Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Antipasto & Dinner - 12/25/2011

Every year, my mom requests that I write her a Christmas story; since this is her sole plea, and I love writing and the story's recipient, I always comply. This year, I wrote her a piece that contains portions  describing our family's Christmas dinner. I hope that my photographs and the accompanying story segments aptly convey the familial feasting that ensued. 

A couple of days before Christmas, my parents and I made our debut trip to Bossa Foods, a monstrous Italian market. Inside the faux castle-villa exterior, the store housed the most impressive selection of Italian ingredients that I have ever seen. Both the quality and sheer magnitude of products offered transformed me into a little kid wandering wide-eyed through a candy shop. 

Homemade raviolis 
One of the many aisles devoted to pasta
Endless rows of vinegar and olive oil
Appetizers from Bossa Foods rendered me helpless and I gorged myself beyond repair before dinner.

 The spread included a vast selection of cured olives, onions pickled in balsamic vinegar, tender artichoke hearts, miniature balls of creamy mozzarella and slices from a hunk of smoky cheese, and four varieties of salami. Almonds coated in olive oil and salt and pepper and then roasted with rosemary were dangerously easy to pop in one’s mouth, lethal when coupled with their intense toothsome quality. Several types of crackers filled a long narrow basket, from the plain water variant to the more complex cranberry hazelnut combination. Since I took it upon myself to try every single combination of ingredients from the spread – the smoky cheese with the cured almonds was especially delectable – we were all stuffed to capacity well before dinner. Not to be deterred by such an insignificant obstacle, the feast began.

On Christmas Eve, my dad and I made my grandma's famous stuffing recipe. Although the result was tasty, we were unable to replicate grandma's rendition of this dish. The story I wrote for my mom includes a tidbit about our turkey and stuffing, of course. 
Hand mixing - an essential procedure
In the center of the table, the bulbous turkey protruded like a firm yolk from a farm fresh fried egg, giving off the savory aroma of paprika coupled with juices from the tender breast and flavorful dark meat. A couple stray niblets of stuffing were visible at the entrance to the bird’s interior, no doubt infused to perfection with spices and rich meat liquid. The rest of the stuffing sat in an adjacent bowl, a heaping mound of high-quality sausage, sautéed onions and celery, and asymmetric cubes of top-notch French baguette, saturated with creamy mushroom soup and giblet drippings.   
 A steaming bowl of Chinese sticky rice also graced the Christmas table, a delightfully textured and flavorful mixture of firm rice units, dried shrimp, and finely diced cured meat, flecks of green onion and mushroom visible to the trained eye. No dinner would be complete without Grandma’s festive specialty, a symbol of familial appreciation for food and each other. Although small, the dish of homemade cranberry sauce commanded attention because of its vibrant color, a deep magenta with enticing chunks of slightly different hue and density. On Christmas Eve, my mother created this exquisite sauce from fresh cranberries – the peel of a lush orange and flavor captured from the juniper berry flavor of gin were vital components of the ultimate heterogeneous mixture.

The roasted vegetables were awe-inspiring, braised with olive oil, spices, and salt and pepper, sufficiently softened in the oven yet still retaining some texture, coveted by the eager teeth. I admired the cauliflower florets, transformed into plump yellow trees by the domineering cumin, and complemented in color, flavor, and texture with the garnishing fresh pomegranate seeds; the boxy cuts of yam and butternut squash, glazed with maple syrup and yielding enthusiastically to the oven’s heat, obtained a flexibility characteristic of all oven roasted root vegetables.
Not to be outdone by the turkey, the hunk of ham glistened with a home-style maple sugar glaze, embedded cloves sticking out beyond the deep brown skin. The slicing process exposed the tenderness beneath, the bright pink flesh oozing clear juices that were an undeniable testament to the meat’s luscious quality. It’s hard to imagine that anything could enhance the meal, but the prospect of homemade cheesecake kept us excited for the final course even as we embarked upon the unheard of intermediary journey of navigating the seas between gobbling and savoring the wealth before us.
My cousin's homemade cheesecake was rich yet surprisingly light - although I usually relish dense cheesecakes, I was particularly grateful for the unconventional airiness of my slice. The graham cracker-ginger snap crust and the cheese filling, never cloyingly sweet, fused together in a most satisfying fashion. We topped each serving with freshly whipped cream and a homemade raspberry sauce. It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year.

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