Greetings! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. As promised, here is a run-down of the recipes, successes and failures of our 2010 Christmas Eve dinner.
For this we just put out a plate of assorted cheeses. The only thing that required any assembly was brie wrapped in phyllo. Just stack 4 sheets of thawed phyllo, brushing melted butter between each one, place a round of brie in the center and wrap it together. I baked this in my toaster oven for about 30 minutes, until brown and crisp. Top with a fig spread.
Beyond the usual beer and wine, I prepared some wassail in the slow cooker several hours before guests began to arrive. Combine about two parts apple cider to one part cranberry juice — the amounts are not exact and depend on how sweet the juice is. Just pour a gallon or so of apple cider into your slow cooker or stovetop, and add cranberry juice, tasting after each addition until it is the desired tartness.
Add a few cinnamon sticks, clementine or lemon slices, a bay leaf, a few cloves and balls of allspice. Use a mulling ball or cheesecloth tied together with kitchen twine to hold the spices. Simmer for a few hours and serve with some dark rum.
The centerpiece of this year’s dinner was a classic beef wellington — inspired by this spread in the latest issue of Fine Cooking. I obviously did not try it but thought the assembly was kind of neat.
It first involves making a madeira sauce. Mr. R made the beef stock himself several days earlier. It is quite simple but you do need to dedicate several hours of simmering on the stovetop, as well as a lot of room in your freezer. I do think you could make the stock in a large slow cooker, however, if you don’t have the time to attend to a simmering pot all day.
Mr. R also made the paté, crêpes, and puff pastry from scratch. Puréeing chicken livers is not a task for the faint of heart, but most of the guests were surprised that while they don’t normally enjoy eating internal organs, the paté meshed quite well with the beef.
The crêpes were not difficult to make and can keep several days, stacked between pieces of parchment paper. They prevent the puff pastry from getting soggy.
Most recipes recommend purchasing frozen puff pastry, but I suppose Mr. R wanted to up the ante. At the last minute he decided to give making it from scratch a try. If you’re comfortable working with dough it isn’t hard, but again, it just requires a stretch of several hours to complete. By layering butter between sheets of flour, the pastry will “puff” up during the baking process as a result of the steam created by the butter. The butter must be soft enough to work with without melting, so the dough must be chilled for 30-60 minutes between each step. Here is a video tutorial.
Assembling the beef wellington
The seared beef is wrapped in crêpes that have been spread with paté.
The wrapped beef is then cooked according to instructions.
I have made orechiette with roasted brussels sprouts and pecans before, and felt it would go well with the rest of our menu. As before, I used significantly less cream, thinning with stock and wine, but this time I switched out the gorgonzola entirely for parmesan.
I also made mashed parsnips, loosely following this recipe (added some roasted garlic). I have never cooked with parsnips before but kept hearing about how they are a healthier alternative to potatoes. They look like white carrots and have a kind of peppery-sweet flavor.
I am not a huge fan of mashed potatoes to begin with, as they are so bland, and rather preferred the more complex flavor of parsnips. But I guess some are just partial to their potatoes and so this dish didn’t make much of an impression on guests.
Finally, we made some pears stuffed with gorgonzola and hazelnuts, served on a mâche salad. I thought these tasted good, but more like a dessert to me. They certainly looked pretty on the table, though.
The centerpiece of our dessert table was a croquembouche, a traditional french tower of profiteroles (creme puffs) coated with caramel. It wasn’t difficult but required some techniques that were new to me — I’d definitely recommend watching the video that goes along with this recipe, which is the one we followed.
The profiteroles were totally different than any kind of sweet I’ve ever made — but I thought they were so cool! I piped them right on a cookie sheet (didn’t have a half-inch tip so I just used the bag alone) and they magically came out of the oven all puffy.
Mr. R and I made a bunch of different cookies. I had been hoping to dedicate some space to each one but I have honestly lost track! Here are some of the highlights:
–Chocolate chunk cookies with nutella –#4 on this page. Instead of nutella, which we thought would be too chocolatey, Mr. R pureed hazelnuts until they made a paste. Delicious!–Spicy cheddar thumbprints — #24. These were an awesome savory cookie.
And of course, we served our ginger-pear pie — I really enjoyed it!
So all in all I would say our Christmas dinner was a success — now, however, it is time to detox from the sugar and butter overload and get back into a healthy routine. Happy holidays to everyone!