For everyone that celebrates Christmas, while the holiday is so special, it is also hectic. For those that are having big dinners at their home, it is an all-day affair of cleaning and cooking. For others, it is traveling to sometimes two or more different houses to give everyone the Christmas Cheer; and that is what we do on Christmas Day. We try to cover as many relatives as possible. On Christmas morning, it has become a tradition to have breakfast at my Mother-in-Laws home and since she has five daughters who are all married with children the house gets quite cozy with the ability to get everyone seated. There were doughnuts and Danishes, omelets, bacon and pancakes, enough to sate everyone for the morning. And then there are Mimosas, that wonderful breakfast drink of orange juice and sparkling wine. This is a drink where one does not have to splurge when making it, as any sparkling wine will work. We used Cook’s California Champagne Brut Grand Reserve NV, and you will notice that it is a “California Champagne” and since Cook’s was established in 1859 they have been grandfathered in for using the term “champagne” since it is now only legally used for wines from France, except for a few wineries that were allowed to keep the name, because of longevity. Cook’s proclaims that they are the “#1 Sparkling Wine in the U.S.” and I am sure that it is true, because they are a popular priced sparkling wine, made in the bulk process method using Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier grapes and it is festive.
After we left one house, we immediately drove to my Cousin’s house as she likes to have everyone over for Christmas dinner, and a fine spread she puts out. She always starts out with some classic Armenian dishes. There are platters of Lahmajoon or in the vernacular “Armenian Pizza.” Lahmajoon is a flat circular dough that is topped with finely ground lamb, green peppers, parsley, onions, tomato paste and garlic and then seasoned with salt, black pepper and red pepper for a nice spicy dish that is just rolled up and eaten as finger food, of course it seems like one must have at least six of them just to get started. Then there is Cheese Beoreg which is a small triangular shaped pastry of many layers of Phyllo dough stuffed with “brick cheese” and parsley and baked with plenty of butter until it is lightly golden in color, and once again, I think six is the magic number to get a complete appreciation for this snack. Then for those a bit more daring there is the classic Armenian charcuterie called Basturmah which is dried meat cured with garlic and cumin and it has to be cut paper thin, the meat is very spicy; and because of the spices, the scent of the meat stays with one for at least a couple of days, and since I have always worked with the public, it is one dish that I tend to refrain from. After all of the appetizers, and I did forget to mention that there was also Armenian “String” Cheese, we had to save some room for the eventual dinner. This particular year my Cousin made not one, but two whole beef tenderloins prepared perfectly medium-rare, one was a classic marinade of garlic and rosemary and the other had a rub of Moroccan spices. She also made a mushroom gravy to serve with the tenderloin along with Armenian Pilaf, three different hot peppers that were sautéed in oil, vegetables and she asked if my Bride could bring her Caesar Salad, which she did, very happily I might add. Then after everyone had seconds the table was cleared and then a huge spread of desserts was laid out, as if anyone had room, but we all managed.
Cocktails and beer seemed to be the drinks of choice, while my Cousin seemed to be enjoying her Bilinis, which is a variation of a Mimosa, but substituting Peach Nectar for the Orange Juice. We ended up enjoying an always pleasing bottle of Rioja wine from Spain. We were drinking CVNE “Cune” Rioja Reserva 2012. CVNE stands for Compania Vinicola del Norte de Espana and was founded in 1879 and is still owned by the same family. The family owns 1,350 acres, but that is not nearly enough for their production, so the other half of what they require is from contract growers. The wine is a classic blend of Tempranillo, Mazuelo, Graciano and Garnacha Tinta. Rioja Reserva is the third tier in the pecking order of Rioja and to achieve that status, the wine has to be aged in oak for a minimum of fourteen months and then another two years in glass, before it is allowed to be released for sale. It was a good hearty wine and blended well with dinner, even though it was one of the few items for dinner that was not Armenian.