Holiday Dishes from Around the World:
Gilles Marini: Three Kings Day
Make no mistake: Gilles Marini takes Christmas very seriously. He buys a tree right after Thanksgiving and keeps it up well into January. And the French actor always makes sure “there are a lot of gifts under that tree” on Christmas morning for his children Georges, 10, and Julianna, 3, with his wife, Carole, 32.
But even though he’s lived in Los Angeles for a decade, Marini – who waltzed his way to second place on Dancing with the Stars and currently stars on Brothers and Sisters – makes it a point to inject a taste of France into his family’s holidays by celebrating Three Kings Day on Jan. 6.
To commemorate the day the three wise men visited baby Jesus, Carole, who is also French, bakes an almond-flavored confection called a gallette des rois (kings cake) with a special surprise.
“Inside the cake is a little toy called a fève [lucky charm]. It’s usually a porcelain Christmas figurine or a tiny animal,” explains Marini. “Whoever gets the toy in their slice gets to wear a crown.” But the protective father quickly adds that his kids chew “very carefully, so that they don’t break a tooth!”
Though Marini, 33, has embraced the Christmas customs here, “it’s nice to mix the traditions,” he says. So Christmas Eve dinner involves turkey as well as foie gras, salmon and oysters.
Santa also goes by the name of Papa Noel. “I told Georges that Santa is lightning fast and you cannot see him,” Marini says. “I want to teach my kids that Christmas is pure magic.”
½ cup butter, softened
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp. flour
½ cup ground almonds
1 pkg. puff pastry dough (contains two dough sheets)
1 egg beaten
To prepare the frangipane or almond filling
Cream butter and sugar lightly, add egg in portions and finally add flour and ground almonds.
To prepare the crust
1. Using a generous dusting of flour on the counter and on a rolling pin, roll out one sheet of puff pastry dough into an 11-inch square.
2. Using a 10-inch pie pan turned upside down as your guide, cut a circle out of the dough with the tip of a knife. Refrigerate the sheet. Repeat with second sheet.
3. Place the first round sheet on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and pour frangipane filling in the center, leaving a 1 ½-inch margin for the edge and lightly brush edge with beaten egg. Place a bean, or a toy, in the filling.
4. Place the second sheet of dough on top of the first and press the edges firmly to seal in the filling.
5. Lightly brush the top of the gallette with more of the beaten egg. Use a knife, make decorative crisscross patterns on the top sheet and a few small slits so that steam can vent while baking.
7. Bake for 15 minutes at 425º F in a preheated oven. Avoid opening the oven while baking as the pastry may not fully puff.
8. Remove gallette from the oven and dust with confectioner’s sugar. Return to the oven for 12 to 15 more minutes, or until top is golden brown. Let cool before serving.
Cat Deeley: An English Christmas
Each year, Cat Deeley’s family has the Queen of England in their Sutton Coldfield home to partake of their Christmas feast – sort of. As many British households do, the Deeleys flip on the TV when Queen Elizabeth II delivers her annual holiday address.
“It’s a strange tradition,” says the So You Think You Can Dance host, 33. “[But] it says Christmas to me.” As does the English cracker – a decorated tube filled with a paper crown, a small prize like a key chain, and a joke – that each Deeley family member opens at the dinner table.
“We’ll tell the bad jokes and eat with the hats on,” says Deeley, who loves digging into her mom’s turkey, mince pies and Brussels sprouts.
She even dares to dip into Christmas pudding, the British dessert akin to fruitcake. “Just a spoonful,” says Deeley, “to say: ‘I’ve completed my Christmas meal!'”
1 lb. mincemeat*
2 tbsp. brandy
2 ¾ cups flour, plus 1 tbsp.
6 tbsp. butter, cubed
6 tbsp. lard, cubed
1. Put mincemeat in bowl. Stir in brandy. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Mix flour and salt in large bowl. Using a pastry blender, incorporate butter and lard into flour until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
3. Sprinkle 4 tbsp. ice water over mixture and stir in using the flat side of a knife. Knead lightly to form smooth dough. Wrap ball of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
4. Preheat oven to 395º F. Roll out chilled dough on lightly floured board to ½-inch thickness. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 20 circles of dough. Gather together and reroll dough scraps. Using a smaller, round or star shaped cutter, cut out 20 more pieces of dough.
5. Place large rounds in greased muffin tins. Fill each with mincemeat and cover with smaller pieces. Brush tops with milk.
6. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Gently remove pies from pans and place on wire rack to cool.
7. When ready to serve, lift top and add a dollop of whipped cream. Dust with confectioner’s sugar.
*Mincemeat filling can be purchased online here.
Mario Lopez: Tamales Tradition
At the annual Lopez family Christmas dinner, there’s hardly an inch of space on the dining room table, thanks to two hams, one turkey, Spanish rice, mashed potatoes and Grandma Rosario’s specialty – chili pork tamales.
“We bring the two cultures together” on the table, says Mario Lopez, 36, who calls the Mexican delicacies “my favorite tradition” of the holidays.
Two days before Christmas, the Lopez ladies – including Mario’s mom, Elvia, and sister Marissa – prepare no less than 200 tamales at Grandma Rosario’s Chula Vista, Calf., home that they feed to about 60 family members and friends. The Extra host polishes off at least a dozen on his own.
“I don’t help with making them,” he admits. “But I definitely help with the eating!”
Chili Pork Tamales
2 lbs. masa harina*
¾ lb. lard
1 ¼ cups water
2 ½ lbs. boneless pork
3 ounces dried chili peppers
40 and a few more corn husks
1 can sliced black olives, drained
1 can green beans
3 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper
1. Take stems off chili peppers and boil until soft.
2. Put pork in a stock pot and begin to cook, add the drained chili peppers to the meat and put on low heat. The meat will need to cook for about an hour and a half. Salt and pepper to taste.
3. While the meat is cooking, clean and soak the corn husks in warm water for about an hour.
4. Once the husks are soaked, tear a strip off the full length of the husk. This is what you will tie the tamales with once you are through filling them.
5. Shred the pork by hand once it’s cooled.
To assemble tamales:
1. Take a corn husk and spread a very full tablespoon full of masa in the middle (about ½ of an inch thick). Next, add the same amount of pork.
2. Add a couple potato slices, one green bean and top it off with one black olive.
3. Roll up the husk firmly.
4. Wrap the husk tightly with the strip to keep all the contents inside.
5. Put the tamales into a stockpot with a steamer insert for about an hour. The tamales are done when the potato slice inside is cooked. Top them with salsa or sour cream. Serve with beans and rice.
*Masa harina is the traditional flour used in many Mexican dishes. It is available at Mexican markets.
Kelly Choi: Korean New Year
One of Kelly Choi’s cherished childhood memories? When her mother, Jini, would ask her to sample a spoonful of dduk guk – a Korean stew combining rice cakes with brisket in a beef broth topped off with egg slices, scallions and seaweed.
“I would be at the kitchen table coloring, and she’d be in front of the burners and call me over to taste the broth,” recalls the Top Chef Masters host, 33. “I remember always loving it.”
Each year she relives those delicious moments when the stew is served at her family’s New Year’s celebration. (Traditionally, Korean New Year is an occasion based on the lunar calendar; it falls next on Feb. 14, 2010.)
Choi joins about a dozen relatives at her uncle’s New Jersey home on Jan. 1, where the day starts with a custom in which the adults give money to the kids in red envelopes to wish them prosperity. Everyone then helps themselves to rice cake stew along with Korean beef and noodle dishes and sweet red bean desserts.
This year there’s an added bonus to the bash: Her uncle bought a karaoke machine that Choi is eager to break in. “It’s all Korean songs,” she says. “Only my mom and I like to sing. Everyone else is too old-fogey!”
Korean Rice Cake Stew
1 pkg. of sliced rice cake, roughly 4 cups*
½ cup beef brisket, lightly salted
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 cloves garlic
Scallion (for garnish)
Toasted seaweed sheets**
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Boil 7 cups of water in a big pot. In a separate bowl, soak rice cakes in cold water. Chop the beef brisket into small pieces.
2. Mix 2 eggs in a bowl and set aside. Add vegetable oil to a heated frying pan, then pour eggs into pan and spread into a thin layer. Let them cook and then flip to the other side. Once done, fold the egg layer into thirds, then slice thinly into strips and set aside.
3. In the boiling pot, add the brisket and turn to low heat for about 10 minutes. Add a couple cloves of minced garlic and two tbsp. of soy sauce. Now drain the sliced rice cake and add to the boiling pot. Cook for a few minutes, being careful to avoid over-cooking by taste testing the rice cakes to see if they are soft, chewy, and al dente.
4. Once rice cakes are cooked, the soup is finished. Spoon rice cakes and broth into large round serving bowls and garnish with add chopped scallion, sliced egg, and crushed toasted seaweed. Drizzle some sesame oil on top and add black pepper and salt to taste if needed.