Thursday, December 27, 2012

Whirlwind Holiday

Blink ... and, now it's over.

I don't know how it happens. We spend so much time preparing for holidays, birthdays and anniversaries, and in the blink of an eye, they're over. 

For months, we did a countdown in our house. First for our darling daughter's second birthday, then a few weeks later, for Christmas. The babies' anticipation grew and grew, especially once we pulled out the Advent Calendar and then the Christmas decorations. 

And, in a blink, it's over. 

It was a fabulous celebration, one that lasted three full days in our house. And, although,  my goal is to keep the Christmas spirit going for as long as possible, it's sad to see it go so quickly. In our house, we're still listening to Christmas music. (If I had my way, we'd be listening to the cheerful and heart-warming tunes through the summer, but hubby would never let that happen.)

But, I digress ... 

Our little gingerbread house.
This Christmas, we started pulling together our own family traditions. With a 3 year old and just-turned 2 year old, we haven't had time to really create our own little family traditions. But, we're working on it. 

Two weeks before Christmas, we built our annual gingerbread house. Mommy took over ... just a little bit (the babies were too busy licking the icing off their fingers and eating as much candy they could sneak out of the bowls). 
Grandma's sugar cookies. Iced
in good Christmas spirit by our
little darlings.

So, when Christmas arrived, I made sure the girlies led the sugar cookie decorating efforts. We started baking my grandma's sugar cookie recipe on the first Christmas Eve after we had our first daughter. We've followed through that tradition. The girls were really into the decorating this year, and enjoyed it almost as much as they enjoyed eating the icing.

Since we are hundreds of miles away from our folks (both sides), we try our best to incorporate the traditions that meant the most to us into our newfound family traditions. 

For Christmas Eve dinner this year, we were blessed to have my brother, sister-in-law and nephew join us (they live locally and spent the holiday here this year). I made homemade sauerkraut pierogies (courtesy of my husband's grandmother, Gram), crab cakes, french onion soup and roasted carrots. It was incredibly important for us to have a meatless dinner, a tradition my husband and I both grew up with. I couldn't remember the pinch and flatten method for the pierogies that Gram taught me several years ago. So, instead, I pulled out my rolling pin -- gasp! -- and cut out little rounds that I molded into perfect little sauerkraut-stuffed pillows. My husband kindly told me how tasty the pierogies were, but I know they didn't hold a candle to Gram's. We'll just have to keep working on it, and next year, I'll remember the pinch and flatten method.

Rainbow cookies from the top.
And, below, here's a look
at the tasty layers.
My husband also requested a special treat for Christmas Eve dinner: Italian Rainbow cookies. Now, until he made the request, I knew very little about these colorful treats. In fact, I don't think I'd ever tried one. But, he's been making the request for months. So, we agreed that I'd make them for Christmas Eve dessert. And, so I began the LONG and grueling task of making these little brutal, albeit super delicious, beasts. 

Had I known the work that goes into these cookies, I probably would have put up my hands and walked away before even starting, but my husband insisted, even after the cookies turned into an hours-long project. He kept saying, "Don't you remember last week you were complaining you were in a cooking rut? I'm just trying to help you out." (Remember this, as he repeated this on Christmas Day when I was making the hours-long beef bourguignon.) 

If you've ever had these almond petit cakes, you'll know they're delicate in texture, moist and hit many complex notes on the palette. They're quite tasty, but so much work. I've sworn I will never again make these little treats, so my hubby better savor all 96 little sweet cakes. (I've included a copy of the recipe I adapted below.)

After the girls ripped open their packages on Christmas morning and savored all the goodies that Santa brought them, we headed over to my brother's and enjoyed sharing pecan rolls, something we had every Christmas when we were growing up. In my humble opinion, nothing says Christmas morning more than the scent of  warm cinnamon filling the air, and it was something we missed in our own house this year. But, my hubby and I were incredibly touched that my brother took the time to make these yummy pastries for us to enjoy on Christmas morning.

Searing the meat.
So, with nothing cooking in the kitchen on Christmas morning, I was due for a little challenge in the afternoon: beef bourguignon. In the Washington area, one of my favorite restaurants is L'Auberge Chez Francois. We try to get there once a year -- for our anniversary -- and I always order the beef bourguignon. I don't know what they do, but the dinner transports me to a different time and place. So, with that delicious meal in my mind, I had my work cut out for me. 

Sauteing the veggies.
I started marinating the meat two days before Christmas, but the real work didn't set in until Christmas afternoon. After an hour sauteing vegetables, searing the meat, and preparing the "sauce," the beef braised for three hours. The intoxicating smell filled the house, and my hubby kept asking, "How much longer?"

Although Elizabeth's beef bourguignon wasn't as "magnifique" as that at Chez Francois, it was tender, complex in flavor and, in a word, delicious. We paired the beef with roasted red potatoes and a roasted pear salad. My 2 year old loved the beef, "More chicken Mommy!" (She's 2 and calls every protein "chicken.") 

Christmas dinner.
My husband declared that the beef is our family's new Christmas tradition, and even suggested we have a "round 2" for New Year's.

We definitely are guilty of eating our way through the holidays -- and our belts need to be loosened a bit. But, we built off some of our childhood traditions (sauerkraut pierogies and cinnamon rolls) and created some of our own new ones (beef bourguignon and Italian rainbow cookies (ahem, can you tell my hubby "edited" my post?)). 

It was a tremendous holiday, and I'm so incredibly grateful for the precious time with family and the yummy foods that will help frame our memories in the years to come. 

... and, in a blink, it's now a memory.

* * *

Rainbow Cookies (adapted from Bon Appetit) 

Prep Time: 5 hrs | Cook Time: 2 hrs | Makes: 96 | 
Difficulty: Hard

  • 2 Tbsp. plus 2 cups unsalted butter, cubed, at room temperature
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar, divided
  • 12 oz. almond paste (not marzipan), chopped
  • 2 3/4 cups plus 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. red food coloring
  • 1 tsp. green food coloring
  • 3/4 cup orange marmalade, heated, strained
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, melted
Preheat oven to 350°. Line three 13x9x2" metal baking pans with foil, leaving overhang; grease with 2 Tbsp. butter; set aside. Put egg whites in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk; beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add 1/3 cup sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Transfer to a large bowl; cover; chill.

Using the paddle attachment, beat almond paste and remaining sugar on medium-low until incorporated, 4-5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high; gradually add remaining butter. Beat until fluffy. Beat in yolks, then flour and salt. Fold in whites in 2 additions.

Divide batter evenly among 3 bowls. Mix red coloring into 1 bowl and green coloring into second bowl; leave third bowl plain. Spread 1 bowl of batter into each prepared pan; smooth tops. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until just set, 9-11 minutes. Let cool in pans.

With a pastry brush, spread half of marmalade over green cake. Using foil overhang, lift plain layer out of pan. Invert onto green layer; discard foil. Brush remaining marmalade over plain layer. Lift red layer out of pan; invert onto plain layer and cover cake with foil.

Top with a 13x9x2" pan. Weigh down pan with several heavy canned goods to compress cake layers. Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 1 day.

Remove cans, top pan, and foil. Transfer cake to a waxed paper-lined baking sheet.

Spread half of chocolate over cake in a thin layer. Freeze for 10 minutes. Cover with waxed paper, invert the baking sheet on top, and flip cake. Uncover and glaze with remaining chocolate. Freeze 10 additional minutes.

Trim cake to 12x8". Cut crosswise into six 2"-wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 96 1/2"-wide cookies. Store in an airtight container.

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