Celebrating the holidays with friends and family can be a fun and joyous event….but it can also be filled with stress and frustration. After all families are family — you just never know what can happen and preparing a feast of all feasts can be a little overwhelming at times…especially if you are the host.
My favorite memory of Christmas dinner was last year at my mother-in-laws. My in-laws had just moved into a beautiful home and were scrambling to unpack, get settled and decorate the house (all within about a month’s time) with a deadline of Christmas to have everything perfect. The goal: a picture perfect Christmas with kids running around, a feast unmatched by no other, holiday ornaments sparkling in the background and cousins, nieces, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, and of course the on-looking grandparents soaking up the moment. Now don’t get me wrong, it did end up being picture perfect but it was a little messy along the way.
It all started off Christmas morning…I received a call from my mother-in-law casually asking if I would help her prepare the $100 beef tenderloin she purchased for dinner. Of course I happily agreed to help. We arrived at her house a couple hours early with a batch of homemade eggnog to add to the festivities (remember the eggnog, it plays an important roll in this story). The house was beautiful — something straight out of Southern Living — the tree was gorgeously decorated and donned with beautifully wrapped presents, the table setting picture-perfect, the beginnings of a bountiful buffet coming together rapidly as she put the finishing touches on the Christmas ham and the sides. Everything seemed well under control….until the tenderloin emerged. My dear mother-in-law graciously sets a very large hunk of meat in front of me and says "here it is!". (Now keep in mind I had thought that she had a plan for the tenderloin and just needed help putting it together while she worked on the other sides and so forth). I wish I had a picture…this was an untrimmed tenderloin, complete with fat and all the trimmings! I have to admit, I was caught off guard! I asked her for a knife and was handed a serrated edge knife (ok — the true kitchen snob is going to emerge now…so be prepared) that was less than sharp. I hacked away at that tenderloin desperately trying to get it to resemble a nicely trimmed piece of meat that it so richly deserved (especially considering its high price tag!). I asked if she had some kitchen twine — she just looked at me with a funny look on her face. Getting the hint, I asked if she had some dental floss. "Floss? Oh yea, I’ve got floss". She ran upstairs and returned back with "mint" dental floss. I think it was at this point that I started to get a little testy with her…"No that won’t work — we need unflavored dental floss", I snapped back at her.
The guests started to arrive. My sister in-law arrived with her 2 year old daughter and rushes in the door with pure panic in her face. She accidentally locked the door to her car with her daughter inside! My husband and father in-law rush outside and do everything humanly possible to unlock the door but to no avail. A call is placed to the fire department — and this is when the eggnog comes back into the picture. Out comes the eggnog and my husband so kindly spikes it with another few glugs of Jack Daniels and begins serving it to all to calm the nerves that are now unraveling at the seams. Several glasses were poured and everyone took a few sips, set their cups down and returned to address the problems at hand — most importantly the small child locked in the car in the middle of winter, and of course, let’s not forget… the tenderloin! My mother-in-law did manage to dig up some plain dental floss so I was now back on track. The fire department had arrived and were checking my niece’s legs to see if they were starting to turn blue-ish due to the cold weather….and my mother-in-law started consuming all the half full cups of eggnog…her mood improving with every sip!
The tenderloin is now nicely tied with strips of dental floss and now we hunt for a pan to brown it in. Unfortunately, that box was not unpacked and cannot be found…so, we improvised. I say sure a paella pan will work. Why not? I asked her for some olive oil. No olive oil. Ok — "How about some butter?" - "Oh it’s in the fridge". I look and what do I see…but a miniature cube of "I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter" and eight more cups of eggnog! Ok- I can do this, I say to myself. So, I flame on the paella pan and dissolve the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (which I can believe, by the way), and I begin to brown the beast. I transferred it to the oven and roasted it to perfection. Now for the gravy or sauce…what to use…I scoured her cupboards for anything that would make a nice sauce. We did have wine (and lots of it), no herbs, no stock, no BUTTER, and very little of anything else that would work. What I did find was garlic, onions, and some raspberry jelly. That will work in a pinch! So, I deglazed the pan with the wine, added the garlic and onions and sautéed until tender and then whisked in the jelly and begrudgingly finished it with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter". Dinner is served!
Amazingly, the child was released from the car, the tenderloin turned out beautifully and the dinner ended up being the feasts of all feasts and definitely a Christmas to remember! As you can see, Christmas disaster can strike us all — the trick is to improvise and imbibe in a lot of eggnog!
Below you will find two beautiful Christmas dinner menus that will hopefully prevent a Christmas disaster in your house. The first menu is more of a sit down, plated menu and the second can be served quite easily as a buffet. The key — prior preparation, having a good game plan and of course a freshly made batch of homemade eggnog!
Christmas Dinner Menu I (plated menu)
Chicken Liver Pate with Cranberries and Pecans
Swiss Chard Stuffed Crepes with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Mustard & Bacon Crusted Prime Rib
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary
Roasted Broccoli with Toasted Walnuts
Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse & Vanilla Ice Cream Bombe
Christmas Dinner Menu II (buffet style)
Smoked Salmon Stuffed Gougere
Lemon Cumin Chicken Meatballs
Roasted Red Pepper Dip
Mixed Greens with Apples & Pomegranates
Dry Brined Turkey with Cognac Thyme Gravy
Andouille Cornbread Dressing
Mashed Potatoes with Fennel
Carrots with Sausage & Rosemary
Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse & Vanilla Ice Cream Bombe
Now, you don’t think I’d end this without a recipe for the homemade eggnog, do you?
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 cups milk
- Scrapings from 1/2 vanilla bean
- 1/2 cup bourbon
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and set over a double boiler or a pan of simmering water (being careful not to touch the bottom of the bowl to the water). Add 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar and whisk over low heat until the mixture is pale yellow and thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk, vanilla bean scrapings, bourbon and transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining sugar until very soft peaks form. Stir the egg whites into the yolk mixture. In a medium bowl, beat the cream until lightly thickened. Fold the cream into the eggnog. Season with freshly grated nutmeg and chill thoroughly. Before serving whisk to re-blend mixture.
Happy Holidays from Glutenfreeda.com!