Through the Kitchen Window

Christmas is my favourite time of year. Bar none!!! Even now, that the kids are grown, it’s a special, family time; and although we do many things together as a family at other times of the year, nothing quite measures up to the feeling of Christmas.

It leads me to wonder what it is about this time of year that makes it so special and different. And really, it’s about a combination of things. It’s a chance to get together with family and friends that we may not see at other times of the year. A chance to forget, for a little while, the diets we’re on. It’s a chance to just enjoy each other in the simplest of ways. Maybe it’s because Christmas and Christmas presents are thought of as being “for children”, but it seems to bring out the child in all of us.

So I thought for this month, I’d bring back some of the things that my kids think of and look forward to when they think of Christmas.

All through their elementary and high school years, I would make huge batches of my eggnog, not only for family and friends to enjoy, but to deliver to the staff room at school on the last day before Christmas break. I’m not really sure anymore how that all got started, I just know it became something that was talked about with anticipation from one year to the next. I was asked for the recipe so often that I took to delivering the nog with printed out recipes attached!!! New staff would always be teased with “Just wait till you taste Mrs. T’s eggnog!”. And people who claimed to “hate the stuff!” were quickly converted.

Last year, just after we moved away from our small town to the big city, we made the final delivery of eggnog. Anthony, my youngest, had already been out of high school for a year at that point, but we’d heard that Mr. A, the custodian for many years at the elementary school, was retiring. He wouldn’t be back after the Christmas holidays. So we made a special trip back to Tottenham to deliver to him his own special batch. He was thrilled to see us and to receive his “gift”. It’s often the things that seem like little things that light up a person’s day the most.

I’ve posted my eggnog recipe a couple of times over the years. A quick search of the recipe archive will find it for you, but I’ve asked Ronda to link it as well. It’s not really hard to make, nor time consuming really. But the difference between a homemade nog and the stuff they sell in cartons, is like night and day. Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Food over Christmas always seems to be the most traditional. As Italians, we still observe the custom of a seafood Christmas Eve dinner. And even though my kids are pretty much non-seafood fans, we manage to avoid meat, which is the point at the heart of the seafood feast. Mostly, they’ll have some kind of pasta and I always do up a platter of “frittura mista”, a selection of delicately floured and fried shrimp, squid, filets and scallops. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it.

Christmas Day is usually lazy and laid back. We sometimes will do Christmas Dinner, but we’ve also been known to have brunch after opening presents and put dinner off till the next day. Turkey and all the trimmings, sometimes even a ham. As often happens, the holidays have changed for us over the years, because of necessity. When my husband and I split up, so, inevitably, came the splitting of the holidays. But, since it’s always been about having as much time as possible with the people who are most important to me, it seemed no big deal to adjust when the meals and occasions happened, just so that they still happened.

And we always do New Year’s Eve at home. Over the years, that tradition has changed slightly. It used to be a family fondue dinner after which we’d play board games, or just sit and chat with friends until time to “ring in the baby year”. As the kids got older, we held on to the family dinner, always a fondue, but afterwards, as will happen as they turn from children to teens to adults, the kids would leave to join friends for the “ringing in”. We sometimes have friends in, we sometimes don’t.

A year or two ago, we added raclette (recipes follow; with thanks to an old employer for both the introduction to raclette and the basic recipe ideas) to the fondues and started a new, improved tradition.

This year, since most of our friends are heading out to an event held by; we were prevailed upon to join them, as we would for other such events. Much as I know it’s ok to do so, my heart just won’t let me. New Year’s Eve will find us at home for fondue and raclette, with some friends and the kids. But I know that after dinner, it will most likely end up being just my partner, Larry, and myself at home while everyone goes off to their festivities.

That’s ok too. Ringing in the baby year with your life partner is the best way to do it.

Traditional Swiss Raclette

This is an adaptation of the recipe recommended by a company I worked for, for their raclettes.

A traditional raclette is most often a simple meal in and of itself that makes it easy to enjoy as everyone cooks up their own selections to their liking. Often accompanied by dried meats, such as prosciutto or salami, baguettes, nuts, cut up veggies, gherkins and pickled onions, it can stand alone. Because, at New Year’s, we add a raclette to our traditional fondue dinner, we usually try to keep it simpler, by doing the boiled potatoes (this year we’ll be using baby purple potatoes) and cheese only. Quite often though, we’ll find some of the meats cut up for fondue making their way onto the raclette grill. Most raclette grills come with a cast aluminum grill plate, but last Christmas I received a marble slab for the grill as a gift and I LOVE the effect. If you get the chance, try it!!!

  • 2 lbs baby potatoes
  • 1 ½ lbs raclette cheese, sliced

Scrub the potatoes and boil them unpeeled until tender, then slice. Because I usually use baby potatoes, I only slice them in half crosswise, but if you’re using larger potatoes, then slice them about a quarter inch thick. Into one of the raclette “pans”, place a slice of cheese and slide it under the grill to become all melty and bubbly, then scrape it onto the potatoes. Sometimes, we’ll put the potatoes into the pan and then top with the cheese to let it all grill together, sometimes we’ll grill the cooked potatoes on the raclette before scraping the melted cheese onto them. Season with a grinding of fresh pepper and enjoy. Tip: Experiment with other types of cheeses such as Tilsit, Grey Alp Cheese, Appenzeller & Emmental. We’ve also used Cheddar, Friulano and Mozzarella to great success. The limits really are your own imagination and tastes.

The following recipes come directly from my former employer’s raclette guide, but have been tried and tested by yours truly and found to be yummy!!! Appetizers & Side Dish Ideas
  • Cheese Toast
    Lightly toast slices of French or Italian bread on the grill plate. Place in a raclette dish and, if desired, sprinkle with white wine. Cover with a slice of cheese and slide the raclette dish under the grill. Cook 5 to 6 minutes. If desired, thin slices of bacon or ham, sliced mushrooms or onion rings can be cooked on the grill plate at the same time and serviced on the toast.
  • Quesadillas
    Grill green or red peppers, mushrooms and onions on the grill top. Place a slice of mozzarella cheese in raclette dish and slide under grill plate until cheese has melted. Place a tortilla on the grill top and fill with grilled vegetables and melted cheese. Fold tortilla over and flip it so both sides are browned. Cut and serve. You can also add your favorite meat and try different types of cheeses.
Main Dish Ideas
  • Meat
    Cut meat into thin slices. (For raclette, I often get the butcher to thinly slice my meats using his tools since it’s easier and the thickness will be more uniform, but if you’re handier with a butcher knife than I am, have at it.) Depending on the thickness, grill the meat for approx. 2 – 4 minutes on each side. For a variety, try marinating your meat prior to grilling.
  • Fish and Seafood
    Fish and seafood are particularly suitable for grilling. However, since their proteins are very sensitive to heat, be careful not to cook them at too high a temperature. Thicker fillets should be cooked on the (slightly oiled) grill top at medium heat.

Much as usual, although not “late as usual”, this column started out to be about one thing, and ended up slightly different. It was going to be a collection of memories from friends. It seems to have turned into a collection of memories of this space I’ve occupied, at Ronda’s indulgence, for the last ten years. I hope you’ve enjoyed the stroll down memory lane as much as I have.

May your Christmas find you enjoying the company of family and friends who are most dear, and may your New Year bring you everything you need for happiness and health.