For years, since she was a young girl, my sister Kathy used to come to our house to celebrate Christmas. But then she got married and last year she had her first child (her second came this year!), so she has started celebrating Christmas at her home in Southern California. We didn’t want to do away with the tradition altogether, however, so we’ve decided that we (as in my husband, my children and I) would go down to her home on New Year’s Eve and I’d cook a meal for the whole family. We started this tradition last year – and we continued it this one.
Last year’s food was great (though I don’t remember exactly what I made) but this year the cooking gods were just not with me. I burnt the sauce for the short ribs, I unwittingly used sweetened soy milk in the pasta, and was really too tired to even enjoy eating the meal by the end of it. Still, it was a nice night for all. Here is what I made:
First Course: Salad
This was an afterthought – but we needed something green. Mixed greens with store bought salad dressing.
Second Course: Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Squares
These are absolutely delicious and very easy to make (though it takes some time to cook the onions). It was a special request from my sister who remembered these fondly. Everyone swooned.
Third Course: Braised Short Ribs with Chocolate and Rosemary with Mashed Potatoes or Vegan One Pot Creamy Mushroom Pasta
My sister chose this recipe out of a handful I selected – and it was a good call. We’d done short ribs the previous year, but given that the only animal protein my mother eats is beef, we didn’t have too many choices. This recipe was very good – or it would have been, had I not burned it. Still, I was able to recover it and I will make it again.
The mashed potatoes were simple: russet potatoes with butter and sour cream until they tasted right.
I made the mushroom pasta for my vegan daughter and vegetarian niece. I hadn’t realized that the soy milk my sister bought was sweetened, so the whole dish came out way too sweet. My daughter ate it, however. I may try it again the right way.
Fourth Course: Chocolate Peppermint Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
Once again, at my youngest daughter’s request, I made my grandmother’s chocolate peppermint cake. Or actually, I had my daughter made a chocolate cake from a mix while I made the magnificent peppermint frosting. That meant the cake was lighter and fluffier. It was great with ice cream.
As I prepared to plan my Christmas Eve dinner for 2018, I realized that I had never actually posted my menu from 2017. I often go back and look at past menus to see what I should repeat – and what I should omit. I did post some of the recipes, however.
I do still have the copy of the menu, though my recollection of how each course was may be somewhat faulty. This was a 12-course dinner because my youngest daughter was 12 at the time, and she requested that number of courses. My oldest daughter was vegetarian at the time (she’s now vegan), so I made sure that the menu had vegetarian options for her.
First Course: Pomegranate Mint Lassi and Spiced Chickpeas
I served this course in the living room while I got the rest of the dinner ready. It went over very well.
Second Course: Caprese Salad Spoons Amuse Bouche
I had gotten some amuse bouche spoons and, of course, I had to use them. I decided on a simple Caprese salad amuse bouche because my oldest daughter was heavily into Caprese at the time. I couldn’t find any fresh basil at the time (this year it’s all over the place), so I used pesto instead. I also used burrata instead of fresh mozarella, which was a mistake as burrata has too mild a flavor to stand up to the pesto and the super-expensive, thick Balsamic vinegar I also used. Still, this was a good amuse bouche and worked well in the spoons.
Third Course: Linguiça and Local Beer/Root Beer
This was my “ode to San Leandro” course. I live in San Leandro, a relatively small city right south of Oakland. For years, San Leandro was the unofficial sausage capital of California – we had several sausage manufacturers in town. Chief among those sausages was linguiça, a Portuguese smoked-cured pork sausage. Indeed, San Leandro was settled by Portuguese immigrants, and they took their linguiça very seriously (read about San Leandro’s sausage king, if you’re interested in true crime stories).
In recent years, San Leandro has been moving away from sausages and closer to beer – we now have several small breweries in town. So I figured a dish of local linguiça and beer would be a nice way of highlighting my adopted town. Plus, this was an easy dish to make (just cook the
linguiça on the stove or oven) and serve.
Fourth Course: Pear & Goat Cheese Salad with Caramelized Walnuts
It’s funny, I’d completely forgotten I had made this last year – and yet when it came time to make a salad for my 2018 Xmas Eve dinner, this is what I came up with once again!
Fifth Course: Mushroom Soup
I’ve been making Anthony Burdain’s recipe for mushroom soup for many years now and I often serve it for Christmas’ Eve. It’s just absolutely delicious. For the last few years, I’ve been making it with vegetable broth rather than chicken broth to cater to my non-chicken eating family members. It’s just as good.
Bastilla is another of my old “tried and true” dishes and a family favorite. My kids really wanted me to make it last year, but as my oldest daughter was then a vegetarian, she requested a vegetarian version. She absolutely loved the recipe I found for her.
Seventh Course: Lemon Sorbet Palate Cleanser
I don’t remember if I made it or I bought it. Still, I always like to serve a sorbet as a palate cleanser before the main course.
Eight Course: Mushroom Marsala Gnocchi
This was my favorite dish of the night.
Ninth Course: Beef Roast with Madeira Sauce, Mashed Potatoes and Green Beans
I didn’t leave any record of what recipe I used for the beef, but I’d used this one with great success before, so I probably used it again. Alas, I don’t know what Madeira Sauce recipe I used.
Tenth Course: Cheese Plate
I seem to remember that whatever cheeses I served were good.
Eleventh Course: Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream.
Twelfth Course: Hot Chocolate or Tea with Shortbread Cookies
Store bought and served in the living room.
Christmas Eve dinner is the ONE big dinner I cook every year – and which I swear, after cooking it, that I’ll never do again. It’s usually a multi-course affair that takes me days to cook – and then goes so quickly (even though it may take hours to consume it). This year I sort of paired it down to 8 courses – one of which we ended up not eating -, but I made vegan versions of several courses because my oldest daughter is now a vegan. She, of course, would have preferred that I only made vegan food, but she’s out of luck on that one.
Dinner was too hectic for me to photograph any of the dishes, so you (or I, when I re-read this) will have to use your imagination. Still, I’m recording this for future reference – together with my notes.
1st Course: Hors d’oeuvres
- Crostini with deviled egg salad*
- Crostini with tomato spread and basil (vegan)
- Slices of salami, soppressata and coppa.
- baguette slices
- olive oil and flavored balsamic vinegars (lemon, coconut and peach) to dip in.
I had also prepared mejool dates stuffed with bacon and goat cheese, but I stupidly left them on the table and the dog ate them! They were good but not great enough to prepare another batch.
I served this first course at the coffee table and the rest of the courses at the main table, but I had a second plate of crostini with egg salad on the dining table for people to nibble while they waited for other courses.
2nd course: Mixed Green Salad with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette
This is my standard salad. I’ve been making it for 14 years and I just love it. Still, I had originally meant to make a pear salad, but I changed my mind when I realized that the apples I’d bought for the cheese course were horrible and decided to substitute them with the pears. I had all the ingredients for this salad saved for the green onions (which I just omitted), so I went with it. As usual, it was delicious.
I served my daughter a vegan version which just omitted the gorgonzola cheese, but she didn’t like it. Apparently the cheese is key for this salad.
3rd course: Chestnut soup + Vegan Chestnut soup
I’ve been wanting to make chestnut soup for a while, but finding chestnuts hadn’t been easy. This year I found them at Safeway, of all places. I thought the soup had a bit too much nutmeg, but my guests disagreed. In any case, both soups were very good.
I made these soups three days in advance, as was recommended by several reviewers of chestnut soups.
4th course: Fish Lolo + Tofu Lolo + Rice
I wanted to serve a fish course this year and after deciding that I couldn’t time my first preference, catfish a la Meuniere, well enough to make it work in this dinner, I went with this recipe for fish in coconut milk that I had cooked and loved when I explored Fijian cuisine. I made a tofu version for my vegan daughter.
This time it didn’t work as well as the first time. Perhaps the problem was the fish, I used sole instead of swai, which had a far more intense fish flavor. In any case, it was OK but not great.
5th course: Apple & Calvados sorbet
I like to serve a palate cleanser before the main dish – particularly important when serving fish as the appetizer -, and sorbets are my usual choice. This time I decided to make an apple and calvados sorbet as something different. I thought it was pretty good, though it was a bit too alcoholic for my children.
I’ve made the beef wellington before and this time it came out great as well, though I put a bit too much pate. My daughter said the mushroom wellington was very good as well. I used much less spinach that the recipe called for, as she doesn’t like spinach.
To make the smashed red potatoes I simply used vegan butter and almond milk instead of butter and sour cream. I also added chives to the mashed potatoes to make it more christmasy (the red was provided by the peels).
I made the braised leeks in advanced and reheated them. Unfortunately, that wasn’t a good call. The leeks had been melt-in-your-mouth soft and delicious when I first made them, but they toughened up and didn’t taste as good later. Live and learn.
7th course: Cheese course (omitted)
This is the course I didn’t serve. All of us were pretty full after the main dish and nobody seemed to have space for the cheese course. I had gotten a few cheeses, crackers and sliced baguette, as well as jams, honey and honey mustard and the pear slices I spoke of earlier (preserved by dipping them in 2 cups of water with 1/4 cup of honey for a few minutes before drying and putting in a ziploc bag). I had also made caramelized walnuts (which I ate all by myself later). Well, all of this stuff keeps for a while.
8th course: Chocolate Tart + Vegan Chocolate Tart
This is a very rich tart and not everyone partook of it. Still, those who did enjoyed it. I’ve been slowly making my way through it since. I found a great Belgian chocolate (54%) that worked great – the key to this tart is to use high quality chocolate. My daughter enjoyed her vegan tart as well.
9th course: Peppermint Ice Cream in Candy bowls
I had thought I’d serve the ice cream with the tarts, but we ended up serving it later to the people who still had room in their stomachs (not me). The peppermint ice cream was store bought, but I made the very cool peppermint candy bowls. When making them, I found that using the back of a water glass worked better than a regular rameskin, as those were too large.
In all, it was a good meal but not as exciting or memorable as previous ones. I don’t know, I just wasn’t feeling it this year.
*I had originally meant to make deviled eggs, but I couldn’t manage to peel the eggs. So I chopped the surviving egg whites and added them to a basic deviled eggs recipe to which I’d added a teaspoon of honey pecan mustard and smoked paprika. This was still not doing it for my husband, he felt something was missing, and I realized it was probably an acid, so I added the juice of a lemon, some more mustard and more paprika. I spread the mixture on crostini. That seemed to do the trick and everyone seemed to like it.
These are three more “make up” cuisines I explored recently, which I had skipped when I originally cooked “C” and “F” cuisines, several years ago by now.
and for Florence, I made a pasta & beans dish and a braised beef dish.
Check them out!
My international food project is going. Slowly, even painfully so, but going. I’m a bit behind on updating the website, but here are three cuisines that I finished some months ago but never got around to adding. Two of these were “make up” cuisines, those that I skipped when I first reached them – either because I couldn’t find recipes or didn’t recognize them as cuisines. Rather than making multiple dishes for each one of them, which would keep me from advancing through the alphabet, I decided to cook just one or two dishes. This is what I made:
And I’m very happy to announce that I’ve started the “H” cuisines. I am totally committed to even finish H before the end of the summer! Hey, I could get lucky and do it before the beginning of the summer, but let’s be realistic!
And my first H cuisine is… Haiti! Now that was fun! You get five full recipes here, one particularly good.
I cook Bissau-Guinean, Guinean, Guyanese, Grenadan, Ghizhou, Guadeloupean, Equatorial Guinean and Gujarati food – and this is what I thinkPosted: July 7, 2017 | Author: admin | Filed under: Menus, Recipes | Leave a comment »
Seventeen years into my International Food Project, it’s become pretty clear that I’ll be lucky if I get to the middle of the alphabet before I die. The real problem is that I get enthusiastic for a while, do a lot of cooking, and then just get tired of it and go back to eating frozen food for months on end. Now that my children are vegetarians-that-don’t-eat-vegetables, finding recipes that even a couple of us will like is very hard. And if I can’t cook for my kids-that-won’t-eat-anything, it seems selfish to cook for just Mike and I.
Still, after a few months of frozen food I’m hungry for some good homecook food so I’m going back to this project. And this means getting to date with my writing. I cooked all these cuisines in late 2016 and early 2017. I thought I was done with “G” cuisines, but I discovered a few new ones: Gascon, Greenlandish, Gibraltarian and Guernsey. I also found other cuisines that come earlier in the alphabet. That, of course, is one reason why I’ll never finish this.
Meanwhile, here are the cuisines I did finish!:
Bissau-Guinean – My journey into this Portuguese inspired West African cuisine could have gone better.
Equatorial Guinea – Try as I might, I could not avoid making yet another dish of chicken with peanut sauce.
Guinean – I made just one dish from this neighboring country, fortunately it was good!
Ghizhou – Another tough country to tackle, but I found one good recipe
Grenadan – I tried, I failed, I moved on
Guadeloupean – Don’t miss the chicken colombo!
Gujarati – I found the most delicious beef kebab dish in this mostly vegetarian cuisine
Guyanese – I loved exploring this cuisine that owes so much to India
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.
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.
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.
This 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.
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.
- 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
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.
- 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
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)
- 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
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
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
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.
After months of inaction, I’ve uploaded the last three cuisines I’ve finished cooking:
My Eritrean menu included an Italian-inspired bread salad, a beef stew and a spongy bread.
My Ghanaian food adventure gave me a yummy meatball stew, a chicken and plantain stew and cake
The Guatemalan dishes I cooked, also a beef and a chicken stew, were better than the food I ate during my honeymoon!
Next on the agenda, Guadeloupean, Bissau-Guinean and Granadian food!
It’s sort of weird. I go through periods when I cook every day and make an effort to continue my international food project. Then there are periods where I go months and months without cooking at all, having take out or frozen food. And sometimes I just make simpler things – though usually that happens when I’m not caught up.
Lately, though, I’ve been cooking and I’ve been cooking quite a bit. So much so that my husband has started to complain that we are always eating something new. So I’ve made a deal that I would cook an oldie every week. But the rest will be new cuisines.
In the last few weeks I’ve finished a number of cuisines. Please check them out:
- Central German: Traditional food from the central region of Germany
- East German: Dishes from the German Democratic Republic
- Galician: Food from the northwestern corner of Spain
- Georgian Era England: 18th century dishes
- German-American: Lots of German food these few weeks!
- Greek Jewish: Dishes from one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world
In the next few weeks I’m planning on making Chamorro, Guatemalan, Guizhou and Grenadan dishes among others.