The Christmas Dinner Experience

This year for Christmas Wifey and I hosted a small gathering of seven total family members, including ourselves. I think this may have been the first Christmas we had hosted, and it was definitely the first Christmas where we did significant cooking. In fact, we decided what the hell - we'll do it all! No one has to cook! Or maybe it was me deciding that would be no problem - that's a little fuzzy.

Predictably, everyone thought that was a fantastic idea. Even us, at first.

So we (actually, mainly Wifey) scoured the Net for recipes and put together a menu, of which we will share the 2009 My Northwest Experience Christmas Dinner Extravaganza with you here - replete with recipes!

First we had to decide on the main course. We like to be different so the traditional turkey and ham ideas were out. So what to do instead... Wait, I know! How about turducken!

For those of you that don't know, turducken is a de-boned chicken inside a de-boned duck inside a de-boned turkey, and then wrapped all up and tied shut, so it's literally a giant poultry roast. Usually turduckens have layers of stuffing in between the different meats, but ours did not. Some also have the wings and legs of the turkey left on (in addition to the skin), but ours didn't - it was a nice round roast, almost like a pork loin. If you are curious, it was 13 pounds and $55 - we bought it locally at Ponderosa Meats (a place I have mentioned before we visit often for meat) where the butcher puts it together himself (I think).

Cooking the turducken was easy. We simply put it in a V-roasting pan, scattered some veggies and olive oil in the bottom, covered with foil, then cooked it for 3.5 hours. Then we uncovered it and roasted it for another 1.5 hours, until it was 165 degrees inside. The roasting actually was done on Christmas Eve; on Christmas Day we put gravy made from the turducken drippings in the bottom of a pan and roasted the sliced roast for another 1.5 hours. Here is the result:

Fresh From the Oven

After Getting the Slice

A Closer Look - the chicken layer is clear in the middle

Don't get me started on the gravy. We made something like 10 things in two days, spending about 20 hours in the kitchen, and gravy was the hardest thing to make. Believe it or not, we weren't expecting that (though after sharing this comment with others, they smile and nod knowingly).

The most common question I get was how did it taste? Well, um, it tasted like...turkey. The chicken gets overpowered by the other two birds, and while the duck part is a little moister and a bit fattier, generally the whole thing tastes like turkey. I think if there had been the layers of stuffing the different meats would have been more pronounced. When we do this again - and we will - I think we'll order one online from a place in the heart of crazy turducken territory: New Orleans. Then we can see if it's different.

All in all we were very pleased with it.

Now, whenever you cook bird for a meal you have to have stuffing, right? We decided to do something a little different and found this recipe for Bacon, Onion and Rye Bread stuffing. Neither of us eat rye bread on its own, but when it's in something (and has bacon!) or with a strong meat and cheese on a sandwich, it's a good complimentary flavor.

Our rye was just a fresh loaf from the New Seasons bakery and putting this together was a cinch (no pictures of this one, because it was done just before dinner and it was really crazy at the time). The flavors were excellent - everything worked together. In fact, I might make this just for fun it was so good.

Always at a holiday meal you need potatoes, right kids? Again, we wanted to step outside the box a tad, so we opted for this Herbed Potato Gratin with Roasted Garlic and Manchego. We roasted the garlic heads first, which filled the kitchen with that wonderful roasting garlic smell (hey, give me a break, it's the Italian blood - I love that smell!) and the rest of putting this together was fairly easy. We were not able to find the San Simon cheese (not exactly sure what it is) but did get a nice aged Manchego (from Spain, of course) and a smoked Gouda from Whole Foods.

One key to making this a successful dish I will point is be very careful with how you stack the sliced potatoes. If you are like me and like to be fast, it won't turn out as well because the potatoes end up stacked too tightly, then they don't cook evenly. Place them in the dish one slice at a time, making sure it's even. Yes, it takes longer, but it's worth it. Here is how it turned out:

Fresh From the Oven

We actually put the whole dish together the day before, then all we had to do was bake it on Christmas Day. I grew up not being an au gratin fan, but it turns out cheese and garlic makes everything better.

Of course, you also need vegetables. Depending on your point of view the potatoes may take care of that - maybe, maybe not. We opted for this Creamy Spinach with Smoked Gouda. It's basically boiled spinach mixed with a fantastically rich Smoked Gouda Bechamel sauce, then topped with bread crumbs and broiled. Does that sound easy to make? Good, because it was. And it was fantastic.

Again, no pics, because this was the absolutely last thing we did before serving dinner. I'm not sure weaving in all that bechamel into the spinach leaves it still qualifying as a vegetable dish, but it was damn good.

We also served a baguette from Little T American Baker with some extra roasted garlic and a creamy cheese (the name of which escapes me), plus the standard appetizer faire of carrots, celery, pineapple, and sliced Florida oranges (from Harvey's Groves and fantastic).

Never Can Have Too Much Garlic

Of course all of this food needs a little something to wash it down with, so we served a pinot noir from Ponzi Vineyards, which is very close by. We were going to go with white because we thought white went with poultry, but Food and Wine Magazine (you know, where we got all the recipes) convinced us otherwise. Did it work? Not entirely sure, but it is one of the few pinot noirs I've actually liked, for whatever that's worth.

We also made eggnog - real, homemade eggnog. I'd never had this stuff until this year, just whatever was in the grocery store. I liked that - Wifey doesn't - but we had no idea what we were missing. I read an article about making eggnog in Mix Magazine and then we tried it at Coffeehouse Northwest, where they had a warm one for the holidays. That was amazing and the tastes are absolutely nothing like the grocery store offerings, so I decided I want to make it.

After digging through a bunch of recipes I settled on this one by the Food Network's Alton Brown. I didn't want one that was super heavy on the liquor - some called for as much as 8 ounces just of alcohol! - because I like the nogginess (my blog, my words). This one seemed like a nice balance - and it turned out amazing.

The first time we made it (I think we are up to fivetimes now) we followed the recipe to the letter. I bought a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon and we did the egg whites at the end. It was still a little strong, and why became obvious when I noticed the Maker's Mark is 90 proof, not 80. Oh well. I also used a little too much of the fresh nutmeg.

The egg whites whipped in at the end made the whole thing a little lumpy and I don't think they added anything to the flavor. The second time we made it without alcohol, no egg whites, and no nutmeg - thinking we could add nutmeg and alcohol to each individual glass. Online it mentioned homemade eggnog is best with dark rum, so we made another liquor store run and came back with a bottle of Myer's Dark Rum.

This one was much more smooth without the egg whites and adding the liquor into each glass worked well - we taste tested with the Meyer's, the Maker's Mark, Bacardi golden rum, Jim Beam bourbon, and Rogue's Hazelnut rum. (And yes, the taste test that brought us to that conclusion was a lot of fun - thanks for asking!) As recommended, our favorite was the dark rum, so good call internet. The drawback was not using the nutmeg in the cooking process - it left the nog missing something.

The third time we cooked with the nutmeg, again leaving the liquor out for individual glasses and completely disregarded the egg whites (I guess those are good for eating anyway, all healthy and the like since I'm drinking tons of whole fat eggnog). This was perfect.

Homemade Eggnog - It's Awesome!

It's also fairly easy - just takes a little time - and fun. I mean, taste testing with an array of liquor is always fun, right?

Now it's time for desert. Noticing we hadn't really had fruit involved in the meal yet, we opted for this Poached Pear and Brown Butter Tart. We had never poached anything, so that was something new.

As it turns out, poaching fruit is amazing. The combination used in this recipe - cloves, vanilla (we used paste), Riesling, sage, cinnamon stick, and sugar - made the entire house just smell heavenly. We also poached an extra pear just to eat by itself, which was a revelation on its own. In fact, if we had had room in the fridge I would have saved this liquid to drink later - it was that good.

Here is the final product:


The grated orange is what really made the dish, in my mind. The crust cooked well and the pears - with all their poached flavors - were really drawn out by the orange. The tart wasn't overly sweet, wasn't overly fruity, and just had a perfect amount of balance. This recipe is a definite keeper.

But you can't have desert without chocolate, right? Of course not, that's why we made Salted Fudge Brownies as well. These were a snap to put together and the Maldon sea salt really added a perfect compliment to the thick chocolate.

We also did these Chocolate Mint Thumbprint Cookies, which were very good. We used Andes for the mint chocolate, and I think a Ghirardelli chocolate bar for the bittersweet chocolate. We also made Zebra brownies (regular brownies - recipe from King Arthur flour - swirled with a sweetened cream cheese mixture - here from Pillsbury).

Plate of Goodies

Close Up of the Goodies

I think everyone liked it - I know we did. I also made the joke that people should be checking their diets at the door for this meal. I have no idea how many calories it was, but I know we went through quite a bit of eggs, heavy whipping cream, whole milk, and cheese. And in my mind, those are all very, very good things.

Would I do it all again? Honestly, I'm not sure - it was a hell of a lot of work, a lot of standing on the feet in the kitchen. We have a hardwood floor - apparently we need to get the rubberized floors to cushion the feet a bit more. I think it was fun having full control over the menu, but next time might be a little more potluck-y. Maybe sometime in the future we'll forget how much work it was and offer to do it all again. Maybe.

1 comment:

  1. WOW...all I can say is wow! What a feast! It all looks sooooooo good! The Tart looks almost too beautiful to eat! WOW!