Three things that bring me great pleasure are:
Spending a relaxing Christmas Day lounging at home
Wining and dining
So it’s not surprising that I start planning Christmas dinner in October.
I scour my recipe files and cookbooks, and I search recipe websites looking for that perfect combination of dishes that will make the meal special. And one that will give me ample time to do the lounging and relaxing that I look forward to. I don’t pay attention to calories. I don’t pay attention to nutrition information. This is the day to splurge. This year’s menu lineup was planned in early October, and ‘splurging’ is exactly what we’ll be doing.
We won’t be waiting for dinner to start indulging. The main dish has a cooking time of two hours, so as soon as that two-hour simmer starts, we’ll have a pre-meal delicacy. After the main course, we’ll take a break for a couple of hours and then cap off the meal with a holiday dessert.
I’m already counting down the days to this Christmas feast.
The starter: Baked Brie topped with cranberry sauce and pistachios, wrapped in puff pastry. Served with white wine.
The Main Course: Osso Buco served with garlic mashed potatoes and a side of roasted broccolini. Served with red wine.
An After Dinner Drink: Jim’s Christmas egg nog.
Dessert: Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
With regard to ‘lounging’ time, this menu serves that purpose. I won’t be slaving in the kitchen all day. Far from it. I’ll prepare the Brie the day before and it will just need to be popped in the oven before serving. I’ll also make the cheesecake ahead of time. Nothing to do there on Christmas Day other than serve it. Jim will make the egg nog in advance. The Osso Buco preparation is about 30 minutes. And the side dishes take very little time. I’ll be able to spend most of the day doing what I love… lounging and enjoying the day.
A few simple touches bring the holiday spirit to the table.
Osso Buco is an elegant dish that is surprisingly easy and not very time-consuming to prepare. This recipe is from Italian-American chef Giada De Laurentiis, with a few tweaks I made here and there.
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 whole cloves
2 whole veal shanks of approximately the same size
Salt and pepper
All-purpose flour for dredging
½ cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, coarsely diced
1 carrot, coarsely diced
1 stalk of celery, cut into ¼” slices
1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste
1 cup of dry white wine
2 cups of chicken stock
3 tablespoons of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish
1/2 tablespoon of lemon zest, for garnish
Place the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, and cloves on a piece of cheesecloth and tie up with kitchen twine. This is the bouquet garni.
Prepare the veal shanks: pat them dry with a paper towel (they will brown better if they are dry). Secure the meat to the bone with kitchen twine. Season each shank with salt and pepper. Dredge each shank in flour, shaking off the excess.
Heat the oil at medium in a large dutch oven until it smokes. Brown the shanks on all sides (about 3 minutes per side). Remove the shanks from the pot and set aside.
Add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot and season with salt. Sauté until soft and translucent (about 8 minutes).
Add the tomato paste and mix well.
Put the shanks back in the pan and add the wine. Cook until liquid is reduced by about ½ (about 5 minutes).
Add the chicken stock so that the liquid comes to about ¾ of the way up the shanks. Add the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until the meat is falling off the bone (about 2 hours). Turn the shanks every 15 minutes during simmering, and add more broth if necessary. The level of liquid should stay at about ¾ of the way up the shank.
Plate with garlic mashed potatoes and roasted broccolini. When shanks are plated, pour the juices from the pot over the shanks and garnish with lemon zest and chopped parsley. Serve with red wine.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Everyone has their own preferred approach to mashed potatoes, so I’m not going to provide a recipe here. We like them a little lumpy so I use a hand masher. I use Yukon Gold potatoes and leave the skins on. And LOTS of butter and garlic and a little salt and pepper.
I’ve never been a big fan of broccoli, but broccolini is a different story. It’s a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli and has a sweeter yet earthier taste. All parts of it — the stalks, leaves, and florets — are edible.
The preparation I do is simple:
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil to facilitate cleanup.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the broccolini in a zip-lock plastic bag with a bit of olive oil and minced garlic. Close the bag and shake to coat the broccolini.
Place the broccolini on the pan, taking care so they don’t overlap. If the pan is too crowded, the broccolini will steam rather than roast, and that’s not what you want. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast the broccolini in the preheated oven until cooked to your liking. I usually do this for 12 to 15 minutes, until the florets turn dark and parts of the florets get a little crisp.
Serve with a lemon wedge and squeeze a bit on the broccolini at the table.
Jim’s Favorite Christmas Egg Nog
Last year Jim shared his favorite recipe for Christmas Egg Nog here on LNF Weekly. It’s the best egg nog I’ve ever had — he accurately describes it as “cheesecake in a glass”. This can be made well in advance (weeks!).
Osso Buco is such an elegant, yet easy to prepare meal.
1 puff pastry sheet, thawed per package instructions
1 large egg (or 2, if making in advance)
1 Brie cheese wheel (about 8 ounces)
All-purpose flour for dusting
¼ cup of coarsely chopped pistachios
¼ cup of cranberry sauce
Put the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
Whisk the egg and 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl and set aside.
Place the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface, and dust flour on it. Gently roll it out with a rolling pin until you have a square that’s about 11” by 11”.
Place Brie wheel in the middle of the square. Spread the cranberry sauce over the top of the Brie and sprinkle on the pistachio nuts.
Bring one corner of the pastry square up over the top of the brie, gently pressing along the side of the Brie to push out any air, and brush with the egg wash. Repeat with the other corners. If making in advance, wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate.
Before baking, brush the top and the sides with more egg wash.
Make a few shallow scores in the top of the puff pastry, about 1” long.
Bake until the pastry is crisp and golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.
Let it cool on the pan for 5 or 10 minutes before serving.
Serve with crackers or toast and wine.
The best egg nog I've ever had, by far
Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake
Several years ago, neighbor and good friend Syeira Budd brought desert for our Thanksgiving get-together at Jim’ home — Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake. At first bite I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Syeira generously shared the recipe she used, and I’ve been making it for the holidays ever since. It’s now an annual tradition. In my case, I make it for Thanksgiving. We have ½ of it over the Thanksgiving weekend, freeze the rest, and then have it again for Christmas.
You can find the recipe here on the Smitten Kitchen website.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.