The little traditions and special family rituals that go along with the holidays are very precious to me. I take comfort in them, and set them apart from any other little things that we do in our day to day lives as a family; because we seem to have come up with them — created them — specifically to invoke a sense of coziness, magic, warmth and connection with the spiritual, which is so very important to our family. And though each year the weeks leading up to Christmas feel different, as they are filled with their own set of to-do’s and circumstances that are unique to that particular year, a precious twinkle of time that we can always count on to contain that special sense of connectivity and an aura of the Devine, is Christmas Eve. Beautiful, sparkling, flickering Christmas Eve. Even the very chill in the air on Christmas Eve is a welcome companion, a major part of what makes that special evening as touching as it is for us. Because the cold outside is what makes the warmth within that much more comforting, and it beckons to us to wrap ourselves in layers and visit with it, for at least a spell, in the form of an evening walk after a gratitude-filled family dinner by soft candlelight. Tis the season to love and to rejoice, after all.
Those special hours leading up to our quaint family dinner on Christmas Eve are filled with a sense of impending merriment and wonder. We come alive as the scent of good food being prepared fills our home and comforts us to our cores. As the Herb-Crusted, Garlic-Stuffed Rib Roast crisps and gently crackles away in the oven to ideal medium-rare perfection, and a bubbly and melty Holiday Potatoes au Gratin side with four cheeses, prosciutto, breadcrumbs and fresh thyme becomes velvety in its baking dish, we begin anticipating coming to the table to partake together, and to join in uplifting conversation and thankfulness in between bites of food that melt away on the tongue. We love it. And as the light of the day slowly begins to dissipate, and the soft darkness of this special evening begins to descend, the tiny lights of the tree are turned on ever-so softly, and we realize that here we are, another year gone by, together in this magical space again. We eat, we enjoy, we linger and we take in the glory of the moment. And then we turn our ears to listen to the gentle whisper of the crisp cold outside that beckons to us to bundle up and step out of our toasty little home and join with it for our Christmas Eve walk, just as we do each and every Christmas Eve, and to embrace it as it envelopes and invigorates on such a shimmering evening as this.
The silence and the stillness that accompanies the sparkling cold on Christmas Eve is where the heart finds peace and solace and thankfulness. Enthusiastically luxuriating in the precious little holiday rituals that make the season so very comforting and cozy is essential to being able to lose one’s self in the wonderment of it all, and to fully appreciate the gravity of the love behind this time of year. So enjoy your dinner with your family; look around at each of your loved ones faces and know that a part of the meaning of life can be found in between bites of your delectable dinner, in the laughter, in the smiles and even in the tender tears, if they’re shed, and purposefully create an atmosphere that all of you will want to return to, year after blessed and challenging year.
Here’s to bundling up to embrace the cold…
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
Holiday Potatoes au Gratin with Four Cheeses, Crisp Prosciutto, Thyme and Seasoned Panko Breadcrumbs
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(Serves about 8)
• 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced into about 1/8” – ¼” thick slices
• ½ cup, heaping, grated gruyere cheese
• ½ cup, heaping, grated fontina cheese
• ½ cup, heaping, grated parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup, heaping, grated mozzarella cheese
• Creamy, Four Cheese Sauce (recipe below)
• ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
• Black pepper
• Pinch paprika
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 3 ounce package prosciutto, chopped and crisped (*see note)
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
(*To crisp the prosciutto, just chop it up and add it to hot, non-stick pan drizzle with a little olive oil, and cook for a few minutes until golden-brown and crispy; drain on paper towel.)
-Preheat the oven to 350°, and butter a large baking dish.
-Place the sliced potatoes into a large pot, and fill with enough water to cover the potatoes; add in a couple of very generous pinches of salt to season the water very well, as this will keep the potatoes from being bland; bring the potatoes to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer them until just tender, about 8 minutes (take care not to overcook the potato slices so they don’t break apart); carefully drain the potatoes, and allow them to cool enough to handle.
-Combine the gruyere, fontina, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses together into one bowl and toss to mix; set aside for a moment.
-Layer about half of the potatoes on the bottom of the prepared baking dish, and pour about half of the cheese sauce over them, smoothing it out to cover the potato slices; next, sprinkle over that about 2/3 of the grated cheese mixture, and repeat the process by layering the remaining potatoes over that, next adding the remainder of the cheese sauce, smoothing it out, and then sprinkling over the rest of the cheeses.
-In a small bowl, combine the panko breadcrumbs with a pinch of salt and black pepper, the pinch of paprika, and the olive oil; next, sprinkle the breadcrumb topping over the potatoes, and place the dish into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes; after the 25 minutes, if you have a broiler, put the broiler on high, and brown the top of the gratin for about 1-2 minutes until a deep golden color, keeping a close eye on it as to not burn it.
-Finish by sprinkling over top the crispy prosciutto and the fresh thyme before serving.
Creamy, Four Cheese Sauce ingredients:
• 3 cups half & half
• 3 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 1 teaspoon natural chicken base (I use “Better Than Bouillon” brand)
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• ¼ teaspoon black pepper
• ¼ teaspoon paprika
• 1 ¼ ounces of butter (2 ½ tablespoons)
• 1 ¼ ounces of flour (3 ½ tablespoons)
• ½ cup grated gruyere cheese
• ½ cup grated fontina cheese
• ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
• ¼ cup grated mozzarella cheese
• Pinch nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
-Place the half & half into a medium sized pot, and whisk in the remainder of the ingredients through the paprika; place the mixture over medium-high heat and bring to the simmer, them turn the heat off.
-Place another medium-sized pot over medium-low heat, and add in the butter; once melted, sprinkle in the flour, and stir together to form your roux (or thickener); continue to stir the roux for about a minute or two, to cook out the raw flour taste; next, pour the hot half and half mixture into the roux, whisking the whole time to prevent lumps from forming; allow the mixture to gently simmer for about 2-3 minutes to tighten up, and then turn off the heat.
-Next, add in the cheeses and whisk those in until completely melted and blended, then finish the cheese sauce with a pinch of nutmeg and the fresh thyme leaves.