EVERY December I have visions of the perfect Christmas Day. The children awaken well after dawn to a day crisp with snow. We take turns unwrapping a gift or two as the others watch, sharing a joy of giving and camaraderie we're too busy for most mornings of the year. Magically, a sumptuous breakfast appears on our holly-decked table. Morning ends with all us dressed in our holiday finery exchanging greetings with friends at church. Eggnog, hot spiced wine and visits with good friends fill the afternoon. More unwrapping of gifts and a smashingly beautiful dinner fill the early evening. During all of this I am the gracious hostess, loving mother and happy wife.
The reality of all this is that I don't have an old (or new) family retainer working away in the kitchen to produce the magic breakfast, the sumptuous dinner or the decorated tables. But this year, without help, I will achieve my fantasy. Let me share my plan. BREAKFAST MENU
Fresh fruit salad in champagne glasses, traditional Christmas breads (or purchased croissants), apple crepes with custard sauce, fresh link sausage, creamy scrambled eggs, very merry juice cocktail and coffee. DINNER MENU
Bah humbug soup (Christmas crab), Cornish hens noel, wild rice casserole, carrots and green grapes with cognac, flaming baba au rhum with ice cream and Christmas cookies.
Everything on the breakfast menu is prepared ahead except the scrambled eggs. The breads and crepes are made ahead and frozen. The day before Christmas the crepes are defrosted and filled, and their sauce is prepared. The sausage is partially cooked a day ahead, which I like better than buying it precooked. And reheating it in a microwave oven is effortless. The juice is mixed the day before and the kiwi garnish is peeled and sliced ahead. I use my 24-cup coffee pot and set it up the night before. It helps the adults get through the gift if they have lots of hot coffee, and any left over breakfast will be appreciated during the day. Next year I plan to have one of those automatic timers to start the coffee perking before dawn. This leaves me with the eggs to scramble while everything else is heating in the oven. If I'm super-efficient, the table will be decorated and set the night before.
This menu would be appropriate and easy to serve after midnight services, assuming that you have no bicylces to put together.
Dinner is done much the same way. Nearly everything is cooked and waiting to be heated. The Cornish hens are stuffed with apples, apricots, prunes, chestnuts and brandy and baked two or three days ahead. They are re-baked and glazed before serving on a platter decorated with grapes, figs and tangerines. The wild rice casserole is reheated with the hens. I will slice the carrots ahead, but for best flavor they will be cooked on Christmas. The baba au rhum may be baked as much as two weeks ahead and left to marinate in the rum syrup in the refrigerator. The best ice cream available to buy is served in the center of the ring. This is for the children, who will probably prefer ice cream and cookies for dessert. The cookies are baked and hidden several weeks before the big day. They should be artfully arranged on a silver tray. Don't use a paper doilie under the cookies; it absorbs grease and doesn't look attractive. FRESH FRUIT SALAD (8 servings) 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 1 cup frozen peaches 1 cup sliced bananas 1 package frozen whole strawberries 2 cups of diced fruit (apples, pears, pineapple, melon etc.)
Mix the lemon juice with the liquid from the frozen peaches or canned pineapple. This will keep the fruit from browning. Combine all of the fruits and place in the refrigerator. At serving time, mound into champagne glasses. For the adults you may wish to pour a little Grand Marnier over the fruits. CREPES (8 servings) 1 tablespoon sugar 1 cup unsifted flour 3 eggs 1 1/2 cups milk (may be low fat) 1 tablespoon melted butter 1 tablespoon brandy Butter for greasing pan
Stir the sugar into the flour with a wisk. Beat the eggs until the yolk is well combined with the white. Mix the milk with the eggs. Use your whisk to mix 1/3 of the liquid into the flour. When smooth, add the remaining liquid. Let rest 30 minutes. Stir in the 1 tablespoon melted butter and brandy. Put a teaspoon of butter in a hot crepe pan (or 8-inch omelet pan) and wait until it is bubbling hot. Use a ladle o spoon that will hold 2 tablespoons of liquid (most gravy ladles and all coffee measures are 2 tablespoons) to measure the batter into the waiting pan. Tilt and shake the pan to spread the batter evenly. Use the drop that clings to the bottom of the ladle to patch any small holes. When the batter is dry on top and tan at the edges it is probably ready to be turned. Pick up an edge with a spatula. Grasp the crepe with both hands and flip over. Stack the cooked crepes on top of each other; they will not stick together because of the butter in the batter. When all of the crepes are cooked, place them in a plastic bag and seal it well. Freeze for up to 3 months. To thaw, bring to room temperature on the counter. APPLE CREPES WITH CUSTARD SAUCE (8 servings) 8 large Pippin apples, peeled and sliced 2 tablespoons sugar 1/4 cup brandy Zest of one lemon 1 inch of vanilla bean scraped (or substitute 1 tablespoon vanilla extract) 2 tablespoons butter 12 crepes 1/4 cup melted butter 1/2 cup brown sugar
Place the first four Pippins in a saute pan with a tight lid. Add the sugar, brandy, lemon zest and vanilla to the apples. Cook, covered, over medium heat until the apples ae soft enough to become applesauce when stirred. Saute the remaining apples in 2 tablespoons butter until they are soft and lightly browned. Fold the apples into the applesauce. Fill the crepes with this mixture. Place the crepes in a baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for a day or two. At serving time, drizzle with melted butter and brown sugar. Place in a 425-degree oven for 15 minutes. Serve with custard sauce. Custard Sauce: 3 egg yolks 1/4 cup flour 1/4 cup sugar 2 cups half and half or light cream 1 tablespoon vanilla 2 tablespoons brandy 2 tablespoons butter
Beat the egg yolks, flour and sugar to form a thick mixture that ribbon off the whisk. Heat the cream. Whisk it into the egg mixture. Return to the Saucepan and bring back to a boil stirring constantly. Remove from the fire and add the vanilla, brandy and butter. While still warm, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. On Christmas morning, reheat the sauce in a double boiler. CREAMY SCRAMBLED EGGS
Beat enough eggs to feed your family. Remember the menu is quite generous.
Beat the eggs well to combine the white and yolks. Add salt and pepper and a little cream. Heat a large heavy skillet and melt a large lump of butter in it. When the butter is bubbly pour in the eggs, For really creamy scrambled eggs you must stir constantly so that no large lumps are formed. Cook just until the eggs are not runny. LINK SAUSAGE
Buy the very best brand you can find. perhaps you know a butcher who makes his own. One year I was able to find a Scandinavian sausage made with pork and veal flavored with coriander. A day or two before Christmas, place the sausage in a saute pan with a tight-fitting lid. Cover with cold water. Simmer until the water evaporates. Raise the heat and brown the sausages on all sides. Place the cooked sausages in a single layer in the pan that will be used to reheat them. Refrigerate. Christmas morning place the pan in the oven with the crepes. VERY MERRY JUICE COCKTAIL (8 servings) 1 (6-ounce) can frozen cranberry juice 1 (6-ounce) can frozen tangerine or orange juice. 1 (6-ounce) can frozen pineapple juice 2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
Combine the juices with the necessary water. Float a kiwi slice in each glass. The red and green are prefect for the holidays. CORNISH HENS NOEL (8 servings) 8 cornish hens marinated in 1/4 cup brandy 1 pound chestnuts roasted and peeled (or purchased unsweetened canned) 1 pound pitted prunes, snipped 4 large tart apples, diced 8 ounces dried apricots, snipped 1/2 cup brandy Vegetable trimmings
Rub the brandy for marinating into the skin of the hens.Trim away any excess skin with scissors. Fold the wings behing the back. Cut the roasted and peeled chestnuts into quarters. Mix the fruits and chestnuts with 1/2 cup of brandy, and use to stuff the hens. Make a bed of vegetable trimmings in a baking dish. I use parsley stems, carrot trimmings, onion skins and trimmings and celery tops. These vegetables keep the meat from stewing in the juices released during cooking. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour. Cool and refrigerate. Glaze for Cornish hens: 1 (8-ounce) jar currant jelly 1 tablespoon candied ginger, pureed or finely minced 4 tablespoons dijon mustard
Fruits for decorating platter
Melt the currant jelly and add the ginger and mustard. If you don't want to puree the ginger, just use the syrup from the jar. A 1/2-hour before serving time, place the hens in a preheated 400-degree oven. After 15 minutes brush the birds with the glaze again. Cook another 10 minutes. When the hens come out of the oven brush the hens again and serve them on a large platter decorated with greenery, grapes, halve figs and tangerines. The Cornish hens will look like jewels with their shining mahogany glaze. CARROTS AND GREEN GRAPES WITH COGNAC (8 servings) 3 pounds small carrots, peeled and sliced thick 1 pound seedless green grapes 4 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 1/4 cup cognac or brandy
Peel the carrots and slice them about 1/4-inch thick. Place in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator until just before dinner. While the hens reheat, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Season with salt. Add the carrots a handful at a time so that the water remains at a boil. Boil the carrots for 5 minutes or until tender but crunchy. The grapes may be removed from their stems a day or two ahead. Heat the butter in a saute pan and add the salt, sugar and nutmeg. Add the carrots and simmer until the carrots are glazed. Just before serving, add the grapes. If you cook the grapes they turn gray, so just barely heat them. Heat the cognac in a pan and light it with a match. Pour over the grapes and carrots. BAH HUMBUG SOUP (Christmas Crab) (8 servings) 1 onion, diced 1 green pepper, diced 1 sweet red pepper, diced (substitute pimiento if necessary) 1/2 stick butter Salt, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg 4 tablespoons flour 4 cups rich chicken stock 1/2 cup clam broth 8 ounces well-picked crab meat 1 quart heavy cream 4 egg yolks 1/2 cup sherry
Saute the onion and peppers in the butter. Add the seasonings and flour. (I use about a quarter teaspoon each of pepper and nutmeg.) The salt will depend on how salty the stock is. But the seasoning will depend more on your taste than my recommendations.Add the flour and cook one minute. Add the stock and clam broth. Simmer for 15 minutes. Refrigerate until Christmas day. Reheat the soup base. Add the crab meat and the cream. Gently bring to a simmer. Just before serving beat together the yolks and sherry. Stir in a cup of the soup. Then stir the mixture into the rest of the soup. Serve this soup in small bowls as it is very rich. The recipe is easily cut in half. If you are terribly creative try using an aspic cutter shaped like a star to cut the green and red peppers. WILD RICE CASSEROLE (8 servings) 1 (6-ounce) package of long-cooking wild rice mix 1 cup minced celery 1 cup minced onion 1 cup sliced mushrooms 1 stick butter
Make the rice according to the package directions but cook for only half of the time allowed. Saute the vegetables in the butter and combine them with the rice in a 2-quart baking dish attractive enough for serving. This casserole is placed in the oven with the hens while they are reheating. If there isn't enough room in the oven, reheat the rice on top of the stove. BABA AU RHUM (8 servings) 1 cake or envelope of yeast 3 tablespoons warm water 2/3 cup warm milk 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons sugar 3 1/2 cups flour 6 extra large eggs at room temperature 1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature Rum syrup (below) Garnishes 1/2 cup dark rum for flaming
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Place the milk in a mixing bowl. Stir in the salt, sugar, and one cup of flour. Add the yeast. Add the eggs and stir in the remaining flour. Beat well with a mixer or by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should form a web or bubble between the spoon and the bowl. The dough will be quite soft and sticky. Beat in the soft butter in as few strokes as possible. If overworked, the dough will become greasy. Butter a clean bowl and place the dough in it. Cover and place in a warm spot for 30 minutes. Do not allow it to rise for more than 30 minutes, as this tends to make a crumbly baba.
When the dough has risen, stir it down and place in a 10-inch ring mold. Allow to rise again for 30 minutes. Bake in the center of a preheated 400-degree over for about 25 minutes. Test by inserting a toothpick in the thickest part of the baba. It will come out clean when the cake is done. Much of the lightness of this cake comes from the eggs and not the yeast. While the baba is still warm, remove it from the mold. If it sticks, place the entire pan in a plastic bag for 3 minutes. It should come out easily then. While the baba is still warm, place it in a plastic or glass container that has a tight-fitting lid. Pour rum syrup over the baba, seal the lid and refrigerate. If refrigerator space is short, wrap the baba in plastic wrap and freeze it until the day before Christmas. Thaw it and pour warm rum syrup over it. The baba will need to be basted with the syrup many times to ensure that the syrup reaches the center. At serving time, brush with sieved, melted apricot preserves. Place red and green candied cherries around the top of the ring. Fill the center with scoops of vanilla ice cream. Heat the 1/2 cup rum to lukewarm in a metal pitcher (I use a sliver creamer or gravy boat). The easiest way to do this is to place the whole pitcher in a container of hot water. At the table light the rum in the pitcher and pour a thin stream on the baba. Rum Syrup: 1 cup sugar 1 cup water 1/2 cup dark rum
Mix the sugar and water and bring to a boil. When the sugar is dissolved, and the syrup is just barely warm, add the rum. FRAU MULLER'S CHRISTOLLEN 2 cakes or envelopes of yeast 3/4 cup water 1 stick butter 1/4 cup sugar 7 (ounces) marzipan or almond paste 4 extra large eggs 1 teaspoon of rum flavoring (optional) 4 to 5 cups flour 1 cup whole blanched almonds 1 cup candied red and green cherries 1 cup mixed candied fruit 1 cup golden raisins 1 egg yolk mixed with 2 tablespoons cream or milk Powdered sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar in an electric mixer. Break the marzipan into small pieces and add to the butter. When smooth, begin adding the eggs one at a time. Add the rum flavoring. Add the yeast. Now begin adding the flour a cup at a time. The dough should be soft but elastic. Before adding the 5th cup of flour knead well, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands. Remember, this dough must be soft! Place in a greased bowl and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk. Punch down and add the nuts and fruit. Shape the dough into 2 long oval loaves on buttered baking sheets. aAllow to rise until double in bulk. Just before placing in the oven make 2 lengthwise slashes, 2 inches apart. Brush with a wash of egg yolk and cream or milk. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the bottom. Cool, wrap in foil and freeze until Christmas. Before serving, thaw and sprinkly with powdered sugar.