Truth be told, I haven't celebrated Christmas with my family in years, much to their chagrin. I do take time to visit them on my own accord, though, which is why I'll be happily soaking in the sun down south and supping upon unpretentiously badass food with family and friends in a few weeks.
In the meantime, however, my girlfriend and I have our own celebration of sorts. She's Jewish (partly why I find her so attractive, in fact), and every Christmas morning she makes kugel with fruit: a traditional Jewish, slightly sweet casserole that's become our favorite holiday treat.
We never planned on adopting a Christmas tradition, but somehow the pleasant scene repeats itself year after year. I always sleep in, only to be awakened by the wonderful smell of cinnamon and sugar and butter baking around a bouquet of apples, raisins, apricots and pineapple wafting throughout the house. And while the dish finishes in the oven, I'll kick back on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book while my girlfriend quietly busies herself with the next batch.
Interestingly enough, I never help her. It's the only time of the year when there's someone in a kitchen nearby and I leave them alone (save for a quick kiss).
Once the kugel is sufficiently cooled -- which is to say, still steaming hot -- we'll sit at the table and leisurely indulge in the creamy, caramelized casserole while our dog anxiously awaits a bite and a walk.
It's the kugel that makes the moment worth repeating, I think; one of those old-school dishes that represents generations of experimentation, sustenance and love, or, in a word, humanity. And like all traditional foods, it's as good, if not better, the next day -- with a beer, of course.
I took a stroll to Mr. B's Wine & Spirits the following afternoon and picked up a bottle of Stephanie's Oatmeal Raisin Cookie from Crabtree Brewing. It was $16, but I totally had to buy it. A limited-edition, bottle-conditioned, whiskey barrel/ caramelized raisin-aged stout described as the "liquid equivalent" of an oatmeal raisin cookie? Yes, please. Plus, the label is characteristically awesome; it features co-founder Stephanie Crabtree baking cookies.
I can't say it tasted like a cookie, but it was certainly a nice complement to the kugel in its dark, fruity notes, while the warmth from the alcohol and whiskey were quite reminiscent of a spirit. And the pairing made watching my boy Drew Brees make history on Monday Night Football that much more enjoyable.
Here's the recipe (coincidently, from the Gates of Prayer Synagogue, located in my home town of New Orleans):
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1 pound egg noodles 1/2 cup butter 3 eggs 3/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon cinnamon (more if you like, and we do) 1 8oz can pineapple, drained 3 fresh green apples sliced very thin 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 8 ounces sour cream 1 cup raisins 1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1. Preheat oven to 350 and butter a baking dish. 2. Boil noodles until done and drain. 3. While noodles are still hot, add to a large mixing bowl along with butter, eggs, sugar, fruit, vanilla and sour cream and mix thoroughly. 4. Place in baking dish. 5. Mix together cinnamon with equal parts sugar and sprinkle liberally over fruit and noodle mixture. 6. Bake for one hour, let cool for ten minutes.