follow us on

Wynn Wynn's Christmas Extravaganza

One feels an unmistakable warmth upon walking into Wynn Wynn Ong’s abode and meeting the Burmese hostess herself. Her living room is spacious and welcoming. The aromas from her busy kitchen promise a very satisfying dinner ahead, while delicious appetizers of haricot vert wrapped in bacon are served. Guests move around at a relaxed pace with glasses of wine in their hands. Boxes of Christmas ornaments are laid out in a corner, ready to be put up on the tree by family. And little candy canes sit at the center of a coffee table, awaiting the arrival of her three grandsons.

 

 

Coming from a generation of Buddhists, with parents who studied in the East Coast, and having spent many Christmases in Austria where she grew up, Ong says that there is still something undeniably special about the way Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines. For starters, Filipinos are so eager to get into the holidays, jumping straight into the season come September. But most important is the value given to spending time with family and loved ones, with Filipinos coming home from all over the world, or at least trying their best to. She describes the culture as very cariñoso, which she seems to embody just as well as, if not better than, most.

When asked about her special Christmas traditions, she talks about popping a turkey into the oven and fixing up the tree as it cooks. Hers is a family that likes to decorate the tree themselves with individual, personalized ornaments that each mean something to them. Ong fondly shares that she bought glass monkeys for her three grandsons to hang this year, which she says very much describes their current stage. It does get a little crazy as soon as the boys arrive and start playing and running around with each other. But Ong takes it all in stride, enjoying children for what they do best. She even tells us about the time they ate the entire back wall of their gingerbread house while they were supposedly “constructing” it.

The gracious, seasoned, and unflustered host comes from a long line of women who seemed to be able to cook, entertain, and host dinners often while balancing everything else in their lives. They did what they did with such ease and Ong learned their ways through osmosis. Indeed, in the middle of all the meals being prepared simultaneously and the steady trickling in of guests, Ong calmly rolls strips of salmon into rosettes while making pleasant conversation about how she fell in love with cooking and its creative process. Her cheerful and vibrant daughter, Stephanie, seems to be following in her footsteps. She has already taken over preparing the turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has been learning all their Burmese family recipes that have been passed down from Ong’s great-grandmother’s time.

 “As a host, you know everything’s going well when moments of silence while savoring the food are interspersed with happy sounds of contentment,” Ong shares. “When guests get up for seconds and thirds, the wine keeps flowing, and when they linger at the table for hours over animated conversations accompanied by a lot of laughter.”

But perhaps Ong’s secret to making their gatherings such enjoyable affairs is that she never forgets what it’s really all about: bonding with family over the preparation of food and specialties, and working seamlessly together until the house is “filled with the fragrance of pies, a large turkey and apricot-glazed ham roasting slowly in the two ovens, and buttered truffle potato mash.” 

 

Buttered Truffle Potato Mash

Ingredients

Two (2) kilos large potatoes

One (1) cup heavy cream

One-half (1/2) cup whole milk

Two (2) sticks good quality salted butter

A few twists of the pepper mill for freshly ground black pepper

One-and-a-half (1 1/2) cups thinly sliced fresh portobello

or shiitake mushrooms  (do not wash)

Good quality truffle oil

 

Directions

1. Wash and peel the potatoes well.  Cut them into medium-sized cubes and place them in a large pot of boiling water. Add a dash of salt to lightly season.

2.  Boil and let simmer until the potatoes are tender. You can check by inserting a sharp knife into one—it should come out clean.  Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return them to the pot.

3. Heat the butter in a small saucepan until the butter is melted.

4. Start gently mashing the potatoes.  Some people prefer to only use a handheld electric mixer but we normally use a handheld masher first and then use the electric only when we incorporate the hot butter.  To make the potatoes very creamy add the heavy cream by folding it in.  Drizzle in the whole milk if it gets too thick.  When everything is incorporated gently fold in the sliced mushrooms.

5. Sprinkle sea salt and pepper and whisk to combine.

6. Finally, after letting it cool a little bit add the truffle oil.  Don’t overdo it —if it’s good quality oil (not infused) a little will go a long way.  Serve while warm.