Monday, December 28, 2009

UnRecipe: Yippie-Kai-Yay Holiday

The holidays are all about tradtion, so for as much holly-jolly spirit as one feels when Charlie Brown gets the pathetic twig of a tree for the Christmas pageant, or hearing Jimmy Stewart scream "Merry Christmas, everybody!!" as he runs through winter streets like a lunatic, or even the many warnings of "You'll shoot your eye out," traditions don't necessarily replace one another, they simply build and become like a collection of memories to call upon when the holidays come calling. This year was a first for the Prime -- after last year's icy-hell travel experience, I skipped traveling to spend Christmas with the parental-sans for the first in my thirty-odd years (I love my family, I know it's weird), and decided to start building some new traditions in my Pacific Northwest home.

Holiday dinner for eight... even though we only had six chairs - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I wasn't the only one staying home for the holidays -- several friends had no definite plans for the evening of the 25th and we opened our doors for another 'Fugee Holiday. Mr. Wasabi and I had a dinner for eight on our hands, so under the watchful eye of Miss Indy, the kitchen went into mad prep mode a few days in advance.

From the First Thanksgiving experience, along with previous large meal preparations, I've come to the same conclusion that many other home cooks probably discovered: it sucks to be sweating over the stove when guests are about. Plus it's no fun when everyone else has a cocktail in hand and you're stuck sweating over a skillet sizzling with hot oil. So despite preparation taking over previous days, it was worth doing as much of the work ahead of time, so all that needed to be done the day-of was warming things in the oven, a quick pan-sear and oven bake, and throwing items together at the last minute.

The dinner prep of Gibraltar, but it's worth doing in advance! - Photos by Mr. and Ms. Wasabi

Despite the UnRecipe header, I relied on two recipe books for the menu, based on their manageable ingredient list, what could be made ahead of time, and then some UnRecipe alterations along the way. The amazing local talent of Chef Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbal Kitchen provided a recipe for a salad of greens with wine-poached cherries, as well as an eye-poppingly rich chocolate pot de creme dessert. The main course was a roasted pork tenderloin with green lentils and root vegetables, by Szmania's Chef Ludger Szmania, from a book and program supporting nonprofit groups called Celebrated Chefs, which includes a collection of Seattle area restaurant recipes. I signed up and got the book months ago, but have only just begun to start cooking through some of the dishes -- for providing email and personal information, it's not a bad tradeoff, as the book is a nicely-bound hardback featuring recipes from good restaurants in the Seattle area. And I haven't been inundated with emails saying I have an inheritence from a long-lost relative in Nigeria, so I figure they can't be totally selling my information off.

Festive swine! Photo by Wasabi Prime

I couldn't help myself from modifying the tenderloin recipe by brining the pork first, using Thomas Keller's poultry brine recipe from Ad Hoc, which perfumes the meat with a nice citrus and parsley flavor. I doubled both the brine and the seasoning rub because I had two pork tenderloins, plus a small chicken. The lentil and root vegetables were cooked a day in advance, so all they needed was a reheat in the stove.

Among the other make-aheads included the decadent pot de creme chocolate custards, which I substituted Earl Grey tea for jasmine (more UnRecipe meddling!). Dried cherries with a bit of red wine and a sprig of thyme were poached a day in advance and kept in the fridge before being sprinkled over the salad. A bit of the holiday mulled cranberry spiced drink was made ahead of time as well. By making and preparing as much as possible, it left the seasoning and searing of the meats for Christmas Day, with a finish-off in the oven, which also reheated the lentils and vegetable side dish.

Getting our snack on with cheese, crackers and booze - Photos by Wasabi Prime

For appetizers, a large wheel of Brie was wrapped in store-bought puff pastry and baked until crisp the day-of. There was a bit of flourish added: I had had steeped balsamic vinegar with dried figs and a vanilla bean for a Christmas gift for Mr. Wasabi. Not wanting to waste anything, I kept the figs and chopped them small, sprinkling over the finished baked Brie with a drizzle of honey. The cheese was served with sliced apples and crackers brought by friend Sassy J. A mix of olives tossed with lemon zest and warmed in the oven were served as a savory snack, and an array of bubbly cocktails, wine from Miss Alice's collection, the mulled cranberry spiced wine, and homebrew beer from Mr. K were served. Let it never be said that the House of Wasabi doesn't like to get their drank on.

Winter salad where even the cherries were drunk on wine - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Once everyone had some snacks and a frosty beverage or three, salad, meats, and lentils were laid out. I will say having the oven keep everything warm and just setting everything out, already done, is a nice thing. When I watch cooking shows and the celebrity cooks and chefs flipping food in skillets to the amazement of their guests, I'm always kind of baffled. My friends like to sit, eat, drink, and relax -- and dammit, so do I, especially at my own home. So with some minor salad construction and plating the main courses on serving platters, it was time to get our grub on.

Pan-seared and baked pork tenderloin and chicken - roast beast was not available. Photos by Wasabi Prime

This was probably the largest sit-down dinner the Wasabi Household had hosted. We'll either do small dinners with friends or a big twenty-something gathering where it's more of a stand and wander while you snack. I much prefer smaller gatherings these days, but seating can be tricky when you only have six chairs. Mr. Wasabi solved this by creating the new tradition of casually gathering around the warmth of a large television to watch what we would like to consider a new Christmas classic. Nothing says "holiday" like watching Bruce Willis, circa 1988, with a lot more hair, running from Severus Snape and his band of Euro-terrorists in Die Hard.

Semi s'more dessert, way better than Twinkies - Photos by Wasabi Prime

With the power of  John McClane's action hero wit, we Mystery Science Theater-ed the hell out of this movie, calling out its holiday movie relevance at every turn: "Ho-ho-ho, now I have a machine gun," written on a recently deceased terrorist -- totally a Christmas movie. We balanced the wine and food with a wicked sugar high brought on by baked treats provided by good pal Miss SJBe and the chocolate pot de cremes. I had also made a batch of homemade marshmallows, not wanting the Epic Fail of a previous attempt to haunt my holiday steps forever. These mallows from Alton Brown's recipe were nowhere near perfect, but plopped atop each custard and hand-torched with the force of an explosive Nakatomi Tower, who the hell cares, as fire truly made it better. There was so much sugar being eaten, I think we could see into another dimension -- yippie-kai-yay, indeed.

Bruno wants to roast marshmallows - screencap from Die Hard/photos by Wasabi Prime

Sometimes traditions are just as much about breaking with the old and starting anew, even if they're a little off-kilter... and violent. While the holiday was tinged with a bit of sadness over missing Christmas with Wasabi Mom and Dad, creating new traditions with much beloved friends made for a very special holiday the Prime will not soon forget. Many, many thanks to the fabulous friends who made it out to the homestead to join us for a holiday dinner -- you made this Christmas at home so very special and happily memorable.
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  1. What a fun post! I love seeing your holiday preparations and traditions. I agree that traditions are as much about breaking the old and beginning fresh. Being in Japan for this Christmas has definitely taught me that. Glad you were full of warm fuzzies this year! Happy Holidays!

  2. Everything looks really good. If I'm one of your guests, I don't mind helping you in the kitchen. I don't even mind breaking traditions and blend it with something new and fresh. Happy Holidays. I wonder what you're making for New year.

  3. Such perfect dinner! I don't even mind if it isn't a tradition one. Love every single dish you prepared. Looks so inviting....yumm.... And that is the best movie I've ever watched. Bruce Willis looks soooo cool huh! Best wishes from me. Cheers.

  4. What a lovely holiday feast! The chicken looks particularly good to me... any leftovers?

  5. Terrific post, and the food looks delicious!

  6. great cozy dinner party. I love it when everyone gathers around tv watching and eating. I only cook for one or two people most. Never for 8. I don't know how you do it, but the food turned out great, particularly the roast chicken. And the semi s'mores look yummy! I watch Die Hard a bunch of times. It was one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately the sequels were not as good. Happy Holidays Wasabi!

  7. What a gorgeous meal. I am really digging that pork tenderloin and lentils dish - and the salad! Wow. Yum.

  8. what a delicious meal! everything looks too good! and you have a neat cozy place!

  9. Wow .. a lot of fun and delicious meal .. wish you happy new year !

  10. Yow, that is some good-lookin' food. I'd take your dinner any day over my family's traditional slop... over-cooked meat of indeterminate species, bland veggies, lumpy mashed potatoes, and this year's travesty: forgotten gravy.

    Anyway, well done- looks like the feast was enjoyed by all.

  11. My son is too young for Die Hard, but I've pencilled in a date in about 2015 when we're going to watch it together. It's an essential rite of passage.

    We don't have enough chairs, either. It's a simple Law of the Universe - there are never enough chairs for a big Christmas meal, and a couple of people will always end up sat at inappropriate heights on makeshift seating.

    It's just the way things are.

  12. Looks like you had a wonderful time! I'm with you on not wanting to be cooking when everyone else is having fun. Happy New Year!

  13. Absolutely beautiful photos! It looks as though you had a wonderful evening and quite the feast. Even though being with family is great, sometimes friends can be a really nice substitution.

  14. Looks like an incredible dinner, Wasabi Prime! I feel like I simply must get the Ad Hoc cookbook...every blog I read mentions some fabulous recipe or another.

    I just had some similar thoughts over at the Hungry Dog about entertaining--keeping things easy (or prepping in advance--your menu is waaay fancier than mine was) is key so that you can really enjoy your guests. And in my book, friends are critical to any holiday. Love the photos, especially the one with sweet little Indy. Hope she got something special for Christmas!

  15. That looks like a nice cosy dinner for 8! No matter how much I prep ahead, there is still so much to do on the actual day whenever we have company. I need my skills in that department needs some brushing up!

  16. Beautiful job! Eight can be a challenging number for a fancy dinner like this, but you gave it your all by prepping so far in advance, and looks like it turned out super for you and your friends.

    Speaking of your friends, AAAAAAAAGHHHHHH!... Who is that gentleman in the picture on the left who is seated between the two ladies? I kid you not, it looks as if my husband ducked out for a bit on Christmas and absconded to your house. He must have heard you were watching Die Hard and having chocolate custard with marshmallows.

  17. Hey Denise,

    I think I am now an "Official Fan" of your site. I definitely owe it to your addictive posts for improving my emulsification of egg whites (my boss Casey is extremely thankful too! Ha!).

    Your feast is literally making me drool on my keyboard.

    Mark and I both work next Monday. We'd love to see you and hopefully we can chat on end.

    Cheers to you for the New Year. Keep up the posts and supplying us minions with food and beverage porn.

    Elisabeth, BARRIO

  18. @Chickenless Chick - LOL! Secret twins abound!! That was a visiting friend of some of our guests. I'm such a goof, I missed the part where they mentioned he was vegetarian and of course it's all meat, meat, meat. At least the lentils and salad was hearty, plus plenty of dessert!


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