A Feast for Saint Nicholas

December 6 is the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas. (And yes, Virginia, there really is a Saint Nicholas). For those of you who might not know; Kiddo is our grandson. Hubby and I have raised him since he was an infant. Although “raised” as an only child, we wanted to provide him the experiences of large family whenever possible. (I am a firm believer that large, extended families help to develop a strong sense of community, co-operation and giving/sharing. That is not to say that only children lack these qualities, it’s just easier to instill them in a group setting). I was fortunate enough to have grown up surrounded by siblings as well as a huge extended family – cousins and close family friends. I wanted Kiddo to have similar childhood memories. This is easier said then done when his “siblings” are in reality the children of close friends. You cannot call up your friends and say “Hey, if you don’t already have plans, why not come on over to our house on Christmas and we can all exchange gifts.” Most people have their own family traditions on Christmas. Living in Las Vegas as we did at the time, most family traditions for Christmas involved traveling “home” since many of us were transplants and not “native” to the area.

December 6, the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas, became our day of gift-giving among our friends. When Kiddo was very young, the “Feast” was all about goodies – cakes, cookies and pastries. (This was a “community” effort – an extension of a cookie exchange). Our friends also brought gifts to exchange and placed them under the tree. The children helped themselves to cookies, while the adults gravitated more to the pastries. In the midst of our “party” – the doorbell would ring.  Much to the delight of the children, Santa Clause had stopped by. It seemed that all the way up at the North Pole, he had heard the laughter of children and the smell of cookies. Naturally, we invited Santa in and asked if he would do the honors of passing out the presents from under the tree. Santa would place the bag he carried with him in the corner, and took a seat near the tree. He called out the names of children and adults alike. (Talk about rekindling the magic of childhood, have Santa call out your name). After the exchange of gifts from friends was complete, Santa would start for the door, only to “discover” he had forgotten all about his bag. He made quite the production of his “discovery”, returning once again to his chair by the tree, asking the children if they thought it was a good idea to “open” the bag to have a peek inside. There were always squeals of delight.

As Kiddo and his “adopted” siblings grew older, with a deeper appreciation for food, the “feast” grew to include more than just the sweets of the holiday.  It became a real “feast”. Nothing delighted me more than to prepare a sit-down dinner to share with our friends, who had become our “family” over the years. The children knew, once the desserts were served, that a “visitor” would be stopping by. Although some had outgrown the every-day belief in Santa, like the adults, for that one magical evening, they “believed”.

***** The Menu *****
Apple-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Apple-Marsala Sauce (recipe follows)
Crêpe Wrapped Asparagus with Garlic-Tarragon Hollandaise Sauce (recipe follows)
Baklava (Store-bought or home-made)
Black Forest Cake (Store-bought or Home-made)
Coffee
An assortment of Holiday Cookies (the cookie exchange)
Sparkling Apple Cider
***** The Recipes *****

 Apple Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
2 Pork Tenderloins (about 1 1/2 lbs each)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 Cup Peeled & Chopped Granny Smith Apples
2 Garlic Cloves, finely minced
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
2 Tablespoons Parsley
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
1/2 Cup bread crumbs
1 Large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Lightly grease 13x9x2-inch pan, set aside.

Trim excess fat and sliver skin from each tenderloin, discard. Cut 2 inches of pork from the small end of each tenderloin, finely chop and set aside.

Butterfly each tenderloin lengthwise to lay flat, season both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Peel and finely chop garlic. Peel and chop apples.

In a bowl, mix together chopped pork, apple, garlic, ginger, parsley, seasonings, bread crumbs and egg. Divide mixture between tenderloins, spread evenly. Roll tenderloins and secure with kitchen twine.

Place tenderloins in prepared baking pan and bake for 30 minutes or just until juices run clear. DO NOT over-bake or the meat will become dry. While pork is roasting, peel and chop apples for sauce.

Remove from oven, tent to keep warm and allow to reset 5 minutes before carving.

While tenderloins are resting, make the Apple-Marsala Sauce.

Apple-Marsala Sauce
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored & chopped
2 Tablespoons Sugar
Pinch Nutmeg
Pinch Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Marsala Wine

Melt butter in a sauce pan. Add apples, sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cook for 2 minutes or until apples begin to soften. Add wine and cook 2 minutes longer.

Slice tenderloins between twine, remove twine and plate. Spoon Apple-Marsala sauce over slices before serving.

Crêpe wrapped Asparagus with Garlic-Tarragon Hollandaise Sauce
Ingredients – Crêpes
1/2 Cup Milk
1 Eggs
1/3 Cup plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Combine milk and egg in a blender; cover and process until blended. Add flour; cover and process until blended.

Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat a lightly greased 8-in. skillet over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup batter into center of skillet; lift and tilt pan to coat evenly. Cook until top appears dry; turn and cook 15-20 seconds longer.

Remove and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing skillet as needed.

Ingredients – Asparagus
1 lb Asparagus Spears, trimmed, par-cooked and drained

Assemble:
Place six asparagus spears on one side of each crepe; roll up. Place seam side down in a greased 11-in. x 7-in. baking dish. Set aside until ready to bake.

Bake, uncovered, at 350-for 10-15 minutes or until heated through. Make sauce while asparagus is baking. Keep warm until ready to use.

Ingredients – Garlic-Tarragon Hollandaise Sauce
5 Tablespoons Butter
2 Egg Yolks
1/2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
Pinch of Cayenne Pepper
1 Garlic Clove, pressed
Pinch of Tarragon Leaves

Melt the butter in a small pot. Put the egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic and cayenne into a blender. Blend the eggs for 20-30 seconds at medium to medium high-speed until lighter in color.

Turn blender down to lowest setting and slowly drizzle in the hot melted butter while the blender is going. Continue to blend for a few seconds after all of the butter is incorporated. Gently fold in tarragon leaves. Taste the sauce and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Keep warm until ready to use.

Remove asparagus from oven, ladle with sauce. If desired, sprinkle with paprika for extra color.

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