Happy Little Christmas!
I remember growing up, we celebrated the twelfth and final night of Christmas as sort of a last hurrah to the season, softening the blow of taking the tree down, stripping the house of its last shiny bauble, twinkle, and bough. It was always so sad seeing our living room afterwards, as if the way we lived 11 months out of the year was just devoid of something--spirit, spectacle--ooomph. And then there was the dried out, naked carcass of the tree, left for the garbage man on the sidewalk. It was all too much to take. So the Parents devised what in retrospect was a fantastic strategy of distraction. For this one special night, The Mouse and The Boo would make dinner for them--planning the menu ourselves, scanning the food-stained pages of mom's ancient stack of cookbooks, and taking our first few stabs at slicing, dicing, and sauteeing. What did we even make? Do you remember? All I can recall is the discovery made some time around 1996 that parmesan and pears taste delicious together--a revelation for us novices that came in the form of a salad (with fennel maybe?) from one of mom's cookbooks (Silver Palate maybe?) (Note from the Boo: It was Chase's "Open House Cookbook", and the salad was "Mixed Greens w/Fennel, Pears, and Parmesan Shards". The beginning of my obsession.), and Jamie Oliver's Spinach, Feta, and Pea Salad (a standby to this day).
Then there was a make your own sundae bar, where I'd pile on the "Whipped Topping" and we'd sit, cookies and cream mustaches on our faces watching Dad fumble and curse at the ancient movie projector which he'd eventually get to work with a sputter and whirr, and there I'd be, larger than life, six years old in the Helyar Woods, grinning at the camera and lifting my skirt over my head. Or grandma at her wedding on a rooftop in the city, the wind blowing her veil, and you next to me saying, "When I get married, I'm going to do it on a rooftop in Manhattan." (Or did I make that last part up? Is it possible we actually had footage from her wedding?) And then we'd exchange gifts with each other (what did we possibly buy each other as kids?), and give presents to Mom and Dad (remember when I gave Dad a tie? That still makes me laugh. What the hell was I thinking?). And then, the house quiet and a little empty, the scent of pine needles beginning to fade, we'd go off to bed.
I think some of my earliest memories of cooking, and the joy of finding a new recipe, of feeding people and watching proudly as their plates were cleared, came from our Little Christmas traditions. And as this year was the first time I've had my very own Christmas tree, covered in my very own hand-crafted ornaments, I'm finding that I still need a little something to help soften the blow of saying goodbye to the season. (Note from The Boo: Um, mine is still up.)
So, tomorrow night (since tonight, on the official twelfth night of Christmas, I had rehearsal), The Fiance and I will celebrate Three Kings Day (his people's name for Little Christmas) with a gift exchange, dinner by him, and--sniff--taking down the tree.
But before we say goodbye, one last taste of the holiday.
My Christmas plate. Clockwise from down center: the Fiance's Pernil, Yucca with Cuban Mojo, The Boo's Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Raw Kale Salad, Ina's Cauliflower Gratin, The Mother's Sauteed Red Cabbage, The Mother's Stuffing, The Mother's Turkey, and--yep--The Mother's Sweet Potato Casserole. With marshmallows.
For Christmas Eve at the Boo's House, Ina's Baked Shrimp Scampi. A mess of shrimp swimming in garlicky butter with parsley and breadcrumbs, baked until golden brown. (Note from the Boo: MMMMMM)
I'll be making this again. At least some things don't have to get put away with the ornaments.
Ina Garten's Baked Shrimp Scampi
2 pounds (12 to 15 per pound) shrimp in the shell
3 tablespoons good olive oil
2 tablespoons dry white wine
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
1/4 cup minced shallots
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 extra-large egg yolk
2/3 cup panko (Japanese dried bread flakes)
Lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Peel, devein, and butterfly the shrimp, leaving the tails on. Place the shrimp in a mixing bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, wine, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Allow to sit at room temperature while you make the butter and garlic mixture.
In a small bowl, mash the softened butter with the garlic, shallots, parsley, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice, egg yolk, panko, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper until combined.
Starting from the outer edge of a 14-inch oval gratin dish, arrange the shrimp in a single layer cut side down with the tails curling up and towards the center of the dish. Pour the remaining marinade over the shrimp. Spread the butter mixture evenly over the shrimp. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until hot and bubbly. If you like the top browned, place under a broiler for 1 minute. Serve with lemon wedges.