Friday, December 28, 2007

It was a merry Christmas

Matthew 2:1-6
 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 

"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 
'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, 

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; 

for out of you will come a ruler 

who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

"When the solution is simple, God is answering." Albert Einstein

As usual it was a Christmas when I thought I could not possibly get everything done. I'm never prepared ahead of time. You'd think I'd try to change my ways by now, but I haven't. Actually there was a year once, I think it was 1987, when I got most of the presents wrapped ahead of time. The girls were all in school and I wasn't yet in grad school. But this year I had the added problem of making the yule log on Sunday so I could serve it on Monday - Christmas eve. But in the end everything came together. At church on Sunday the pastor prayed that we would all have a stress free Christmas and I thought "Yes!", and I had this feeling that everything would be okay. And it was.

Because I had to get the cake done by Sunday I was not making it on Monday. This was good. First thing in the morning of Christmas eve I started the bread. I decided that I would just keep punching it down until I was ready to have it in the pans for the final rising. This worked just fine. My eldest daughter and her boyfriend had eagerly urged me to make a meatball lasagna, so I did. I began by making 135 tiny meat balls. They were each 1 tablespoon in size. After getting them all rolled up (out?) I put them in the freezer while I made the sauce. I began to fear that my large Italian brazer was not going to hold it all, but decided that I'd think about that problem if and when I came across it. Did I mention that I had Christian and Emily to take care of. But Riley was also home. I think he took the kids to the store with him while I made those tiny meatballs. Once the sauce was ready I began cooking up the little meatballs and off-loading them into the sauce. When all was done they just fit. I let it all simmer just a while on the back burner with the lowest heat.

Christmas Eve Meatball Lasagna

1 Tbl olive oil
4 ounces onion, minced
2 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 tps dried Italian herbs or oregano

1 pound Italian sausage
3/4 pounds ground veal
3/4 pound ground beef
1 egg, beaten
50 gr fresh white bread crumbs
salt and pepper as desired

1 tablespoons olive oil (for frying meatballs)

tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound onion, chopped
2 or 3 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon chili powder (more if not spicy)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
6 ounces tomato paste
4 pounds of canned tomatoes, chopped (you could use fresh tomatoes, peeled)
1 1/2 cup red wine
1/3 cup brown sugar, more if desired after tasting
basil, fresh or dried, I used about 1/4 cup dried.

tiny meatballs:
Sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft. 
Add the garlic and dried herbs and cook for a minute. 
Set aside to cool a bit.
When cool, mix in the remaining meatball ingredients, seasoning well with salt and pepper. (Fry a tiny bit to check the taste.)
Form into 1 tablespoon sized meat balls (makes about 135 meatballs). 
Chill in the freezer for about 15-30 minutes to help them keep their shape while cooking.
Make the sauce while waiting on the meatballs.
Fry the meatball in olive oil in batches. Add more oil as necessary. Remove done meatballs to the sauce.  Let simmer for a while.

Tomato Sauce:

Every year I add a secret ingredient and this year it was 1/4 pound of pancetta, chopped up.  I cooked it in the olive oil before adding the onions.  Next year it will be something else.
Heat the olive oil in a big frying pan and cook the onions until soft but not colored. Add the garlic, the chili and cumin and cook for a further minute. Add the tomato puree and 
tomatoes, sugar and wine and simmer for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Also needed for the lasagna

1 pound ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced mozarella 
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 3/4 pounds fresh  uncut pasta - 7 sheets.

Combine the ricotta, egg, Italian herbs, salt, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.

Assembly - this baffles me every year

Using a large roasting pan start with a thin layer of the sauce, no meatballs on this layer.
Next goes a layer of pasta, cut to fit.
Next maybe a layer using all of the ricotta mixture
Next a layer of pasta
Next a layer of the sauce with half of the meatballs.
Next sprinkle with some of the parmesan.
Next a layer of pasta
Next us half of the mozarella
Next a sprinkling of parmesan.
Next a layer of pasta
Next a layer using the rest of the meat balls, but not all of the sauce
Next a bit more parmesan
Next a layer of pasta
Next the last of the sauce
Next the last of the mozzarella 
Lastly the last of the parmesan

Once assembled the lasagna can be kept for at least a day or so before cooking.
1 1/2 hour before you want to serve the lasagna preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake for about an hour, you be the judge.  It must be bubbling a bit to be really done.
Let rest for about 20 minutes or so before eating.  What we do is sit down to salad and bread while we wait for the lasagna to cool a bit.

Marilyn arrived at three-ish, which was great because she can be ever to helpful, especially at washing-up and setting the table. I had the table ready to be set, with a fresh tablecloth. I used the blackwatch on this year. I did have a "moment" with the living room, but I attacked it and it was soon under control. Riley had disappeared to "get ready". He takes much longer to get ready for things than I ever get to and this does "irk me" a bit. But I expressed how I felt about this and after the lasagna was all ready and the table set and the salad dressing made and the bread was out of the oven and the living room tidied I was urged to go upstairs and get dressed. Because of my recent loss of weight because of being so sick I was able to get into an old Laura Ashley dress that I have worn many times on Christmas eve, but in recent times had found to be too tight. This definitely picked up my mood.

I had thought to make a second dessert, one that was familiar to the family, but I changed my mind. I would just serve the yule log and my chocolate fruit cake instead of the usual plum pudding (they are in fact similar). I also decided that I was not going to worry about the fact that I had no presents wrapped. But I really hope that next year I will have them all wrapped before Christmas Eve.  I put the lasagna in at six and we all sat down in the living room to play Scattergories.  This was an excellent choice of activity for my family.  I could easily get up and check on things between rounds.  I think that we eventually sat down to a lovely formal Christmas Eve dinner at about seven-thirty.  Riley brought out wine and to the great delight of many of us the white wine was absolutely awesome.  This set us all in a very good mood.  It was a Muscat from the Eugene area.  Unfortunately Riley thinks he threw out the bottle.  He is so absolutely robotic when it comes to throwing things out, no thinking involved.  But he assures me he can remember it when he sees it again.  I hope so!!  [late breaking news - He found the bottle!]  After the salad we all pulled open our snappers (crackers?) and read out our jokes and examined out little toys and put on our crowns, which are to remind us of God's promise to us: 1 Peter 5:4 "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."

After dinner we all went to the living room to play more Scategories and to open a few presents.  We all enjoyed ourselves until 11 o'clock, at which point Marilyn looked like she would fall asleep sitting up.  Our guests left and we tidied up and then Corey and I got into our pajamas (actually I got into my lovely pink Dior nightgown) and we started making the sweet breads for Christmas morning.  Because of the late hour I decided that we would make up the dough, assemble the breads and leave them to rise out on the kitchen table.  No pre-rising.  As it turned out we didn't even get up until after nine on Christmas morning, and the breads had risen perfectly and they couldn't have been better!

Sweet Dough

1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 pound of flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 stick of butter
1 egg
1 cup warm milk


1 batch sweet dough
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, melted

Take the sweet dough and divide it into twelve pieces.  Then take each piece of dough and form them into very round balls of dough.  This is done by forming a closed circle with you thumb and first finger and from the bottom up force the piece of dough through the fingers into a ball, closing up at the bottom as the dough passes through the fingers.  Then take a ball of dough and flatten it out into a circle.  Spread a bit of butter onto the circle, then sprinkle some cinnamon/sugar all over the butter.  Roll up the dough and take a sharp pointy knife and cut down the middle of the dough to about one inch from the end.  Open out the cut sections and then braid the ends and flip into a ball.  Place all the twisted balls into a 15 x 20 baking sheet and let rise for about 8 hours (overnight).  Bake at 350 for about 12 minutes.

I am going to add pictures for the bolotchki later because I don't think you can get it otherwise.  One time we had a youth group from Mexico staying at our house and one of the chaperones was someone I think of as Gramma Mary.  She was an absolutely adorable little grandmother. It was about 11 pm and  I was going to make bolotchki for breakfast the next morning.  She saw me starting to make them and she went right upstairs and woke up the girls and told them to come down stairs and learn how to make bolotchki.  We all had a great time and I imagine that bolotchkis are spreading all over northern Mexico.  It's definitely a pastry the Mexicans would like.  Actually, everyone likes them.  I learned how to make them in San Diego in the middle of the night from some Russian friends.  Now that's a big story for some other time.  

Almond Tea Ring

1 batch of sweet dough (above)
soft butter, about 1/2 stick
1 can of almond filling (maybe called Solo or something)

Roll out the dough to a big rectangle, maybe 24 by 18
Spread on the butter and then the almond filling.
Roll up along the long edge.
Get a baking sheet and put a piece of baking parchment on it.
Place the roll of dough on in a circle.
Cover lightly with a piece of plastic wrap and then a tea towel.
Leave overnight to rise.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Check on it because everyones oven is different.

Note: if you make your own almond spread it can be fabulous.  I use the canned filling because my children like it.  I personally have no big attachment to it.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Molly this looks like incredible meatball lasagna! I love meat balls and just yesterday broke down and bought myself two sizes of the baller things to make getting uniform sizes.
Love that sweet little one!

Molly Loves Paris said...

I love the fact that you called them "baller things". I never know what to call them, and I use them fairly often.