26 December 2007

Christmas Dinner

In the days leading up to Christmas, the buzz around work and with friends was about food. Some want to know what others are having for Christmas dinner because they don't like their great aunt's cooking. Others spark the conversation because they really want to talk about their own meal.

Well, Seth and I didn't go to anyone's house at Christmas, so I guess I fall into the latter.

I will come back to that meal, but first I have to gush about how the past few days have been excellent despite getting a one-day weekend and then working every day this week except Christmas. On Sunday, I spent the afternoon making tamales with Christiane. It was an exhausting, time-intensive process that makes you respect so deeply this dish made with a few simple ingredients. Masa, lard and pork demand time, attention and, most of all, patience. The result wasn't bad, either. Plus Christiane paired it with a great frise, avocado, radish, cilantro and lime salad and her beautiful pomegranate salad, too. I made Oaxacan black beans and a roasted tomatillo salsa.

On Monday evening, Christmas Eve, Seth and I made Italian. We had a fun dinner where we cooked together, drank wine, and ate a lot of it standing around the island. We started with artichoke stuffed mushrooms, then we roasted eggplant and fennel and tossed with olive oil and parm, and the main dish was spinach ricotta gnocchi in a sage butter sauce. The gnocchi wasn't quite right -- it didn't have enough of a toothsome bite. That said, it tasted great. If measuring by our enjoyment of the process, the meal was a success.

But Christmas dinner is what everyone talks about. Friends and co-workers alike, told me their prime rib stories. Dina even made a last-minute stop by our house to borrow horseradish sauce since her in-laws deemed it a must-have with the beef.

I was cooking for two, though. And prime rib, a whole turkey or a ham just seemed excessive. I asked Seth what he wanted for the meal, and I enthusiastically agreed: We would have lamb prepared in a fenugreek curry like our favorite Indian restaurant -- make that favorite restaurant -- serves.

It's a dish we discovered on our first trip to Vancouver, B.C. On the recommendation of a hotel clerk, we ventured out of the core downtown to Vij's. The food, the environment, the staff, all clicked. It's the restaurant trifecta and nothing less that happens there. We've since returned twice, taking friends and family with us to share the experience.

So, here is the recipe Marinated Lamb Popsicles, courtesy of Vij's.


4 pounds French-cut racks of lamb, cut into chops
1/4 cup sweet white wine
3/4 cup grainy mustard
1 tsp salt

4 cups whipping cream
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground cayenne
1 tbsp dried green fenugreek leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 to 4 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp finely chopped garlic
1 tsp turmeric

Lamb: Combine wine, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add lamb and coat well in the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.

Curry Sauce: In a large bowl, combine cream, salt, paprika, cayenne, fenugreek leaves and lemon juice. Heat canola oil in a medium pot and saute garlic until golden. Stir in turmeric and cook for 1 minute. Stir in cream mixture and cook on low to medium for about 5 minutes, or until it is gently boiling.

Finish Lamb: Preheat stove-top cast iron grill or barbecue grill on high. Place lamb on grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side.

To serve: In a shallow bowl, place lamb popsicles in curry sauce to serve family style. And, given their name, you eat them by hand.

03 December 2007

Puppy Chow

Seldom does a day go by that I don't feel a little tug for home. Not my house. Not any house, really. Home to me is more of a state of mind. It's that little place in life where I needn't think of memories to feel warm inside.

Home is where my family is. It's the big, flat horizon dotted with round hay bales and oil pumpers. It's dirt so red it turns streams and lakes into liquid rust. It's the smell of my grandparents' house, and the warmth of my mother's kitchen. It's my sister-in-law Sarah's singing, and the dozens of people -- related by blood or love -- who create the entire menagerie that is my in-laws' family.

The holidays are when I yearn for these moments most. Perhaps it's because I know that's when everyone else is getting together. It's also because that's where much of my recent memory of that place has been created.

So, as I decorated my Christmas tree last weekend, I sifted through a box of ratty tissue paper, creased a hundred times from being wrapped, folded and unwrapped over a couple dozen years. My mother created a tradition for my sister and I of giving us each an ornament each year for the holiday. She did this because when she got out on her own, she had no ornaments for her first tree. This way, she thought, Angie and I would never have a sad, bare tree.

Just before I set up the tree each year, I think about those pretty trees all coordinated with colorful glass balls, miles of ribbon and lights that seem to illuminate every last pine needle. My tree, I think, will be filled with an old mishmash of ornaments.

Alas, as I began unwrapping them and placing them on the tree, I am reminded why I can't part with the idea of putting them up: The ornaments are one of the few links that connect my Christmas memories with today. There's the little wooden clown that Pop carved for me, and a handful of painted ceramic pieces Mom created.

When the tree was decorated, I was happy. I showed Seth the ornaments from our past Christmases together, as I've kept the tradition alive for us of a new one each year. I always try to find something that reflects us in that time. Last year, it was a beautiful glass ball with a snowy house inside. I'm still hunting for the perfect pick this year, but I surely will find it soon.

There are dozens of little packaged up memories each of us has of holidays. Some are warm, and some are surely sad. I hope we're all fortunate enough to find links to the warm ones whether it's through ornaments, traditions and yes, of course, food. Although there are lots of holiday foods I love, there's one little guilty pleasure that makes me think of nothing other than Christmas as a kid -- Puppy Chow.

I once brought it up with some Northwest friends who had no idea what it was, so for those of you in the same boat, relax, it is not dog food. All I know is that I don't really remember my mom making it, but we always had some around during December. It's the kind of treat neighbors and friends give one another back where I come from.

Here's to holiday memories past and present, and just like the Puppy Chow, sprinkle anything with that much powdered sugar, and it has to be good!

Puppy Chow

1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
9 cups of Rice Chex mix
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

In a small saucepan slowly bring the chocolate, peanut butter and butter to a low heat. Stir to melt and combine. Add the vanilla. Turn off heat. Pour the dry Chex into a large mixing bowl. Drizzle the chocolate mixture over the Chex and stir until all pieces are coated. Dump the Chex mixture into two gallon zip bags. Divide the powdered sugar equally and dump each portion into the separate bags. Seal the bags and shake to coat. Pour the mixture onto a baking sheet to cool completely. Store in airtight containers.