It’s that wonderful time of the year again, when I forget how I swore last year that I’ll never cook Xms Eve dinner again, and revert to doing it anyway. It’s not that I mind cooking a huge Christmas dinner. I do enjoy it, in particular now that Camila will help me with some of the preparations and I’ve become wise enough to chose mostly dishes that can be made in advance or require little preparation the day of the event. But what I don’t enjoy is getting the house clean and ready for the event.
My favorite part, however, may be making and tweaking the menu, trying to make sure the dishes flow into one another and trying new recipes. I rarely have the chance to make appetizers or soups (or even desserts) in my regular cooking, so this is fun.
Anyway, this is my planned menu, which I’ve already started cooking. Recipes will follow and I will make a full post, with what I ended up cooking and how it turned out in a few days.
Christmas Eve 2012 Menu
Leek & Cheese Tarts, as an amuse bouche
Plantain and Coconut Soup with Shrimp, Tomato and Avocado Salad
Home made eggnog, in tiny cups as something to occupy guests with while I cook the catfish
Catfish and Asparagus a la Meuniere
Lemon sorbet, as a palate cleansar
Braised Short Ribs (new recipe) with garlic mashed potatoes and braised red chard
Peanut Butter Trifle
And that’s it 🙂
Now, the question, what will I end up /not making/ because I run out of town or was too exhausted?
I’ve cooked quite a few international dishes in the last few months, but I haven’t actually updated this blog about the cuisines I’ve “finished”. I actually have a few more to write up, but if I wait until I’m done with those, I’ll forget all about it.
So, the new cuisines I’ve done are those of:
– Ancient Persia – a nice khoresh and chilau made a great weekday meal.
– Dominica – included one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten
– Dominican Republic – wasn’t too successful with this one 🙁
– Holland – you have to try the pancakes!
– Dum Pukht – this is not a place but a style of cuisine that emerged during the Mogul empire in India.
Dec. 2013 UPDATE: I repeated this same menu at my Hanukkah party this year. Making the latkes at the last minute was great in that they tasted amazing, BUT I did spend half the party in the kitchen, so I will have to come up with another strategy. Of the two briskets, the one with ketchup was the most popular one, though I still prefer the one with onions.
(Almost) every year I hold a Hanukkah party for my Jewish and semi-Jewish friends. It’s my excuse to make latkes and socialize with people I may not see every day. My Hanukkah parties used to be more involved, but getting my house clean is complicated enough nowadays, so this party had 3 menu items only: latkes, brisket and store-bought doughnuts.
For the latkes I used my old trusty recipe from epicurious.com. They couldn’t be simpler or more delicious. I served them with store-bought sour cream and apple sauce.
For the brisket, I decided to go with a pretty traditional ketchup-based recipe for Jewish Style Sweet and Sour Brisket that I found at allrecipes.com. It got great reviews and was also very simple. I made it using half of the 15lb brisket Mike had bought (which I thought was excessive for my dinner party), but after I removed it from the oven it had shrunk so much that I didn’t think those 7.5lbs would serve 10 adults and 10 children (though I personally don’t believe children ever eat actual food at parties). So I decided to use the rest of the brisket and cook it in the morning using a different recipe (which would have to be simple and only use ingredients I had at home). Fortunately, I came across this recipe for Beer-Braised Brisket with Onions, which fit both requirement. Both briskets turned out great. I received lots and lots of compliments from my friends, some who even dared say they might be better than their own versions. Of the two, I think I prefer the latter, specially because the leftovers kept getting better and better as the days went by.
Now, the secret of the briskets is, of course, slooooow cooking. Don’t overcook, however, as it may become too soft to cut. As with any braise, resting overnight helps fortify the flavors. And make sure you wait until it’s cold to slice, and then reheat in the sauce. —
The secret to great latkes is to make them right before serving them. I see it as a two-person operation. One peels them, while the other one shreds them. Once they are ready to cook, one person can fry multiple batches (it helps to have plenty of frying pans), while the other one drains and serves them. I did find, however, that if the person doing the frying is 8-years old, you may end up with lots of broken latkes and bad heat control. Make sure to shred the potatoes into a bowl of cold water. This will slow down the oxidation process considerably. Also, drain the latkes on a cooling rack rather than on paper towels, to avoid them getting soggy. Finally, make sure you have LOTS of olive oil at hand 🙂 Ingredients per 2 guests
- 1 lb. potatoes (3 cups shredded potatoes)
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- olive oil for frying
Directions Peel potatoes, and shred them into a bowl full of water. Drain the potatoes and place them in the middle of a thick towel. Add the chopped onions, roll and squeeze – you are trying to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer the potato mixture into a large bowl and mix in the egg(s) and salt. Heat a thick layer of olive oil in each frying pan over medium-high heat. Scoop about 2 Tablespoons worth of mixture with your hand, squeeze to remove some of the liquid and drop onto the pan. Flatten with a spatula. Fry on each side until golden.
Adapted from this epicurious.com recipe.
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 8 lbs. beef brisket
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 4 onions, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. salt
Remove excess fat from brisket.
Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Put brisket and brown on all sides. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until tender, turning occasionally, for about 3 hours. Alternatively, place in a 300F oven for about the same amount of time.
Remove brisket from sauce and let cool, reserving the sauce. Slice the brisket against the grain, and place in a baking pan (glass preferably). Pour sauce on it, cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove excess fat from the surface and reheat in a 300F oven, or transfer to a pot and reheat on the stove.
Adapted from this allrecipes.com recipe
- 8 lbs. beef brisket
- kosher salt to taste
- black pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 4 lbs onions, thinly sliced
- 2 Bay leaves
- 20 oz beer
- 1 1/2 tsp. Better than Bouillon beef base or 1 1/2 cubes beef bouillon, crumbled
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Pat brisket dry, remove excess fat (though making sure a thin layer remains), and sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper.
Heat oil over medium-high heat in an oven-safe pot or skillet large and deep enough to accommodate the brisket. Add brisket and brown on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Turn heat to medium and add onions and bay leaves. Cook until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.
Remove about half of the onions from the pot and set aside. Flatten the rest and lay the brisket on top of them. Top with the remaining onions. Add the beer, beef base or bouillon cube and balsamic vinegar, turn on heat to high and bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover the pot and place in the oven for about 3 hours. Remove and let the brisket cool in the sauce, uncovered, for about half an hour. Remove the brisket and slice. Place in a deep serving plate, season the sauce with salt and pepper and pour over the brisket. Serve.
Adapted from this epicurious.com recipe.
One more Christmas, one more Christmas Eve celebration with my sister Kathy, my niece Nikki and my best friends Lola and Iggy. I usually make elaborate multi-course meals but this year I was tired and not very inspired or enthusiastic. I wouldn’t have minded just getting Chinese takeout (our Christmas day staple), but the family wanted more so I complied. Still, this year my menu was completely streamed down. I loved it!
I mostly made dishes that I could get ready in advance (at least one day before), and that were not “time sensitive”. That’s important because often times I make stuff that needs to be baked/roasted and that means that it has to go into and out of the oven at a set time (specially if I’m juggling multiple oven dishes). As my guests are not always punctual (or predictably unpunctual) I have to guess both at what time I’ll start serving dinner and how long it will take to go through each course – I’m often wrong and then the pacing of the meal doesn’t work well. This menu consisted mostly of dishes that I started warming up half an hour before my guests were supposed to arrive, and then I could leave over very warm heat on the stove until I was ready to serve them. This was great! It meant I was able to spend more time at the dining table than in the kitchen, which is very rare for me during Holiday dinners. From now on I’m determined to give up on roasts (I’ve cooked all the ones I wanted to anyway) and instead serve great braises as my main dishes.
My menu this year consisted of:
Now, if it was up to me I would have made my adored mushroom soup. But Mika wanted butternut squash soup and, again, I complied. Alas, the recipe I made, while good, was a bit too spicy so she didn’t really eat much. Now I have a whole tureen-worth ready to eat by myself. I’m not too excited, but the soup was good.
– Caramelized Onion and Blue or Goat Cheese and Mushroom Pastries.
I made the former last year and they were delicious. This year they were a favorite as well. I also tried them with goat cheese instead of blue cheese, and while good the blue cheese ones are better. I made another sheet with sauteed mushrooms, good but not as much either.
– Mixed Greens Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing
Store bought, but delicious.
This recipe was quite good, though I probably should have salted the ribs more. Still, we all enjoyed them and they were perfect with the mashed potatoes.
This was Mika’s idea and it was a great one. The cake wasn’t as delicious as other ones I’ve had (the problem may have been I didn’t sit overnight), but it was quite good anyway. I’ll definitely try other versions in the future.
It’s taken many, many years, but I’m finally finished cooking all “C” cuisines, all 38 of them. I’m now on to the “Ds,” which fortunately for me consist of only seven cuisines (and I’m almost done with two of them). I hope that by the end of the year I’ll be able to finish the “E” cuisines as well (there are seven of them as well). We’ll see if the muse stays with me.
Of the last cuisines I cooked, I was particularly fond of the Canadian dishes I made and was comforted by the Castilian ones. I discovered one amazing Cayman dish and had fun making the sole Chechen dish I attempted.
I actually cooked these dishes quite a while ago, but I haven’t made a Colombian, Cape Malay or a Congolese dessert yet, so I haven’t “officially” finished these menus. Still, I figure I’d announce the last cuisines I’ve cooked as I have no idea when I’ll get to the desserts. Next on the menu: Castilian, Cajun and Canadian (yes, Canadian).
- Cape Malay – from the tip of South Africa
- Cape Verdean – from this former Portuguese colony in the Atlantic Ocean
I have re-started my international food project, a project to cook food from different cuisines alphabetically. I started this a decade ago, and I’m still on the “C”s. Part of the problem has been that originally I was making complete menus for each cuisine and serving them at dinner parties – with two kids, a constantly messy house and limited time, “dinner parties” have not been happening for us for years. So, I’m now going to be cooking a sample of dishes from each cuisine over a number of nights. That means that I’m less likely to make appetizers (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as appetizers are not as common in many cuisines) and even desserts.
In the last few weeks I’ve made Czech, Cuban and Creole food. I’m still working on the latter, but here are the recipes for the two former:
– Marga’s Cuba Culinary Adventure
– Marga’s Czech Culinary Adventure
Christmas Eve dinner is invariably the most elaborate and stressful meal I cook all year. It’s a lot of work and I do always wonder if it’s really worth the effort – though Mike, at least, seems to appreciate it. That said, my recollection of most Christmas dinners usually fades quickly, though some dishes (the roast from 2004, the amazing rack of lamb from 2008) are well worth remembering. This year’s meal was OK. Everything was good, nothing was spectacular. Or maybe I’m just bored with cooking and eating, who knows? In any case, here are the recipes.
Mac & Cheese – made this for the kids, but they were too excited to eat anything at all that night. The only one who had some was Mika and she loved it.
Mushroom Soup – an old favorite
Piperade on sun-dried tomato bread toast
For dessert my friend Lola brought a cake which I served with homemade Maple Walnut Ice Cream.
I’d say that my favorite dish were the blue cheese squares, though everything was quite good.
I’ve finally settled on my menus for my Hanukkah party and Xmas Eve and I have to say I’m quite pleased with both of them. Let’s see how they turn out.
– Latkes with apple sauce & sour cream
– A salad (I’ve asked Desiree to bring it)
– Brisket with Tzimmes (from The Frugal Gourmet Celebrates Christmas)
-Yom Kippour Tajine (from The Great Book of Couscous), I’m making this for friends who don’t eat red meat.
I’m passing on the doughnuts (unless the cake does not turn out to look like a dreidle, in which case we’ll have a quick trip to the doughnut store).
Xmas Eve Menu
Now this is the one important meal for us, which is my biggest production of the year:
– Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas
–Flamishe with mixed greens in a champagne vinaigrette
–Standing Rib Roast with Porcini & Bacon Sauce served with roasted vegetables, noisette potatoes and yorkshire pudding.
–Gladys’ Peppermint Chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream