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Christmas Eve Dinner 2021: Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen + Luke’s Grill

A wonderful Christmas Eve Dinner with some help from Luke’s Grill

This year, probably for the third time in two decades, I didn’t cook Christmas Eve dinner. I’m going through one of my anti-cooking spells, and the thought of making course after course of food I’d barely have time to eat before getting up to prepare the next one just wasn’t appealing. Plus, after the fiasco that was Thanksgiving Dinner, I wasn’t eager for a repeat. Moreover, with another COVID wave hitting us, we had decided that once again it would only be us having dinner.

So, I decided on take out – but what? This shouldn’t have been that hard a question, but I wanted something “special”. That meant something that we didn’t usually get for take out, something that I wouldn’t be able to make easily, something that could be eaten family style and something that would satisfy all our individual food issues. Deciding on a specific cuisine, much less a restaurant, was hard.

Ultimately, I decided upon Greek because it’s homey, it’s somewhat Christmasy and it can be served family style. We actually have two pretty good Greek restaurants in town, and rather than decide between them, we tried them both.

Items from the Zeus Platter from Luke’s Grill.

We ordered the Zeus Platter ($20) from Luke’s Grill. This appetizer combo came with Greek sausage, meatballs, tiropita, spanakopita, dolmades, tzaziki and abundant pieces of pita. Though it was a bit cold by the time we started eating it, I was quite pleased with both the sausages and the meatballs. The tiropita, phyllo dough cooked with herbed cheese, was also quite delicious, and I enjoyed the pita with the tzaziki. Unfortunately, my vegetarian daughter wasn’t in the mood for dolmades or spanakopita, so those went uneaten.

We got all our mains from Moussaka. I particularly enjoyed the Hunkar Beyendi or Sultan’s Favorite ($28), apparently an Ottoman specialty. The dish consists of a smoked eggplant and mozzarella puree topped with braised lamb and tomato sauce. It’s served with a rice/orzo combination. By the time I transferred it to a serving dish, the whole thing was mixed together but that’s how you are supposed to eat it anyway. It was delicious. I’m not a particular fan of eggplant, but it provided an amazing smokiness to the dish. The lamb was tender and flavorful and the whole dish just came together with homey umami. And it was just perfect for Christmas: it has too many elements for me to easily replicate and it’s too expensive for a regular take out meal, and thus provided the “specialness” I wanted from a Christmas Eve meal.

Manti

I was far more disappointed in the manti ($18), pasta filled with spiced beef and supposedly served with a garlic yogurt sauce, brown butter and fresh mint. The little dumplings were tasty, but they were very lightly sauced, and therefore way too dry to really enjoy. They quickly became monotonous. I wouldn’t order them from here again.

Two portions of the combo kebap (one kofta already eaten)

In order to get a good sampling of their offerings, we ordered the combo kebap ($29), which came with a meat skewer, a chicken skewer, a single kofte, a mixture of beef/lamb gyro meat, rice and a salad. The meat skewer was listed as a lamb skewer, but it was actually beef. It was very tender, very nicely spiced and just delicious – often times kebabs are dry, but this was not the case even when the leftovers were reheated.

The same cannot be said for the chicken kebaps. They were very tasty, but dry. Fortunately, the kofta was delicious.

Beef/lamb gyro meat

I’m totally in love with the beef/lamb gyro meat. I couldn’t tell a difference between each slice of meat, so I’m going to guess it was all lamb, but whatever it was was delicious. Also very tender and not dry, and perfectly seasoned.

Chicken shawarma

A dish of chicken shawarma ($20), also served with rice and salad, was equally delicious. Again, they seasoned it perfectly and managed to not make it dry.

Finally, I ordered a felafel wrap ($13) for my vegetarian daughter, and she was happy enough, though wouldn’t elaborate about it.

In all, it was a great meal and I’d order from here again for a special occasion meal.

Gateau Basque, perspective from above

We had two desserts, though we were too full to eat more than one that night, and then well after the meal. Early in my meal planning, when I still thought I’d actually cook Christmas Eve dinner, I had proposed making Gâteau Basque for dessert. My first trip with Mike after we got married was to Spain, where we spent several days in the Basque country. We had enjoyed an amazing gâteau basque at a restaurant in Aoiz, my great-grandparents’ hometown and the memory has lingered with Mike ever since. However, in the decades since, we’ve been unable to find a cake that matched those memories, either at a restaurant or at home. It’d been many years since our last try, so I was game to do it again.

This time I decided on a well reviewed recipe that I found on the internet. I was quite pleased with the flavor, both of the cake and the pastry filling, but I felt that the dough needed more flour – my daughter preferred the soft texture, however. In all, it was good but not as sublime as our memories of that cake in Aoiz.

I also bought a Tres Leches cake from Safeway, a favorite of all of us. I was lucky to get to eat a slice the next day.

Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen
599 Dutton Ave, San Leandro
‭(510) 850-5020
Closed Mondays

Luke’s Grill
1509 East 14th St, San Leandro
510-614-1010
Closed Sundays

Early Xmas Dinner 2021: Canelones!

For many years, my father and my sister used to come to spend Christmas with us and they’d partake on my multi-course meals. Once my sister got married, however, she started spending Christmas with her in-laws, but still missed my cooking. So for the last few years we’ve been going down south after Christmas and I’d end up making a New Year’s Eve dinner for the whole family. This got disrupted in 2019 when we went abroad that holiday season, and while we had a belated dinner in February 2020 – the last one with my father – I didn’t record it. Then the pandemic came and we stayed home in 2020 but armed with vaccines and home tests, we decided to give it a new try in 2021. Alas, my sister had a trip planned for New Years, so we had our family Christmas dinner early in December. Unlike my disastrous Thanksgiving dinner, this was an overall success.

It wasn’t easy to come up with a menu. My mother has never eaten poultry and is now disgusted by beef. She also says that vegetables make her feel bad – so she mostly just eats pasta. Now, I love pasta as much as the next person, but there is nothing particularly “special” about pasta. Unless, of course, it’s the sort of pasta you never make because it’s too much work. Enter, cannelloni.

I loved cannelloni – canelones, in Spanish – as a child. It was one of the dishes I most often ordered at restaurants. I preferred beef cannelloni, but would accept spinach and cheese cannelloni as well, even though I otherwise would not eat any vegetables. I didn’t even realize there were other types of cannelloni until one meal during a trip to Brazil and Paraguay, back in ’80, when I was 11. For some reason we were having lunch at the restaurant of the Stroessner airport in, I’m assuming, Asunción. Ours was a road trip, so I’m not sure why we ended up in that airport, but we did. I ordered cannelloni, they were ham and cheese. I hated ham – and most other foods, apparently – so I threw a tantrum (maybe a quiet one, I was too shy to make a scene back then) and didn’t eat them. I’m not sure if anyone did. But I did pose pretending them to eat them for the picture. Who knows? Without the picture I might now have remembered the incident – though what made that meal also memorable is that the then-President of Paraguay, the same Alfredo Stroessner for whom the airport had been named, was also having dinner at the restaurant, just a couple of tables over. I knew nothing of politics or the brutality of dictatorships at the time, which is probably a good thing.

My family I at the Stroessner Airport in Paraguay, 1980



As much as I loved cannelloni as a child, I’d only once tried to make them as an adult, over two decades ago. The problem, of course, was the dough. Cannelloni are stuffed pasta rolls which really require fresh pasta. I’ve never made pasta in my life, and I really don’t mind if I die without making it. My memories of making ravioli with my grandmother Zuni are all I need as far as pasta making goes. During my first attempt at making cannelloni, I used lasagna sheets. But these proved too short, and the frilly ending made the cannelloni visually unappealing. It’s a hack, but one that I didn’t thing was worth making.

My idea this time was to actually make them with crepes, another common hack. However my oldest daughter wasn’t keen on the idea. She didn’t think they would be actual cannelloni, and I thought she had a point. That’s when I thought of the Pasta Shop. I had seen their fresh pasta at the Market Hall in Oakland for years and years, and it occurred to me that they might sell pasta sheets as well. A quick online search proved that they did! Indeed, they listed pasta in a huge variety of flavors – when I finally went to buy it they only had egg pasta and spinach, which was fine – I don’t think you can actually taste the pasta when you have both fillings and sauce.

It was particularly difficult figuring out how many canelones I needed to make for my whole family, and how many I could get from a sheet. It turned out that a 6″ x 13″ sheet could be easily cut in 4. The sheets pretty much doubled in size when cooked (boil for 4 minutes for the perfect texture), but the size was good to roll them about 2-3 times over the filling.

Calculate between 2 and 6 cannelloni per person. People who ate soup and appetizer ended up eating 2 or 3, a couple of the guys who skipped everything else ended up eating 5-6. Next time around, I’ll probably just make 4 per person and then add another few just in case.

Note that making cannelloni is a slow process. When I tried to hurry and boil more than 5-6 cut cannelloni sheet at the time, or left them to rest together for too long, they stuck to each other and were ruined when I tried to separate them. The best process is to first cut all the sheets into fourths, and then drop 5-6 sheets into a pot of boiling water one at the time. Boil them for 4 minutes and then transfer them into a bowl of cold water, so they stop cooking. Again, do this one at the time so they don’t stick to each other. Transfer them from this bowl to kitchen towels to dry. You can make each batch one after the other, but make sure you have lots of towels to keep them separate.

At first, I was very ambitious and I thought I’d make a bunch of different fillings and sauces to go with them, but soon after I was daunted by the task and briefly considered just buying ravioli – but given how non-special that would be, I settled back on more streamlined cannelloni. The fillings I ended up making were my traditional ground beef/picadillo filling (the same one I use in empanadas or, with more pasta sauce, as a beef pasta sauce), ham & cheese (a slice of ham and some chunks of fresh mozarella) and spinach & cheese (fresh baby spinach leaves, fresh mozarella or goat cheese and chopped almonds). I made some with just Monterey Jack cheese, as i had some cannelloni sheets left over, but these were not as popular. The other ones were well received, though everyone had different preferences. My brother, for example, loved the ham & cheese ones, and my daughter was not at all fond of the goat cheese ones.

I made some with regular pasta sauce (from a jar) and others with a cheese sauce (bechamel sauce mixed to saturation with grated Parmesan cheese) and, of course, sprinkled parmesan before baking (20 minutes at 400F).

Now that I’ve made them once and I know how well the pasta sheets work, I’m tempted to make them again in the future, probably for a special family meal. Unlike other types of pasta, cannellonis are heavier on filling than pasta, which makes them more acceptable for the diabetics among us.

Anyway, my final menu consisted of:

Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

I actually was too tired to prepare this, so my sister in law took over and added some twists of her own.

Mushroom Soup

A favorite frequently included in our holiday menus, a special request from my sister.

Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Tart

Another request from my sister which everyone loved, though my oldest daughter would prefer it with a different cheese. I may try it with fresh mozzarella for her next time around.

Canelones!

See above.

Tiramisu

I followed the NYT recipe, which was simple enough but does call for uncooked eggs. I used Argentine ladyfingers, called vainillas, which are easily available at Argentinian and Latin market in LA, but harder to find elsewhere. They were the perfect texture. This was probably the best tiramisu I had in my life, I’m guessing because I was able to control the amount of coffee I used (I used regular coffee, not espresso).

See also: Party & Holiday Recipes

Thanksgiving 2021: A dinner failure

This year, we stayed home for Thanksgiving. That meant that I would be making dinner, and I was just not at all inspired this time around. It took me forever to come up with a menu – I finally settled on a seasonal French-inspired menu – and then I completely failed in its execution. There wasn’t anything wrong with the recipes, several of which I’d cooked before, but my timing was off, dishes were unbalanced and I just couldn’t deliver. Still, I do like to know what I’ve done in previous years, so here is what I cooked.

1 – Canapés

  • Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese on Crackers
  • Tri-Tip and White Cheddar with Horseradish Cream Crostini
  • Baked Camembert with Honey and Rosemary with crackers

I decided near the last minute to serve a few canapes, as I had invited my friends Lola and Iggy for dinner rather early and I wanted them to have something to eat while I prepared the dinner in the kitchen. I chose things that didn’t require much effort to put together, and they all worked wonderfully.

For the salmon canapés, I simply spread cream cheese on crackers and topped these with slices of refrigerated smoked salmon I got at Safeway. I don’t eat salmon, but everyone liked them. I was inspired by Panera’s steak and white cheddar sandwich for the tri-tip canapé. I had previously toasted some tri-tip in the oven, and I simply made thin slices, which I topped with a slice of white cheddar. I don’t remember what recipe for horseradish cream sauce I used, but there are lots of online and I know I chose one of the simplest ones. It was delicious, and I will be sure to make more of these in the form of sandwiches next time I can get tri-tip on sale. Finally, the baked camembert was just delicious.

2- Roquefort Pear Salad

This turned out to be OK to good. I had made the dressing the day before and I didn’t like it at all, perhaps because I put too much garlic – but it was OK on the salad. My guests did enjoy the pears in particular.

3 – Vegetarian French Onion Soup

This is where things started to go sour. Rather than make a French Onion soup and simply used vegetable broth instead of beef broth, I went with a recipe that enhanced the flavor of the broth with tamari and other seasonings. The results were not tasty. The soup was very intense – though I solved this by adding extra water when I reheated it – and just not that good. Next time, I’ll stick to the traditional recipe or simply serve a different soup altogether.

4- Bourbonnais Chicken with Mustard Sauce

I had made this recipe before and it had been delicious, but this time it just didn’t work. I’d doubled the sauce and vegetables but there were just too many vegetables and they weren’t well integrated with the sauce. I’d made an effort to get organic, free range chicken and somehow it was dryer than the chicken I usually buy. I don’t know, it was fine but not great. I did enjoy the leftovers, however.

Vegan mushroom bourguignon pot pie

I made this for my vegetarian daughter, but it was too alcoholic tasting for her, and the flavors were really not well balanced. Another failure.

Sage Stuffing

I also don’t remember what recipe I used, but it was a pretty standard vegetarian one. It was actually not bad, but I did overcook it so it was dry. Still, my vegetarian daughter liked it

Mashed Potatoes


I’m sad to report that, together with the canapes, the mashed potatoes were everyone’s favorite part of the meal. I’m sad because these were just plain mashed potatoes: yukon gold potatoes boiled and mashed and then mixed with a ton of butter and whipping cream.

5- Tarte Normande

This is a French apple tart with a custard topping. My daughter actually put this together for me while I was taking a nap. The top was very good, but I had messed up the dough when I’d made it and it was way too tough.

See also: Party & Holiday Recipes

Christmas Eve Dinner 2020: A Pandemic Christmas

Like responsible people throughout the world, we spent the holidays in 2020 at home and alone, just our little nuclear family. It was a somewhat sad Christmas Eve, as my father passed away this year and our family has been feeling the weight of the pandemic. But we were abroad last year, and it was very important for all of us to get some semblance of normality.

Still, I went back and forth between making a full multi-course dinner as I usually do, or just have a main and dessert. I sort of leaned towards the latter option as we haven’t been particularly hungry during the pandemic, so I wasn’t sure we could even go through a full meal, even with small courses.

Ultimately, I compromised and went with something in between, a multi-course dinner but without any real frills. I served:

1 – A macaron

Actually, this came earlier in the afternoon as we were all watching a movie in the living room.

2 – Brie and Apple Tart

Quite nice.

3 – Ravioli in a Truffle Sauce

Mushroom & truffle ravioli from the Pasta Shop, served in a taleggio cheese, truffled butter and cream sauce and topped with black truffle shaves and fresh Argentinian Parmesan cheese.

4- Apple Pie Granita

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A little bit sweet for a palate cleanser but lovely nonetheless

5 – Standing Rib Roast with Rosemary-Thyme Crust served with roasted shallots and carrots and Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast served with roasted baby potatoes and Brussel sprouts

I used this recipe from epicurious.com for the standing roast. I’m not bothering to copy it because while the roast came out great, I don’t think it was any thanks to the recipe. The mustard & herbs coating burned to the point of pulverization, and I’m not sure how much flavor it imparted on the meat. The roast, more over, was done by the time I took it out to add the shallots and carrots, so I had to keep it warm while these cooked – and then the shallots and carrots turned out too greasy. Still, what really matters is that the meat was great.

I served a Field Roast Hazelnut Cranberry Roast for my vegan daughter. She was reasonably content with it, but did not think it was worth the $16 I paid for it. It reminded her a lot of the Field Roast sausages she likes.

6 – Granny’s Sponge Cake with Lemon Frosting

This cake turned out great, despite one of my daughters opening the oven in the middle of baking.

All in all, it was a good meal. We accompanied it with Martinelli apple cider and some delicious alcoholic apple cider I got from Argentina.

Marga’s Holiday and Party Recipes

New International Recipes Up!

It might seem like my International Food project is dead, given that I’ve been working on it for 19 (yes, you read that right, NINETEEN) years and I haven’t even finished the “Hs”, but I’m still working at it. Slowly, very slowly – obviously.

I just added some new cuisines to the list, and some have pretty good recipes, so check them out.

Gascony

Here I found a satisfying roasted chicken and a delicious apple pie recipe.

Gibraltar

Did you know “the rock” has its own cuisine? And a pretty good one at that. From shashouka, to rosto to french toast, Gibraltarians eat very well.

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Hangzhou

It’s all about the dongpo

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Hidalgo

The pastes were most traditional, but I just fell in love with the chicken stew.

Hungarian-American

This wasn’t the most successful cuisine I’ve cooked, but it introduced me to “American goulash”

New Year’s Eve 2018 Menu

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.

Marga’s Holiday Recipes

Christmas Eve Dinner – 2017

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.

Sixth Course: Moroccan Chicken Bastilla and Vegan Bastilla

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.

Great dessert!

Twelfth Course: Hot Chocolate or Tea with Shortbread Cookies

Store bought and served in the living room.

Marga’s Holiday Recipes

Christmas Eve 2018 Menu

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.
  • olives
  • 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.

6th course: Beef Wellington + Mushroom Wellington + Smashed Red Potatoes + Vegan Smashed Red Potatoes + Braised Leeks

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.

Marga’s Holiday Recipes

Three More Cuisines Go Up: Cohauila, Chiapas and Florence

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.

For Chiapas, I made a delightful Pollo en Frutas

For Coahuila, I made much less successful but literal enchiladas

and for Florence, I made a pasta & beans dish and a braised beef dish.

Check them out!

Int’l Food Project Update: Campechana,


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:

For Assam, I made fried fish with rice, a very simple dish and yet one I couldn’t stop eating.

For Campeche, I made fish in a green sauce.  Alas, I didn’t use the right fish and it disintegrated.  But the sauce was great.

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.