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.

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Eritrean, Guatemalan and Ghanaian Recipes Up

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!

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Recipes from Guam, Guanajuato and Germany Up

Ìt’s been a long time, but I’ve finally updated my website with recipes of cuisines I’ve been working on lately.  You can find them here:

Germany: Mushrooms & Horseradish Mashed Potatoes, yum!

Guam: Don’t miss the Beef & Coconut empanadas or the BBQ!

Guanajuato: The peanut mole was quite good!

 

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On Vegetarianism

lisasimpsonMy 13-yo daughter wrote the following speech to give to her 8th grade English class.  While I continue to eat (guiltily) eat meat, I am extremely proud of her.

In 2014, 30,170 innocent cows were brutally murdered in slaughterhouses, for YOU to eat your steak, hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. 8,666,662 little chickens were slaughtered for your chicken nuggets. 106,876 sweet, adorable pigs were killed for your bacon. You may not care, to you animals may simply be meaningless, their only purpose being your food. But they’re not. Why are some animals okay to eat, and not others? Why would you happily eat a pig, or cow, but the thought of eating a cat or dog is terrible?

In 2014, I stopped eating meat. 6-9 months before that I had stopped eating all meat except chicken. I honestly have no clue why I thought it was alright to eat to eat chicken. But, I did stop. Why did I stop eating chicken? A Bones episode. It depicted a warehouse full of chickens, each of them given less than a foot of space to live. It depicted baby chicks getting their beaks cut off, because when they got older, they’d fight each other, from the stress of not having any room to live. I don’t know if what they showed was true, I haven’t had the heart to research it, not wanting to think about what was truly going on. It was at that moment that I decided I couldn’t stomach the idea of forcing an animal to go through that, so I could eat something, I really didn’t need. The idea of their lives having to end, for them to have to stop existing, for a hamburger or chicken nugget.

I don’t think it was hard to become a vegetarian, maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten cow, or pig in so long, maybe it was because I truly believed that it was just wrong and cruel to eat the carcass of a deceased animal. I think what was harder, was learning later on that there are things I didn’t know about that contain meat. Gelatin is in marshmallows and gummies, it’s made from boiling the tendons, ligaments, bones, and skin of pigs or cows. Lard is pig fat, it’s in a lot of Mexican food, being used to make quesadillas and refried beans. Truthfully, I didn’t know at the beginning, and I’m still finding out about new things that I can’t eat. If you want to count me actually becoming a vegetarian by when I stopped eating gelatin, or lard, fine by me. But I count it as when I decided it was wrong to.

I’m not trying to turn you into a vegetarian, because I know it won’t work. I think I mostly just think everyone should understand what these innocent creatures have to go through for you to eat something, many of you take for granted. And if you start to question your ways, that’s just fabulous.

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Bay Area / San Leandro Restaurant Deals

I’ve written about restaurants deals in San Leandro and the Bay Area before, but new places offering deals have come around, so I thought it was time for an updated posting.  These are the deal sites I’ve found, if you know of others please let me know!

Restaurant.com

Get $25 gift certificates to local restaurants for as little as $2. Minimum purchase (usually $35-$50) required. Other restrictions. Click on link above for details.

Groupon

The original “daily deals” service.  You sign up and you get an offer for a good or service, often at a deep discount. Relatively few restaurant deals but they have the occasional one.

ValPak

These are the coupons you get in the mail. I thought it was the same site as the one above, but they have different offerings. The link goes to the deals for San Leandro, but they have them for all over (just enter your zip code).

Also check the website of the particular restaurant you want to go to. Some (pizza & Chinese joints in particular) will have coupons there or clubs that you can join for special deals.

Local Saver

Pools coupons from the sites above

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews

Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

San Leandro Talk

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Candy Club Subscription Review: A half-sour experience

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Candy Club: Up to 3 lbs old-fashioned candies, $34/month
Promo: fbtreatyourself20 for $20 off your first box
I paid: $14 with promo, box value: $
To unsubscribe: call 888-598-5995, quick & easy

The Candy Club is a monthly subscription that sends you 2 to 3 pounds of old fashioned candies every month. Boxes come with 3 plastic jars of lose candy and individually wrapped candies filling up the rest of the box. The box is also supposed to include a “surprise confection”, generally a wrapped cookie or candy bar, but it was missing from my box. I didn’t notice until now, which makes me sad as it would probably have been my favorite item in the box. The candy containers look pretty cool, but they are actually made of thin, flexible plastic – so they are not really reusable.

This boxed is supposed to have a retail value of $60. To me, that seems impossible. I came up with a $16 value for this box, using online prices. Now, those values are calculated based on the purchase of much larger quantities, but even at regular candy stores, lose candy goes for $8-$12 a lb. I got 2 1/2 lbs of candy so, at the most, this box is worth $30. It was a deal at the $14 price I paid, but not much of one at the $34 cost of subsequent boxes. Fortunately, cancelling was easy. I just called the number and was unsubscribed without

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Sour Power Candy Belts in Wild Cherry, 9 oz, $2.5

These were sour, really sour. I had trouble eating even the tiny piece I tried. My children, however, enjoyed them.


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Gimbal’s Sour Gourmet Jelly Beans, 14 oz, $8.5

I also found these to be incredibly sour, though quite tasty after you were done with that. Nobody else in my family found them sour, however, showing their taste buds are gone. Enjoyable but not better than regular Jelly Belly’s.

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IMG_0178 Gimbal’s Red Licorice Scottie Dogs, 10 oz, $5

I didn’t realize these were made of licorice until I just checked what they were call to write about them. You would have fooled me, they don’t taste at all like licorice. That’s a good thing as I hate licorice. That said, these didn’t taste of much anything. Everyone at my house agreed these were not worth the calories.


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Sweet’s Cotton Candy Salt Water Taffy, ~7 oz, $2.5

These were everyone’s favorites. Really delicious taffy that really tasted like cotton candy. I may very well buy some more of these in the future.

Check out my other subscription box reviews.

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New Cuisines Up: Central & Easter German, German-American, Galician, Greek Jewish and Georgian Era

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:

In the next few weeks I’m planning on making Chamorro, Guatemalan, Guizhou and Grenadan dishes among others.

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New International Recipes Up!

Slowly but surely I’m continuing in my international food project.  For the last fifteen years I’ve been coking foods from different world cuisines, alphabetically.  I’m still at the “G’s”.  It may not seem like much, but in these fifteen years I have explored 134 cuisines and cooked 441 recipes – and more are coming!

I just uploaded a few cuisines I’ve been working on in the last couple of months (or more). They are:

Among the best recipes from these cuisines there is a Bavarian onion pie to die for, a simple and delicious Bordelaise chicken and a great stewed beef.

Check them out!

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The Crepery, Fairbanks – Restaurant Review

We has lunch at The Crepery our first day in Fairbanks. The restaurant has great reviews online, and it’s easy to see why.  The crepes are really awesome.  They are also unlike any crepes I’ve had before.

The Crepery was started by a European couple who visited Fairbanks and decided to settle there.  It serves savory and dessert crepes, as well as different types of coffee drinks.  The space is rather small, but we were able to grab a couple of tables which the owner was very kind to put together.  The crepes, however, are toasted and folded into triangles, so that you can actually hold them and eat them without having to use silverware.

I got the prosciutto and blue fig crepe and it was extremely delicious.  I might have enjoyed a little bit more fig to add additional sweetness, but that’s a minor issue.  I loved every single bite.  I thought, at first, that the crepe would not be large enough to satisfy my hunger – not really a problem given that they also serve dessert crepes – but I was actually pretty full at the end, though to be fair I did end up eating some of Camila’s crepe as well.

Camila got the ham & cheese crepe.  I thought it was delicious, I don’t know where they source their ingredients in Alaska, but they certainly do a great job.  Camila, however, felt it had too much diced ham and, indeed, it was a generous serving.  She did take much of it out and enjoyed her cheese crepe.

Mika had the tomato basil crepe.  She’s been into caprese lately and this crepe really hit the spot, she thought it was delicious.  Mike had similar feelings about his smoked salmon crepe.

At the end we were so full that we didn’t actually try any of the sweet crepes, and while we meant to go back, we never did.  We should have.

The Crepery
535 2nd Ave
Fairbanks, AK
(907) 450-9192
M-F 7 AM – 7 PM, Sa 9 AM – 6 PM, Su 11 Am – 5 PM

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews

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Lemongrass Thai Cuisine – Restaurant Review – Fairbanks, AK

Lemongrass Thai Cuisine was recommended to us as one of the best Thai restaurants in Fairbanks (which has surprisingly many).  While we liked the food at Tiparos better, Lemongrass is a much more upscale experience – and the food was very good.

We went there during what looked like the dinner rush a Monday evening in March, 2015.  The place was packed and service was a little slow at first, but we didn’t care much as we had a lot of time to waste before taking our plane back home.  Service during dinner, however, went very smoothly.

I played it safe and ordered my favorite Thai dish, mussaman beef ($14).  It was lighter in color that I’m used to, and perhaps a little bit less intense in flavor, though it was somewhat spicy.  It was very good, however.  It was a large enough portion that I was able to share it with Mike (being our last night in Alaska, we didn’t want any leftovers).   Mika had the pad thai ($14) as usual, and she also enjoyed it.  Camila had the kid’s chicken satay ($6).  The skewers were very small, but Camila thought they were very good.

In all, it was a very good dinner experience.

Lemongrass Thai Cuisine
388 Old Chena Pump Road
Fairbanks, AK
907 456-2200
http://www.lemongrassalaska.com/
M-Sa 11am — 4pm, 5pm — 10pm

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews

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