Christmas Dinner - YUM!I had one of the best Christmas’ I can recall. I had no idea that Christmas Day could be so relaxing and fun. That’s not to say that Christmas is usually horrible or anything, it’s just that, typically, it’s very stressful and frantic. When Holly and I travel to Baton Rouge it’s complete bedlam trying to see everyone as we run from place to place. Even if we stay in town, we’ve typically been overwhelmed with activity, often times to the point that it’s been more about getting the next item complete on the task list, instead of quality family time.
So made this year different? I think a lot of it had to do with the way Christmas fell this year. Having it on a Thursday meant that most people were looking at 5 days off, so the pace of this Christmas was a little less hectic. In addition, I made the concerted effort to take time off. Instead of trying to squeeze in family time with other deadlines, which is my usual habit, I decided to just spend time with family. The third contributing factor to such a wonderful Christmas, was that I decided to cook. Ever since I decided to figure out how to cook Madelines, I’ve been bitten by the bug to get into the kitchen. This year I decided I would try and tackle the tall order of cooking the Christmas meal.

Getting Prepared
Since I took Christmas Eve off, I used that day to get everything ready. I had a few errands to run, as well as making the big run to the grocery store. To help me with this endeavor, my Mom volunteered to come along and help make my selections. I’m somewhat new to the kitchen and her years of experience can really come in handy.

Our first stop was at Bed Bath and Beyond. Holly had seen a Crème Brûlée kit for sale there and since that was our chosen dessert, I figured it’d be best if we got the kit. Unfortunately they were out, so we opted to make our own and purchased the ramekins and a blow torch. While we were there, we purchased a couple of measure cups and a non-stick madeleine pan.

Our next stop was Harris Teeter to purchase our groceries. I had chosen two wild game recipes, one for quail and one for pheasant. My purpose in choosing two different recipes, was more out of a desire to even the odds than to cook two meals. I figured that Harris Teeter would have either pheasant, or quail, but probably not both, so depending on what they had would depend on what I cooked. Although this may sound like prudent thinking, it was more like gluttonous thinking, because I ended up purchasing two entire meals.

The Harris Teeter in Cool Springs had quail, but didn’t have pheasant, so we purchased what we needed for the quail dinner. This included materials for Quail and Mushrooms as well as everything we needed for the Pumpkin and Pancetta Risotto. We were shy a few items that were critical, so when we stopped at the Harris Teeter in Brentwood, we discovered that they had pheasant. The pheasant dish sounded more delicious, so we decided that the quail dinner could be prepared later and opted to buy everything we needed for the pheasant dinner with Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding.

That’s right, we bought enough food for two Christmas dinners. To top it off, I would later discover that all the dishes were designed for 6 to 8 people and there were just going to be three of us, so we bought way too much food.

Preparing The Kitchen
I got back to the house late in the afternoon. Unloading all the grocery bags, it looked like an army was coming for dinner. As I put everything away, it struck me that the kitchen was not setup properly for cooking. Neither Holly, nor I have every really taken a serious interest in cooking and as a result, our kitchen has been a bit cluttered.

The main island is used more for mail and knick knacks than for food preparation and the drawers are a mixed bag of utensils, junk and miscellaneous things. If I was going to cook this huge meal, I needed room to work, so I set about rearranging the space. The first target was the island. Holly and I had talked about re purposing the island for food preparation only just early that week, so I went about doing just that. I moved off all sorts of stuff that belonged elsewhere in the house and moved flours, sugars and other ingredients to the island. I also moved the recipe book holder and other tools until I had the entire area cleaned and ready for food preparation.

Anytime you rearrange something, it starts a cascade of other areas that then need to be rearranged. You’ve moved things, so where do those things go? My cascade sent me reorganizing a hutch in the dining room and two cabinets in the kitchen. I could see that I could spend days in the cabinets, so I stopped at just two, when I reached a happy medium. The urge in me said to keep on going and tackle the pots and pans, but I held off. I had won my initial battle and there would be plenty of others to fight another day.

The Calm Before The Storm
That evening we went to Christmas Eve services at Bellevue Community Church. It was an amazing service and the music was simply fan-freaking-tastic. It was one of the best, if not the best Christmas Eve services I’ve ever been to. It really brought home the reason for all the festivities and celebrations. Not only that, it was a great service to “get your praise on!”

After the service, we were all hungry so we drove over to Houston’s for dinner. We made it just before they stopped seating. Knowing that everyone wanted to get home, we quickly ordered our food. We know the menu like the back of hand, so the ordering was easy. Mom chose the grilled redfish, Holly chose the Loaded Baked Potato Soup and salad and I chose the grilled Asahi Tuna Steak. My tuna was prepared perfectly. It was seared on the outside, but nice and raw on the inside. It’s my favorite light dish on their menu. We declined an appetizer because we knew that tomorrow was going to be a big food day and we didn’t want to overload the night before. No need to carbo load tonight. 😉

The Menu
I woke up eager and ready to cook. I’ve never felt this way about cooking before, but I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen. There was a lot of cooking that needed to be done, so I mapped out a game plan for the day. With everything planned out, here is the menu that I had planned:

– Breakfast
    Greek Egg White Omelets with feta cheese, mushrooms and prosciutto

– Appetizer
   Spinach Dip and Toast Points

– Dinner
   Roasted Pheasant [recipe link]
   Wild Mushroom Bread Pudding [recipe included in above link]
   Green Beans
   Fresh homemade French Bread [recipe link]

– Wine
   Coppola Niebaum Merlot [link]

– Dessert
   Crème Brûlée [recipe link]

The Cooking
After we exchanged our gifts and opened the ones from Santa, it was time to start cooking. I started the bread, but as soon as I pulled the dough out of the bowl and began the kneading process, I knew something was amiss. The dough was not the consistency that I was expecting and I had to add a lot of flour to bring it around. Although this was a bad sign, I hoped that there was still room to salvage it, so I set it aside to let the bread rise.

Next, I separated the egg yolks for the Crème Brûlée and went about making omelets for everyone. The first thing I did was brown some mushrooms and prosciutto in the skillet. Once I had the desired color, I added the egg whites to the pan and mix it about. Lastly, I added some feta cheese on top and then folded it over and served it. Well, that was the plan at least. My pan wasn’t as non-stick as I would have hoped, so the omelettes didn’t fold, but instead broke apart. So we ended up with scrambled eggs, but it all tasted the same.

As we ate our breakfast, I mixed and baked the Crème Brûlée and began the preparations for the Pheasant. In between the chopping, grating and dicing, I would go back to the bread to fold it and set it to rise again. This may sound a bit complex and let me assure you, it was. At one point I had 3 items all going at the same time. The only way that I was able to do this; because as you know, I’m not an accomplished chef; was to have the support of Holly and Mom. They kept everything clean and at the ready. As soon as I would finish with a bowl, there would be Mom washing it and setting it to dry on the rack. There’s no way I could have done what I did without them. They made great sous-chefs.

Around 1pm I had the Crème Brûlée chilling in the refrigerator and I was beginning to cook the Bread Pudding. All the recipes were new to me, so they were a wonderful surprise. After all the liquids were blended I took a deep smell of the creamy mixture and let out a “Oh yeah!” It was just so exciting to see everything come together and how wonderful everything smelled. After adding the bread to the mixture, I had 2 hours to wait, so we put in “Finding Nemo” and watched it while eating the Spinach Dip that Mom had made.

After Nemo, I baked the bread and found that instead of light delicious French Bread, I had made dense edible brick bats. The flavor was ok, but the bread was way to dense and heavy to be enjoyable. I tossed it off to a bad recipe and focused on the other dishes.

With the Pheasant almost done baking in the oven, I went back to the recipe for the Bread Pudding and suddenly realized I’d made an error in my calculations. The Pudding required 1 1/2 hours to bake in the oven and this threw my timing all off. The Pheasant would be done in 10 minutes, so an extra 90 minutes wasn’t good news. Since I only have one oven, I finished the Pheasant and wrapped it in foil and kept it on the top of the stove to keep it warm. Then I put in the Bread Pudding to cook and set the timer for and hour and waited.

The Relaxing
While the Pudding baked, everyone gathered on the sofa to relax. My legs were killing me. I had been on my feet most of the day and hadn’t sat much, so kicking my feet up on the ottoman felt great. I looked to my right and Holly was asleep curled up with a cushion from the sofa. In my lap was Gracie, who quickly fell asleep too. She must have been tired from all the running around catching the ingredients that fell off the counter. When I looked to my left, I saw that Mom had fallen asleep as well. She had been reading a book and it had fallen to her chest. At my feet was a small fire in the fireplace heating the room with a warm glow. Behind me, out of my view, was the Christmas tree twinkling and filling the room with a fresh pine scent.

I felt wrapped up in the middle of this fantastic scene. Everything was quiet and relaxed. There was nothing that had to be done right this second. The only thing left to do was to just enjoy the moment. I was afraid to succumb to it though; afraid that it would pull me down and not let go. I would fall asleep and my food would burn. I tried to will myself up to wash a dish, or review a recipe one more time, but the pull of this moment was too strong. Enveloped in this warm, Christmas moment, I wiggled my way deeper into the couch and simply… let go…

The Eating
An hour later, the buzzer went off and I woke up more rested than I think I’ve ever been in my life. The Bread Pudding still had 30 minutes to bake, so we set the table, opened the wine and got everything else ready. There was still the sauce to be made for the pheasant, which was so cool to make. Reductions are just incredible to prepare. With everything ready, the dinner was served, I said the prayer, and we all began to eat.

As I said earlier, these recipes were totally new to me. I had never cooked anything like this, so I had no idea how things would turn out. The French Bread may have been a bit of a failure, but everything else tasted delicious. I was amazed at how wonderful everything tasted. The Bread Pudding was to die for. In fact, it was so rich and delicious, it actually tasted like the main entree, with the Pheasant as the side dish. The Coppola Niebaum Merlot was a great choice to go with the meal. The food didn’t overpower the wine and the wine didn’t overpower the food. I knew that it was a good combination when I saw my Mother drinking the wine and asking for more. She’s not much of a wine drinker and she tends to go for light, sweet whites, but she was asking for a refill of the Merlot!

To finish off the meal, we ended with the Crème Brûlée. I had never made this before either, nor had I ever used a torch before, but it tasted good. There was too much brown sugar on the top and it didn’t melt quite right, but it was easily pushed aside and didn’t ruin the dish. Holly and Mom both claim to be Crème Brûlée experts, and they both gave it a big thumbs up. My recipe was for 8, so I still had 5 other ramekins in the fridge, so I could practice some more on my sugar and torch technique.

Fat And Happy
It was late when we got done with dinner. I hadn’t served until almost 6:00pm, but no one was complaining and no one went hungry that day. We all agreed that this was the best Christmas that we could remember and vowed that we’d do this again whenever possible. None of us had taken a shower, or gotten out of our pajamas all day. We just enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed a fantastic feast. To just be ourselves and hang out with family is the way all holiday get togethers should be.

I don’t know when the next get together will be, but I do have some quail in the fridge… 😛