DINING IN…

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A pet peeve of mine: When stores begin selling their holiday decorations months before the holiday has even come close. (Can we just celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving first, please?) It’s annoying, really. I don’t even want to think about Christmas in October when I’m trying desperately to put together my last-minute Halloween costume. Let’s keep them separated, people.

Another pet peeve of mine: Playing Christmas music in October. Or November.

Just stop.

I appreciate the wanting to get into the holiday spirit deal, but I just can’t justify listening to Bing Crosby singing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” 100 times before Christmas. I just can’t. And as much as I love Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You”, I don’t want to hear it every single day leading up to Christmas.

I can’t.

I like to wait a good four to three weeks before the holiday to get everything done. That includes shopping, getting the tree, decorating, and watching all of my usual holiday favorites (The Holiday, Love Actually, Home Alone, Hook, Bad Santa, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and While You Were Sleeping).

And The Family Stone. With an all-star cast–Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, and Craig T. Nelson, to name a few, The Family Stone circles around the Stone clan during Christmastime.

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The story starts off with the Stone’s prodigal son, Everett, (Mulroney) who brings his uptight, conservative girlfriend, Meredith Morton (Parker), with him to his family’s New England home for the holidays. Everett intends (albeit a bit skeptical) on proposing to her with his mom Sybil’s ring (Keaton), but is met with a bit of resistance from Sybil, who also has a terminal illness, and disapproves of her eldest son’s choice for a wife. None of the family approves of Everett’s girlfriend, either, and gives her a hard time at every opportunity they can. (Except Ben, played by Wilson, who shares a connection to Meredith.)

When Meredith sends an emergency SOS to her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to come stay at the Stones’ home with her for support, things get interesting when Julie arrives, and her growing mutual attraction to Everett cannot be denied. These star-cr0ssed siblings endure a few fights, misunderstandings and an engagement ring stuck on someone’s finger. Uh-oh.

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One of the more pivotal scenes in the movie is when Meredith plans to make her family’s traditional “Morton Strata”, a savory bread pudding, on Christmas Day for the Stone’s. But things quickly turn upside-down, quite literally.

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Without further giving away anymore spoilers, I encourage you to watch this heartwarming movie.

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This week’s post is dedicated to Meredith’s Christmas Strata, which includes mushrooms (even though Everett is allergic to them…oops!). Perfect for Christmas morning, make this recipe a day-ahead, as it’s important for the bread to absorb all of that custardy goodness.

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Meredith’s Christmas Strata with Swiss Chard, Mushrooms and Gruyère

Recipe slightly adapted from NYT Cooking
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS
½ pound stale bread, sliced about 3/4 to 1-inch thick cubes
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pats
2 1/2 cups milk
1 ¾ cup mushrooms, quartered
1 cup cooking greens stemmed and cleaned (Swiss chard, kale or spinach)
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
½ cup Gruyère cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 Tablespoons fresh thyme, picked and chopped
 3 Tablespoons Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon red pepper flake
4 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt

METHOD
Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.

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In a large pan, toast the bread cubes lightly in 2 Tablespoons of the butter. Place in a large bowl, and toss with 1 cup of the milk. Set aside.

Sauté the mushrooms in 2 Tablespoons of the butter, then add in the thyme. Remove from the pan and into the bowl with the bread and milk.

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Using the same pan, heat another 2 Tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat, and add the cooking greens.

Stir for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic. Cover the pan, and allow the steam to cook the greens till it has completely collapsed, about three minutes. Uncover and stir, season with salt and red pepper flake.

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Remove from the pan, roughly chop and transfer to the bowl with the bread and mushrooms. Add the cheeses, and mix to incorporate. Arrange in the buttered baking dish.

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Beat together the eggs in a separate bowl, add in the remaining milk. Then pour over the bread mixture. Press the bread down into the custard mixture. Cover with foil and place into the refrigerator overnight.

On the next day, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place in the oven, and bake 45 to 50 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Remove from the oven, and serve hot.

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(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Twentieth Century Fox.)

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Midnight Macaroons

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Chocolate-Covered Hazelnut Macaroons
Slightly adapted from Martha Stewart
Yields about 8 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2 large egg whites
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

METHOD
Fill a sauce pot with water and heat to boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to just simmering. Fill a large metal (or heat-resistant) mixing bowl with the chocolate chips and place over the hot water bath. Allow to melt, stirring with a spatula every few minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg white. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Form the dough into eight, 2 tablespoon mounds and drop each onto the sheet pan about 2-inches apart.

Bake the macaroons until golden brown on the edges, about 15 minutes. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool. Using a spoon, drizzle the melted chocolate over the cooled macaroons. Serve.

Macaroons will keep in a sealed container for up to one week.

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Return to the full story HERE

(Editor’s Note: All movie screenshots in this story are property of Sony Pictures.)

West Toast

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It’s so crazy to think about how much of your life can change in one year. 1 year. Last Thanksgiving I spent the entire night working as a cocktail waitress at a thankless job. It was by far the WORST job I have ever had. Luckily, I only stuck around for a month.

At last week’s Thanksgiving, I spent it with some truly awesome friends. We had a delicious meal and plenty of libations. Being away from your family during the holidays is oftentimes hard, but when you have amazing friends, it’s not that bad at all.

My contribution to our Friendsgiving/Thanksgiving meal are these mini Guava and Cream Cheese Tartlets (Pop Tart knockoffs), but they’re soooo good. The filling was inspired by this AMAZING Cuban bakery in LA that I used to frequent, called Porto’s. Their Pastelitos de Guayaba (Guava Pastries) are a reason in itself to visit if you’re ever in LA.

The guava filling can be made at home, but I was a bit lazy this time around, and just visited my local Latin American food market and purchased this GOYA Guava Paste package. For $3 it’s a steal. And it’s so good, guys.

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Guava Cream Cheese Tarlets 
(Pastelitos de Guayaba)
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour

INGREDIENTS
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 large egg (plus 1 egg for egg wash)
2 tablespoons milk

METHOD
Using a food processor, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt, working the butter in till the mixture holds together when you press it with your fingers. The mixture will be just a tad bit lumpy, with specks of butter still visible. Transfer the dough to a large bowl and add the egg and milk, mixing till everything is cohesive.

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Split the dough in half. Shape each half into a rough 3″ x 5″ rectangle, smoothing the edges. If making the dough ahead of time, you can refrigerate for up to 2 days; allowing the dough to rest for 15 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Place the first half of the dough on a lightly floured work surface, and roll it into a rectangle about 1/8″ thick, large enough that you can trim it to an even 9″ x 12″.

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Trim off the edges; save the scraps and set them aside, along with the 9″ x 12″ rectangle of dough.

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Proceed by rolling out the other half of the dough, and cut it as you did with the first half.

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Place a rectangle slice of the guava paste and cream cheese onto the center of each marked rectangle.

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Lightly beat the last egg, and brush the outer corners of the surface of each pastry dough. Place the second sheet of dough atop the first, using the tines of a fork to press firmly around each pocket, sealing the dough on all sides.

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If you have dough scraps, press them together into a ball, then re-roll them out. Repeat the rolling and cutting of the dough according to the size of the dough and fill them if you’re able to.

Gently transfer the tarts to a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet tray. Lightly brush the tops of each tarlet, and then place into your oven.

Bake the tartlets for 15 to 23 minutes, or till they’re a light golden brown.

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