Christmas Eve 2015 Menu – Better Late than Never

For memory’s sake alone, I want to record here – over a year late – my menu for Christmas Eve 2015. My bathroom sink broke in December 2014, so that year we went out to dinner, but in 2015 my parents and siblings came to visit us. It was bittersweet as my sister Gabriela had passed away the previous spring. I made a very simple meal, with all repeated favorites.

This is what I served:

First Course: Bread & chips vinegars, oils & dips

Second Course: Mixed Green Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette and Iceberg Lettuce with Thousand Islands

The mixed green salad is one of my favorites and my youngest daughter asked me to serve it against in 2016.  The lettuce with Thousand Island salad was for my oldest daughter who is very picky.

Third Course: Mushroom Soup

Another old favorite, from the Les Halles cookbook.

Fourth Course: Flamishe

This leek tart has become an obligatory course at all my Holiday dinners.

Fifth Course: Lime Sorbet in shell

I can’t recall if I made or bought the sorbet, but I halvened the limes in two and scooped out the flesh, then I froze them, filled them with lime sorbet, and put them back in the freezer.  It was a beautiful presentation.

Sixth CoursePrime Rib with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans Almondine plus Brown Rice with Coconut Curry

To make the green beans, just steam them, salt them, toss them with butter and roasted sliced almonds.  I made the coconut curry for my vegetarian daughters. I no longer recall what recipe I used, but I don’t recall her being crazy about it.

Seventh Course: Cheese Plate

I’m sure it was great, but I don’t recall what I served.

Eight Course: Chocolate Peppermint Cake with Maple Nut Ice Cream

The chocolate cake is one that my grandmother used to make and I wanted to surprise my father with it.  Unfortunately, he couldn’t remember it.  My grandmother also used to make maple ice cream and serve it with chopped nuts.  She had tiny bottles of maple essence she had brought from her trip to the US before I was born (I imagine, I have no idea how else she could have gotten them) and would make this special ice cream once in a big while.  This recipe uses maple syrup, however.


Christmas Eve 2016 Dinner Menu (with Recipes)

xmastableThis year, my father and my friends Lola and Iggy came over for Christmas Eve dinner.  It was a simpler affair than in other years, with only eight courses.  I decided early on that I wanted to make a cheesecake for dessert – a favorite of my friend Lola.  Alas, that means displacing the cheese course to the start of the meal.  No matter, the meal flowed perfectly and everything was great.

I was able to make most of the dishes in advance, which made for a much less stressful Christmas Eve.  This is what we had:

First course: Cheeses

I served a manchego, le Pommier Camembert and Délice de Bourgogne with sliced baguette, crackers, green apple slices, grapes, caramelized walnuts and orange marmalade.   The cheeses were from La Fromagerie in San Francisco.  Most of us preferred the délice, though my dad liked the camembert the most.  Still, these weren’t the best cheeses we’ve had.

Second course: Amuse Bouche of Polenta with Mushroom Ragout

I spent a lot of time looking for recipes of amuse bouches that I could serve in a spoon, but wasn’t satisfied with any. Finally, I decided to wing it and placed a tiny bit of store-bought polenta on each spoon and topped it with a quick, recipe-less mushroom ragout. Wow, was it delicious.  Everyone wanted more!

Third course: Mixed Green Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

This is an old favorite and was requested by my youngest daughter – who had forgotten it had blue cheese in it and didn’t like it.  This time I used Point Reyes blue instead of a milder Gorgonzola, so perhaps that was the problem.  Most of us were happy with it.

Fourth course: Coconut Butternut Squash Soup

My oldest daughter requested I make this soup.  I wanted to try a new recipe, as none of the ones I tried before were that great, and I was intrigued by using one with coconut milk.  This one proved to be a huge hit. It was absolutely delicious.  I had meant to add some pumpkin seeds for color/texture (instead of the red onions and kale the original recipe called for) but I forgot.  Nobody missed them.  Do serve this with sour cream.  It needs the added acidity to be truly great. And great it is.  I made this in advance and then added some water to reheat it.

Fifth Course: Flamishe 

This leek tart is another old favorite requested by my oldest daughter.  It’s one of the simplest things you could ever made but also the most delicious. Once again, I made individual tarts to make it more elegant and served the cream in a creamer, so everyone could pour themselves some.  I made the filling in advance but prepared the leek tarts the day I served them.

Six Course: Lemon Sorbet

Store bought Haagen-Dazs, I’m afraid.

Seventh Course: Five Spice Short Ribs, Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus

We finally get to the main dish! My vegetarian daughters forewent the ribs, but the rest of us were very happy with them.  I made them in advance, of course.  The buttermilk mashed potatoes are my usually recipe, which I multiplied a few times.  The asparagus were simply roasted with olive oil and salt.

Eighth Course: Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Being an Argentinian, dulce de leche cheesecake might seem like an obvious idea.  And yet it did not occur to me to make it until I finally decided that my choice of peanut butter cheesecake did not fit with the menu above.  It’s a good thing I listened to those voices, as this was probably the most delicious dessert I’ve made in a long time.  I used San Ignacio Dulce de Leche, which is a great brand, but I’m sure any other would do.  Don’t miss the glace, as the cheesecake is not nearly as good without it.

I served an expensive California sparkling wine with the first part of the meal and Clos Pegase Atlas Peak 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, which we’d bought at the winery, with the main dish.  They were both delicious.

The Recipes

Mixed Green Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

Polenta with Mushroom Ragout

Ingredients:

  • 1 small package of tubed ready-made polenta
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup madeira or marsala wine
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Slice about half the tube of polenta. Bake or saute it until heated through.  Place in serving plates.

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat in a medium saute pan.  Once the butter is melted add the shallot and cook until soft, stirring as necessary.  Add the mushrooms and continue cooking until they are soft and all the liquid evaporates.  Add the whipping cream and madeira and cook, stirring, until it reduces to a thick glace.  Sprinkle with salt and paper to taste.

Place the mushroom ragout on top of the polenta and serve.

Coconut Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green apple, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Sour cream

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375°.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum oil.  Cut the butternut quash in half (or quarters, if easier).  Place cut side up on the baking sheet and cover with aluminum foil.  Cook until the flesh is soft, 30 to 50 minutes.  Cool until you can handle it, then peel or scoop out the flesh onto a plate or bowl and set aside.

Heat oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Add the squash, apple, broth, ginger, curry powder and nutmeg.  Bring to a boil, then reduce temperature to low, cover and simmer until the apples are soft, about 10 minutes.

Remove pot from the heat and, using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.  Alternatively, transfer solids to a food processor or blender in batches and process until pureed, then transfer back to the soup pot and mix well.

Add the coconut milk, stir and cook on low for about ten minutes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with sour cream.

Based on a recipe from the New York Times.

Flamishe (Leek Tart)

Five Spice Short Ribs

Ingredients:

  • 5-6 lbs English cut short ribs
  • kosher or sea salt and pepper
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 carrot, rinsed and cut into thirds
  • 1 parsnip, rinsed and cut into thirds
  • 1 onion, cut in wedges
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup cilantro stems
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups beef broth

Directions:

Sprinkle salt and pepper on short ribs. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Dust in flour.

Preheat oven to 350F.  Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven.  Working in batches, add short ribs and brown on all sides, removing to a plate as they brown.  Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the Dutch oven and set on medium heat.  Add tomato paste and give-spice powder and cook, stirring, for one minute.  Add wine and deglace pan.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer, and cook until the liquid is almost completely reduced, about 10 minutes.

Add the short ribs, carrot, parsnip, garlic, cilantro stems and bay leaves.  Cover with the broth.  Bring the braise to a boil over high heat.  Then cover and transfer to the oven.  Cook for 2 hours. Remove from oven, let cool, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 350F.  Remove pot from the refrigerator and remove and discard the congealed fat.  Return pot to the oven and cook, uncovered, for 40 to 60 minutes, until the meat is falling off the bone.  Gently remove the short ribs from the cooking liquid and keep warm.  Strain cooking liquid into a large bowl and discard the solids.  Return strained liquid to the cooking pot, set on the stove over medium-high heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Return the short ribs to the liquid, and cook until the ribs are warmed through.

Based on a recipe at Epicurious.com

 

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

Ingredients:

For the Crust

  • 50 vanilla wafers
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Cheesecake

  • 2 lbs cream cheese
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup dulce de leche
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

For the Glace

  • 2/3 cup dulce de leche
  • 2 Tbsp whipping cream or milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter a springform mold. Line inside with parchment paper and butter again.

Using a food processor, crumble the vanilla wafers into a coarse powder.  Stir in the melted butter, sugar and vanilla cream. Press against the bottom of the pan and about 1/3 up the sides.  Bake in the oven for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, using an electric mixer cream together the cream cheese and the sugar.  Mix in the eggs, one at the time.  Mix in the dulce de leche, the vanila extract and the pinch of salt.  Pour onto prepared crust.

Bake in the oven until it sets, about 50 minutes.  Remove, let cool and unmold.

Prepare the glace by heating together the dulce de leche and whipping cream and whisking to combine.  Once the cheesecake is cool, spread dulce de leche sauce on the top and sides.  Note: if it cracks, you can fill the cracks with dulce de leche as well.


2012 Christmas Eve Dinner

Every year since my kids were born (except for 2005, when we visited Argentina) I have made an elaborate, multi-course Christmas Eve dinner.   I start the menu planning by deciding what meat I will feature as my main dish.  I want something eye-catching that I wouldn’t normally cook.  Trouble is, after so many Christmas Eves, I’ve run out of choices.  I’ve done standing rib roasts, boneless prime ribs and regular roasts.  I’ve cooked beef Wellington and plain beef tenderloin roasts.  I’ve done turkey, goose, pork tenderloin and leg of lamb.  One year I made the most delicious rack of lamb.  Earlier in my marriage, I once even made Ethiopian food for Xmas Eve dinner.  And last year, I made short ribs.

I don’t like repeating dishes – thus my Xmas Eve dinner problem – but I was in a big conundrum this year.  My kids won’t let me cook any cute animals – so no lamb, venison, ostrich, duck – and none of us are that fond of pork, so that leaves beef (chicken is just not impressive enough for Xmas Eve dinner).  And I really didn’t want to do a roast (nor spend the money to buy top-quality beef).  I thought about making oxtails, but the kids balked and, truth be told, after a couple of experiences with really tough oxtails, I wasn’t that willing to risk it.

So I decided to go for short ribs again.  There are many ways to prepare them, after all, and they are a crowd favorite.

In all, my menu went very well, I think it may have been my most successful menu so far, as everything I served was good-to-great.  The two favorites seemed to be the shrimp salad, that accompanied the soup, and the cheese course.  It’s sort of sad that that would be the star of a meal I spent 2 days preparing, but there is little you can do to compete against good cheese.

As usual, I eliminated one dish from my planned menu: the fish.  I had originally planned to make the leek tarts as an amuse bouche, but they ended up being too big for that purpose, so I turned them into an appetizer instead (and made the eggnog the amuse bouche).  I could still have gone with the fish, but given that it needed last minute cooking – which meant more time away from the table for me – I skipped it.  I think it was a good choice, both time and flavor wise.

Here is what the meal ended up being:

Eggnog

Plantain and Coconut Soup with Shrimp, Tomato and Avocado Salad

Individual Leek Tarts

– Lemon Sorbet, as a palate cleanser

Wine-Braised Short Ribs with Cocoa and Star Anise

served with garlic & plain mashed potatoes and braised red chard

Assorted Cheeses

Peanut Butter Trifle

And there you go 🙂

Marga’s Party Recipes
Marga’s Best Recipes


Roast Chicken with Lemon and Thyme

I made this epicurious.com recipe for Roast Chicken with Lemon and Thyme last night. It produced an amazingly juicy chicken that Mika couldn’t get enough of. I think it was even juicier than the rotisserie chicken I make, BUT it was quite lacking in the flavor department. The sauce that came with it was just OK.
I would use the method again: Preheat oven to 450F. Put chicken on a grilling pan (I’d rub olive oil on it and sprinkle it with salt and pepper) and roast for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375F and cook for another hour or until it reaches an internal temperature of 180F.
But I wouldn’t bother with the sauce or even the marinade.
Marga’s Best Recipes.


Red Snapper with Lemon Oregano Butter

Today I made Red Snapper with Lemon Oregano Butter for dinner – an epicurious.com recipe, of course 🙂 It was quite good. Camila liked the fish, even without the yummy butter, though Mika refused to try it (she is convinced she doesn’t like fish). Mike and I and the cats liked it 🙂
Best of all? This recipe can be prepared in less than fifteen minutes (including time to preheat the broiler)!


Basque chicken

Last night I made Hirigoyen’s Basque chicken, a dish I hadn’t made in several years. I can kick myself asking why not. It was absolutely delicious – even better today, when I had the leftovers. It’s amazing to me, once again, what the French/Basques can do with such few ingredients.
Most importantly, the kids (reluctant to try it at first), LOVED it. Mika couldn’t stop praising it and telling me what a good cook I was. And the dish is quite easy to make. So I really should make it more often.


Sumac Skirt Steak with Pomegranate Reduction

Last night I made Sumac Skirt Steak with Pomegranate Reduction from an epicurious.com recipe. It was a fairly quick recipe to make, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. I did overcook the pomegranate juice somewhat, but my biggest problem is that the flavors of the spice rub and sauce hid those of the meat.
Mike really liked the dish, though. I’m mentioning it here, but I won’t cook it again.


Glaced Lamb Chops

I made lamb chops from this epicurious.com recipe last night for the adults, given the lamb chops were on sale at Lucky’s for 50% off. I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of using unfiltered apple /juice/ rather than /cider/ – because I could either get filtered cider or unfiltered juice. The results were quite good, but not spectacular. I’m not sure that there is a spectacular way of preparing lamb chops, though 🙂 Still, next time I’ll try something else.


Grilled Steak Kebabs with Orange and Hoisin Glaze

orangeskewers.jpg
I made this tonight, from an epicurious.com recipe. I used tri-tip steak instead of tenderloin ($3 lb vs. $11lb at Safeway), and the steak came out very nice, tender enough and tasty. That said, I’ll probably not make this recipe again (unless I have some hoisin sauce I need to get rid of), because while good, it wasn’t special enough.


Stir fry

Last night I made my first stir fry. Ever. Really.
I had meant to try one before, I had bought the sauces, but for whatever reason I never got to do it. Then a few days ago I found the jars of stir-fry sauce I’d bought at the supermarket (probably over a year ago, they don’t have an expiration date, and by God I hope they’re still good!), and decided to use them. That’s my new plan: either cook international recipes or recipes that use up the ingredients I already have at home. Come to think of it, this is not really a very new plan – and it’s not one that works particularly well. Yes, I use up ingredients, but I buy new ones to make the new recipes, so that it becomes a huge food cycle. At least we rarely eat the same thing twice – if that’s a good thing.
Anyway, back to my stir fry, I can’t believe how easy it was. I sliced some thin-cut pork cutlets (I’d have bought chicken, but it wasn’t on sale, and I almost only buy meats on sale now), stir fry them on some oil for a few minutes, I removed them, dumped out the fat, and then stir fried some broccoli, celery and snow peas for a couple of minutes. I returned the pork, added the sauce, and voila! That was it. The results were pretty good. Of course, I only ate the pork, which was a bit tough (I will try chicken next time) and a bit bland (next time I should salt it, rather than rely purely on the sauce), but mostly good. The sauce (Kikkoman Stir-fry Sauce), was very nice – somewhat reminiscent of teriyaki, but not as sweet. It gave a good flavor to both the veggies and the meat. Mike liked that the veggies were still crunchy. Camila ate a tiny bit of pork and broccoli, but she didn’t complain later that she was hungry, so I guess that’s all she wanted. She hates food with sauces, but I just told her there was no sauce on the pork. She can be pretty clueless sometimes.
Mika didn’t eat any of it – she was doing her homework and didn’t want to be disturbed by dinner. She ate some grapes (88c lb at Safeway this week!), and I guess that was enough.
Anyway, the moral of this story is that making a stir-fry is very easy, and I should plan to make it again in those nights when I don’t have much time to cook. I’ll probably try chicken next time, see if it’s more tender, but I liked the thin pork cutlets because they had very little fat to get rid of, maintain their shape, and were incredibly easy and quick to slice up. I’ll also try new veggies next time (though my kids only like a limited amount of veggies): some mushrooms, some red peppers (for color if nothing else), mini-corn, if I can find it at the supermarket, etc.