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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Christmas Live Blog 2015

12/22/15  

12:30 PM  - It's almost Christmas and I have once again volunteered to host the festivities.  I like hosting Christmas.  It's always feels cozy and intimate to have dinner at my home, I can drink as much mulled cider as I want, and I can be as creative as I want with the menu. 

I want to be organized and have everything finished on time, but life doesn't like to help you out all the time.  I took off the three days before Christmas so I could make sure nothing waited until the last minute and the house was set up with all food procured and anything that could be made ahead of time was made.

So I had a little glitch in the machine.  Sunday night, wanting to do as little non-Christmas cooking as possible in the coming days, I went out to dinner.  I didn't drive, but I took my set of keys (home and car on one ring) with me and stashed them in my coat pocket.  I'm not sure I ever took them out.

Yesterday morning I was about to go to work and went to grab my keys.  I saw they were no longer in my coat pocket.  In fact, they were nowhere in my apartment.  I called the restaurant, but they didn't see them.  I went back to the restaurant later that day and scoured the parking lot.  I scoured Kevin's car.  I just couldn't figure out where my keys disappeared to.  So today, instead of starting in on Christmas prep first thing in the morning, I had to spend 2 hours and nearly $400 getting my car towed to the Nissan dealership to reprogram a new set of keys, and then going to the locksmith to get Kevin's house keys replicated.

I had planned to have my Christmas groceries delivered by Fresh Direct.  The tow truck for the dealership was conveniently able to come and get my car at the same time Fresh Direct was scheduled to drop off my groceries.  This was terrifying to me. What if they delivered while I was out?   I called Fresh Direct and asked if my groceries could be dropped off.   They said this was fine.  When I finally arrived home from the dealership and the locksmiths, nothing had been dropped off.  I panicked, but all's well that ends well.  They were about a half hour late with the delivery, and I was never so thankful for a late delivery.  I was able to receive and sign for the stuff and give the delivery guy a proper tip.

Now it was on to cleaning and sundry small cooking tasks.

3:59 - Where is my meat?  I scheduled a delivery today for the main course from Heritage Foods.  I am getting very nervous.

5:23: Still no meat!  The tracking info says it's still in transit.  Right now I'm working on getting some CDs ripped for my Christmas music mix.  Gotta have some music during the cocktail hour.  I can put these on my iPad and then I have a speaker that picks it up on the Bluetooth setting - genius!

Another way to pass the time was to make this brandied cherry compote.  This will be mixed into a trifle with chocolate cake and chocolate pudding.

Brandied Cherry Compote

Ingredients
  • 1 10 oz. bag frozen pitted cherries
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brandy or kirsch (or a mix of both)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp corn starch
Combine cherries, sugar, brandy, and cinnamon stick in a small saucepan.  Bring to a simmer and reduce by about half.  Add cornstarch and bring to a boil.  Cook stirring constantly for about 5 minutes or until syrupy.

Remove cinnamon stick and use as a dessert topping or anything else you might like to use it for.

12/23/15

8:49 AM: I started with some more pre-Christmas cooking by making this pineapple chutney I found on the Burp! blog.  I think I might have let everything caramelize a bit too much, but it still tasted pretty good.


The question remains, will I have a ham to serve with it?  I still have no delivery of my meats.  I checked the FedEx tracking and it said that at 3:48 AM my package was at the distribution center in the Bronx.  All I can do right now is keep doing my cooking and cleaning chores and try to get my mind off the meat and the condition in which it will arrive.

11:09 AM:  Made a pear, caramelized onion, and brandy compote.  This will go on top of a wheel of warm brie to serve with flatbreads, pita chips, and nuts for the pre-dinner cocktail hour.  Originally I was going to make it into a brie bread pudding to serve as a side dish, but that seemed too heavy.  If I baked the brie and pears with eggs and bread, it would almost be a meal in itself.


It looks a lot like the pineapple chutney, doesn't it?  I'm so embarrassed.

Brandied Caramelized Pears

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbl butter
  • 2 Tbl olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 bosc pears, cut in small dice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 tsp salt

Heat oil and butter in a large pan over low heat.  Add the onion and cook until golden, about 30 minutes.  Stir in the pears and cook until they begin to soften.  Add the brandy, brown sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil and cook about 10 minutes or until syrupy.

Serve with cheese.

Also, I think I'm getting a UTI.  There is an urgent care clinic around the block, but let's hope I find a time to get to it.  Off to buy some cranberry juice for now.

1:25 PM:  I baked this chocolate loaf cake just now.  As I mentioned previously, this is going to be cut up into chunks and layered with that cherry compote and some homemade chocolate pudding (on tomorrow's agenda).  I STILL DON'T HAVE MY MEAT.


Right now I'm off to the urgent care clinic.  The cranberry juice only lessens the symptoms a bit, but doesn't take them away.

2:49 PM:  Doctor seen, infection confirmed, antibiotics procured.  Now I have to go to Mom's to pick up some extra chairs and take her gifts to my place so she won't have to carry all this stuff on Christmas day.  Then I have to head to my storage locker to fetch my folding table.  My regular dining room table only seats 8 and I have 11 people at this dinner.  Maybe I'll get around to wrapping some gifts tonight.

STILL NO MEAT!

5:40 PM: Went to Mom's place and brought home all of her Christmas gifts for the family.  It was quite a pile.  Grandmothers love spoiling their grandchildren.  My niece and nephew will be very happy kids on Friday!  Unfortunately, the car was so full, I didn't have room for anything else, so picking up the table from the storage locker will have to wait until tomorrow.  The rain was hammering down and the traffic was awful tonight.  I don't dare go out again.

When I arrived at my door, I burst into a round of the Hallelujah Chorus.  I didn't care if it annoyed the neighbors.  Sitting in front of my door was a huge box marked "perishable".  MY MEAT HAD ARRIVED.


I now safely have secured one ham and one goose.

I think I'm going to take a break from Christmas stuff tonight.  Tomorrow I will get my folding table, wrap my gifts, clean the bathrooms, as well as make my pudding and some salad dressing, and finally  make sure everything is tidied and the kitchen is in place.  Let's hope nothing more goes wrong and it will all fall into place.

12/24/15

10:42 AM:  Boy it's so nice to be celebrating Christmas in Florida again.  Kevin and I have not done that in over 10 years.

Wait.  It's not Florida.   This is still my apartment in the northeastern state of New York.   It just happens to be 70 degrees outside.

I let myself sleep in a bit this morning.  After my workout I got down to the business of making chocolate pudding.

I used the recipe from my mother's ancient Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.  It's cool.  You can still see my grandparents' signature on the title page gifting it to Mom in 1963.  I have used the pudding recipe for years.  It's a simple cornstarch pudding.  You make it by mixing some cold milk, sugar, and cornstarch in a double boiler and then you add scalded milk (that you melt your chocolate into).  They call it Blancmange Pudding.  Wasn't Blancmange a band back in the 80s?

I splurged on local creamline milk thinking it would make a lovely, rich pudding.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get the pudding to tighten.  I don't know why.  I have made this pudding dozens of times before and it always thickened just fine.  I got frustrated and I tempered 3 egg yolks and added them in, to make a more custard-like pudding.  It did eventually thicken and the eggs helped smooth out the graininess of the chocolate.

I have three components of the trifle made.  Assembly will happen tomorrow.

Now I'm still sweaty from my workout and covered in chocolate.  I need to shower and decide which task to tackle next.  I think I'll do some gift wrapping.  I need to get that done while Kevin isn't here so I can wrap his gift without him seeing it (although he probably knows what it is).  Then I have to run a few errands out of the house (enjoy this nice weather) and conquer the cleaning tasks.

I was right about the band.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYQ1TZG6xZM

2:33 PM:  Gifts are wrapped and I have gone out and braved the traffic to get the last of my Christmas supplies from my storage locker.  Unfortunately, the storage facility is right behind a major shopping center that contains a Kohl's, Pier 1, Home Goods, Ulta, DSW, Party City, Modell's, and Game Stop among other major and independent stores.  I-95 was backed up from Harrison to the Kohl's center exit in Port Chester.  Once I was at the storage locker, I was able to get in and out quickly.  Hardly anyone was there.  I also needed to go to Party City to buy some plastic mugs for my hot cider.  I couldn't believe how empty it was.  I was expecting a mob scene.

In theory I don't have to go out again until after Christmas.  I have Star Wars tickets for tonight though, so I will be out in the traffic again.  I'm seeing it in IMAX too!

I still have to clean.  I'm not happy about that.

5:00 PM: My to-do list for the day is done.  Tomorrow will consist of making vegetable sides and salads, and getting those meats in the oven and the gravy made.  I'll also be setting up and decorating the place.  I bought new table linens this year, so I expect everything will be appropriately festive.

Other than the traffic, I had no major mishaps or disasters today.  It should be a good Christmas.

12/25/15

9:19 AM: Merry Christmas!  After completing my workout this morning, I took a few minutes to catch my breath and declared that it was time to get down to business.  I will transform this mess into Christmas World!  I want my place to look so festive that Scrooge won't need to see his grave to want to celebrate Christmas.

For the record, Star Wars was great.  I won't provide spoilers, but I do recommend.

9:49 AM:  Finished the first cooking task of the day.  I assembled the chocolate-cherry trifle.  I thought the cake I made was a bit dry, but it will have all day to soak up that custard and that brandy-infused cherry juice.  My trifle doesn't showcase the layers too well though.  Oh well.  Right before I serve this I will cover the top with a showstopping layer of fresh whipped cream. 

11:56: Setup mostly done.  This isn't Dickens or the Stahlbaum's, but it's the best I can do.


My two tables, set with festive linens and candles with my tree in the background.

My drinks table is always in the entryway.  People can pour themselves a glass as soon as they walk in.  I am counting on family to bring wine.  The pile of mugs next to the scotch will be for hot spiced cider (with brandy).  Eventually I will fill that bucket with ice.

5 hours to go until dinner.  The real cooking is about to happen soon!

1:16 PM:  I have been gathering my pots, pans, and serving bowls trying to get the cooking and serving stuff sorted out.  I made my green beans side dish.  The beans are cooked with pancetta and shallots and dressed with mustard.  I'll have to heat them in the microwave before guests come, but I hope that doesn't make them not taste as good. Even though they don't take long to cook, I just didn't want to be cooking anything at the last minute.   I found the recipe in Eating Well and I want to use it again. It's tasty.

No photos right now.  Just didn't feel like taking any.

2:56 PM:  I prepped my goose and it will go in the oven in 15 minutes.  I put a lemon and a head of garlic in the cavity.  I pricked the skin with a needle repeatedly to let the fat render out when cooking.  I also cut off the excess cavity fat.  It's amazing how much fat is in a goose.  You just don't realize until you try to cook one.  Fat was oozing out the tiny holes I made with the needle as I pricked it.  I rendered the extra skin so I would have some fat to make gravy with and it seemed like the fat would not stop coming out of that chunk of skin.  I suppose guests will either find this goose gross or delicious depending on their taste proclivities.  (I admit I will probably lean to the delicious side.)

I cut off the wing tips for use in the gravy as well.  Cutting of the wing tips of a goose is nothing like removing them from a chicken.  I had to fight to get this bird to give up its wing tips.   Geese are tough birds.  We learn this when we go to the local pond and feed the waterfowl.  They're just as tough when they're dead.

Heritage Foods sent me a bag of this salt to season it with.  They call it Omnivore Salt.  So does that mean vegetarians can't use it?  Maybe it means you can only use it on omnivorous animals like chickens or pigs.  I assume geese are omnivorous too. 
My ham will go into the oven about a half hour after the goose goes in.  I'm relieved my microwave doubles as a convection oven.  There is no other way to roast such large meats at one time without a second oven.

Gravy and salad are next on the agenda.  I want to have the salad prepped and in the bowl (but not dressed obviously) well ahead of time.  Then I have to make sure the hot cider is ready to be served  along with the brie and pears as soon as the guests start walking in.

12/26/15

Obviously live blogging can't go on when you have a dinner to serve and eat, so the live blogging ended and now it's all just a recap.

After my goose and ham went into the ovens I began prepping my salad.  It was my favorite go-to salad made from arugula, fennel, orange slices, and pine nuts in an orange-balsamic vinaigrette.  I was slicing the fennel on a mandoline and my thumb came a bit too close to the blade.  OUCH!  I was bleeding like a stuck pig and screaming for a Band-Aid.  My heroic husband was at the ready.  With my finger bandaged and hurting, I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to do the last bits of serve and prep, but this incident was just the beginning.

Before the second disaster of the evening, I still had some prep to do.  I heated the fresh apple cider with allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and star anise.  Just before serving I added a cup of brandy.

Now dim the lights, turn on the tree, and light all the candles in the room.  Start the music playing.  It really feels like Christmas in here.  The house is ready to welcome the guests.


A beautifully browned and crispy roasted goose and a succulent ham came out of the oven and were set to rest.

The drinks table was set with ice and the first bottle of wine.
The perfect evening was set. Guests began to arrive and were welcomed by the soft lighting, festive music, and smells of good cooking.   I set my wheel of Brie and the caramelized pears in the oven to warm.  I wanted to serve it as soon as everyone arrived so they could have it with their drinks.

Unfortunately, the platter that my cheese sat on had a minor crack in it that I didn't think was a big deal.  It turned out to be a bigger deal than I expected.  As I made a move to get my cheese and pears to the snack table, the platter broke and rammed itself into my hand.  I burned a large spot on my middle finger with a few minor burns on my palm.  My family scrambled to find a new platter for the cheese and put it out while I howled in pain as I ran for an ice pack.  Unfortunately, I was unable to be without ice on my burns for the entire evening.  I had no hands and was useless.  Thank goodness I have the kind of husband and the kind of family that was willing to pitch in.

Sorry, I don't have a photo of the Brie and pears on the snack table.  When it first went out, I was in too much pain to press a shutter.

I did feel a bit better when it came time to serve the salad.

With my brother on hand to help carve, I was able to get the meats and the vegetables onto the buffet.  We had the ham and the goose.  We had green beans.  We had a dish of roasted parsnips, carrots, fennel, and potatoes.  We had the goose gravy and pineapple chutney.  We soaked it up with Italian bread.  In short, we had a feast.


I learned a few things about goose that night.  All the stories I head about how much fat a goose renders are no joke.  I had a quart of goose fat at the end of the night left over from both rendering the excess skin and when came out of the goose while cooking.  It's not just the wing tips on a goose that are tough.  Geese are hard to carve, as they have strong sinews and solid bones.  Although a goose carcass looks tasty and you're sure you can get more meat (or some more crispy skin) out of it, don't bother.  The fat is tough and inedible on the underside and other spots.

Will I ever cook a goose again?  I might some time in the future, but my curiosity about cooking goose is satisfied for now.

The ham was the most delicious, succulent ham I have ever eaten.  If you ever find yourself looking for a good ham for a holiday dinner, do yourself a favor and get one from Heritage Foods.  You won't be sorry.

We were close to bursting, but we still had to serve dessert after the gifts were opened.  I put out my trifle and my mother brought her traditional pecan bars and rum balls.  My sister-in-law made gingerbread men and moon cookies/meltaways/Russian tea cakes/Mexican wedding cookies.  The trifle was dense and provided a true chocolate explosion.  It was a fun experiment in trifle desserts.  The cookies represented the Christmas of my childhood. 


Eventually everyone had to go home.  Kevin cleaned up with a little help from Mom while I nursed my wounds and helped where I could.  Despite the disasters of this week, I had a lovely evening.  Everyone had a good time and enjoyed the food.  We were all together and that's what's most important.

I hope everyone reading this had a joyful holiday (Christmas or otherwise) and enjoys a happy New Year.