Is it because my health wake-up-call this year changed me deeply? (Don’t worry! I’m good as new!) Or is it a coincidence that really old friends from years past who knew nothing about it are calling and visiting and reconnecting? Whatever it is, there is an air of sweetness and hope and festivity in the air.
I find the answer for myself in the very word enjoyment. There are always all kinds of treats to indulge in during the holidays. All sorts of pleasure to pursue. But doesn’t the simple pursuit of pleasure lead eventually to decadence and over-indulgence—and beyond that, to guilt for having over-indulged?
But joy is a different feeling entirely. The word itself, from the Old French enjoier, means “give joy to.”
My very best teacher on the distinction between pleasure and enjoyment is my beautiful stepdaughter Kathy. She is kind and sensitive and wise, always making decisions on how people will be affected. Her wedding some years ago, for instance, was a deeply cherished experience for everyone who attended. Unlike so many brides who focus on a wedding in order to be the center of attention, Kathy and her then-future husband Court both paid enormous attention to the feelings of their guests and how to provide treasured memories for everyone present.
Kathy and I began a new tradition today--sharing a festive holiday lunch together. I brought up the subject of how much I love my Kindle electronic book. She said, “Caitlin [age 8] wants one for Christmas, but I’ve been thinking that I really want her to enjoy the tactile experience of loving real books at her age.” That makes such good sense to me.
A few nights ago, Ted and I were invited to her family tree-trimming, and because of that I noticed how my particular enjoyment this year is cooking party foods and food gifts. (Yes, I avoid the rush and shopping for friends and family because it is so satisfying and easy and efficient to make them in my kitchen.) Chocolate fudge is a staple, of course. And the Cranberry Pepper Jelly in my most recent blog--(I’ve had many emails and messages raving about that one)--but the star recipe of this holiday season is something new and surprising--the recipe below for Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Quesadillas with Cranberry Pecan Relish. I made it for Kathy's party, and I was filled with joy at how it created delight among the tasters. It was so popular we almost skipped the main course. I hope you make it.
May true enjoyment be our gift to others this holiday season!
WILD MUSHROOM AND GOAT CHEESE QUESADILLAS
WITH CRANBERRY-PECAN SALSA
For 4 to 6 main-course servings or 24 appetizers
This outstanding recipe from The Pastry Queen Chrstmas: Big Hearted Holiday Entertaining Texas Style by Rebecca Rather has been the star of this year’s recipe repertoire at our house. We have taken it as an appetizer to parties and watched it be devoured to rave reviews!
½ cup whole pecans
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1 shallot, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (optional)
½ cup (1 stick) butter
1 yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 ½ pounds mixed wild and commercial mushrooms, such as chanterelles, shiitakes, or oysters, sliced (shiitakes should be stemmed as well)
1 pound button or cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2/3 cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
Eight 8-inch flour tortillas
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey jack cheese
3 cups (15 ounces) crumbled fresh goat cheese
To make the salsa: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees R. Arrange the pecans on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer and toast them in the oven for about 7 minutes, until deeper brown and aromatic. Transfer to a bowl, let cool, and break them into pieces.
In a food processor, combine the vinegar, olive oil, sugar, mustard, orange zest, orange juice, salt and pepper. Process until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. [Lacking a food processor, use a blender for this.]
Make sure you combine this vinaigrette before adding the fruit because the mixture becomes cloudy if you processes all the ingredients at once. Then again, if you don’t, it will still taste as good.
Add the cranberries, shallot and jalapeno and pulse until the cranberries are coarsely chopped. Pour the salsa into a medium bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Stir in the pecans just prior to serving.
In a large sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat, add the onion and sauté for about 4 minutes, until translucent. Add the mushrooms, garlic, salt and Worcestershire and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and pepper and cook the mushrooms until the liquid is absorbed, at least 5 minutes.
While the mushrooms cook, coat a griddle or large skillet with cooking spray and heat over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium. Lay 2 tortillas on the griddle or in the skillet and cover each with ¼ cup of the Monterey jack. Evenly spread about 1/3 cup of the mushroom mixture on one half o f each tortilla and cover the mushroom mixture evenly with a thin layer of crumbled goat cheese4. Use a metal spatula to fold each tortilla in half and cook until lightly brown and crisp on the bottom. Flip and cook until brown on the other side. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.
Cut each folded tortilla into 3 wedges and serve warm at room temperature, with the salsa alongside.
To prepare in advance: Cook the quesadillas a few hours before your party. Wrap individually in foil, then reheat in a low oven before cutting into wedges. The salsa will keep up to three weeks in the refrigerator and is delicious with all kinds of holiday fare.