The holidays are full of traditions: Jim and I Christmas shopping for the kids on the Veteran’s Day holiday while they are at daycare; visiting Deacon Dave’s to see the lights; taking a ride on the Niles Christmas train; Christmas Eve mass. Of all of the winter holidays, Christmas Eve is absolutely my most favorite! For a foodie such as myself, the holidays are as much about food as they are about family and tradition, so of course we have several food traditions that the day revolves around!
I start the day by making some beignets (recipe from Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen), which I actually prep the night before, the dough rests in the fridge, and is ready to go in the morning; I just have to roll them out, cut them, and plop them in the fryer (Daddy’s birthday gift to himself and new toy!). The kids, especially Morgan, love them… I guess they really are “man catching”!
After we clean up from breakfast, the kids and I make Christmas cookies for Santa. I kind of cheat with these and use the Trader Joe’s boxed sugar cookie mix (which also comes with frosting and sprinkles), but it is really good and tastes home-made. Besides, I don’t think Santa minds!
As a kid, I grew up enjoying local dungeness crab, so it seems fitting for a holiday meal. For lunch we really enjoy our Christmas crab, a Cat Cora recipe I saw on TV a few years back; we just adapted it to our own tastes. The kids have enjoyed this in years past, but this year they saw a crab at the grocery store, and so now “crab is yucky”. That is fine; more for Jim and I to enjoy until they are wiser!
After lunch the kids rest and Jim and I take a breath to gear up for the rest of the day, which usually involves going to the afternoon children’s mass, writing letters to Santa, and of course Christmas Eve dinner! This year we started a new tradition with our Christmas Eve lasagna. What is great about it, besides the fact that it tastes really good and is incredibly indulgent, is that I make it the day before. I stick it in the oven before church, set the time bake feature on the oven, and it cooks away while we are at mass. We come home to a house that smells wonderful! A little side salad, garlic bread, wine, and voila! Dinner is on the table!
This year we spontaneously celebrated Christmas Eve with my sister and her family, and she generously brought over a magnum of Boa Ventura’s 2007 Maroon Label Cabernet to share; the creme de la creme of Boa’s wines. While the grownups chatted the evening away, the kids watched some of our favorite holiday movies. Needless to say, the night was filled with fun and laughter as well as very full tummies!
As we do every year, before tucking the little ones in for the night, Daddy read “The Night Before Christmas” for the family in front of the fire. As I mentioned before, Christmas Eve is my absolute favorite and I love that I get to share in these family traditions with my children, who I hope, will some day pass them on to their children while adding new traditions of their own!
OVEN ROASTED CRAB “BUON NATALE”
4 (1 to 1 1/2 pound) Dungeness crabs or 2 (2 pound) crabs, cooked, cleaned
1/4 pound butter (1 stick)
4 tablespoons olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 4 to 5 lemons)
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons roughly chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
Lemon slices or wedges, for garnish
4 to 8 slices crusty bread, toasted, rubbed with garlic cloves and drizzled with olive oil
1. Crack and clean the crab. Set aside.
2. Put a rack in the middle or lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
3. On the stove, in a large oven-proof saute pan or casserole, heat the butter, olive oil, garlic, thyme, and lemon zest over medium-high heat until hot. Add crab pieces and season with salt, pepper, to taste, and mix well. Put the pan in the oven and cook until the crab is hot throughout and the garlic is golden brown. (Watch carefully; the crab heats very quickly and at 500 degrees F the garlic can burn easily.) Remove the crab from the oven, drizzle with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and scatter the parsley over the top.
To serve, stack the crab on a platter. Garnish the platter with lemon wedges and slices of garlic-rubbed toast. Serve immediately.
1 Pound Ground Beef
1 Pound Ground Pork
4 ounces pancetta or bacon, cut into quarters
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
2 jars pasta sauce (I prefer Barilla Basilico), or about 6 cups home-made sauce
2 – 15 ounce containers of ricotta cheese
16 ounces mozzarella (not fresh because adds too much moisture), shredded
3 cups Parmesan, grated
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 Box No Boil Lasagna Noodles
9 X13 Baking Dish, coated with cooking spray
1. Pulse pancetta in a food processor until finely chopped.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add pancetta, pork, beef, and garlic to oven. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up meat until it is browned.
3. Drain off any fat and then add the pasta sauce. Bring to simmer, turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
FOR CHEESE MIXTURE:
1. While the meat is browning, in a large bowl, lightly beat eggs. Add ricotta, mozzarella (reserving 1½ cups), and Parmesan (reserving 1 cup).
2. Stir to combine.
1. Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour until smooth, then cook, whisking frequently, until pale golden brown, about 4-6 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat milk in a separate saucepan until just about to boil. Add milk 1 cup at a time to butter mixture, whisking constantly until very smooth.
3. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking, then cook, whisking, 30 seconds. Should be thick enough to coat back of spoon.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in salt and nutmeg. If not using immediately, cover surface with plastic wrap to prevent skin from forming.
1.Place oven rack in center of oven, and preheat oven to 375.
2. Put about 1 cup or so of Ragu in bottom of 9X13 baking dish. Spread it around to coat the bottom of the dish.
3. Add 4 lasagna noodles, slightly overlapping them.
4. Add a thin layer of besciamella sauce, then spread about ⅓ of the cheese mixture.
5. Add some ragu to coat, then add another layer of noodles.
6. Keep layering in the same way until finishing with a layer of noodles. Top noodles with remaining Ragu to coat and reserved mozzarella and Parmesan.
7. If baking immediately, bake for about 45 minutes until bubbling and top is pale golden in spots. If baking next day after removed from refrigerator, bake for about 90 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes.