Tag Archives: Christmas

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

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

Apple Pie Granita – Recipe

This apple pie granita tastes exactly like frozen apple pie, and it’s absolutely delicious. I served it as a palate cleanser for my 2020 Christmas Eve dinner, though it’s probably too sweet for that. It would work just as well as dessert. Everyone enjoyed it nonetheless.

I made it using Martinelli’s apple juice rather than “natural-style apple juice” like the original recipe called for, because that’s what I had at home. If I made it again using regular apple juice, as I did, I’d probably reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup or leave it off altogether.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups apple juice
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • a dash of nutmeg
  • a dash of allspice

Instructions

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Transfer it to an 8″x8″ glass baking dish. Place in the freezer until the sides start to freeze, about 1 to 2 hours. Using a fork, break and mix and put back in the freezer for another 2 hours. Break again with a fork and transfer to small serving glasses. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Based on Emerile Lagasse’s recipe at Food & Wine magazine.

2020 Christmas Eve Dinner

Marga’s favorite recipesMarga’s Party & Holiday Recipes

Brie & Apple Tart – Recipe

I made this simple tart because it sounded divine – and it might have been had I been able to make it fresh. Unfortunately, I had a dish I had to cook at a much lower temperature right before this was meant to be served, so I decided to cook it earlier at 400F, and then just reheat it before serving. This wasn’t a truly successful endeavor, as the bottom of the pastry burned. Fortunately, it was very easy to scrape off. In any case, I wouldn’t recommend making it in advance. I would, however, try to make it again – when I can eat it right away.

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • 10 oz Brie, thinly sliced
  • 1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 tsp honey for dripping
  • 2 Tbsp sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbsp pomegranate seeds (optional)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400F

Place the puff pastry on a large sheet of parchment and roll into a 10″ x 12″ rectangle. Crimp the sides, forming an elevated border.

Place the brie slices on the puff pastry sheet and then cover with the apple slices. Transfer parchment with the tart to a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.

Drizzle with the honey and sprinkle almond slices on top. Top with pomegranate seeds if using.

Based on Lauren Conrad’s recipe at Good Housekeeping.

2020 Christmas Eve Dinner

Marga’s favorite recipesMarga’s Party & 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

Xmas Eve Menu 2013: Back to the Past with an International Flavor

Another year, another complex Xmas Eve menu.  This year, my 11-yo daughter Mika said she wanted a 13-course dinner.  She didn’t know why, that number just came to her head, but she wanted it.  I could have argued against it, but I figured with a little bit of creativity I could get there.  And Mika didn’t particularly care what the courses were, as long as she had 13.  And she did – even though I overcooked one of the courses so it ended up almost inedible.

The key to cooking and serving a 13-course menu all by yourself is advanced planning AND advanced cooking, as well as flexibility. To make it easier I decided to revisit some of my favorite recipes, which come from all over the world.  I did decide on a new one as my main dish,  Orecchiette al Ragu di Braciole, basically beef rolls stuffed with cheese and cooked in a tomato ragout, but it didn’t work out.  I made it the day before the meal, and discovered that the sauce was pretty bland and one-dimensional and the meat rolls were not what I would call attractive.  So decided we would just have that for dinner that night, and sent my husband to get a roast.

Roasts are great main dishes because not only because they are simple to put together, but because they look impressive on the table.  Sure, they are expensive, but it’s Xmas.  On the minus side, a roast requires the use of the oven, which means displacing other dishes.  My second and third courses needed to be broiled,  but my oven can’t bake at 300 and broil at the same time.  I baked them at 300, which wasn’t ideal for either – but I overbaked the shrimp, making them barely edible.

In any case, this is what I came up with.  At the end of the night I asked each guest what their favorite part was. There wasn’t a consensus (the soup, the bastilla and the roast were all mentioned), but at least not one said “the cheese”.

  1. Beignets au Fromage èt a la Menthe
    These Corsican goat cheese & mint fritters are delicious, but I did discover that they’re best if fried right before they are served.
  2. Camarao Grelhado com Molho Cru
    Unable to either grill or broil these Angolan marinated shrimp, I baked them and almost dessicated them. However, my guests did like the cumin sauce.
  3. Bacon Wrapped Bananas
    This recipe from Antigua doesn’t actually need a recipe. Take a thick slice of banana, wrap it with half a slice of bacon, secure it with a toothpick and broil it for 3-5′. Baking it at 300F wasn’t a good alternative, as it dried out the outside of the banana without making the bacon crispy enough. But it still tasted good
  4. Blood Orange Sorbet
    Sorbets are great as palate cleansers, and this store-bought one from Ciao Bella is just delicious.
  5. Mixed Green Salad with Gorgonzola Vinaigrette
    This salad is an old favorite, it never disappoints.
  6. Mushroom Soup
    Another old favorite that tastes better if cooked the day before. But make or add the dried mushrooms in advanced. Doing it made them so tough and chewy as to be inedible.
  7. Bastilla
    This Moroccan Chicken Pie was a favorite of several guests, including my daughter. I will admit it came out perfectly. Because it only requires 15 minutes cooking, I was able to put it in the oven after I took out the roast to let it rest.
  8. Lemon Sorbet
    A 13-course dinner deserves two palate cleanser. My second one was also store-bought, Häagen-Dazs
  9. Ribeye Roast with Madeira Sauce and Roasted Rosemary Red Potatoes
    Perfection! The roast was perfectly cooked, the Madeira sauce was delicious and gave it an unexpected nutty taste and the potatoes were easy and loved by everyone.
  10. Cheese Course
    Featuring Spanish and Italian cheeses.
  11. Chocolate Peppermint Cake
    My Grandmother’s recipe. It was great! I made it earlier that day, which allowed the mint cream to settle. It looked beautiful and was very tasty.
  12. White Hot Chocolate
    I thought it was delicious, but nobody else was as fond of it as I 🙁
  13. A Lemon Square
    Bought frozen at Trader Joe’s and defrosted. Delicious.

I served dinner with a Chateau Souverain Estate Bottled 2003 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Marga’s Holiday Menus

Marga’s Best Recipes

Rolled Butter Cookies – Best Recipe so Far

Camila wanted to make Christmas cookie, and while I have a pretty good recipe, it called for some ingredients that I didn’t have at home. That was fortunate, because while searching for another recipe I came upon this one, from butter company Land 0’Lakes.  I like it more than my regular recipe, specially with the frosting.

Without the frosting the cookies are too dry.  That’s because of all the extra flour you use on them while you roll them.  Making them thicker helps – mine were too thin.  The icing, however, helps tremendously.  The best part was that the kids didn’t like them that much – Mika found them too dry and while Camila likes to make baked goods, she doesn’t really like to eat them.  The flavor was very good and, yes, you need all that vanilla extract.  All the recipes for rolled cookies I’ve found call for orange juice or lemon juice, so I suspect the citric acid element is needed for chemical reasons.

The key to making rolled cookies is getting the dough at the right temperature to make them rollable. It takes 2-3 hours in the fridge, but I’ve noticed that 45 minutes in the freezer also do the trick.  Work with dough in small batches.  As soon as one gets too soft, put it back in the fridge and get another one.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups flour + more for dusting
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 4 1″ squares of plastic wrap

Icing

  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 Tbsp. milk
  • Food coloring, as desired

Instructions

For the cookies

With an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the butter with the sugar and the egg.  Add the orange juice and vanilla extract and continue mixing until combined.  Add the flour and baking soda and mix at low speed until combined.

Wrap 1/4th of the dough. with each plastic wrap square. Flatten slightly.  Refrigerate until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 400°F.

Lightly flour a working surface and a rolling pin.  Roll out one package of batter to a 1/4″ thickness.  Cut with cookie cutters.  Place 1″ apart onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake for 6 to 8 minutes.  It’s ready when the edges of the cookie start to turn brown.  Remove from oven and let stand for one minute before transferring to cooling racks.

Repeat with the rest of the dough.

For the Icing

Using an electric mixer at low speed, beat together the powdered sugar, butter and vanilla.  Scrape the sides of the bowl often.  Add enough milk for your desired consistency.
Divide into small bowl and color each one with food coloring.  Spread over cookies and allow to dry.
Marga’s Best Recipes

Reindeer Hash Recipe (Poronkäristys)

reindeerIt’s early January, Christmas is well passed and you don’t know what to do with the reindeer that Santa Claus left stranded on your backyard.  Well, here come the Finns to the rescue with a delicious (I’m sure, Santa Claus skipped me this year) recipe for reindeer hash.  It comes from the book Natural Cooking the Finnish Way, which, by the way, has quite a few really good recipes.

If you have kept your reindeer in the backyard, hopefully they are cold enough, but if not, do freeze the meat for a while to  make it easy to slice, and always do it across the grain, of course.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb bacon, cubed
  • 1 lb reindeer meat, thinly sliced
  • water
  • salt to taste

Instructions

Cook the bacon on a heavy frying pat over medium heat until the fat melts.  Add the reindeer meat and cook until browned.  Cover the meat with water and season with salt. Turn down the heat, partially cover the pan, and simmer for 2 hours, adding water if necessary.

Serve with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.