I’m a fan of shortcuts. I make plenty of things from scratch but certainly not everything. I both admire and am baffled by those who make every single thing from scratch, such as tomato sauce or pudding or puff pastry.
I endeavor to have fun while I’m cooking and if a daunting task can be avoided by using canned, frozen or boxed foodstuffs, then I’m all for it. My time in the kitchen is a respite from some of the other, more burdensome parts of my life. I don’t need to impress anybody by making my own mayonnaise. I don’t really like mayonnaise, anyway, so there.
I’m reminded of a Christmas party where I was asked to bring an appetizer. I went to Trader Joe’s and purchased a couple of dips for crackers and veggies and picked up a few tasty cheeses. At the party, the host really liked the dip and asked for the recipe. I knew he was a make-everything-from-scratch person and I didn’t want to disappoint him. It was a loud party and I sort of bypassed the question, hoping he’d think I hadn’t heard, but then he asked again. I teasingly replied, “I bought it myself at Trader Joe’s.” He looked horrified and immediately moved away to talk to another guest, someone who I presume makes dips at home instead of buying them from the store. Horrors! What is the world coming to when we can’t even make our own dips?
Here’s a festive recipe that makes use of several shortcuts: refrigerated crescent rolls, condensed soup and canned chicken. It looks like it took hours, but it comes together relatively quickly. Plus, it’s enjoyable to arrange the dough into the wreath shape. It’s like kindergarten playtime with clay except you get to eat the results. (Although I imagine some kindergarteners have also dined upon clay. There’s no accounting for taste.)
Don’t be daunted by the wreath shape. If you can put triangles in a circle, you can do this. First, turn the oven to 375 degrees so the oven will be nice and hot when the wreath goes in. Next, finely dice half a red bell pepper (or about a generous half-cup) and finely chop enough broccoli florets to equal a heaping ½ cup. Slice or dice enough brown or white mushrooms to fill a cup. Don’t worry about chopping neatly because everything is going to get stirred together. Now mince two cloves of garlic (or three cloves, if you want garlic breath like me).
Put all the veggies, fungi and garlic in a big mixing bowl and add a can of undiluted cream of mushroom soup, a 4-ounce can of well-drained pimientos and 1 cup of shredded Monterey Jack cheese. (Colby or cheddar would also work just fine. Use mozzarella if you like extra-stretchy cheese.) Add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary, or substitute sage. If you don’t have fresh herbs, reduce the measurement to 1 teaspoon.
You could even add a dash of cayenne pepper or a couple squirts of Sriracha if you think a meal is not a meal unless your mouth is a smouldering furnace. (I’m not mocking you. You should see me when a restaurant has spicy chili sauce on the table. There’s so much heat coming off the plate that my cutlery melts.)
Mix everything together thoroughly and set aside. Pop open the crescent rolls. I know, I know — this is easier said than done. The instructions say to press on the perforated cardboard with a spoon, but that has never, ever worked for me. I usually have to hack away at the cardboard with a knife and then the dough explodes or, worse, oozes out a tiny crack so that all my crescent rolls end up looking more like amoeba rolls.
Anyway, if you can make it past this hazard, unroll the crescent dough and separate all the triangles. Now make a large ring on your biggest baking sheet (ungreased) with the wide parts of the triangles overlapping at least an inch and the pointy ends pointing out. When you’re done, it should look like a starburst with about 8 inches of emptiness in the middle.
Spoon the filling around the innermost edge of the wreath, where the triangles overlap. You should end up with a ring of filling about an inch or two wide and an inch or two tall.
You’ll think it looks like too much filling to be contained in the dough, but don’t worry, everything will be fine. Take the pointy ends of the triangles and fold them over the filling, tucking the points underneath the dough on the inner side of the ring. There will be a lot of filling poking through the crescent dough and you’ll think that it’s going to spill while it’s cooking, but it doesn’t. It magically holds its shape like a Christmas miracle, with just enough dough to keep the filling contained.
Put the wreath into your hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crescent dough puffs up and turns golden. Remove it from the oven and let it cool for five to 10 minutes before serving. This savory treat is best enjoyed warm, right out of the oven. It doesn’t refrigerate well and heating it up with a microwave doesn’t do it any favors. It can feed up to six people as a dinner entree, or it can feed many people eating smaller portions at a party. Either way, it looks magnificent and the red peppers and green broccoli give it a colorful holiday flourish.
I adore dramatic dishes that look like I labored for hours, when in reality it took me about 15 minutes. I feel like I’ve really beaten the system, bucked expectations and gotten away with something slightly naughty.
This chicken mushroom wreath satisfies my need to appear more skilled than I actually am. It is, perhaps, a point of slight vanity, but I cling to it nevertheless. The only other area where I outshine my peers is my ability to wear pajamas for long stretches of time, even after the pandemic’s end closed the book on daytime loungewear. I do love dressing up and when I go out, I’m always color-matched and fully accessorized, but a part of my spirit still pines for soft pants and thick socks.
This impressive edible wreath is the culinary equivalent of a tailored pantsuit that, upon closer inspection, turns out to be made of flannel. May all your holiday gatherings be just the same — as stylish as they are accommodating.
Chicken Mushroom Wreath
2 tubes (8 rolls each, 16 total) refrigerated crescent rolls
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
One 10.5-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh broccoli
1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
One 4-ounce jar pimientos
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 can (10 ounces) white chicken, drained
Arrange crescent rolls on a pizza pan or large baking sheet. Tear dough into triangles and from a ring with the wide ends on the inside and the pointed ends facing out. The wide ends should overlap an inch on each side. Mix other ingredients together and spoon over the wide ends of the crescent rolls (the innermost part of the ring), leaving a small inner border. Fold the pointy ends over the filling and tuck under the wide ends. The filling should be visible between each triangle. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.