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.
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.
Mixed Green Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
Polenta with Mushroom Ragout
- 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.
Coconut Butternut Squash Soup
- 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)
Five Spice Short Ribs
- 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.