|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.