Christmas dinner…almost

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It was just the four of us for Christmas this year.  We extended an invitation to both sets of grandparents but travel schedules and other social plans didn’t align.  So this Christmas had a whole different tempo.   We didn’t have a schedule.  For anything.  We woke up after the sun came up (the one and only rule of the day), opened presents, enjoyed cinnamon rolls, candy and hot chocolate all day.  We only took  a break to play with toys and video games.

I had big plans for our Christmas dinner that was supposed to be eaten in the dining room with the good china and a table cloth.  We were supposed to have roast ham, corn casserole, roasted vegetables, buttermilk biscuits and  bread pudding with bourbon sauce for dessert.   At some point during the day, I did manage to put the ham in the oven, make a corn casserole and a batch of buttermilk biscuits; but that was it.  Not only did I not set a table, roast vegetables or make bread pudding with bourbon sauce I actually forgot what time I put the ham in the oven.   It may have been in the oven somewhere between six and seven hours when it really only needed about five.  When we finally sat down to eat, the ham was falling off the bone and tasted like a pig roast.  It was cooked just the way I remember my mom making it who had learned the technique from my Great Uncle Paul.  This was lovingly known around our house as the “cook the shit out of it” technique.  It is the best way to cook a ham.   Great Uncle Paul was a true gentleman so I am sure that he didn’t come up with that name.  Mom and dad are too couth to use such coarse language.   I’m pretty sure it was Catherine that came up with that name.  (She has also said that if she were to get a boat, it would be called “Ship Faced”.)

We missed the company of our grandparents on Christmas morning, but still had a really fun day.  We all felt (and ate) like kids on Christmas morning.   We hope to have grandparents visit next Christmas.  Someone will need to make sure we don’t eat too much candy to spoil our dinner or play too many video games.

-Andra

Christmas Eve Dumplings

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We had the Winning Gyoza for dinner Christmas Eve along with another favorite dumpling, Pearl Balls.  Both originated from Deanna Luke’s Chinese Cooking, Pocket Text.  My mom altered the recipe a little by adding green onions, garlic and sesame oil.    Both of these recipes are really  delicious and so festive.

-Andra

Pearl Balls

1 lb ground pork

2 teaspoons corn starch

1 egg

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

4 green onions, chopped fine

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon mirin

1 clove of garlic

1 teaspoon Siracha (optional)

1 cup of sushi rice, soaked for at least three hours.

Combine all of the ingredients, except the rice.  Measure out tablespoon sized portions of the meat mixture and roll into 24 balls. Roll each ball in the rice until well covered.

Put the balls of meat into a steamer basket that has been lightly oiled.  Steam for 30 minutes until the rice is tender.

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Gyoza

1 pound ground pork

1 cup dried shitake mushroom, rehydrated and finely chopped

1 tablespoon green onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon soy sauce

3 tablespoon corn oil or light flavored oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

50 round gyoza skins

Mix all of the ingredients for the filling together. Refrigerate for one hour.

To assemble the gyoza, place 1 rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of the wrapper. Dip your index finger in water and wet the edge of the wrapper. Fold the wrapper in half and seal the edge. Starting from one end and working your way to the other end, pleat the gyoza about 4-5 times. Set gyoza on a sheet pan lined with wax paper or a Silpat mat.

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At this point, the gyoza can be frozen. Make sure they are placed in the freezer so that none of the dumplings are touching each other. Once frozen, you can place them in a ziplock bag and pull them out when you are ready to steam them.

To steam the gyoza, place a wok filled about halfway with water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to simmer. Spray a bamboo steamer basket with non-stick cooking spray and fill each layer with the dumplings. Make sure that they are not touching and that the steam can circulate around each dumpling. Put the lid on the steamer basket and steam for 12-15 minutes. Steam frozen gyoza for 16-20 minutes.

Serve with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce 

3/4 cup soy sauce

1/3 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 hot peppers, chopped with seeds

Mix ingredients and serve with gyoza.

Christmas Eve Eve Eve Dinner

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You know you’re getting carried away when you’re shopping and see lamb chops and say to yourself, “That would be the best Christmas Eve Eve Eve dinner!”  I have to work backward from our standby meals for Christmas and Christmas Eve, because the thought of deviating from those is not an option.  So, for Christmas Eve Eve Eve dinner last night we had seared lamb chops, rice pilaf and salad.

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I used lemon juice, garlic, some chopped fresh rosemary, olive oil, salt and pepper on the lamb chops and then seared them in a VERY hot skillet for about two minutes per side.  I deglazed the pan with more lemon juice, added about 4 Tbsp of butter, 2 sprigs of rosemary and then let the sauce thicken.  I poured the sauce (discarding the rosemary) over everything: the lamb, rice and salad.  It was the easiest, most delicious meal to eat three nights before a major holiday.

The only problem with cooking lamb inside?  The house smells awful, sort of like a yurt, this morning.  I looked over at my sweet husband this morning and felt like I could easily imagine what sleeping with Genghis Khan was like.  (If Genghis Khan was as attractive, well-dressed and emotionally stable as I’ve always believed him to have been.)

– Catherine

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Day After Roast Chicken Soup

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This is what we ate the night after roast chicken, which was fortuitous, as we were all sick.  I used to be squeamish about making stock, but once I did it a few times, I realized how much great potential I was throwing away after roast chicken every week.  It’s so easy and so worth the tiniest effort it requires.  I made this stock in the morning and the soup came together so quickly later in the afternoon.

I should probably tell you instead of show you, because pictures of the remnants of stock are gross:

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I added some frozen tortellini and fresh spinach (at the last minute so it wouldn’t completely disintegrate) to the soup and we passed parmesan at the table.

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It was delicious and I think we’re all cured (of our sickness AND our squeamishness).

– Catherine

Chicken Stock

1 chicken carcass, cut up or not

1 onion, peeled and quartered

2 carrots, roughly chopped

2 stalks of celery, roughly chopped

3 bay leaves

1 tablespoon peppercorns

4 quarts of water

Add all ingredients to a large stockpot or dutch oven and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and simmer uncovered for two hours or more, skimming the white foam off of the surface occasionally.  Strain through a fine mesh colander and refrigerate overnight.  Remove the fat that accumulates overnight and use right away or freeze for 2 months.  OR, skip this step and use the broth right away for soup, like I did.

Day After Roast Chicken Soup

1 onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, chopped

2 carrots, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tsp dried)

2 quarts chicken stock

2 cups frozen cheese tortellini

2 cups fresh spinach

Freshly grated parmesan

Heat two tablespoons of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven.  Sauté onion until translucent, just under five minutes.  Add garlic, carrots, celery and thyme and continue to cook until vegetables soften slightly.  Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce and simmer for 10-15 minutes.  When ready to serve, add frozen tortellini until just cooked (about 3 minutes).  When pasta is cooked, add the spinach until just wilted.  Serve with grated parmesan.

Roast Chicken Bowl

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We eat roast chicken about once a week, which I’ve mentioned here, here and here.  Because we eat it so often, I try to mix it up by using variations on the basic roast chicken recipe, but chicken and potatoes with a side salad was becoming a little too routine.  So in a flash of laziness, I decided to skip the separate salad plates and plate my warm, lemony chicken and potatoes on top of a bed of spinach salad.  The juices from the roasted chicken, lemon and potatoes warmed the vinaigrette on the salad and wilted the spinach just slightly.

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And the contrast between the fresh lemon in the vinaigrette and the roasted lemon with the potatoes makes this the NEW winner, winner chicken dinner.

My kids still like their food separated, so their plates looked like this:

What the kids ate.

What the kids ate.

And, no dirty salad plates!  To reward myself for my ingenuity, I decided we deserved dirty dessert plates.

– Catherine

Roast Chicken Bowl

1 4-5 lb organic chicken (I use organic because I feel better about making stock out of the carcass that way)

1 1/2 lbs Yukon Cornelius potatoes (actually Yukon Gold, but Yukon Cornelius potatoes are much better around Christmas)

2 lemons

10 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

Spinach and tomatoes for the salad

Vinaigrette

Juice from one half of a lemon

1 tsp Dijon mustard

Olive oil to equal two parts of the lemon juice

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375°.  Slice potatoes and one of the lemons into equal wedges and arrange in a large ovenproof baking dish (I use a huge Pyrex, because it’s dishwasher safe and I think laboratory equipment is sexy).  Drizzle with about 1/4 cup of olive oil, kosher salt, pepper and dried thyme (if using) and toss with your hands until evenly coated.  Add whole sprigs of thyme on top (if using fresh).

Rinse the chicken with cold water and add the other lemon (halved) and the rosemary to the hopefully empty cavity (make sure you remove anything gross before continuing).  Rub the chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle with lots of kosher salt and pepper and use kitchen twine to tie the wings down and the legs together with one long string, starting underneath the chicken.  Place the chicken on top of the bed of potatoes and roast for 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temp reaches 150° (the temperature will continue to rise while the chicken rests).  After the chicken rests for at least 10 minutes, remove the breasts and cut them into thick slices.  Drizzle each spinach salad with lemon vinaigrette and lay one sliced breast and some potatoes on top.

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