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Tip: Pack light for holiday travel

The holidays might bring joyful times, but traveling to your destination is usually nothing to get happy about. Crowds, flight delays and the occasional lost bag or two add up to one big buzzkill. This season, things are looking particularly bleak with many airlines shrinking flight schedules. And those pesky bag fees can pile up when you’re dealing with winter gear and gifts.

So if you’re planning to travel by air to your holiday destination, get ready to get in your zen zone before you go. We asked a few experts for tips on smart holiday packing for a weekend, a week or a two-week trip. 

A weekend

Atlanta-based style consultant and frequent traveler Robanne Schulman suggests packing a pair of dark straight-leg jeans, a cardigan, lightweight T-shirts for layering, a jersey dress (women), nice slacks (men), one pair of flat boots (wear these to the airport), one pair of heels or dress shoes for men. Don’t forget standards like pajamas and underwear. Stick to one color scheme such as black or brown and only take along simple, less expensive jewelry. If you take the good stuff, don’t take it off. Ever! Wear an all-weather trench coat and scarf to the airport. Pack your items in a carry-on size rolling suitcase or a hanging bag. When packing your bag, place harder to wrinkle items like jeans on bottom. Tuck shoes along the sides, says Schulman.

One week

Add a few more items to the above list such as cotton pants and turtlenecks or tops with a pop of color to break up the monotone look, Schulman said. You can also add a pair of flats depending on your itinerary. Put it all in a rolling suitcase, and pack smaller items such as lingerie, socks, etc., inside of shoes. It is also a good space-saving strategy to roll the thinner items, such as T-shirts. Make sure you pack enough clothing to give yourself a few options, but be ruthless. Over-packing was one of Schulman’s biggest mistakes. “That’s why I now just go with one color scheme,” she said.

Other travel tips: Schulman, who travels about once a month, swore she would never check another bag after her luggage was lost on consecutive trips. She keeps personal items in a giant tote that serves as her second carry-on. Fill it with a clutch purse, toiletries and other items such as a flat iron, extra shoes, etc.

Make sure your toiletries meet security standards by requesting samples of your favorite skincare and makeup when you buy your regular size products, Schulman said.

Two weeks

Rory Tahari, author of “Lists for Life,” (Simon and Schuster Adult, $19.99) offers an iPhone app with comprehensive packing lists (she even includes checklists for kids and a list of toiletries). For extended trips, her suggestions include the basics such as pajamas, underwear, socks and belts, as well as a cashmere blanket (1), jeans (3), long sleeve T-shirts (14), sweaters (3), nice outfits, tennis shoes, pants (5), raincoat, short sleeve T-shirts (8), and casual wear such as sweatpants. For trips to warmer destinations, don’t forget summer clothing such as shorts and sandals. For colder climates, pack a coat, glove, hat and scarf. Tahari uses her lists as a starting point to get her going, and then customizes them for each trip.

More holiday tips

● Weigh your luggage at home on a standard bathroom scale, then pack about 10 pounds under the known limit. Weight and size restrictions for luggage vary by airline as well as destination. Maximum bag weight can range from 50 to 100 pounds and fees vary.

● If you can, purchase holiday gifts upon arrival at your destination.

● If you decide to travel with your gifts, wrap expensive or fragile gifts in bubble wrap and carry them with you to make inspection easy. All other gifts should be packed in your luggage to make security check easier. Wait until you arrive at your destination to wrap your gifts.

● If you have a lot of gifts, ship them ahead. It might save you a lot of money (as well as your sanity).

Savory dishes add international flare to holiday menu

Instead of a ham or roasted turkey at the center of your Christmas dinner, what about pork ribs or spicy beef stew?

Just as Santa Claus looks and behaves a little differently than St. Nicholas and Papa Noel, Christmas dinners around the world are as varied as the way Christians and even non-Christians celebrate the holiday.

One of the universal truths of Christmas is that it inspires a sweet tooth in all of us, but instead of focusing on all the holiday cookies, puddings and fried doughs, let's take a tour of the variety of non-desserts found during Christmas dinner around the world.

Many traditional holiday dishes, like jellied pigs' feet in Sweden, herring salad in Finland, carp in aspic in Canada or goat pepper soup in Ghana, might not be as warmly embraced on American tables, but here are a few savory dishes similar enough to American favorites that you might consider incorporating them into your Christmas feast.

Just like in the United States, most holiday meals abroad are centered around a large cut of roasted lamb, pork, beef or fowl, the main course and side dishes reflecting the kinds of meat and produce available in local markets. Seafood is popular in many places, the most well-known tradition being the Feast of Seven Fishes in Italy.

Filipinos, 83 percent of whom are Catholic, have earned the reputation of having the world's longest Christmas celebration with Christmas decorations and carols filling many homes as early as September. Because the islands are in the middle of trade routes passing through the Pacific Ocean, the Filipinos celebrate a Spanish-influenced "Noche Buena" dinner on Christmas Eve, which features ham, "bola de queso" or Edam cheese, and a hot chocolate called tsokalate. Many families prepare their own version of caldereta, a tomato-based stew featuring beef, chicken, pork or even goat that is thickened with mashed cooked liver.

Even in countries where Christianity isn't the majority religion, Christmas is often celebrated with holiday displays and great feasts. In Ghana, families gather to kill a goat and make a spicy stew using every part of the animal.

Although ham graces many Christmas tables, in Norway, clove-dotted pork belly ribs are traditionally served on Christmas with lingonberry relish, potatoes and sauerkraut. Both roasted and caramelized potatoes are served alongside roasted pork or duck in Denmark, and Sweden has a special Christmas version of a smörgåsbord called julbord that features an array of meats, fish, cheeses, sausages and cold salads.

In Spain, where almond soup is a popular Christmas dish, vendors on the sidewalks throughout the holiday season roast chestnuts and serve them in paper cones to people who are strolling through the streets to look at the impressive light displays.

Wild mushrooms and herring are at the center of Polish Christmas Eve dinners called Wigilia. Many Russians in the Eastern Orthodox Church fast through the month of December until Jan. 6, when they celebrate with a multi-course meatless dinner that features a wheatberry porridge called kutya.

In Central and South America, tamales with every imaginable combination of filling and masa are served around the holiday season, usually with mole or a chile- or tomatillo-based sauce. In places like Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas falls during one of the hottest months of the year, families often gather outside for barbecues and picnics.

Although the dishes served might vary, the spirit of getting people together to celebrate the goodwill associated with Christmas is the same from Ghana to Guatemala.

abroyles@statesman.com; 912-2504

Christmas-Spiced Pork Ribs

In Norway, this dish is typically made with ribs that still have the pork belly attached. I used a rack of regular ribs that can be found at most grocery stores, but you could use the fragrant rub and cloves on pork chops or a pork roast as well. Don't have ground anise in your cupboard? Clean out your coffee grinder and pulverize anise, fennel or caraway seeds or star anise.

 

2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

3/4 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

1/2 tsp. ground anise seed

1 rack pork ribs, about 3 lb.

11/2 Tbsp. whole cloves

1 apple, cubed

 

Mix together salt, pepper, ginger and anise. Rub mixture all over the pork ribs. Press cloves into the meat, spacing the cloves about an inch apart. Place ribs in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least four hours.

Remove ribs from refrigerator and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Let meat rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and apples to the dish, cover with aluminum foil and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. After half an hour, reduce heat to 250 and bake for another 30-40 minutes.

Remove foil cover and turn on the broiler. Move the oven rack to the top third of the oven and broil ribs for 5-7 minutes until meat is starting to brown and the internal temperature reaches 160 degress. Serve with lingonberry jam and cooked apples that have been strained from the pan juices. Serves 4.

- Addie Broyles

Russian Crab Salad

1 lb. picked crab meat

1 lb. new potatoes, boiled and diced

1/2 cup fine diced dill pickles

1 medium white onion, fine dice

1/4 cup green peas

2 Tbsp. fresh dill

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Juice of one lemon

1 crisp sweet apple peeled, cored and fine diced

1/2 to 3/4 cup good mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Mix all ingredients together well, but gently, until evenly distributed and mayo lightly coats everything. Serve on individual small plates or (as I prefer) on one large platter, nicely decorated with parsley leaves, dill springs, edible flowers, olives, pickle slices, etc.

- Rob Moshein

Caldereta

This rich Filipino stew can be made with chicken, pork or goat instead of beef, and many recipes call for carrots, red bell peppers or other vegetables, so feel free to use what you have. Liverwurst can be substituted for the pâté or omitted altogether, but either makes the stew even more flavorful and thick.

 

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup minced garlic

2 lb. cubed beef round or stew meat

2 Tbsp. oil, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

11/2 cups canned tomato sauce

2 cups beef stock

2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes

1/3 cup green olives, sliced

1 cup peas

1/4 cup liver pâté (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Mix together vinegar, soy sauce and garlic in a large bowl. Add beef to marinade and let sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Remove meat from the marinade and pat dry.

In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Brown the beef cubes in two batches. Once all the beef is browned, remove meat from pot and add the rest of the oil. Turn down heat to medium and sauté onions and peppers until the onions are translucent, about 12 minutes.

Return beef to the pan and add tomato sauce and beef stock. Bring to a boil and then cover. Reduce heat and simmer stew for 30 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until softened, about 20 minutes. Add olives, peas and pâté. Stew should be relatively thick. Season to taste and serve over rice. Serves 8.

- Addie Broyles

Caramelized Potatoes

A Danish Christmas dinner usually features both roasted and caramelized potatoes. The salted butter takes away some of the sweetness of this dish, but think of it as an alternative to sweet yam casserole.

 

11/2 lb. small round potatoes (or 1 large can of canned whole potatoes)

5 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. salted butter

 

If using raw potatoes, wash and peel them. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until soft. Drain potatoes and pat dry. (If using canned potatoes, drain and pat dry.)

In a nonstick skillet, heat sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. Stir sugar frequently as it liquifies and starts to caramelize. When the caramel turns a golden brown, stir in butter until well combined. Add potatoes and stir until coated and potatoes are heated through. Serves 4.

- Addie Broyles

For fresh holiday decor, step outside and gather

Looking for a fresh look for holiday decor? Step outdoors and take stock of Mother Nature.

"I try to use materials you can get from your yard or your neighbor's yard," explains Justin Branton, garden center manager at Habersham Gardens in Atlanta.

His go-to decorative embellishments include holly sprigs, branches sprayed a snowy white, in bloom leatherleaf mahonia and, of course, fresh green wreaths.

Branton is leading a series of free holiday decor classes this Saturday and next at Habersham, focusing on creating fresh pine wreaths, succulent wreaths and holiday container plantings. He shares these easy tips for creating seasonal magic at home.

Indoor holiday container:

Materials: English ivy topiary, poinsettia, Maidenhair fern, Christmas cactus, ornaments of choosing, decorative moss

How: Choose a sturdy, attractive indoor container in a holiday color. Fill with styrofoam popcorn if the container doesn't have holes for drainage; if it does, place a saucer underneath to capture moisture. Fill three-quarters of the pot with a basic potting soil. Place tallest plant, such as the English ivy topiary, in center or side. Next, place poinsettia beside the topiary. Fill in remaining space with ferns, Christmas cactus and other indoor-appropriate plants. Interesting objects, such as ornaments, can be placed throughout for holiday interest. Cover soil line with moss.

Maintenance: This indoor container needs bright, indirect light to thrive. Water only when soil feels dry to the touch when placing finger one inch into pot.

Tips: If you prefer, many of the plants can be left in their individual containers. For an instant arrangement, place them inside the soil-filled container and hide plastic containers with decorative moss. After the holiday season, transplant the plants to a permanent home.

DIY wreath

Materials: Basic wreath of your choosing, such as Fraser fir or boxwood, holly sprigs, colorful plant cuttings such as leatherleaf mahonia, sticks sprayed to color of your choosing, found objects such as faux birds, ribbon, floral wire, water picks (tubes that hold a stem in water) and whatever else you'd like to use for decoration.

How: For live plants such as the leatherleaf mahonia, use water picks to keep the cuttings fresh throughout the season. Use floral wire to secure larger elements into place in the wreath. Next, place in holly and small branches and secure if necessary. Ribbon and found objects, such as Branton's woodland owl, should be placed on the wreath last.

Maintenance: Live wreaths should be spritzed daily to combat drying out. Branton also suggests refilling the water picks daily for the first week to ensure the cuttings are thoroughly saturated.

Easy centerpiece

Materials: 16-inch wreath, floral foam, water picks, saucer, poinsettia and holly sprigs or other plant materials for embellishment. You may also use a gazing ball, oranges or candles for the centerpiece.

How: This easy-to-make centerpiece begins by placing a small live wreath atop a saucer. After soaking floral foam (cut to the size of the center of the wreath) in water, place foam in the center of the wreath. Candles may be placed into the foam, followed by live plant materials such as poinsettia or holly. Branton suggests to place the poinsettia stems in water picks. Fill in the open space with evergreen cuttings or moss. The center may also be filled with ornaments or a gazing ball for holiday shine, or oranges with cloves for a natural, scented statement.

Maintenance: This centerpiece may only look its best for a few days, Branton says, but should be spritzed to prolong its life.

Taking care of your holiday plants

The holiday plants are coming!

Is there a poinsettia in your future? A Christmas cactus on its way to your doorstep? A small bag of paperwhites waiting to add their pungent fragrance and starry white flowers to your holiday decor?

If you’re one of the millions who will find yourselves decorating with live plants this Christmas season you probably want to know, “How do I take care of this?” and “What do I need to do so it will bloom next year?”

The answer to the first question is easy. Bright light and a consistent water supply will keep your plants looking their best. Getting them to rebloom is a different matter.

Amanda Campbell, manager of display gardens for the Atlanta Botanical Garden, said most of the bulbs in particular are not likely to bloom again. “They’ve been forced to bloom completely off their natural cycle, and while I’m not going to say it couldn’t happen, reblooming is not likely. They’re a good one-time purchase,” she said.

The same can be said about poinsettias, which are native to the tropics, where they become huge trees. The ones decorating your house were grown in a greenhouse to be at peak bloom for Christmas, and after the holidays Campbell said they should be discarded.

 

Paperwhites

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs will grow in just about anything. Put a few in a vase with water and gravel, or pot them up in soil or sand. The key to a good-looking plant is to give it enough water and a sunny enough spot that it doesn’t grow tall and leggy. If you’re buying bulbs that are potted, you’ll get a longer display if you buy plants that are in bud with just a few flowers open.

If the plant is in soil, Campbell advises letting it dry out between watering, but check the moisture every day. Plants indoors dry out faster than you think. These bulbs are really outdoor garden plants and it takes bright sun to keep them sturdy.

“If yours start to flop, get some discrete little stakes and tie up the stems,” she advises.

 

Amaryllis

An amaryllis will have a tall flower stalk with multiple flowers. They bloom in red, pink, orange, coral, white and bicolors. You can keep the plants looking good by cutting off the spent blooms. Cool conditions with bright light will keep the stalk sturdy. Water whenever the soil is dry to the touch.

You might have luck with reblooming if you cut back the flower stalk and grow your amaryllis over the summer like any other houseplant. In the fall, stop watering for six to eight weeks to force the bulb to go dormant. Then remove the old foliage and move the pot to a sunny location. Start watering again and you may get a new bloom stalk in three to eight weeks.

 

Poinsettias

“So many people love poinsettias and hate to see their season end, so they try to save them. But it’s typically not worth the heartache,” Campbell said. First thing to remember about poinsettias is that their sap is a natural latex that can be irritating, so be careful with these plants around children and pets.

Poinsettias can take lower light conditions than other holiday plants so they work well in a living room or den.

If the leaves start yellowing and falling off, you may be watering too much or too little. You’ll know which.

 

Christmas cacti

These popular plants naturally bloom around Christmastime, so they’re going to be the easiest to hold over as house plants and to have rebloom for you each year. A sunny window and a little drying between watering will keep them in good condition.

If you keep your plant outdoors through the fall, the natural shortening of the days will bring on the set of new flower buds. Bring it indoors before frost and enjoy it for the holiday season.

These are great pass-along plants. Just break off a stem and stick it in some potting soil. Keep it lightly moist and within a few weeks it will root and you’ll be able to share your beautiful cactus with family and friends. They make wonderful holiday heirlooms.

For more ideas

In addition to all these plants, orchids, bromeliads and cyclamen add festive color to the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s holiday displays. “People think we don’t have a lot going on in the winter, but this is the perfect time to visit, especially the Orchid Center, where the orchids are heading into their peak season of bloom,” Campbell said. The garden is hosting a variety of holiday activities, from a Reindog Parade to high tea. Check out www.atlanta botanicalgarden.org for more information.

Christmas breakfast with the family

Thanksgiving may have a pre-set menu, but the meals Christmas Day — not to mention the options for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day — offer a lot more room to be creative. And though many of us skimp on breakfast much of the time, Christmas morning is tailor-made for serving something luxurious.

If you want to prepare a special breakfast but don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen away from family and friends, we’ve got recipes: A strata and freshly baked sticky buns can be prepared a day or two ahead, requiring only a preheated oven and a little baking time to get them table-ready.

If you’d like to spend your time after the presents have been opened with everyone gathered in the kitchen helping, then you could make pancakes or waffles, or go a little more international with our Parisian Street Vendor Crepes.

To see what we could learn about working ahead, we talked to Susan Reid, editor of King Arthur Flour’s subscription newsletter the Baking Sheet — a bimonthly magazine filled with seasonal recipes and answers to readers’ questions.

Reid grew up in New Jersey, one of six kids. “On Christmas morning, my mother serves a strata, prepping the whole thing the night before, and using the time/bake feature on her stove. When we get home from church, the strata is 15 minutes away from being done.” The Reid family strata features cheese, mushrooms and sausage. With 27 people in the immediate family, the strata has to stretch pretty far, augmented with orange juice, coffee and an avalanche of baked goods.

What about those baked goods, and especially the ones made with yeast? Reid had lots of tips to offer based on her readers’ questions and those called in to King Arthur’s bakers hotline (802-649-3717).

Rapid rise yeast is what Reid calls a “sprinter,” good for a dough that has only one rise. Use instant or active dry yeast for doughs that rise once, then are shaped and rise a second time before baking. They’re exchangeable in most recipes.

Using water to “test” the yeast to see if it’s still alive is a holdover from the past, when active dry yeast was the only type most people used. It’s still a good idea with active dry yeast, but unless your instant yeast is very old, you can just incorporate it into your dough with the rest of the ingredients.

Don’t worry about how much flour to use when the recipe calls for a range, like 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 cups. “The answer is that you need to put your hands in the dough,” Reid said. If it’s wet and sticky, add more flour. The idea is to start with the low number and add more if it’s needed.

Sweet doughs need to be soft and a little sticky to make tender products. Flour your hands instead of the dough to make working with it easier.

You’ll never have to be intimidated by the temperature of the water or other liquid you’re adding to your dough if you’ll remember that yeast is a living creature, and it wants to grow in an environment that’s just a little warmer than your body temperature. “If it’s comfortable for your hand, it’s comfortable for the yeast,” Reid said. Err on the side of cooler if you have any question, because yeast will grow even in your refrigerator. But if the liquid is too hot, you’ll kill it.

You can slow down any yeast dough at any stage by refrigerating it. Mix the dough in the morning, put it in an oiled bag, take it out in the evening, shape it and it’s ready to go. That’s what bakeries do. The long, slow rise in the refrigerator makes for more flavor.

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Whether you want a delicious hot breakfast that can bake while the family is opening gifts or you’re looking for something that will give everyone a reason to gather in the kitchen, we’ve got three great ideas for you.

Parisian Street Vendor Crepes

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 20 minutes, includes standing time for batter Makes: 20 (6-inch) crepes

Crepes are just a skinnier version of pancakes, served with a delicious filling. Crepe batter takes just a minute to make but needs a few minutes to rest before cooking. While the batter is resting, you can prepare your filling. We’ve offered two filling suggestions, but the possibilities are endless. A classically trained chef would tell you that a well-prepared crepe should be perfectly smooth and have no color, or maybe just a few freckles.

For the crepes:

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

11/2 cups (12 ounces) milk

4 large eggs

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Nutella and banana filling, per crepe:

1 tablespoon Nutella

1/2 banana, sliced

Confectioners’ sugar for garnish, optional

For ham and cheese filling, per crepe:

1 tablespoon chopped deli ham

1 tablespoon grated Swiss cheese

In a blender, combine flour, milk, eggs, butter and salt. Blend until smooth. Cover and allow batter to sit for at least 1 hour.

Heat a 6-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Spray the pan lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Pour a scant 1/3 cup batter into the bottom of the pan, pick it up and tip it in a circle so the batter covers the bottom of the pan. Cook until the top no longer looks shiny and edges start to lift from the pan, about 30 seconds. Use an offset spatula or butter knife to lift edge of crepe and flip it over in the pan. Cook for 15 seconds more and move to a warm plate. Repeat with remaining batter.

Fill crepes while still warm. For Nutella and banana filling, spread crepe with Nutella, add banana, then fold into quarters. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. For ham and cheese crepes, toss ham and cheese together and fill crepe. Fold into quarters.

Adapted from “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion” (Countryman Press, $35)

Per crepe (plain): 92 calories (percent of calories from fat, 38), 3 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 76 milligrams sodium.

Per crepe, with Nutella and banana: 224 calories (percent of calories from fat, 33), 5 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 9 grams fat (3 grams saturated), 51 milligrams cholesterol, 91 milligrams sodium.

Per crepe, with ham and cheese: 132 calories (percent of calories from fat, 46), 7 grams protein, 11 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 7 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 62 milligrams cholesterol, 205 milligrams sodium.

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Make-ahead Sticky Buns

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time 
Makes: 16 rolls

For cooks who are new to yeast, the baking powder in this dough provides extra insurance for a light roll. The dough does all its rising in the refrigerator, so you can start these rolls a day or two ahead of time, then just take them out of the refrigerator as you preheat the oven.

Turn these buns into cinnamon rolls by eliminating the glaze and topping the baked rolls with an icing of confectioners’ sugar mixed with just enough milk to make a spreadable consistency. Or make honey buns by substituting honey for the corn syrup called for in the glaze.

For the dough:

1 cup warm water

1 package (1/4 ounce, 21/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional if needed

1/2 cup instant potato flakes

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup nonfat dry milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 egg

11/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

For the filling:

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the glaze:

1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

In a measuring cup, combine water and yeast and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine 3 cups flour, potato flakes, sugar, dry milk, butter, vanilla, egg, baking powder and salt. Turn on mixer to low speed to combine. Slowly pour in yeast mixture and continue mixing on slow speed until a soft dough is formed, about 5 minutes. If dough is too soft, add up to 1/2 cup additional flour. The goal is a soft sticky dough but one that holds its shape on the dough hook.

In a medium mixing bowl or food-safe plastic bag, add vegetable oil and swirl to coat all sides. Put dough into bowl or bag. Cover or seal and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

When ready to shape rolls, remove dough from refrigerator. While still cold, roll out on oiled work surface into a 12-by-16-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, make filling by blending sugar, butter and cinnamon together with your fingers. Spread across dough. Starting with a long edge, roll the dough into a log. Using a serrated knife, slice dough into 16 pieces.

Lightly grease two 9-inch round pans. Make the glaze by combining brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in microwave-safe measuring cup and heating 1 minute, or until butter is melted. Stir to combine, and then pour half into each prepared pan. Sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans over glaze in each pan. Place one sliced bun in the center of each pan, and surround with 7 more pieces. Cover pans and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

When ready to serve, remove buns from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until tops are lightly golden brown and buns feel firm when pressed. Remove buns from oven and invert them onto a serving dish. Scrape off any sticky topping that has remained in the pan onto the buns.

Adapted from a recipe at www.kingarthurflour.com

Per roll: 324 calories (percent of calories from fat, 40), 4 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 15 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 29 milligrams cholesterol, 213 milligrams sodium.

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Merry Christmas Strata

Hands on: 30 minutes Total time: 1 hour, plus chilling time Serves: 6

A strata is a savory bread pudding, an easy make-ahead dish that’s completely adaptable. The red and green bell peppers strike just the right holiday note but you can substitute roasted red peppers and fresh or canned green chiles if you prefer. Replace the ham with sausage, or simply eliminate the meat; swap out cheddar or Swiss for the Asiago; use mustard instead of pesto or adapt the flavors to suit your guests.

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup (about 1/2 small) finely chopped onions

1/2 cup (about 1/2 small) diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup (about 1/2 small) diced green bell pepper

12 cups stale bread, 
cut in 1-inch cubes

1 cup (about 1/2 pound) diced ham

2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated Asiago, divided

5 eggs

21/2 cups milk

11/2 tablespoons pesto, optional

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

In small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter and sauté onions, red and green bell peppers over low heat until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Spray a 2-quart baking dish with nonstick spray. In a large mixing bowl, toss bread cubes, sautéed onions and peppers, ham and 11/2 cups Asiago. Put bread cube mixture in baking dish.

Melt remaining 4 tablespoons butter and, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together with eggs, milk, pesto, salt, Tabasco and pepper. Slowly pour over bread cube mixture. Push top of the bread down into the milk and egg mixture to be sure all pieces are covered. Sprinkle remaining Asiago over the top. Cover dish with wax paper and then foil, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove wax paper and foil and place baking dish in upper third of oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until puffy and brown. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from “Morning Food: From Cafe Beaujolais” by Margaret S. Fox and John Bear (1994, paperback)

Per serving: 617 calories (percent of calories from fat, 56), 30 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 38 grams fat (20 grams saturated), 278 milligrams cholesterol, 1,354 milligrams sodium.

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Christmas morning indulgences

● Prepare buttered hot cider by adding a little sugar and orange juice to apple juice or cider, and then heating with spices such as whole cloves and cinnamon sticks. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon of butter before serving

● Serve spiced tea by steeping your regular brew with whole spices such as cinnamon and cardamom pods. Strain the spices, serve with milk and sweeten to taste.

● Put a spoonful of whipped cream on top of fresh hot coffee. You’re drinking kaffee mit schlag, a Viennese favorite.

● Ambrosia is the classic Christmas fruit salad. Serve a creamy version by stirring in a mixture of 1 part sour cream, 1 part yogurt and 1 part whipped cream. Sweeten to taste.

● Try a hot fruit dish by combining fresh or canned fruit with a few tablespoons of butter and brown sugar. The classic combination is peaches with a little amaretto.

● Or sauté bananas with butter, some brown sugar or honey and the liqueur or extract of your choice.

● Whip up a quiche using a homemade or store-bought pie crust with the same filling (minus the bread cubes) as that in our Merry Christmas Strata.

● Make decadent French toast using a soaking mixture created by melting your favorite flavor of ice cream and mixing it with three eggs.

● Mix honey, maple syrup and rum or rum flavoring to make a special syrup for pancakes or French toast.

● Offer grits but instead of serving them with eggs and bacon, make a cream sauce, spiced with a little jalapeño or bell pepper, and add steamed shrimp.

Costume ideas for women

Adorable baby costumes for halloween

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