This is one of those rare occasions when majority rules and we pick a movie that isn’t everybody’s favorite (eh hem, Rina). Yes, we admit it’s kinda corny and flawed–not all the stories work and some are just plain depressing (ugh, we’re referring to the thwarted hook up scene between Laura Linney and Rodrigo Santoro)– but Love Actually is one of those holiday movies that invariably makes us smile…so Laura and I largely ignored Rina’s protestations and general bah humbug attitude. As anyone familiar with the movie’s premise knows, it’s a hodgepodge of interconnected stories centered on the theme of love–misguided love (lust), unrequited love, first love, unexpected love, familial love–set against the backdrop of Christmas, that magical time of year when all kinds of surprising things can happen.
One of our favorite stories centers on a novelist Jamie (played by the always charming Colin Firth), who escapes to France to work on a book after he discovers his girlfriend cheating on him with his brother and ends up falling for his beautiful young Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz). Their burgeoning romance is sweet and tentative, made all the more engaging because he doesn’t speak Portuguese and she doesn’t speak English.
Although Aurelia cautions Jamie at one point not to eat too many pastries because he’s getting chubby (contrary to his own claim of having a fast metabolism) I think she’d still indulge him occasionally with something special for the holidays…perhaps something like Eggnog Malasadas (aka Portuguese Donuts)–delightfully airy pillows of fried nutmeg-scented dough, tossed in nutmeg and sugar and filled with a boozy eggnog custard. These donuts are the perfect marriage of their two cultures.
Yield: about 2 dozen filled donuts
1-1/3 cups Whole Milk, warmed
1 package or 2 1/4 tsp. Dry Active Yeast
4 Tbsp. Butter, melted
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Large Eggs
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
4 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 tsp. Salt
3/4 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
*sugar and nutmeg for coating
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk, then whisk to combine; allow to stand for 5 mins. Whisk in the melted butter, sugar and vanilla. Whisk together the remaining dry ingredients in a separate bowl.
In a mixer fitted with a dough hook or in a food processor fitted with a plastic dough blade, mix together the wet ingredients with about half of the flour until incorporated. Then, mix in the remaining flour until you’ve got a smooth, elastic dough. *If using a food processor, pulse the dough at 5 second intervals. If you have neither a stand mixer or food processor at your disposal, don’t worry. You can mix the dough by hand. In a large mixing bowl, just stir together the wet ingredients with about half of the dry until fully incorporated, then mix in the remaining flour until you have a manageable dough. Finish the dough by kneading it on a floured surface until it becomes smooth and elastic. Turn the dough out into a large greased bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size). Spray the surface of the dough with a little non-stick cooking spray, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough proof in a warm, draft-free space until double in bulk (about 1 to 1-1/2 hrs.) Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to about 1/2″ thick, cut dough out with 2″ round cutter. Transfer the dough rounds onto a greased, parchment-lined sheet pan and allow them to proof to double their size.
Heat the frying oil to 360F and carefully lower three pieces of dough into the oil at a time. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain donuts on a wire rack. While the donuts are still warm, toss them in sugar mixed with a little nutmeg. Cool them to room temperature before filling with eggnog custard.
1-1/4 cups Whole Milk
1/2 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup Cornstarch
1/2 tsp. Sea or Kosher Salt
4 Large Egg Yolks
1 Tbsp. Butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp. Brandy
2 Tbsp. Dark Rum
1/2 tsp. Ground Nutmeg
In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and vanilla bean to a boil; discard the pod. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and yolks until smooth, then gradually whisk in about half of the hot milk to “temper” the egg mixture. Whisk the tempered egg mixture into the remaining milk and return the saucepan to medium low heat. Whisk continuously for about 3 mins., until the mixture comes to a boil. Strain the custard into a heat proof bowl, then whisk in the remaining ingredients. Press the film of plastic onto the surface and allow the custard to completely cool, before putting it in the refrigerator. Chill the custard for about 30 mins. before filling the donuts. To fill the donuts, create an opening in the side of each donut, then place the custard either into a piping bag with a round tip or in a Ziplop bag with a small hole cut in the corner.
Another of our favorite stories is the one involving young Sam (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his quest to win the heart of his dream girl Joanna (Olivia Olson). Cheered on by his well-meaning stepfather Daniel (Liam Neeson), Sam races to the airport at the 11th hour to profess his love for Joanna, dodging a slew of airport security with his acrobatic skills to be rewarded, in the end, with a kiss.
After those countless nights perfecting his drum skills to get Joanna’s attention and willingness to get the “shit kicked out of him” by love Sam deserves a hearty meal. Something Daniel might whip up for Sam is a rib-sticking Steak and Vegetable Pot Pie with Guinness (Liam is Irish after all). This is a very easy to make dish that is sure to please anyone with a generous appetite on a cold winter’s night!
Steak and Vegetable Pot Pie with Guinness
1 12oz. Rib Eye Steak, cut into 1″ pieces (or Beef Stew Meat)
1/3 cup All-Purpose Flour
2 cups Button or Crimini Mushrooms, sliced
2 Medium Carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces
1 Medium Celery, chopped
1 Small Yellow Onion, chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, finely chopped
3-4 Sage Leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp. Chopped Parsley
1 Tsp. Chopped Thyme Leaves
1 Tsp. Chopped Rosemary
1 cup Beef Broth
1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste
2/3 cup Guinness Ale
1/2 package Ready Made Puff Pastry Dough, thawed
Lightly coat the steak pieces in 3 Tbsp. of the flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown the steak in a heavy skillet with some butter and olive oil. Remove the steak from the skillet and add some more butter and oil, then the vegetables and herbs. Saute the vegetables until the onions are soft and the mushrooms have released all their moisture. Toss in the remaining flour, then stir in the beef both and Guinness and bring to a simmer. Add the tomato paste and the steak. Continue simmering until the steak is tender. Cool the filling to room temperature. Using an inverted bowl as the guide, cut out two rounds of puff pastry, about 1/2″ bigger than the bowl you’re using for the pot pie. Spoon the cooled filling into two bowls and top with pastry rounds, tucking in the edges. Brush the surface with a little cream (or beaten egg). Bake the pot pies at 400°F for about 25-30 mins. or until golden brown and bubbly.
And finally, we can’t forget dessert (like I’d ever!). Inspired by two stories, one of unrequited love (Mark’s for Juliet) and one of love discovered (The Prime Minister’s for Natalie), I’ve come up with a sweet treat that is the best of both–Banoffee Trifle. Juliet (Keira Knightly) arrives at Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln) doorstep bearing a slice of Banoffee pie in hopes of getting him to help her find a video of her wedding to his best friend. She’s under the impression that he doesn’t really like her much…until she watches the video and realizes that he’s actually in love with her. Sadly, no amount of Banoffee pie is going to fix his broken heart. On the flip side, The Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) finds a Christmas card from his crush Natalie (Martine McCutcheon), the only person who ever brought him his favorite chocolate-covered biscuits and tea, that revealed her love for him, which sends him off in search of her on Christmas Eve. To make the Banoffee Trifle, I simply alternate layers of crushed digestive biscuits with vanilla custard (use the same recipe as the Eggnog Custard, just omit the nutmeg and booze), sliced bananas, and dulce de leche. To finish, I top it off with sweetened whipped cream, chocolate shavings and a slice of caramelized banana.
And because we love the way he shakes his booty, we give you Hugh Grant dancing to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump.”