Jenn is from Philadelphia but has been living in Ireland for the past ten years. She also has a food blog called Diary Of A Cookbook Addict. You might see her around on my photography website along with her husband and cute little boy as I had the chance to do a lovely family portrait session for them a little while ago.
Even though Jenn is mostly spending Christmas in Ireland nowadays, she still has beautiful stories about what her and her family would do back home in the USA.
Making cookies is a tradition in her family (as it is for many American families). They make a huge variety of cookies every year. One recipe is for beautiful soft sugar cookies but is only handed down through the generations and you would have to marry into the family to get the secret recipe!
Jenn told me that some groups of people organise a 'cookie exchanges' party at which they drink hot chocolate and swap cookies. You can then leave with a fantastic assortment of cookies. It sounds like a brilliant idea!
Jenn also likes to have an Open House on the Sunday before Christmas. She makes a lot of mulled wine and non-alcoholic spiced cider for the occasion, and buys a lot of cheese and sweet things. Then she opens the doors from 3pm to 6pm and friends and family are welcome to drop in. She sees it as a nice chance to catch up and relax.
When it comes to Christmas Eve, Jenn and her family would always end up going to her godfather's house. He and his wife have a lovely array of food and cocktails for the dinner. They eat ham, lots of salads and beautiful dips. His wife would make a lovely taco dip that has seven layers, and there would also be a delicious spinach and artichoke dip.
Everyone goes to Midnight Mass on their way back and then, they open their family presents at home.
On Christmas morning, for breakfast, Jenn and her family eat a cinnamon and walnut coffee cake. It has a yellow sponge and the filling is swirled through it. Jenn has German ancestors and a lot of her family recipes come from this ancestry.
In the morning they also open their Christmas stockings which usually have some amazing presents in it (including concert tickets!). Jenn's father always has delicious cashew nuts in his stocking and they all end up stealing it from him and eating them all.
Then they snack all day, mostly on delicious assortments of cookies.
What they eat for Christmas dinner is beef (the tradition of cooking turkey is reserved for Thanksgiving and ham for Easter). Sometimes it can be steak. But most of the time, it would be a beautiful pot roast. The beef is cooked in a slow cooker for six hours with red wine, mushroom cream soup and beef stock in the dish. It makes the house smell really nice all day. The meat ends up having the same texture as pulled pork and they serve it with mash.
As I am not married into Jenn's family, hence could not get the secret cookie recipe, I created a cookie recipe of my own. They are delicious and quite indulgent. I can assure you they did not last long enough to be shared with a lot of people. So, I will most certainly be making another few batches before Christmas.
Keep scrolling down to find some delicious recipes inspired by Jenn's Christmas in the USA.
Ingredients (serves 5 to 6 people)
1.250 kilo round roast beef
5 garlic cloves (halved)
1 tbsp olive oil
20g unsalted butter
For the mushroom and Port sauce
500g roughly chopped mushrooms (I used baby portobello mushrooms here)
100ml cooking Port wine (you can also use Port wine as it is)
100ml beef stock
100ml double cream (pouring cream)
1tbsp tomato paste
25g unsalted butter
Take the beef out of the fridge half an hour before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 170ºC.
With a small sharp knife, cut 10 holes in the beef (about 2.5cm deep or an inch). Insert the halved garlic cloves in them.
Put the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. When it sizzles, put your piece of beef in the pan and sear on all sides to retain the juices.
Place the beef then on a roasting tray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the hot butter and olive oil from the frying pan over the beef.
Put the tray on the middle shelf of the oven and cook according to your preference for the meat.
For rare beef, cook the meat for 30 minutes per 500g.
For medium cooked beef, cook it for 45 minutes per 500g.
For a well done roast, cook the beef for 55 minutes per 500g.
For this recipe, and to satisfy the people that were going to eat it, I cooked it to be well done (for the size of the piece of meat I had, it took 2 hours and 15 minutes).
Every now and then, baste the meat with the juices (if you felt like making a gravy, add a splash of water half way through cooking in the bottom of the tray to create more juices).
When cooked, remove the beef from the oven. Cover with aluminum foil and leave it to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
To make the sauce, put the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When it sizzles, add the chopped mushrooms and toss them around until they have softened a bit.
Pour in the cooking Port wine, the beef stock and the tomato paste. Let it cook and reduce uncovered for 20 minutes, stirring every now and then.
Then, add the cream, a pinch of salt and pepper to your taste, stir well and reduce for another 5 minutes.
When it is ready, pour in a sauce boat or serve it directly over the sliced roast beef.
Your can serve it with your usual Christmas side dishes. I find that a sweet potato mash and green vegetables are really lovely with it.
Ingredients (makes 30 filled cookies)
100g chopped dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum)
For the chocolate dough
200g buckwheat flour (plus extra for dusting)
120g brown rice flour
60g cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
160g cold diced unsalted butter
2 free range eggs
1 pinch salt
For the filling
120g caster sugar
40g liquid glucose
80g double cream (pouring cream)
40g smooth peanut butter
Put all the dry ingredients for the cookies plus the butter in a large bowl. With your fingers, crumble the ingredients until it looks like fine breadcrumbs (it can also be done with a food processor).
Add the eggs and work the dough until it comes together. Knead it gently until it is smooth and nearly silky. Turn into a ball then flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand. Cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Get a baking tray ready (one with 12 round bottom holes; if you have just one tray like I do, expect to make 5 batches).
Dust a flat surface with buckwheat flour. Roll out the dough until it is 5mm thick. Cut little round shapes using a 5cm diameter cookie cutter.
Set the cut pieces of dough in the holes of the baking tray and push the dough slightly with your fingers so it takes the round shape in the bottom.
Put on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 8 minutes (baking time might vary a bit depending on the size and type of your oven).
When ready, remove the tray, let it cool down for a couple of minutes and then, put the cookies on a wire rack. Repeat the process for all the batches.
When all the cookies are done and cooled properly, make the peanut butter caramel filling. For this process, I would make sure there are no children around as caramel can get extremely hot and cause bad burns.
Put the liquid glucose and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Agitate the mixture constantly until the sugar has dissolved and it has turned a light brown colour.
Deglaze the caramel with the cream and remove the saucepan from the heat.
Let it cool down for a couple of minutes and then add the peanut butter. Stir well and let the caramel sauce cool down a bit (about 5 to 10 minutes).
Lay half of the cookie cups on a tray (you should have 30 of them). Melt the dark chocolate.
Fill the cookie cups with the peanut butter caramel sauce using a teaspoon. Dip the edges of the 30 remaining cookie cups in the melted dark chocolate. Do this process one by one and each time, put it on top of the caramel filled cup to close it. You can smooth the edges to blend the chocolate between the cookie cups by using a brush or your fingers.
Let it cool down a bit so the chocolate hardens and sticks the cookie cups together to get a lovely little chocolate pod filled with peanut butter caramel goodness.
(If you feel like melting more dark chocolate, you can even dip the whole pod in it for some pure chocolate indulgence.)
And if it happens you do not have a baking tray with round shapes, you can make plain cookies that you can dip in the peanut butter caramel sauce afterwards.
Merry Christmas and bon appétit!
This post is dedicated to my American family in Upton, Massachusetts: D., S. and the most amazing triplets I know. I hope they all have a wonderful Christmas!