Merry Christmas! I rolled out of bed around 11am Christmas morning to find even more snow on the ground and a big pile of presents under the tree. Much to my surprise the last Malinowski out of bed was my little sister, who used to wake us up at 6am Christmas morning. But now she’s a teenager (sigh…) and true to form, she barely made it out of bed before noon. Before opening presents I put the “Overnight Cinnamon Buns” in the oven and whipped up some icing to pour over them when they came out. Present opening was in full swing when the oven timer went off and I witnessed something that can only be described as a “Christmas Miracle.” The cinnamon buns filled the house with such an incredible smell that my family actually stopped opening presents to indulge in the sugary, cinnamon-y treats.
After presents, I made a smoked salmon, dill and cream cheese frittata. I love making frittatas for breakfast because you don’t have to babysit it. Just mix up the ingredients, pour into a skillet and bake! If you’re a fan of the Barefoot Contessa (which I am..and I think I will have to do a post solely dedicated to my undying love for her) you know that she always tells this story about hosting a breakfast and trying to make omelettes for all of her guests,. She talks about it all the time, it’s in like 3 of her cookbooks, and about 12 of her episodes, but the moral of the story is that she was stuck in the kitchen and had no time to spend with her guests. In the case of Christmas morning, a frittata is the perfect thing to stick in the oven while you’re opening presents, when you’re done, breakfast is ready! It was yummy and so easy!
As soon as I was done with breakfast I got started on the meal. We were going to be 7 for dinner (although I cooked for 17) and I was so excited to start cranking out this menu. Here it is:
Mac and Cheese Bites
Prosciutto Wrapped Gorgonzola Figs
Cheese and Crackers
Pomegranate and Pear Spinach Salad
Spinach and Artichoke Bake
Braised Short Ribs
So let’s start with the appetizers, the story behind the oyster shooters is that when I ordered the oysters for Christmas Eve, the lady at the fish store was really rude, and was rushing me, and I didn’t have time to think about how many I needed, and I ended up ordering twice as much as we usually get. My parents were less than thrilled considering oysters cost like 35 bucks a pint…and I ordered two instead of one…oops. But I assured them that I would turn the extras into a delicious appetizer for Christmas Day. Now, I’m an event planner, and as such I’ve had the much appreciated opportunity to sample some pretty baller catering, it might be one of my favorite parts of the job. If you ever find yourself at a charity gala in New York City, I’ll be the one in the corner holding a clipboard and eating the hors d’oeuvres. I’ve picked up some great appetizer ideas from the legions of cocktail parties I’ve attended over the last two years. From duck chill in a tortilla scoop chip to risotto balls and truffled grilled cheeses – work events are like a cornucopia of recipe ideas for me. After the event I try to write down everything I ate and how I think they made it. So when it comes time for appetizers I’m brimming with ideas. To make use of the leftover oysters, I settled on oyster shooters. It wasn’t all that innovative, they are pretty standard upscale cocktail party fare, but they sure are fun to make…and fun to consume. My brother was particularly excited due to the fact that oyster shooters are usually made with a hefty dose of vodka. They’re delicious, but be aware that oysters and vodka can be a lethal combination in high volumes. Has anyone seen that episode of Mad Men when Drapper and Sterling keep trying to “one-up” each other on oysters and martinis? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well for Sterling…
I also made some mac and cheese, drizzled it with a little truffle oil to kick it up a notch, and then baked it in mini muffin cups so that they were app-y sized. My dad was an excellent sous chef for this dish, since we could only find one of our mini muffin tins, Stan patiently refilled the little 12-muffin pan over and over, until we had enough. As if I didn’t have enough food, I did some prosciutto wrapped figs stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese. Mmm I think I ate about 80 of these. I soaked the figs in red wine, then cut them in half so they were easier to stuff and easier to eat in one bite. By the time dinner was ready, I don’t think anyone was hungry.
But that certainly didn’t stop them from eating. The braised short ribs had been hanging out in the oven for the past three hours and the house smelled like we had bouquets of herbs pumping through the air vents. This was one of the most fragrant dishes I’ve ever prepared. If you’re having a dinner party and want people to be impressed by the smell when they walk in, braise some short ribs. You’ll be touted a fabulously talented chef before they even take the first bite. I had never made braised short ribs before, I always order them out and I adore their flavor and texture, so I figured I’d take a stab at it. Despite all the cooking confidence I try to espouse, I still have that moment right before I open the oven when I worry about the dishes success. But then I love the feeling when you take it out and you realized…it worked. And in the case of the braised short ribs, they really worked. I can’t even describe how good these things are. You know how people say “oh the meat was so tender, it just fell off the bone.” But it’s usually an expression, the meat isn’t actually falling off the bone on its own. Well in this case it really was! As I took the ribs out of the braising liquid, I was getting all meat and the bones was left floating in the liquid. I strained the liquid and skimmed off the fat, then poured it over the ribs and served. Mashed potatoes are a total no brain-er to pair with this dish. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it on a menu without some sort of creamy puree (potatoes, polenta, celeriac) served alongside. When you get a bite of the sweet tender meat, with the herbaceous braising liquid, wrapped in creamy salty potatoes, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. The mushrooms and the spinach and artichoke bake were unmemorable, since they were totally over shadowed by the five-star meat. I got the recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs “The Pioneer Woman Cooks.” It’s written by this hilarious woman who lives out on a ranch and comes up with the best recipes. I like to think of her as my country counter-part, except she’s funnier and famous.
We took a break after dinner to open presents from my aunt and uncle and just when we all started feeling like we might be able to walk again…it was time for some Panettone bread pudding. To make the bread pudding I did some research and combined a variety of recipes. One of the tips I picked up in my research was from none other than my cooking idol, “the Barefoot” (in my mind we’re on a first name basis). In her bread pudding recipe she toasts the cubes of bread to keep them from getting too soggy. A common complaint about bread pudding is that it gets too mushy, and this is the perfect way to keep that from happening. I drizzled the finish product with a brandy sauce to make the pudding a little sweeter. It was a great cozy dessert, perfect to top of a delicious winter meal. In my mind bread pudding always connotes images of an Old English feasts and makes me feel like I was in a Charles Dickens novel. So in the words of Tiny Tim “God bless us all, everyone.” Merry Christmas readers (a little late), I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season and enjoyed the love and company of their family as much as I did.
Smoked Salmon Frittata
1/2 cup milk
In a large bowl, whisk eggs and milk. Add salmon and dill and pour into a large greased skillet. Dot with cream cheese, bake at 350 for 20 minutes, or until set.
In a double shot glass layer a raw shucked oyster, cocktail sauce, and a splash of vodka. Garnish with a lemon.
Prosciutto Wrapped Figs
1 cup red wine
1/2 lb thinly sliced prosciutto
8 oz. Gorgonzola Cheese
In a large sauce pan, soak figs in red wine over medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove and slice in half. Stuff eat fig half with some gorgonzola cheese crumbles. Wrap in a slice of prosciutto
Panettone Bread Pudding adapted from food.com recipe and Ina Garten recipe
1 loaf Panettone
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 stick butter
Brandy Sauce Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup half and half
1/3 cup brandy
1/2 cup butter
Trim bread of the dark outer crust. Cube into 1 inch pieces. Toast bread on 350 for 5 minutes, just until crispy. In a bowl whisk together the eggs, sugar, cream, and vanilla. Grease 8 ramekins, place Panettone cubs in each one and press down. Pour the cream mixture over each ramekin evenly. Place ramekins in a water bath. Bake on 350 for 45 minutes. Meanwhile melt the butter in a small sauce pan and whisk in the remaining ingredients. Pour over baked bread puddings.