Monday, January 3, 2011

A Nearly Perfect Christmas Eve Eve Dinner

For years, my immediate family has had a tradition of making an extravagant meal the night before Christmas Eve, also known as 'Christmas Eve Eve'. It's like a kickoff to the main event, though in recent years it has become my favorite part of the entire holiday. We have made blinis and beef cheeks, lamb shanks and crab cakes, gougeres, tarts, truffles, and about anything else you can think of. We have opened numerous bottles of Brunello and Porto and Champagne, and spent many many hours and days prepping and cooking and baking.

While every year has been memorable, this year topped them all. And it wasn't just the food that made this year outshine them all. Yes the revamped-retro inspired menu was incredibly aggressive, and we pulled it off swimmingly, savoring each and every bite, but it was the company, and the laughter, that will stay with me the most when I reflect back on this Christmas. We cooked and baked for two days, all four of us squeezed into the kitchen for one of them. There was laughing and heckling (in the most loving sense possible), lessons being taught, and skills being eagerly learned. Stories of our lives spent apart over the past month were told, encouragement and understanding were shared. Wine flowed freely into skillets and stomachs, and the food that we worked so hard on, was eaten around a beautifuly decorated table. Most importantly though, the meal that night was eaten together, the four of us, celebrating our health and happiness.

Okay that was pretty mushy, I may or may not be suffering post-Christmas home-sickness and cookie withdrawal. Onto the good stuff (the menu of course!). It all started with the idea to recreate a dish that my family had at a new restaurant in Minneapolis, who had the audacity to serve tater tot hot dish.  Now, this was not the tater tot hot dish of my youth. You know, the one with ground beef, a can of cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans, all covering a crispy layer of frozen tater tots. Nope this was tater tot hotdish, brought into the 21st century and put on steroids. We knew we had to make this at home, but what to serve with it? The menu quickly formed by thinking of slightly kitschy, old-school, retro food, that we could revamp and put a gourmet spin onto.

First up, pigs in blankets. Actually by the end of the appetizer course these became known as 'chicks in snuggies'. I blame the Champagne. Homemade sous-vide-d chicken sausages, were sauteed and wrapped up in buttery puff pastry. We baked them up and dipped them in a horseradish-sour cream sauce, and an oatmeal stout-mustard-shallot sauce. These exceeded all expectations. We knew they were going to be good. How good though? We were blown away.

Next up, soup and salad. We took the classic wedge salad and threw it on the grill along with some cherry tomatoes. We had homemade blue cheese dressing prepared by my smarter, prettier, older sister. Here's where the fun with the deep fryer came. Pops sous-vide-d some pork belly, breaded it, and deep fried it. It was crispy, fatty, pork heaven I tell you. Pork Heaven. Amen.

We added some roasted pureed cauliflower soup for good measure, you know, cause we didn't have enough to eat already.

Now, this may not be the prettiest dish you've ever seen on camera (plus, it was dark, and I really just wanted to dig in), but trust me, you can not go wrong with oatmeal stout braised short ribs, porcini mushroom béchamel sauce, deep fried potato croquettes, and steamed buttered french green beans. This may be the peak of the proverbial comfort food mountain. I dream about this dish.

The crowning moment, the cake.

Actually this was a disappointing moment, and the reason for the title of this post being a nearly perfect dinner. This recipe came from the cover of last month's Bon Appétit Magazine. The problem was that the cake just wasn't very good. I am not sure if I did something wrong, which is entirely possible, but the actual cake was dry and crumbly. If I ever made this again, which I may, it was stunning, and the frosting was insanely good, I would stick with the chocolate devils food cake I have made many times now. Poor thing sat on the table for three days after Christmas since no one could bring themselves to toss it.

Thankfully, there was cheese.  It just wouldn't be Christmas eve eve dinner without a cheese plate and a vintage Porto. And Trivial Pursuit.

Someday, my sister and I will beat my parents....someday. Until then, we will just have to keep practicing making amazing meals, and spending much needed quality time together as a family.


Rian said...

THanks for the shout out - but I thought YOU were the pretty one! ;) Thanks for making Christmas Eve Eve so spectacular! <3

Dee D. said...

Oh wow! Your cake looks beautiful :) I really love the ribbons :) too bad the recipe wasn't really good :( Your christmas eve meal sounds so delicious!

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Too bad the cake didn't meet your expectations. It sure looks gorgeous. And the rest of the meal - spectacularly delicious.

Anonymous said...

Okay, kids, let's get this right:
According to Rudy DeLuca (may he rest in peace): Rian is the tall one, Bria is the pretty one. Nah, you're both gorgeous and talented and Christmas Eve Eve was indeed one for the ages!

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