A Holiday Meal to Die For!

December is a big birthday month: my dad, my father-in-law, and my mother-in-law all have birthdays close together. Well, this year was the big 80th for my father-in-law so we wanted to have a large to-do to celebrate. I offered to cook and outdo myself in every dish I could. I think I succeeded. I also played dress-up and bought myself a chef’s jacket with “Chantrelle – FoodPorn.com” on it…That was fun to wear!! The recipes were designed to serve 20. It turns out I over estimated and had a lot of leftovers but that’s really not a problem, we had everyone over for lunch the next day! The first 3 courses were things I’d done before and the recipes are already on the site, I’ve linked to those. The last two courses were new ventures.

Here’s the menu with wine pairings:

Ahi Tartare
~ cucumber, basil, pine nuts, flat bread
1998 J. Lassalle, Premier Cru, Brut

Warm Chantrelle Salad

~ spinach, lentils, bacon, shallot vinaigrette
2005 Domaine Bizot,Vosne-Romanée Jachées
Butternut Squash Soup
~ walnut butter, marjoram-parsley-pecan pesto
2004 Châteauneuf du Pape, Vieux Télégraphe
Roasted New York Strip Loin (recipe below)
~ herb marinated, wilted frisée
2004 Quintessa, Rutherford Valley

Hazelnut Cake with Poached Pears

1986 Château d’Yquem, Sauternes

The prep-work started the day before. I picked up the 14lb New York Strip Loin from my butcher (special ordered it earlier in the week). I cut the loin in half and then lengthwise so I had four, more manageable roasts. I chopped about 1 cup each of marjoram, thyme and parsley and covered all the roasts in the herbs and olive oil, covered them and refrigerated over night.

That’s pretty much all I could do the day before. I did actually make the walnut butter for the Butternut Squash Soup. (1 stick of butter, 1 1/2 walnuts…put it in the food processor until mixed. Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate)

Saturday morning, 9am, I headed to the farmers market and the chaos of the day began. I picked up my special-ordered 5lbs of ahi…BEAUTIFUL! Along with the veggies, herbs and fruit I needed. Then I went to the local market to pick up what the farmer’s market didn’t have. Then it was back home to chop chop chop, slice slice slice, mix mix mix.

First thing I needed to get done and out of the way was the hazelnut cake. I’m not a baker, this is not my recipe. I used the recipe from The Paley’s Place Cookbook: Recipes and Stories from the Pacific Northwestwhich is a great cookbook and an excellent place to eat if you find yourself in Portland, OR. The cake was truly a breeze to make, hazelnuts, sugar, yogurt, eggs, vanilla, flour, etc.

Once the cakes were out of the oven, I put in the squash to roast for the soup. Each had whole, unpeeled garlic cloves in the cavity and was rubbed with olive oil. They roasted at 350° for about 45-60 minutes. The soup recipe is spelled out well here already along with a picture of the finished soup which I forgot to take on Saturday night! Woops! I bailed on the brown butter sage that I usually put on the soup because I couldn’t fry up enough leaves for twenty people and have them all turn out crispy and nice so I chose to leave them off. The pesto and walnut butter provide plenty of flavor on their own. But I’d put the sage on the menu for everyone and they all thought the sage was in there! Power of suggestion! ;-)

I was trying to have as much done in advance as I could. My kitchen is small, my stove is crappy and I had a long list (literally, I had a list taped to the cupboard so I wouldn’t forget any elements of the dishes!). Next up, cook the lentils for the Warm Chanterelle Salad. Easy peasy, 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock per 1 cup of lentils, a few peeled, smashed garlic cloves and simmer for 25 minutes. Voíla! Lentils done–one more thing off the list.

Here I am hard at work chopping shallots for the salad vinaigrette with my dad looking on saying things like, “Wow, you’re not even cutting your fingers, I’m impressed!” Hehe. I put about 1/2 cup of shallots together with the juice of 4 big lemons and set that aside. I whisked the olive oil and salt in right before plating and tossed the spinach into it then.

4:45pm rolls around and my handy-dandy list tells me to put the strip loin into the oven. I took them out of the refrigerator at 2pm to bring them up to room temperature. I put them in roasting pans and put them in the 450° oven for 15 minutes then reduced the temperature to 350° and waited for my thermometer to do its job. I put it in to the center of one of the roasts, set it to beep at 125° and moved along to the next project.

Ding-dong, it’s 5pm, the guests are here!!

First course is ready to plate. I bought some round cookie cutters to use as molds for the ahi. I had assembled the dish earlier in the afternoon and it was ready to go in the fridge except for the lemon juice and salt which I added at the last minute so as not to have ceviche. Pack the ahi into the molds, remove the mold, top with micro-arugula, sprinkle with finishing salt, add flat bread crackers to the plate…course one is up! The table went silent with the first bite. Success! It paired beautifully with the champagne.

Fire course two! I whisked the oil into the lemon-shallot mixture, tossed in the spinach and coated it well. On the plate went a bit of spinach, a spoonful of lentils, 2 slices of lovely grilled chanterelles, a smattering of bacon bits, some finishing salt and off to the table it went. Some of the comments about the salad were things like, “You disguised the meat on that salad as mushrooms amazingly well” (haha) and “The bacon added to the illusion of the meatiness” and “You made that dish up yourself?!” Hey…thanks I think?

Now here’s where photos get sparse. Things got crazy. As we were plating–bowling?–the soup, the thermometer beeped on the roast and I had to find a flat surface to let them rest! Oh, MAJOR dinner party tip: hire help! I hired a lovely lady friend to clean up after me. She did all the dishes as they were dirtied and she is my angel forever. I couldn’t have done it without her. She delivered to the table as I plated things, love her, love her.

Roasts come out of the oven, onto the cutting boards and get covered in foil to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes. Now, I don’t know how long they actually rested because time became a blur by this point. But however long it was they were PERFECT. Pink throughout but warm to the center. Tender as can be (which is good since I don’t own steak knives!), juicy juicy juicy. One thick slice per plate on top of some frisée and people were moaning with joy. My cousin told me that he hadn’t had beef that good since he was at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans years ago. People couldn’t stop raving about it. People are still calling me about it! I find it really funny since it’s the one dish that was a shot in the dark for me. I had only practiced it once with a small, 3lb loin and had no idea if it was going to work! I guess it did!

We took a small intermission here to let the food settle, the wine mellow and it was time to cook the pears. Now, to be honest, I didn’t cook the pears. This is my husband’s signature dessert and I stay out of it. I know it was Bosc pears, peeled and cut with a apple corer. Those are put into a pan with brandy and port, honey (I picked up some amazing meadowfoam honey from the farmer’s market) and the secret ingredient is white truffle honey. There’s some cinnamon in there…not sure what else. I’ll have the wrangle the recipe from him. But the pears are cooked until soft and then removed from the pan and the sauce is reduced down to a thin syrup.

On the plate went the hazelnut cake, topped with pears, drizzled with syrupy sauce and plopped with freshly whipped cream. Served with this was a 1986 Yquem. Wow…I mean…WOW! I’ve never had anything like this wine. It was a dessert in itself. Sweet, creamy, musty, fruity, minerally, heavenly. If you ever get the chance, you must experience this sauternes….and check out the cork!

People were tipsy on the wine and the food. I truly accomplished my ultimate meal (so far). No one could believe I could produce that from my crappy little kitchen. I just kept saying, “Just think what I could do in a real kitchen!”

One thing I do know from this whole thing…I do not want to be a professional chef. I love to cook. I love food. I do not love standing and chopping for 12 hours at a stretch. I love the result. I love eating. I love making people happy with flavor. But I love it too much for it to be a career.

Once the meal was over, people were wandering about the house. One relative went outside, came back in, the back door bumped the recycling bag and all the bottles of the evening went flying…IT’S A PARTY NOW!! Roars of cheers and laughter came out of that one.

If you’re wondering what to cook for your Christmas dinner (or any big dinner event), I highly recommend this menu. I’m not kidding when I say people are still talking about it. They’re calling me still blissful 2 days later! Make your family and friends happy, cook for them!