Christmas Eve 2011 – Menu & Recipes

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:

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

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.

Wine Braised Short Ribs with Mashed Potatoes

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.

Tres Leches Cake

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.

Marga’s Party Menus & Recipes

 


Blue Cheese and Caramelized-Onion Squares

I made this very simple hors d’oeuvre/appetizer for my 2010 Xmas Eve dinner and I think it was my favorite dish of the evening. It couldn’t be simpler: just some caramelized onions and blue cheese on puff pastry – but boy, is it delicious. I plan to make it as often as I can

The original recipe called for making your own bready dough, but I was running late with all Christmas dinner preparations and decided to use up the extra puff pastry I had around instead. It worked out perfectly, though I had to increase the cooking time from that of the original recipe for the pastry to be fully cooked. If you roll the pastry thinner, it’ll cook quicker, however. These squares are pretty messy, so make sure to serve them with napkins.

The puff pastry I used is the one that Trader Joe’s sells under its own name, which comes in two thick flat sheets. It’s pretty good and I think only $4 for a $1 package. The blue cheese was Rosenborg Danish Blue, which I got for $4 lb!!!! @ Grocery Outlet. It’s a delicious cheese @ an incredible price.

Blue Cheese and Caramelized-Onion Squares

  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. puff pastry, defrosted.
  • 6 oz crumbled blue cheese

Melt butter with oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until they start to brown and become soft, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently. Stir in the rosemary, sugar and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the onions are soft and dark brown, about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Let cool.

Preheat oven to 425F

Grease a large baking sheet.

Roll puff pastry sheets on a flour surface until they have the thickness you desire. Transfer to baking sheet and cover with caramelized onions. Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese on top.
Bake in oven until crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling – 20 to 30 minutes. Cut into squares and serve.

Christmas Eve 2010 menu
Marga’s Best Recipes


Oriental Tea House – San Leandro – Updated Reviews

Update 12/11

As you can see by the updates below, it’s been our custom for many years to go to to the Oriental Tea House for dinner on Christmas day.  This year it was just Mike and I, my sister and the kids having left earlier in the afternoon.  The food was good, as usual; the service just as frantic.  I had the crispy chicken, which I usually like here and it was good.  First they gave me the crispy duck, and as the two look alike I took a couple of bites.  It was so fatty that it was almost inedible.  Fortunately they realized their mistake and brought the chicken.  Mike had the kun pao chicken which he didn’t feel tasted like that, but I thought it was good. We got there around 5:30 PM and we were able to get a table for 2, but I don’t know if there were any larger tables available.  By 6 PM the placed was packed.

One thing to note, the Oriental Tea House’s menu is pretty prosaic, filled with the typical dishes at Chinese-American restaurants. However, on Christmas, at least, the restaurant is packed with Chinese and Chinese Americans. The people managing the restaurant as well as the waitresses are also Chinese (some have a very rudimentary understanding of English). This suggests to me that the OTH may also have one of those Chinese-only “secret” menus that many Chinese restaurants have (the idea is that they include dishes that Americans would not be interested in eating).

Update 12/10

Another year, another Chrismas, another dinner at the Oriental Tea House. This Christmas day we got there around 5 PM, and the place was completely empty. It started filling up around 6 PM, but there were still a couple of large tables empty by the time we left (6:20 PM or so) – so next year we won’t go as early. As we did go when the place was empty, service was more relaxed. The food has increased a bit in price, but it’s still very affordable. We got 6 dishes plus fried wontons for 5 adults and 4 children and we ate everything! I was happy with all the dishes (beef chow mein, Mongolian beef, chicken with two mushrooms, kun pao chicken, sweet & sour pork, veggie platter) my favorite was probably the kun pao chicken, the Mongolian beef was a close second. In all, another good meal.

Update 12/09.

As usual we went to the Oriental Tea House, in San Leandro, for Xmas dinner; this time with my sister Kathy and my brother and his family. Once again, service was hurried – the Oriental Tea House is very popular on Xmas day – but efficient. Food came on time (except for the sweet & sour pork which was delayed) and it was generally good (and cheap). Mike was happy with his beef with snow peas, as was my sister-in-law with her broccoli beef. My brother David ordered the beef curry, not on the menu, and his dish was pretty good, though very mild. I’m not sure if that was because the waitress misunderstood that he wanted his dish spicy (the English language skills of the workforce at Oriental Tea House are very limited), or because they just have a different understanding of spicy than we do. In any case, it was mild.

I ordered the roast duck, having liked the roast chicken in the past, which was a mistake. The duck was nicely cooked and very flavorful – but it had the obligatory thick layer of fat and my chopstick skills are not advanced enough to allow me to get to the meat between the fat and the bone. I had a fork, but without a knife it was an impossible endeavor. Next time I’ll stick with the less fatty chicken, which is also very good.

Finally, Kathy had the sweet & sour pork, which she liked but Mike and I thought was quite unappetizing – with fat pieces of pork and a slimy sauce. To each its own.

In all, it was a good meal and we’ll definitely be going there again next Xmas.

December 2008

We celebrate Christmas Eve rather than Christmas itself, so in the past we’ve found ourselves at a loss as to what to do for dinner on the 25th. After a huge Xmas Eve dinner, and a kitchen full of dirty dishes, the least I want to do is cook again. So some years ago we started a tradition of going out to the Oriental Tea House, in San Leandro, for Xmas dinner. The Oriental Tea House has pretty good American-style Chinese food (though given the large number of Chinese that eat there, I suspect they may have a second menu as well), it’s cheap (most dishes are around $7), and most importantly, it’s actually open on Xmas.

This year was no exception. We probably got there around 6 PM or so – I recommend you go early as the place gets packed by 7 (on Xmas, at least). Service was rushed but attentive, and the food was up to standard.

I liked the roasted chicken quite a bit. The skin was impossibly crispy, and the meat was nice and moist. It’s rather bland by itself, but add some of the accompanying seasoned salt, and it’s delicious. The beef with oyster sauce was pretty good as well – nothing extraordinary but competently executed. I liked the thick-noodle chicken chow mein, it was flavorful and devoid of too many bean sprouts (I’m not a fan). I wasn’t thrilled about the doughy sweet & sour pork, however, but then again, I wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet. I thought the pieces of pork were too chewy and the sauce too sweet.
In all, it was a good Xmas Eve experience, and I look forward to going there again for our next Xmas dinner.

March 2007

Last night we went to the Oriental Tea House with a bunch of our friends (for memory’s sake, they were Donovan & Parker with Luther and baby Will, Regina and Boris, and Eddie and Arthur with Laurel, Bailey and Dee). We ordered a bunch of dishes: fried calamari, friend wontons, chicken chow mein, vegetable chow mein, lemon chicken, kun pao chicken, half a roasted chicken, beef with some sort of green beans and a couple of shrimp dishes. I was amazed at how good everything was. It was great to be able to savor so much variety – and to be with so many friends – but the actual food was all very good. And the bill was terribly cheap at $86 – which fed an army of 8 adults and 6 children.

We were all able to fit at one, very crowded, table – larger parties or those with more adults, would have to split in two.

We are now planning on getting together for dim sum some Sunday morning. If any of my friends are reading this, and want to come along, just e-mail me.

March 2005

Today we made it to the Oriental Tea House for dim
sum. We liked it much better than East Village, though we didn’t get to taste the
baked pork buns as they were out of it by the time we got there around 1 PM. The steamed pork buns were excellent, however,
the bread was moist, the pork succulent and not too sweet. I got an additional order to go. The fried chicken was also
very good, crispy and moist and wonderfully spiced. We also found a winner in the paper wrapped chicken – moist and
delicious – and on the shrimp dumplings. We were less fond of the sesame balls and the deep fried meat balls, I’d never had
those before and the thick pastry wrapping had a strange consistency that I did’t find appealing. Egg custards were OK,
but not sweet enough for my taste. Lunch, including 3 canned sodas, came to $24 before tip. It’s pretty crowded on
Sundays, but I’m sure we’ll be going again.

Oriental Tea House
604 MacArthur Blvd.
San Leandro
510.562.2828

Original Review

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews


Butternut squash soup with cider cream

soup.jpg
For some reason, my daughter Mika got it into her head that she liked butternut squash soup, and she requested that I make it for Christmas. Now, butternut squash soup is not my favorite, but she was pretty insistent, which she rarely is for any food item.

I made this soup based on a (surprise, suprise) epicurious.com recipe. The recipe got great reviews, and people at my dinner table really liked it. In particular, Mika loved it.

Personally, I wasn’t sold by it, but I felt the cider cream was an essential ingredient for the soup to work – the sour element gave it an extra dimension to what would otherwise have been pretty bland results. I used Trader Joe’s sparkling apple cider, because that’s what I found at TJ’s. I used Better than Bouillon for the chicken stock – I usually just add the water and the appropriate amount of concentrate, rather than make the stock before hands. It’s easier and just as effective

I made the soup a day in advance and I think that improved it. I’d make it again if my daughter requested it.

On a different note, I found that the easiest way to peel the squash was to cut it into sections and then use a pairing knife to peel.

I didn’t change the recipe very much (if at all) – though below I’m providing adjusted ingredients. The original recipe turned out twice the amount of soup I needed to serve 8 as a soup course. There were no leftovers, though.

Butternut squash soup with cider cream

  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into small chunks
  • 2 medium leeks, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Granny smith apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. dried sage leaves
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock.
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/3 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • half bunch of fresh chives, chopped.

Melt butter over medium-high heat in a stock or large pot. Add squash, leeks, carrot and celery. Sautee for about 15 minutes, until soft. Add apples, thyme and sage and mix. Add chicken stock and 1/2 cup of cider. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until apples are tender. Cool.

Puree the soup in a blender, in batches. Return to the soup.

Meanwhile boil 1/4 cup cider in a small pan and reduce it by half. Cool. Place sour cream in a small bowl and whisk in the cider.

Bring soup to a slow boil. Add the whipping cream and mix well. Transfer the soup to a serving dish and drizzle with the sour cream. Top with chopped chives.

2008 Christmas Eve Dinner Menu

Marga’s Best Recipes