sage, sureau, and ginger for several days. Strain and bottle the vermouth.

Meanwhile, move to France, California, or Greece, plant some olive trees, harvest olives when green and cure them in a salted brine. Pit the olives and stuff each one with a tiny piece of pickled red pepper.

Move to Venice; learn to blow glass as fine and fragile as an angel's breath. Make at least a dozen slope-sided, stemmed glasses with a 4-oz capacity. Chill glasses.

Move to Norway, get on a boat, kill a sperm whale, and carve its teeth into beautiful scrimshawed toothpicks.

When your guests arrive, make them martinis one by one, stirring 2 oz of vodka with 1/2 oz of vermouth and some ice. Strain each drink into a chilled glass, spear two olives onto a toothpick, and insert into drink.


* Special Ed

Everyone complains about all the weight they gain over the holidays. Why not be part of the solution and offer the elegant cocktail snack that gives you a deficit of calories by the time you're done digesting.

Celery Sticks

- 1 bunch celery

- celery salt (optional)

Slice the celery into 4-5-inch sticks, wash it, and arrange on a plate. If you're going all out, sprinkle with celery salt.

** Prep School

Soup is tasty, and it has the significant advantage of dirtying bowls, rather than plates, should you be short on china. This soup can be served with just about any garnish, from cheesy croutons to sautéed mushrooms to a happy pat of butter.

Squash Soup
(Adapted from Lydie Marshall's Soup of the Day 2003, HarperCollins)

- 4 lbs of whole squash, not peeled

- 5 tbsp olive oil

- 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

- 2 tsp salt

- freshly ground black pepper

- 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

- 5 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 425¡F. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut the halves into 2-inch slices. Place on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, and brush 2 tbsp olive oil over the slices. Roast for 30 minutes. When cooled a bit, slice the peel off each slice of squash, and cut the flesh into 2-inch cubes. Heat the remaining 3 tbsps olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot and add the onions. Cover, reduce the heat, and braise the onions for 5 minutes without letting them color. Stir in the squash, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cayenne. Cover and braise for another 5 minutes. Pour in the broth, bring to a boil, then cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20 minutes until the squash is very tender. Purée the soup in small batches in a blender or food processor. Reheat the soup to serve.

*** Doctoral Degree

For those with easily bored friends: I chose an easy recipe from Spanish chef Ferran Adria's cookbook. The top of this little "cocktail" is frozen fluff, the center is a hot layer of black truffle stock, and the bottom is cool, gelatinized sheep's milk. Enjoy!

Sheep's Milk Frappuccino with Black Truffle Juice
Spanish chef Ferran Adrià's cookbook, El Bulli 1998-2002.

For the sheep's milk gelatin:

- 1/2 cup sheep's milk, scalded (you may need to befriend a sheep farmer for this)

- pinch powdered agar-agar (a thickener made from seaweed, found at most Asian markets)

- 1/4 sheet of gelatin (rehydrated in cold water)

Mix the sheep's milk and the agar-agar. Stirring continuously, bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, whisk, and dissolve gelatin into mixture. Pour directly into 4 shot glasses; leave to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours

For the consommé: - 2 cups chicken broth

- 1 chicken carcass

- 1 lb veal knucklebone

- 1 lb veal back of knee

- 1/2 oz onion

- 1/2 oz carrots

- 10 cups water

- 1/4 cup sunflower oil

Brown the veal bones in the oven at 355¡F. Clean the chicken carcass, removing as much fat as possible and the scraps of meat. Drizzle with sunflower oil and brown in the oven at 355¡F. Cut up the veal meat. Clean and trim the chicken meat, but do not portion. Peel and slice the onions. Brown in a frying pan. Peel the carrots, then put all the ingredients in a pressure cooker and cover with water. Simmer for 8 hours. Strain.

To clarify the consommé: - 3 3/4 cup consommé

- 3/4 oz carrot

- 2/3 oz leeks

- 2 oz ripe tomato

- 4 oz veal hamburger

- 1/2 cup egg whites

- 1/2 oz crushed ice

Heat the stock to boiling and then lower the heat to simmering so it does not reduce. Grate the tomato and leave it in a colander to drain off the liquid. Finely dice the carrot and leeks (to make a brunoise). Mix the diced vegetables with the tomato and hamburger meat, then add the egg whites to the mixture and beat. Mix the crushed ice with the clarifying mixture. Stir the consommé clockwise and slowly add the clarifying mixture. Simmer and then gradually increase the heat very slowly over 90 minutes until the liquid begins to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Make a small hole in the clarifying mixture with a spoon so that the consommé can be removed using a ladle. As you take out the liquid, strain it through a sieve.

For the black truffle stock:

- 3/4 tbsp black truffle juice (you can get this canned on the Internet, or you could squeeze your own truffles at something like $800/lb)

- 1 1/2 tbsp clarified consommé

Mix the black truffle juice and the consommé together. Season with salt.

For the iced sheep's milk foam:

1/2 c sheep's milk, scalded

Put the sheep's milk in a Paco Jet container (a cross between a deep-freezer and a blender that runs about $3,000) and leave to cool at 34¡F in the dish. When milk starts to freeze, process in the Paco Jet (just before serving).

To finish:

4 sugarcanes, 1/5 inch in diameter and 4 inches long


Process the milk in the Paco Jet. Heat the black truffle stock. Use a cocktail master (a tool that I think is only available in Europe, used to separate cocktails by density--you might be able to duplicate its effects by pouring the stock down a cocktail spoon slowly) to divide the hot stock between the four glasses containing sheep's milk gelatin. Top with a spoonful of milk foam. Push the sugarcane down to the bottom of each shot glass and serve immediately.


* Special Ed

You can take this dish on the road.

Turkey Rolls

- 1 package sliced turkey breast

- 1 can cranberry sauce

Cut the cranberry sauce into cigarette-sized sticks. Place one cranberry stick inside each slice of turkey. Roll.

** Prep School

Turkeys are great and all, but for the effort, a crown roast is a far more impressive holiday centerpiece. You'll need to order the roast from a real butcher ahead of time, and don't forget to ask for the little paper panties to decorate the ribs after the roast comes out of the oven.

Crown Roast of Pork with Apple Stuffing
(Adapted from Epicurious.com)

For stuffing:

- 6 slices firm white sandwich bread, cut into 1-inch squares

- 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter

- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery, including some leaves

- 1 1/2 lb tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges

- 1/3 cup sugar

- 1 tsp salt

- 1/2 tsp black pepper

- 1 tsp chopped fresh sage

- 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme

- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

- pinch of cinnamon

- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

For roast:

- 1 (9-11 lb) crown roast of pork, rib ends trimmed

- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

- 1/2 tsp black pepper

- 1/3 lb sliced bacon

To make the stuffing:

Preheat oven to 350¡F. Arrange bread squares in single layer in a shallow baking pan and bake in middle of oven until dry and lightly toasted, about 15 minutes. Leave oven on (for roast) and cool bread. Cook onion and celery in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in apples, sugar, salt, pepper, sage, thyme, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Reduce heat to low, then cook, covered, stirring, until apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in bread squares, parsley, and chives.

To make roast:

Set oven rack in lower third of oven. Sprinkle roast inside and out with salt and pepper and put in a large roasting pan (not the tinfoil kind). Mound stuffing in cavity. Wrap tips of rib bones with foil to prevent burning, then wrap meat below bones with overlapping bacon strips, securing them with wooden toothpicks. Roast pork, covering stuffing loosely with foil after 30 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the center of the meat registers 155¡F, 2 1/4 to 2 3/4 hours total. Transfer roast to a carving board and let stand, loosely covered with foil, 15 to 20 minutes. To serve, scoop the stuffing out and distribute evenly. Cut the pork between the ribs.

*** Doctoral Degree Cold Fusion

What better way to impress your holiday visitors than by producing clean, safe energy from what most scientists believe is a naively optimistic or outright fraudulent method? Figure out a way to penetrate palladium rod with deuterium gas without superheating it or releasing any dangerous byproducts. While waiting for the cold fusion to take place, create world peace, guarantee equal rights for all citizens of the world, and take up knitting. Serve cold fusion with plenty of homemade gravy.


* Special Ed


- 3 cups granulated sugar

Have ready a decorative bowl and one spoon for each guest. Arrange sugar in bowl in snowy drifts. Eat sugar.

Alternative: Instead of spoons, serve sugar with candy canes. Your guests can eat the sugar by licking them and dipping them in the sugar.

** Prep School

I like pumpkins, but I don't much like pumpkin pie--even good ones seem gummy and peanut-butter thick on the roof of my mouth--so this recipe for a spiced pumpkin cake from Sherry Yard's cookbook, The Secrets of Baking, is cool.

Pumpkin Financier

- 1/2 lb unsalted butter

- 1 1/4 cup almond flour (AKA finely ground almonds, look for it at Trader Joe's) or almond meal

- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

- 1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

- 1 tsp baking powder

- 1/2 tsp baking soda

- 1/4 tsp salt

- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

- 1/2 tsp ground ginger

- 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

- 2 tbsp packed light brown sugar

- 8 large egg whites, at room temperature

- 1/2 cup pumpkin purée (canned solid-pack pumpkin)

- 1/2 tsp finely chopped orange zest

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and cook until its solids separate and brown to a dark golden color, 7-10 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350¡F. Grease a 10x2-inch round cake pan, line it with a piece of parchment paper, then grease the paper too.

Sift together the almond flour, flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the spices and brown sugar and mix with an electric beater or the mixer's paddle attachment for 30 seconds. Add the egg whites all at once and mix on medium speed for 3 minutes. Add pumpkin purée and orange zest and mix for 30 seconds.

Add the melted butter all at once, scraping in the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Mix for 30 seconds at medium speed, then turn the mixer to high and mix for 3 minutes more, occasionally scraping down the inside of the bowl.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking. Cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then invert it onto the rack, remove the pan and the parchment, and cool completely before serving. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

*** Doctoral Degree

If you don't love a delicious ice cream mold made in the form of a mother hen, well, you have no heart.

Hen with Chicks
(Adapted from The Epicurean: A Complete Treatise of Analytical and Practical Studies of the Culinary Art by Charles Ranhofer, Dover reissue 1971)

- 1 large chicken-shaped mold

- 10-12 smaller chick shaped molds

- sugar, for spinning in the usual fashion

- 1 sponge cake, made in the usual fashion

- chocolate icing, made in the usual fashion

- angelica stems, candied in the usual fashion

- burnt-almond ice cream, made in the usual fashion

- shaved chocolate, shaved in the usual fashion

- finely ground coffee, ground in the usual fashion

- seeds from several vanilla pods, scraped in the usual fashion

Prepare a sponge-cake stand 11 1/4 inches long by 8 1/4 inches wide, and cover it with chocolate icing. Make a nest of spun sugar in the center of the stand and place on it, here and there, small bits of candied angelica. Mold the hen in burnt-almond ice cream, spotted over with coffee, chocolate, and vanilla to imitate the different shadings of the bird. Pack it in ice and freeze for one hour. Unmold and dress it on the stand, with small chicks made also of ice cream, in the same fashion as the larger one.