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Turkey Tracks: Christmas Day Dinner

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Turkey Tracks:  December 29, 2012

Christmas Day Dinner

We’re almost at New Year’s Eve, so I better post about our Christmas dinner feast.  Included are some lovely recipes.

As I write, we’ve got a foot of snow on the ground, which makes me so happy.  I love winter so much up here in Maine.  It’s not just the crisp cold, the brilliant night skies, the full moon that is so bright you can read a book by it, the long nights that lend themselves to quiet reflection and many fun projects, it’s the quiet times one has with friends.  Christmas Day Dinner was one of those times.

Over the years, we’ve had many a holiday dinner with Sarah Rheault and various members of her family and/or with Margaret Rauenhorst and Ronald VanHeeswijk.  We’ve met at any one of our houses, depending upon what is going on at the moment.  This year, the dinner was at our house and Sarah, her son Chrisso (in from Louisiana), and Ronald were present.  ( Margaret is in Minnesota with her mother, who has just been moved to a nursing home.)

Sarah and Chrisso brought the most fabulous hors d’oeuvre (salmon, trout, and a whole brie heated and topped with a cranberry sauce).  And, Chrisso put together a cheese plate to eat after the salad.  Filled with 5 or 6 special cheeses, it was a divine treat over which we lingered for some time.  Sarah made her traditional cranberry pudding with a hard sauce for dessert–which we all love.  And Chrisso brought a chocolate pound cake that he and his fiance Melanie made back in Louisiana.

For the main course, we had a standing rib roast, scalloped potatoes, kale blanched and reheated in brown butter, and “southern” cornbread, made with no flour in a hot cast-iron skillet coated with melted fat–in this case, butter–in a very hot oven.

I wasn’t sure if John’s sister Maryann would be with us, so when Chrisso said he would be coming, I called Curtis Custom Meats and asked it I could switch my grass-fed 3-rib roast to a 4-rib roast–and they were so lovely and said it would be no trouble at all.  When Maryann and I picked it up last Saturday, I could see that it was a HUGE piece of meat.  Here it is, alongside some items like the small bowl and the carrot, so you can see what HUGE looks like:

4-rib standing rib roast

I’ve used a Julia Child recipe for standing rib roasts for a half-dozen years now, and it’s all really simple.  Let the meat sit out at room temperature for AT LEAST two hours (especially for a roast this size); heat the oven to 325 degrees; salt, pepper, herb, etc., the outside; put the bone side down and the fat side up; and cook the meat until a meat thermometer hits 120 degrees ON THE SHORT END OF THE ROAST–at least a rib from the end.  A roast this size takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to cook–depending on how cold the inside is when you start.  Let the roast sit on the oven for at least 15-30 minutes to let the juices reassemble themselves.  Put a cover on the roast if you think you need to.  (Julia cooks this roast so that it is done an hour ahead of when you want to eat it–and she sits the pan over a large pot of hot (not boiling, not even simmering) water.  She covers it with the lid of another roasting pan.)

Carving is dead simple–especially if Curtis Custom Means has precut the bones so that they are only attached at the base of the roast and tied all together.  You slice off the bones in an arc–releasing the roll of meat.  Cut the bones into separate pieces so that anyone who wants to chew one can. Then slice the roll of meat as you like it–into slabs or into thin strips.  (I use the leftover bones to make a bone broth the next day.)

Fabulous!

The kale is also dead easy.  Rinse the kale in the sink.  I used FOUR bunches for 5 to 6 people.  Here’s how much I started with:

kale

Put on a big pot of water to boil.  Rinse each kale leaf, rip the green from the stalk, and when the water in your pot boils and you’re all done de-stalking the kale, drop the leaves into the water and let it cook for about 5 minutes–or less if your kale is smaller and more tender.  This blanching makes the kale sweet.  (The chickens get the stalks and delight in eating the bits of green leaf remaining.)  Drain off the kale into a colendar, run cold water over it until you can handle it with your bare hands.  Squeeze out the water, roughly chop the wilted leaves on a chopping board, and put them into a bowl until you are ready to reheat them in a big dollop of butter (at least 1/2 cup) that you have allowed to just get toasty, light brown in a skillet–a step you do at the last minute.

Here’s what the kale looks like wilted.  You can see how much it wilts down:

kale reduced

Scalloped potatoes are also dead easy to cook.  You can put them together and mostly cook them and just reheat them while someone is carving the meat.

Start with boiling potatoes (not russets).  Peel and slice into thin rounds (under 1/4 inches)–putting the slices into a bowl of water so they don’t brown.

sliced potatoes in water

If you’re going to cook ahead, heat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a 2-inch high pan with butter.  (I used a square pan this time.)  You could also run a cut clove of garlic over the pan before buttering if you feel up to it.

Grate some cheese (good swiss or cheddar) and cut a bit of onion into fine dice:

cheese and onion

Drain the potatoes in a colendar and dry them in a towel:

drying potato slices

Assemble the dish.  Put a layer of potatoes on the bottom.  Top with a tiny bit of onion and a handful of cheese.  (You could salt each layer lightly if you like–sometimes I forget and just salt the top–the milk you add washes it all together.)  Top with more potatoes.  If you are cooking ahead, I don’t put cheese on the top.  If you are not, put cheese on top.  Pour at least a cup of milk over the whole dish.  If you heat the milk, the dish will cook faster–say 30 minutes.  If not, it takes longer (45 or so–which is why putting the cheese on the top will get too brown.)  If cooking ahead, cook until most of the milk is absorbed and the potatoes are softening–remove and let sit on the stove or a counter and dot the top with butter and reheat while someone is carving the meat–about 10 minutes.  You’ll know when the dish is cooked–the top will have crispy brown bits and potatoes will be soft and the milk will be gone.

Delicious!!!  Reheats well the next day, too.

Here’s the table ready to go–graced with our old, old (now) tablecloth and the Fosteria red glasses I got for my wedding almost 47 years ago now.  That’s horseradish cream in the bowl in the center–equal parts of sour cream (I used my fermented piima cream) and horseradish.  I also cut this mixture with some fresh raw heavy cream.

Christmas dinner 2012

This Christmas Day Dinner was about food, friends, and not a lot of fancy decorations.  In the background, you can see a tv tray with 3 sprouting amaryllis and some paper white narcissus–which will cheer us in January.  This window is the only window that does not have outside roof overhangs and that gets the weak winter sun.  My sisters will smile as they will recall our mother and her wintering over of plants in glass jars with dangling roots and dingy water–something I always didn’t like to see in the dining room.  But, here they are as we love having their outrageous flowering in the dead of winter.

Sarah is British–and that means she finds us what she calls Christmas “Crackers” for dinner entertainment.  Here are a few left in the original box.

Christmas crackers in box

Here’s one alone:

Christmas crackers

You cross your arms, holding your “cracker” in one hand, and the people on either side of you pull your cracker apart (and it “pops” with a kind of firecracker fire) as you sharply pull one of theirs.  Out fall toys, tiny games, a crown, and some fortunes.

Here we are with our crowns on:

Christmas dinner 2012 at table

One year I got a miniature deck of cards that I carry with me in my purse in case I get stranded at an airport and want to play solitaire or somesuch game.  This year I got a spinning top that spins beautifully.

The fortunes are a lot of fun:

Why do birds fly south in the winter?  Because they can’t afford to take the train.

What did the hat say to the scarf?  You hang around while I go on ahead.

What is grey and has four legs and a trunk?  A mouse going on holiday.

How do you make a band stand?  Hide all the chairs.

The fifth one got lost in the merriment.

THANK YOU SARAH AND CHRISSO.

We had such a nice time, and even though we ate and ate, we had a ton of leftovers.  So, everyone came back the next night to help us remedy the leftover situation.  And, again, we had a lovely evening.

Written by louisaenright

December 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm

One Response

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  1. What fun and a delicious meal, too! Merry Christmas!

    Susan Heath

    December 29, 2012 at 11:12 pm


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