I'm Already Thinking About Christmas
It's true I am. And in my family - this is normal.
For most people, Christmas day might include a nice, big family dinner with all the traditions. However, my family is Danish. Which means for us, Christmas Eve is a big deal. More importantly Christmas Eve Dinner is a big deal. LIKE A BIG DEAL. And on Christmas day, we spend it eating dessert for breakfast, and then again for lunch, and then some sort of pasta with cheese for dinner with more dessert while we watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf in our pajamas (we don't leave the house, there are too many cookies to eat).
This lovely loaf of Challah always graces our table and it was Marie's favorite part of the whole meal when she was a vegetarian for 7 years (and low-key it probably still is even though she discovered chicken). Ever since I can remember, we have our Christmas Eve meal with our family friends the Westfalls. Alma is from Honduras and always brings the bread. It's perfectly warm when it walks through our front door and that is a smell that will always remind me of Christmas - more so than pine needles and freshly torn wrapping paper.
Yes, we Engelhardt's enjoy our carbs and we enjoy our butter, but we also appreciate the color and vibrancy that a fresh salad adds to the table. We include just the classics: spinach, red onion, tomatoes, and feta cheese in a big bowl. We always make our own dressing and for the winter we like to go with a rich balsamic to make us feel all warm and cozy (find the recipe at the end of this post). It's always on the side because this is Ohio damn it and we are in the Midwest so ranch is always there for someone at the table (cough, cough DAD).
This beauty, this queen right here, is simply just a vanilla cheesecake with sugared cranberries - clearly the star of the show. The desserts made by us are the pride and joy of the Engelhardt clan, led by our fearless leader: Mom. She always makes something that will please everyone (which can be difficult when Christmas Eve Dinner involves 11 people). She is a magician with butter and flour and knows how to make such classic desserts, like plain cheesecake, stick to your memory forever. The crust is dangerously thick (see above), tender, and crumbles perfectly to compliment the rich, smooth, creamy, comforting cheesecake that lives on top.
These are the recipes and styles that make up the Engelhardt culture - my culture. It is not only tradition but the way we live our lives. We have never had to cancel or make plans for Christmas Eve - we know exactly what we are doing and who we are doing it with. Sometimes we look nice, and sometimes I'm in my running tights from earlier that day and have yet to shower because I've been cooking all day. It is the process of working all day to help create a meal that I consider my culture. There is no ceremony more holy to me than sharing a meal with the people that I love and cherish.
What things do you consider your personal culture?
RECIPES TO MAKE CHRISTMAS EVEN BETTER:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic dressing (our favorites are ones like Fig Balsamic or Black Cherry Balsamic, these can be very thick and add good body to the dressing)
BIG pinch of salt
2-3 garlic cloves, minced OR 1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 tablespoons honey
Place in a screw-top jar and shake well.
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Heat these on the stove until all the sugar dissolves. Place a thumb of peeled, but still whole, ginger root in there while it's cooking - you won't regret it! If you're not into that, some orange or lemon peel (about a teaspoon) will add a soft citrus flavor to the simple syrup.
12 oz. bag cranberries
1 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
Pour the simple syrup over the cranberries in an airtight container and soak overnight. Drain these suckers - like REALLY drain them. And place on a cookie sheet.
"Drain fully because if they are too goopy the sugar dissolves and they don't sparkle."
-Marie Engelhardt, expert on sugared cranberries for past 3 years
Coat drained berries with sugar. Start with about a cup and sprinkle more as needed. Serve on your Christmas dessert or in a bowl just for eating.