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Christmas Party

Every year R and I have a tree trimming party, and I like to have different themes for the food. Last year was an Italian Christmas. This year, I went with an English Christmas. At first it may seem like an odd choice, after all, it’s not like the English are known for their cuisine, but I really wanted to do a big, beautiful prime rib and that falls under the English umbrella of food.

 

And a big, beautiful prime rib it was; 10 lbs of lovely pink, succulent beef (sorry to those of you that don’t prefer medium rare, but you are just wrong). I used the Cook’s Illustrated recipe with one modification; instead of searing on the stove top (that just takes too much time, and my hunk of meat was too big to be manageable), I cranked the oven up to 500 degrees and let it brown the outside for 20 minutes, before dropping the temp down to 200 degrees. A probe thermometer is essential; you just set it to 130 degrees for an internal temp and wait. My 10 lb roast took 5 hours to get there, plus another 20 minutes resting time. Don’t ever forget to let your roast rest; the juices need time to recirculate. I was running an hour behind schedule, so as people starting showing up, I was still wrestling with the food, so I forced my guests in to helping. My friend Richard did a lovely job carving the roast. He took the ribs off first, and then cut the rest in to slices. This is also where an electric knife is uber-handy. I also have to thank Mj; she made the horseradish cream for me, which is essentially whipped cream with horseradish, salt and pepper. It was a perfect accompaniment to the prime rib.


Horseradish Cream Sauce

Makes about 1 cup
1/2cup heavy cream 
1/2cup prepared horseradish 
1teaspoon table salt 
1/8teaspoon ground black pepper 


Whisk cream in medium bowl until thickened but not yet holding soft peaks, 1 to 2 minutes. Gently fold in horseradish, salt, and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before serving.
 

Following the English theme, I did a minted pea soup. It was another simple delicious recipe. I could see myself throwing this together on a weeknight for dinner with a salad or sandwiches. A hand blender makes this recipe even easier and vegetable broth will make it vegetarian. 

minted pea soup Gourmet | June 1999


This recipe can be prepared in 45 minutes or less but may require additional sitting time.

Even though it might seem odd to use frozen peas during fresh pea season, they are infinitely easier to deal with than fresh peas in the pod — particularly when making a quick dish such as this soup whizzed up in a blender.

Makes about 8 cups.

ingredients
1 small onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pounds frozen peas
5 cups chicken stock or low-salt broth
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup heavy cream (or ‚ cup heavy cream mixed with 1/2 cup plain yogurt)
preparation
Finely chop onion. In a 4-quart heavy saucepan cook onion in butter with salt to taste over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add peas and 3 cups stock and simmer, uncovered, until peas are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in mint and remaining 2 cups stock and remove pan from heat. In a blender purée soup in batches until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids), forcing each batch through a sieve into a large bowl. (Discard solids in sieve between batches.) Whisk in cream (or cream-yogurt mixture) and salt and pepper to taste. If serving soup cold, chill, covered. If serving soup hot, reheat but do not let boil.

I also served bangers and mash, which is essentially a sausage and gravy casserole, topped with mashed potatoes. It seemed to go over well, as there weren’t any leftovers. On a side note, while researching recipes for this party, I discovered that a plethora of English food involves some kind of meat (sausage, bacon, ground beef) topped or mixed with mashed potatoes: bangers and mash, Shepherd’s pie, bubble and squeak are all variants of this theme. Apparently English cuisine is not very vegetarian friendly. I made some brussels sprouts, as well as roasted onions and potatoes for the veggie-loving crowd. 

Bangers and Mash
 
 
 
 
 
2 pounds potatoes
8 links Cumberland sausage (Italian sausage may substitute)
1 tablespoon oil
1 large onion
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups chicken stock
4 tablespoons cream
2 ounces butter
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
2 tablespoons grainy mustard, plus mustard for dipping
Salt and pepper

 

Peel and dice potatoes. Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, add salt and simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, prick sausages with a fork, heat a skillet and brown the sausage in 1 tablespoon oil. Slice the onion. Remove the sausage to a plate and add the onion to the pan. Cook onions until soft, then add 2 tablespoons flour, cook for 1 minute. Add the chicken stock and return the sausage to the pan, cooking it through for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and run them through a food mill into a saucepan. Add the cream, butter, creme fraiche and mustard. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with side of grainy mustard for dipping.



For desserts, I made a vanilla-berry trifle. It’s a easy recipe to throw together, as long as you have a large trifle bowl, so that all the lovely layers can be seen. I bought 2 pound cakes from Russo’s (I don’t make *everything* from scratch, you know), and constructed a base layer of ¼ inch slices, brushed the cake with grand mariner. On top of that went a layer of vanilla pudding (made from 5 minute instant mix), and then a layer of diced strawberries, that had been heated up with seedless raspberry jam. Lather, rinse, repeat with another layer of cake, pudding and berries. As I got to the top of the bowl, I covered the whole thing with whipped cream and whole raspberries and strawberries.

 

I’ve read about sticky toffee pudding in many an English novel, but have never had it before. The recipe quite surprised me. For one, when the English say pudding, they don’t mean a loose, quivering pudding, but a steamed pudding, that is really more like a cake. I was hesitant about this recipe, as it started with dissolving 10oz of dates in hot water, but it turned out a delicious, sweet and moist cake. The dates added a deeper complexity in flavor that was unique. There was a caramel sauce, courtesy of Blee; I made him stand over the oven stirring the sauce for a while.


sticky toffee pudding Bon Appétit | May 1998


Here is a sensational layering of cake and toffee sauce that's served warm, accompanied by whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Serves 10.

ingredients
12 ounces pitted dates (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 2/3 cups water

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 large eggs

Toffee Sauce

Whipped cream or crème fraîche

preparation
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13 x 9 x 2-inch metal baking pan. Line bottom with parchment; butter parchment. Combine dates and 1 2/3 cups water in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until dates are tender and all but scant 1/4 cup liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. Transfer to processor; puree.

Sift flour, baking powder, and baking soda into medium bowl. Beat brown sugar and butter in large bowl until blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture in 3 additions, beating until smooth. Mix in pureed date mixture (batter will be stiff).

Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake until cake is firm to touch and tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool in pan on rack.

Turn cake out onto work surface. Remove parchment. Trim 1/2 inch from short sides of cake and 1/4 inch from long sides. Using serrated knife, cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Return 1 layer to same pan. Pour 1 cup sauce over. Top with second layer. Pour 1 cup sauce over. Top with third layer. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover; let stand at room temperature.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake cake uncovered until sauce bubbles around edges, about 20 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream and remaining sauce.


A cheese board rounded out my offerings. I picked out four English cheeses; the ubiquitous Cheddar, double Gloucester, Stilton, and Wensleydale, a cheese studded with cranberries. One thing about the crackers, I’m a big fan of Carr’s Rosemary Crackers, but the market didn’t have any so I tried the Carr’s Cheese Melts, and they were rich, cheese, buttery and delicious. I started eating them alone.

 

What should I do for next year’s party? A French Christmas, perhaps.

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