Monday, December 27, 2010

What's for Christmas Eve Dinner, Christmas Morning Brunch?

We had members of our Fulbright Family join us for two days of celebrations and 5-star cuisine over the holidays.  Since Mark's family is half Swedish, they always have a big Christmas Eve dinner (Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, etc.).
In the Czech Republic, the dinner is on Christmas day. After hours of waiting (and usually not eating anything at all), the family might go for a walk in the late afternoon and watch for the first star to light the sky or, if it is cloudy weather, they might retreat to the forest and feed the wild animals before coming back inside for dinner.  The traditional Czech dinner, in fact throughout the entire former Austro-Hungarian Empire (Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, and parts of Poland), consists of fried carp and/or perhaps carp soup along with potato salad. The carp of course, comes from the numerous historic fish ponds throughout the country and concentrated near Trebon (see earlier postings). Once caught, the fish are kept in very cold water for 2-4 weeks which removes the typical 'fishy' taste. We've tried some before in Trebon and it really tastes like Sea Bass!
This year, however, we chose to go with some twists on traditional meals (we'll have carp on New Year's Eve....prepared in a traditional Bohemian way--watch for that posting soon!). 
For Christmas Eve dinner, we (5 of us) started with appetizers such as garlic shrimp, foie gras (from France; purchased at the Trebon Christmas Market), pate with red peppers, caramelized onions and winter squash, special French cheese (Comte; goat cheese), French bread, paired with Italian Seco.
Then it was on to the salad course of buttery lettuce with ruby tones (green/red!), fresh pomegranate seeds, dried cranberries that had been soaked in Brusinka or cranberry liqeur (see earlier posting), fresh pears, roasted pecans, Roquefort cheese (thanks, France!) and a special French dressing (using the recipe in loving memory of Rose Ascher).
[Note:  all photos in this posting are courtesy of Sharon. Many thanks!].
After that it was time for the main course of Christmas goose (roasted with garlic, Shallots, white wine from Cyril's wine cellar in Moravia--Verten Green, thyme), a reduction made from the drippings, roasted butternut winter squash (that we were so happy to find at Tesco the other day), steamed fresh Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus; popular European string beans due to their cold tolerance), paired of course with European wines (thanks to our Fulbright Sommeliers!).
And then....dessert of Quince Frangipani Tart (see earlier posting) with whipped cream of lemon zest and lemoncello.  Ahhhh.....bon appetit!

The rest of the evening was spent chatting up a storm, sipping Brusinka and Vajeci (on earlier posts) and eating the many delicious treats like Czech ginger bread, truffles, Marzipan, etc.

The next day, we all slept in and slowly drifted into the morning with coffee and fresh fruits (apricots from S. Africa, pears, pomegranates).  Then it was time to cook Christmas Morning Brunch. Someone had the inspiration for caramelized onion tart, so we quickly formulated one with fresh mushrooms, Comte cheese, fresh basil, roasted red pepper (I'm hearing red and green again), drenched with fresh eggs / Smetana (cream) and, yes.....caramelized butternut winter squash that had been cut into fun shapes for the holidays.
All one has to do is peel the butternut squash (with a peeler, not a knife!!). Then cut into 1/4" thick slices and then make the forms...
 Then put into an oiled pan (olive oil!), a bit of salt and pepper to taste, sear them quickly and then they're done.

Here it is ready to put into the oven:

 Along with this we had smoked Anglicky Slanina (English bacon), coupled with Vanocke (in front below, made by one of Neil's colleagues) and our Swedish Coffee braid (background) and topped with either butter or our plum jams. Also, some of our Fulbright Family had brought us some Dresden Stollen, direct from Germany (this one was more like Mohnkuechen--poppyseed cake). So tasty!
This meal held us for the rest of the day while we showed the town to our Fulbright guests (there's a funny story with this trip, but never mind...). Then Mark and Neil went off to Hluboka to see the Castle in snow (previous posting).

Veselé Vánoce!  The merriest of Christmases ever!

Disclaimer: This blog is not an official University of Minnesota or Fulbright Program blog. The views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations, or the University of Minnesota.