It was a really nice and relaxing holiday with family this season. We all gather in Snowmass, Colorado to celebrate Christmas every year. It’s a family tradition, 35 years strong. My parents discovered the area in the 80s and that was it for us. It’s our one real vacation together each year.
There is a lot of skiing involved and my Dad used to be all about the vertical feet. Now, as we’ve gotten older, we’ve slowed down a little to relax and feel the snow on our faces instead of the wind blowing against our helmets. Not that we don’t ski, but for me, it’s more about cooking, having hot tea with my parents, and watching movies as the snow falls outside.
My Dad usually commands the kitchen on Christmas Eve for our traditional dinner but he relinquished the making of the roast beast to me. I was a little nervous because I haven’t cooked very much in high altitude and we were at 8,000 feet. I had tested a great recipe at home with neighbors and decided on filet mignon with mushroom sauce and baked sweet potatoes plus garlic green beans. Mom made her specialty, Green Fluff, also known as Pistachio Fluff.
The recipe is adapted from Half Baked Harvest. Rub the steaks in fresh rosemary and garlic, add salt and pepper, then sear each side for two minutes. While I worked on the mushroom sauce, I let them rest. Once I got closer to finishing the sauce and sides, I popped them in to the oven for 12 minutes. It worked perfectly in Georgia but I had to continue adding minutes in Colorado. The butcher gave be bigger steaks than I had requested but he had taken such time and care to cut them for me, I made adjustments when cooking. It took a total of 27 minutes. I was constantly checking them because you know how it works, they’re almost perfect, almost perfect, then….overcooked! I was very happy with the final meal and so was my family.
I love Christmas morning with these guys! In the last three years we bumped it up a bit and bought little fun gifts for under the tree and holiday “tiaras” to wear as we opened presents. It had gotten sad, in my opinion, as the tree only had a few gift cards and maybe a book underneath. I love Christmas but felt we had gotten lazy in the celebration. It’s not about the gifts, they are all very inexpensive, but I missed watching my family have fun opening them. We laugh a lot as a family on Christmas morning….as it should be.
So, me needing another challenge, I decided to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast. It’s a tradition in our house but usually consists of Mom cracking open a roll of Pillsbury straight out of the refrigerator. My new favorite recipe is the Cinnabons Cinnamon Rolls by Jo Cooks. I had actually planned for this, bringing many of the ingredients with me so my parents wouldn’t have to store things in their pantry they didn’t use regularly. While prepping the Eve meal, I pre-made the cinnamon rolls so I could pop them in to the oven after we opened presents. Again, cooking, and baking, are more of a challenge in high altitude. It took four tries to activate the yeast. It really became a science experiment as I was using warm milk, stated in the recipe, but also had another bowl with just water. I covered them with towels to make it dark, I put one in the pantry….nothing was working. By the third try, and after more research, I went back to milk and placed it in the oven. Our house has radiant heating so even though the floor is warm, there is no warm air circulating in the house itself. So, I realized, the bowls were cooling down very fast no matter where I put them or how many warm towels I applied. I did finally get some activation in the yeast, not what I normally get but thought it would work, and honestly, my family wouldn’t care as long as there was a LOT of cream cheese icing. It took quite a bit of time to get the dough to rise the first time (inside the oven), then getting the rolls to rise so they could go into the refrigerator until morning.
What don’t I like about this recipe….not much. Cinnabons can be a little too sweet for me. This recipe is very balanced. The roll is not too sweet and is perfect with the cream cheese icing. So, after I let the rolls warm up a bit, I popped them in the oven with my fingers crossed they would rise. They did rise some, and looked like a cinnamon roll, but I would say they had a little more of the cinnamon twist texture…soft but crunchy at the same time. I slapped some icing on them and they were a hit. After the success of both meals, I felt like I could take a deep breath. I know you’re not supposed to stress during the actual holiday but I really wanted to be there for my family and wanted the food to taste as good, if not better, than my test runs.
The only tips I can give you on making these is to break up the rolls in to several pans. I place five rolls per pan. In the photos of my test batch, you can see I put all twelve into a large pan. They look good but the rolls on the outside were overdone and the middle was a little undercooked. When prepping, I do what I learned when working at a bakery years ago…roll the dough out, brush on melted butter, sprinkle with filling, then drizzle the leftover butter over the filling. I added one cup of chopped pecans to my version.
It was really a great holiday and I was happy to be there for family and share some of the food I cook at home. We are a grateful family and know how fortunate we are to have had the successes we’ve had in life and to be healthy and together. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and have a happy and prosperous new year!