Christmas Eve day and evening celebrations are a tradition inÂ ourÂ Cuban side of the family...There is, of course, Noche Buena, which translates to Good Night but not as a 'retiring for the evening' greeting of farewell, but more like "Best Night"...Â Later the Misa de Gallo, or Midnight Mass and also earlier in the day, at least in my family when we were children, there was the tradition of visiting the convents, old people's homes and churches that displayed huge, elaborate CrÃ¨che depicting the Nativity.
My Hummel CrÃ¨che survived our fire of July 2000 and as such, doubly special...Some pieces are damaged....Mary's blue mantle is smoky and donkey has lost a lot of it's gray coat;Â Cow's head and neck lost coloringÂ andÂ Baltazar's head had to be glued back on...but I love it and loveÂ displaying it year after year nevertheless.Â
Some of the displayedÂ CrÃ¨cheÂ from my childhood took up whole rooms and showed villages, lakes, rivers, mountains, shepherds, sheep, cattle, palm trees, villagers, of course theÂ manger sceneÂ (sans Baby Jesus until Midnight) and off in the distance, the Three Kings on their camels following the Christmas Star.Â No, Santa did not make an appearance in these CrÃ¨che scenes.
The Cuban celebration ofÂ Noche Buena started very early in the day or even the day beforeÂ by digging underground pits, similar to how Hawaiians build anÂ imu to roast wholeÂ pigs lavishly marinated in mojo, a sauce made with generous amounts of garlic in sour orange juice and olive oil (see a modern version of the Cuban style pig roasting as well as my friend Esther Musibay's delicious mojo sauce).Â The menu typicallyÂ includes rice and black beans, yuca also served with mojo, and many other traditional dishes loved by anyone with a smidgen of Cuban blood running in their veins!Â Desserts normally run to turrones (almond nougat style sweets, both the hard type fromÂ Alicante or the soft one from Jijona,Â Spain), flan or custards such as the crema Catalana.Â
I love setting a festive table and each year try to come up with interesting and different ideas.Â This year I went wild mixing bright red (candles, my mother's red goblets, red rimmed dinner plates) with deep burgundy tablecloth, Christmas plaids (ribbon swagÂ on the table, napkins and all the packages I wrapped) as well as pieces from our collection of sea creatures (pearl oyster shells, angel wing shells, starfish, sand dollar, equinoid fossil (of an ancient sea urchin), a few banded sea snail shells and a few more....I addedÂ two strings of tiny, tiny little lights my sister gave me recently.
I love using my mother's red goblets circa mid 1960's courtesy of S&H Green Stamps!Â The red rimmed dinner and salad plates were a gift from my friend Maritza.Â The salad plates on the Ã©tagÃ¨re are Christmas Garland from Fitz & Floyd and special because they also were some of the few things that survived our fire!
For the last 10 years or so, my son and I have forgone the typical Cuban style Noche Buena menu and we sort of let our fancy guide us as to what menu we will choose for our own Best Night meal.
This time we chose a very simple menu of only three dishes... AÂ zucchini ribbonsÂ salad courtesy of my Gather friend Katrina Hall,Â which I served withÂ a CalamondinÂ Vinaigrette made with fruit from our own calamondin tree.Â Â
For ourÂ EntrÃ©e we choseÂ to make a seafood dish consisting of lobster, shrimp and scallops in a combination of Newburg and Thermidor sauce, served in individual little graten dishes lined with puff pastry.
Lobster, Shrimp & Scallops in Creamy Sauce
Unfold puff pastry sheets and roll a few times with a rolling pin.Â Place sheet inside each graten dish, fit into the sides and bottoms and cut off the rest with kitchen shears or sharp knife (use the discarded pieces to make cinnamon pastries).Â Prick the bottom with a fork and place in 350 F oven to bake and puff up.
Heat butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat until foam subsides, then cook the minced shallots and red bell pepper, stirring, until any liquid is evaporated and they begin to turn translucent, aboutÂ 3 minutes. Add lobster, shrimp and scallop, paprika, salt, and pepper and reduce heat to low. Cook, shaking pan gently, about 1 minute or so. AddÂ 2 tablespoons Sherry and 1/2 cup of the hot cream and simmer for about 5 minutes.
While the above is gently simmering, add the remaining 2 tablespoons Sherry andÂ 1/2 cup scalded milk to the beaten eggs in thin, slow dribbles, whisking constantly so that eggs will not curdle.Â It should turn into a creamy and smooth eggy custard.Â Add custard slowly toÂ shellfish mixture, stirring gently until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency.
Pour the shellfish mixture into the graten dishes lined with the baked puff pastry.Â Sprinkle with coarse panko, dot with butter and a few shakes of Parmigiano Romano cheese.Â Place under broiler just long enough for the top to turn golden.
Dessert was a rich and silky Crema Catalana which is a Spanish version of a crÃ¨me brulÃ©e.
I also baked a Red Velvet Cake andÂ topped it with Cream Cheese Frosting to take to our friends Gail & Robert's house for a Christmas Day party.Â I will post the recipe and photos for the cake later on.
Merry Christmas and Felices Navidades to everyone from our little Hawaiian cottage hale to your home!