First of all, I’d like to apologize to anyone who actually enjoys reading the posts and makes this blog a destination (or perhaps did) for my lack of posting. I’m happy to report that my first semester of graduate school was a rousing success, though toward the end there I did end up eating a lot of my lazy-day meals.
I’m up in the northern portion of Northern California at the moment, where the rain flows freely, the dungeness crabs jostle claws with one another, the redwoods do yoga stretches to the sky, salmon the size of porpoises leap out of mountain rivers, and hearty beer is brewed. I figured I’d share some Christmas traditions and just happenings with you all, along with a recipe my mom made this Christmas.
Christmas eve we typically try to vaguely observe the Polish tradition of wigilia, namely this year just eating what I’ll call “Catholic vegetarian”– meaning apparently that fish does not count as meat. (Mom was too lazy to do the standard Polish fare and really wanted crab!) The crab season up here is off to a really late start (the commercial season isn’t due to open until January 16th! It usually opens December 1st.), but we managed to find some cooked crabs from down south of Mendocino to continue our tradition.
Paula Deen would be proud: we generally each eat a half of stick of butter (at least) for crab, bread, and whatnot dipping. This year I invested in some artichokes so we’d at least have a bit of fiber, but they’re also butter-dippable. Yum. Soak all the crabby butter juice up with some garlicky sourdough and wash it down with an IPA and you’re in heaven. Pacific Northwest heaven.
The strategy is to eat all the stupid little crab leg bits first (we joked that in hell they only serve crab knuckles), then eat the legs, then pile the body meat into the butter. You save that up until the end when you just eat it with a fork. It’s fantastically gluttonous (ironic, given the holiday). I spooned some on top of my artichoke heart and I can say without a doubt that it was a great combo.
The animals tried so hard to wait patiently for us to be done eating so they could have a little crab in their dishes, but they got pretty vocal toward the end of the meal!
And so, that was Christmas eve. Plenty of beer, a rousing game of Yahtzee, and some sleep later came Christmas day (today!).
Dad decided we were going to have a ham for Christmas, so he picked up one of those precut spiral hams from Costco. Not bad, though he didn’t read the directions and just poured the glaze powder over the top of the ham like snow rather than actually turning it into a glaze (it turned out okay nonetheless). Mom had some potatoes so she decided to make gratin and there was still some kale in the garden so that got steamed. I made the cranberry sauce as usual, adding in some grated grapefruit zest (which I highly recommend).
Anyway, without further ado, here is my mom’s adaptation of a leek and potato gratin recipe that turned out quite tastily, starring none other than my fabulous and amazing mother! The good thing about this dish, according to her, is that you can let it cook for as long as you want essentially while you cook other things (see step 8 for info on that).
Leek and Potato Gratin
Serves at least 4
- 5 large potatoes (total of 2.5 lbs), preferably golds and/or reds
- 1 leek
- 2 cups of mixed milk and chicken broth (probably about 50/50, can substitute cream for milk if you have it but probably use less than you would milk)
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups grated swiss cheese (we used a mixture of Jarlsberg and Comté)
- salt (to taste, along with the two below)
- fresh ground pepper
- fresh grated nutmeg (just a dash per layer)
1. Cut the leeks down the middle and rinse them very, very well, thoroughly inspecting to make sure you rinse any dirt or other foreign matter out of the leaves. Chop the leeks crosswise fairly finely.
5. Sprinkle a layer of leeks, cheese, and grate a dash of nutmeg and some salt and pepper on top. Repeat until you have 3 layers or all your ingredients are used up, with the last layer on top being potatoes.
8. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the 350 F for an hour, then remove the foil and cook for another half an hour to 45 minutes. If you have other things you’re waiting on, you can recover it and just leave it cooking in the oven for hours. Just make sure it’s covered except for that 30-45 minutes where you allow it to brown on top.
Serve with whatever else you want to eat.
Happy Holidays, all!