Feliz Navidad

Before New Year comes and Christmas fades into flavor memory, I’d like to revisit what I served, what worked, and what didn’t.

For Christmas eve, we usually have lobster, but this year the kids were going to be up till 9, so eating after they went to bed seemed too late. We opted for Caesar salad, crusty sourdough, olives, and seafood appetizers, including stuffies (stuffed clams with onions sauteed in butter, paprika, and french bread crumbs), scallops wrapped in bacon, and shrimp with lots of lemony cocktail sauce.

The clams and the shrimp were perfect, but the scallops wrapped in bacon didn’t work. I was afraid to overcook the shellfish, so the bacon was underdone: the chewy texture was all wrong with the smooth and buttery sea scallops. Next time I’ll pre-cook the bacon (but make sure it’s still soft enough to wrap it around the scallops), and then crisp it in the oven.

My mother’s birthday was the week prior but I hadn’t seen her, so we served a dark chocolate cake for dessert with vanilla butter cream and coffee ice cream on the side.

On Christmas morning, we made chocolate coffee (hot cocoa for the kids) and thick-sliced buttered cinnamon raisin toast. There was going to be a big meal by noon, so we ate like the French, rich flavors and small portions.

After hemming and hawing over what to serve, feeling a bit stretched for funds, and bored with ham, pot roast, and turkey, I decided to be totally weird and have a Mexican Christmas dinner: chicken enchiladas, corn salad with lime and coriander over baby greens, and tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole. The enchiladas and corn salad were perfectly spiced, and got even better the next day. Sangria (made in the morning with grapefruit, orange, and pineapple juice and fruit) and Coronas with lime wedges were the adult beverages. For dessert I layered dulce de leche (milk caramel), chocolate pudding, and whipped cream in wine glasses topped with chocolate shavings. Pretty good, but I’d make some changes for next time.

To make the dulce de leche, I followed a chef friend’s recipe by simmering a can of sweetened condensed milk in a water bath for almost four hours. I liked the flavor and color of the resulting product, but it was too thick to pour evenly over the pudding so it would have been better if I put it in the glass first. Otherwise, cooking it for 3 hours would have been sufficient to achieve the desired consistency for pouring it. I also chose not to put sugar in the cream, but the dessert wasn’t as sweet as I imagined it would be, so the cream needed a lift.

As usual, I made twice as much food as we needed so we’d have leftovers for the week. Of course, all the guacamole went that day, as is usually the case. But I’ve eaten enchiladas and corn salad every day, with a glass of sangria to wash it down. I learned a bit more to add to my culinary education this week. Ole!