IMG_7013

I’ve worked on Christmas Eve for many years, so our Christmas Eve dinner was always something like a soup I left in the crock-pot while I directed the choir at church.  Or it might have been a made-ahead casserole like cassoulet that finished up in the oven while “Silent Night” was sung. One year I made a fish stew base early in the morning, heated it around 9pm, and threw in the seafood and fish for a few minutes until it had just cooked through.  On a rare occasion we’d go out for dinner before the first service or in between services if I had to direct an 11 o’clock.  (at left:  PPUMC Choir, Minneapolis)

1377406_576652509037930_618434566_n

I’m home and don’t have a church job this year as I’m cheffing for Jenn-Air and DACOR, so have the opportunity to make a fancy dinner.  As I’ve had the chance to cook several lovely meals this season for friends and neighbors, instead I think I’ll still stick with something  easy-to-serve–which will give me the chance to spend the evening with my family.   In fact, I bought the ingredients for beef stew the other day and it sounds wonderful to me; we all love it.  I could move it up to beef burgundy and, since I have tiny onions frozen and a great couple of bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir, I just might do it. The dogs might even get a tiny bite…

IMG_7006

If you’re in the mood for a bit more than stew (or have a few more coming), try my make-ahead Christmas Eve menu, which is a collection of totally tried and true recipes tested this year in my favorite way–cooked by me and then eaten by Dave and good friends.  The best part is that you truly can make everything 1-2 days (or more) ahead and have it all ready to serve or heat and serve. Don’t feel like buying lasagna? Buy a tray from the Italian deli or local red sauce joint. Make sure to order ahead.  Just for fun I’ve added the wines/drinks we’ve tried with these dishes.  There’s easily enough food for 8, with extras for those big appetites who go for a second serving of lasagna.  Otherwise, you could squeeze 10 or maybe 12 servings if you’re very careful and throw a ham in the crock-pot four hours ahead of dinner, increase your salad and bread accordingly.

IMG_7001

A few days ahead, spend a few minutes locating your serving dishes and checking on your dishes, silverware, and glasses. There’s nothing worse than running around the house trying to locate the green Christmas tree platter at 7pm.  Wash anything that needs it, borrow what you don’t have (or run up to your local thrift store and buy it), and if you have no soft fabric napkins (many of the new ones are made of expensive, horrendously stiff or unabsorbant fabrics), buy some good and attractive large, thick paper napkins.  You can put a candy cane in the middle and tie up with green ribbon, or get kids to decorate a small corner of each–no more than that. 

IMG_1369

THINGS TO DO TOGETHER

At home Christmas Eve service:  Listen to King’s College Lessons and Carols on the radio if you’re home in the morning on December 24; they’ve been worshiping thus since 1918 and it’s one of the best parts of Christmas! On at 8am on KCME (88.7 FM) here in Colorado Springs, I’m guessing it should be on 9am CST and 10am EST in the U.S.  Download booklet and read about it here.  Listen to another year’s service here.

Have kids coming?  Print up some coloring sheets; click here.  Check out crafts, etc; click here.  

Christmas sing-a-long; click here.

Pinterest Christmas game page; click here.

Christmas stories to print and read; click here.

Cooking together; click here. Or make the chocolate crinkles together (recipe below) as they’re best fresh.

♥♥♥

Merry, Merry!  Now for dinner…..

MENU for 8+

  • Smoked Trout Dip and Seeded Tortilla Chips/Sparkling Wine like Gruet
  • Cream of Cauliflower Soup with Bacon/California Chardonnay and Rosé
  • Lasagna–yours or someone else’s/Barbera or Chianti, Green Salad, and Sliced Baguette
  • Chocolate Crinkles and Peppermint Ice Cream/Coffee with brandy

IMG_7016

SMOKED TROUT DIP

Skip the onion dip–however time-honored– and make this! There’s a grilled fish spread in my book SOUPS & SIDES FOR EVERY SEASON in the “Breads and Spreads” chapter. It makes quick use of a leftover grilled fish filet you had no idea what to do with. This smoked trout dip is based on that recipe (wrrrrr away in the food processor and eat up), but you’ll need to buy some smoked trout just for this dip.  You can make it two days ahead and store it tightly covered in the fridge.  Lovely with seeded tortilla chips, fresh vegetables, or even crisp crackers.  Eat leftovers on toast for lunch or in omelets for breakfast.

  • 1 1/2 – 2 pounds smoked trout*, skin removed, broken into pieces (check for bones)
  • 3 ounces softened cream cheese or goat cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated cheddar or other sharp cheese
  • 2 tablespoons each capers and chopped red onions
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 3-4 drops hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream, more or less as needed to thin the mixture
  • Heavy, seeded tortilla chips for dipping or cut/ sliced fresh vegetables

Blend all ingredients except seeded tortilla chips/fresh vegetables in a food processor or in a blender.  Add the cream a little at a time to thin the mixture enough for easy dipping.  Taste and adjust seasonings, including lemon,  as needed.

Cook’s Note:  If you’ve made this ahead, take it out 30 minutes or so before servings; it’s tastier if it’s not too, too cold.

*I used Ducktrap River (Maine) smoked trout

IMG_7010

CREAM OF CAULIFLOWER SOUP WITH BACON

Despite the added half-cup of heavy cream added at the end and the bacon garnish, this soup is a perfectly light first course.  It would also make a luscious main course served with a hearty salad with cheese and some biscuits or muffins.  See note for vegan option. The original soup is naturally gluten-free. Make up to 2 days ahead.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 whole garlic clove
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 1 each:  large carrot and celery stalk, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 heads cauliflower florets
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Hot sauce, optional
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, minced for garnish
  • 1/4 cup fresh chives, minced for garnish
  • 6 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled for garnish

Heat oil, butter, and garlic clove over medium low heat for 2-3 minutes or until fragrant.  Remove garlic and discard. Raise heat to medium and add onions, carrot, celery, and shallot.  Season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and thyme.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add cauliflower and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until cauliflower is tender–about 20 minutes. Carefully purée using an immersion blender or in batches in blender or food processor.  Add cream and warm through over medium-low heat; do not boil.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a dash or two of hot sauce, if desired.  Serve hot garnished with parsley, chives, and bacon.

If making ahead (up to two days), do not add the cream. Cool totally and store right in the pot in the fridge if you can spare the pot.  Heat it very slowly covered, stirring regularly, and add cream, heating through just before serving and following above instructions for seasoning and garnishes.  If too thick, you can add a little water or chicken broth to thin it down a bit.

VEGAN OPTION:  Omit butter; use 4 tablespoons olive oil.  Subtitute vegetable broth for chicken broth.  Omit the heavy cream or use rice milk or coconut milk.  Sub croutons cooked in vegetable or olive oil for the crumbled bacon.

IMG_6993

LASAGNA

I’ve made four lasagnas this fall and adored them all. I think I’ve been on an old school run. I have the one I’ve made forever and you probably have, too.  It’s your own meat sauce layered with ricotta lightened with eggs and a nice heavy topping of mozzarella and grated Parmesan.  Maybe you even threw in a few cooked, sliced links of Italian sausage somewhere in the mess.  Better than my own, I’ve found is Aida Mollenkamp’s Lasagna Alla Bolognese. Try it if you’d like to take your pasta up to another level.  Recipe here. Cook’s Note:  The béchamel sauce only makes two cups and you need four for this dish.  The only other change I make is to lightly pepper a layer or two during assembly.

Last weekend I made the new roasted vegetarian lasagna (zucchini and eggplant)  from Ina Garten’s new book MAKE IT AHEAD. (photo above)  While the recipe isn’t available online, the book is worth its price and I’ve now made several scrumptious dishes from it.  Order here.  Cook’s Notes:  the recommended sauce is Rao’s, which is delicious, but is going to run you $17.00.  Make your own.  Also, Ina says not to peel the eggplant.  If your eggplant isn’t fresh or very young, go ahead and peel it or be pulling the skin out of your mouth during dinner.

IMG_6916If you by chance need a vegan and/or gluten-free lasagna, make my butternut squash lasagna, which vegans alongside carnivores will love.  Recipe here.

Salad and Bread

In a very large bowl with a lid (or in sealed bags), toss together 2 cups of greens for each guest (up to 16 cups) and mix in a very thinly sliced small red onion, two julienned red sweet peppers, a dozen sliced fresh mushrooms, and a cup of sliced fennel. Store in the refrigerator up to 4 hours. Stir in a 1/2 cup of minced fresh parsley. Place in serving bowl and season with a good pinch each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice over everything and toss well.  Serve on the plate with the lasagna and pass this vinaigrette at the table:

Alyce’s (and soon to be yours) Balsamic Vinaigrette  makes 1 cup dressing

1/3 cup fine quality balsamic vinegar (I like Masserie di Sant’eramo)
2 heaping tablespoons dijon-style mustard (Grey Poupon is fine)
1 tablespoon honey
1 shallot, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste–this is a cup of dressing)
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
several drops tabasco

2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil (I like Olio Santo or Ravida)

In the food processor, pulse everything but the olive oil until thoroughly pureed and very-well mixed.

With machine running, slowly pour the 2/3 c olive oil into the tube on top of the processor and leave running until thoroughly emulsified.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Keeps in fridge several days.  (Without shallot and garlic, will keep for weeks.)

FOR BREAD: Buy two great baguettes or loaves of Italian bread at your favorite bakery on December 23. (Bakeries are notorious for closing 12/24)  Wrap very well in foil and freeze.  Unthaw in oven for 15-20 minutes at 350 degrees (or until hot) after you take the lasagna out of the oven to rest. Let rest minute or two, slice, and serve with softened butter or a dish of olive oil garnished with Parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper. (You’ll need two sticks of butter or 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil.)

IMG_7019

CHOCOLATE CRINKLES

I don’t know where this recipe came from.  I’ve had it a very long time. In fact, I’ve lost it, regained only the list of ingredients from my daughter-in-law, and resurrected the instructions. There are many versions of this cookie and you’ve probably made one; I think this is one of the best. Do undercook it or you’ll be dunking hockey puck in the coffee with brandy.  Makes about 3 dozen and doubles easily.  Best fresh–make them together– but still good later! I do give directions below for storing.

  • 2 cups chocolate chips, divided (one cup is melted, the other is stirred in at the end)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar in a small, shallow bowl for rolling

In a small bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 1 cup only of the chocolate chips (or do it in the microwave 30 seconds at a time, stir, 5 seconds at a time more until melted).  Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder, salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the granulated sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, and the cooled melted chocolate.  Pour in the mixed dry ingredients and beat until well-combined.

Roll into 1-inch balls and then roll in the powdered sugar.  Place 2-inches apart on cookie sheets and bake about 10 minutes or until the edges are dry, but inside the cracks is still moist.  The cookies will cook a bit and dry as they cool.  Don’t over bake.

Serve two cookies on top of a scoop of Peppermint ice cream.

STORAGE: This cookie doesn’t keep well.  Make, store tightly wrapped or in containers with good lids, and eat within a day or so.  You can also make them further ahead (no more than two weeks) and freeze well wrapped or in freezer-safe containers.  Unthaw without unwrapping or dunk frozen cookies in hot coffee laced with a couple of tablespoons of brandy or cognac.

~~~~~~

Sing a new song,

Alyce