We waited anxiously in the warm car at the corner of 28th Street and Utica for the Greyhound bus that was bringing Grandma from North Mankato to our house for Christmas. It was Christmas Eve and the excitement and anticipation had almost overwhelmed me. I was not sure how much more I could take. Still, there was church and supper and cleaning up the kitchen to go before (finally) we opened the presents from each other. Then time to hang the stockings, put out the cookies and milk and off to bed to await Santa.
But all that stuff between church and presents was a problem. Why did the grownups want to eat on a night like this? And what they ate!! We always had several fish dishes in the Catholic tradition (though we weren’t Catholic) and lots of Scandinavian dishes (though we weren’t Scandinavian)and then a buche de Noel because my Mom was French. Lutefisk? Pickled herring? Oyster stew? I’m sorry to say, yes, yes, yes.
The buche de Noel was good, but it meant waiting for a dessert course. Some years Mom and Grandma just put out Christmas cookies on plates for us to help ourselves during the present opening,
or perhaps a frozen ball of ice cream rolled in coconut or chocolate shot after the presents were opened.
But I have vivid recollections of sitting at the dining room table with a bowl of oyster stew in front of me that I just couldn’t get down. I still don’t like the fringed oysters swimming in a sea of buttery milk flecked with black pepper.
When I had a home and family of my own, I dispensed with both the lutefisk and the oyster stew substituting a delicious (albeit expensive) lobster bisque—and I made a simple lasagna to be eaten by children after four o’clock church, so we could get to the presents and off to bed. The adults could eat the bisque and a wild rice casserole or Swedish meatballs and the obligatory herring a little later in the evening, perhaps washed down with a glass of celebratory champagne.
The bisque is a little complicated to make, but worth it! My oldest son has carried on this tradition in his home and after many requests, now gives it as gifts to his lucky neighbors, friends and relatives in Madison.
Christmas Eve Lobster Bisque
1 can cream of celery soup
1 can tomato soup
1 can cream of shrimp soup
12 oz. lobster meat—in shell
12 oz small shrimp (salad size)
2 cups beef bouillon
2 cups half and half
6 Tbsp plus 2 Tbsp. butter
6 Tbsp flour
2 cups dry white wine
1 large red pepper,
1 large yellow pepper
1 large orange pepper
1 tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
Melt 6 Tbsp butter; add flour and stir until bubbly. Add bouillon and half and half. Stir until thick. Take off heat and set aside. Remove lobster from shells; dice and refrigerate. Break shells. Put in saucepan with wine and reduce to 1 cup. Remove shells by straining; keep liquid and discard shells. Add canned soups to thickened mixture. Finely dice peppers and onion. Saute in 2 Tbsp. butter until tender. Add to soup along with thyme, cayenne and the wine reduction and stir until thick and hot. Puree in blender in batches if necessary. Return to pan; add lobster meat and shrimp. Heat and serve.
Turkey (or chicken) Wild Rice Casserole
½ cup wild rice
½ cup white rice
1 Tbsp. butter or chicken fat
3 Tbsp. finely chopped onion
2 Tbsp. slivered almonds
1 small can mushroom pieces, drained
1 tsp. salt
2 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
1 Tbsp. sherry
1 cup shredded turkey or chicken
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1 Tbsp. scallions, sliced (optional)
Pour boiling water over wild rice; let sit for 30 minutes. Repeat. Drain and set aside.
Melt butter or chicken fat in large skillet. Add onion and almonds; saute for 5 minutes but do not brown. Add both wild and white rice, mushrooms, salt, chicken broth, chicken and sherry. Simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer to sprayed casserole dish and cover with foil. Bake at 325 for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.
To set up a Christmas Eve table with something for everyone, pour bisque into an attractive soup tureen; arrange herring, pickles, deviled eggs, relishes, pickled beets and whatever cold foods your family will enjoy on large relish tray on table. Add hot rolls or limpa bread and Turkey-wild rice casserole. Make a lovely plate of Christmas cookies and perhaps some ice cream balls. Merry Christmas!