Christmas Cooking with the Leungs

Merry Belated Christmas, Happy New Year in advance, and Happy Holidays as a catch-all! Here at the Leung family estate, being all together means a few things: whining, bickering, accusing, and, most importantly, cooking. Often all at the same time. Over each other. It’s quite an enlivening experience once you get used to it.

But Christmas is extra-special, because we put extra planning into everything: my mom coordinates all of the gifts, my mom determines what we’re going to cook for her birthday (often celebrated along with Christmas since they’re close and we’re all home), my mom makes sure that the house is organized for all of our arrival, and we all dredge up old stories to jab each other with. This particular Christmas, we all have our own kitchens to stock, so my mom appears to have amassed a huge pile of on-sale kitchen gadgets from which we can all snatch what we need. My haul was particularly good:

But moving past my obsession with containers and random gadgets, let’s focus on what we actually cooked up on Christmas. And all pictures are credited to the Zanbato iPad, which at least takes better pictures than my phone.

When it came time for planning our contributions to cooking for my mom, I was politely asked, “What are you doing?” I shrugged and offered up my services anywhere they were wanted, but my mom threw me a bone and said, “I liked the bagels you made last year.” That might make her the exception, as they were universally regarded as too salty and a little small and not fluffy, but I accept any low standards that I manage to set for myself. It makes it more difficult for people to be disappointed in the future. At the recommendation of Lisa’s Jewish boyfriend Matt, I looked specifically for a kosher bagel recipe, which I found here.

The recipe called for far too little flour, and I ended up adding close to another cup of flour to get the consistency of the dough right. It also calls for very large pieces of dough for each bagel. I made them much larger than last time, but not quite as big as recommended. I think I got the size just about right.

This recipe said to put the bagels in hot but not boiling water as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is correct, but at least they floated this time. The dough also rose more at each stage (resting, boiling, and baking).

The tops of the bagel browned up quite nicely after setting the oven to broil for the last 2 or 3 minutes of baking. The consistency is a little funny, which I think has to do with how I rolled out the individual bagels. You’ll note that there aren’t any toppings on it. In my excitement, I somehow ignored the etymology of “toppings” and got the notion that the bagels would work better if I had the toppings on the bottom where it would be pressed into the bagel more.

The bottom looks a little gross, but it ended up being delicious. They got a crispy side that beats any baking I’ve ever done, and it ended up being quite a success. Like many of my creations, they don’t look perfect, but the usual criticism ended there. We fortunately had some lox in the fridge, and they made a nice lunch before we started baking.

The menu for dinner ended up not being nearly as extensive as it has been in the past, but we didn’t need more food with stacks of leftovers in the fridge and more in our tummies from bagels and snacking. Nicole headed up the shrimp ravioli made entirely from scratch. I beheaded some of the largest, ugliest shrimp I had ever seen, and she made and rolled out the pasta by hand. It sounds like it was a lot of work.

The ravioli were quite large, but Nicole managed to dole out all of the shrimp filling, so it worked out. I guess this is preferable to ravioli without enough pasta around the edges that might burst. The recipe didn’t make a lot of sauce, but it made enough to coat all of the ravioli, of which it was difficult to eat more than 1 or 2 because of the size.

We had about an extra 1/2 pound of shrimp, so Lisa used that to make some Greek shrimp. Unfortunately, mint didn’t quite make it onto the shopping list, but it still ended up being pretty tasty, even if there wasn’t quite enough shrimp. She ended up slicing them in half, which worked because with the huge shrimp we had, this meant that we still had 8 pretty meaty halves.

To fill out the rest of the meal, we also had a few crackers with some very ripe brie and leftover cranberry sauce:

some asparagus:

and a simple salad. The most exciting part of the salad, from my perspective, was the avocado we used. I carried it back with me from California in my luggage after Julie and I picked it off of a tree at Stanford. We were worried that we picked it too soon, but it ripened nicely. The inside was bright green, soft, and juicy:

The other big effort was in making the birthday cake. My mom wanted something not too sweet and relatively light so that it wouldn’t languish in the fridge for a long time like the rest of our leftovers. It took a good portion of a car ride for her to describe a fruity cake, which was essentially the fruit tart we had always done, except with a sponge cake on the bottom instead of a crust. Why we couldn’t have just done the crust we’ve always done is beyond me, but I don’t do any planning.

The recipe we found for it turned out to be a vegan recipe, which we only realized after Lisa made the cake, and we started the custard, all without using eggs. Quick tip: if there aren’t any eggs in it, it’s not custard. Anything pretending to be is suspect, and by suspect, I mean probably bad. While I was stirring the custard, we tried a bit, and it wasn’t very good. Lisa made a game-time decision and tossed that custard down the drain and started again with a real custard. Better success followed.

Although it’s probably not the fruit cake you’re thinking of around Christmas time, it ended up being pretty good. The cake had an interesting (but not bad) consistency and definitely held its lime. The custard was as delicious as you might expect, and the array of fruit all worked pretty well.

I hope you saw something that you liked!

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