Three weeks ago in the midst of exams, presentations, and papers due I drew up a menu. Not just for fun, though I do that too, but for the biggest dinner I’ve ever hosted. A baker’s dozen, myself included. For Christmas, a week before. For a mismatched squad, one who brings peanut butter to every gathering, one who polishes off casseroles like a legitimate black hole, one who makes killer salads but cannot have tomatoes nor chocolate, one who ran out of luck with lactose but still hasn’t gotten over milk, and a handful more.
When I shared the night’s menu on where else but good ol’ Insta, I received a few inquiries of whether the menu was for a restaurant opening in the new year, or for a pop-up. Unfortunately, neither. At least for the short and foresee-able future.
As for the actual night, three questions passed around the table along with the bread and butter (with my answers) were:
1. What is your favourite Christmas carol?
For those of you who know me, this question basically forces me to pick a piece of straw out of a haystack. I do not like Christmas music, it must be the bells. If I must, I’d probably choose one in a minor key, so Mary Did You Know. Silent Night isn’t bad either. O Holy Night has lots of potential, might be my top pick for next year. But that’s next year.
2. What was your 2017 highlight?
This question had me. 2017 was huge for me. So blessed, so moved, so unexpected. I started the year in Baltimore, managing the most challenging project for which I’ve ever taken full responsibility (at the time), outside of the familiarity that is Canada. In May, with but a week’s time for transition, I returned to Waterloo and began what I thought would be just another term. Little did I know, it was this past summer when I’d meet some of my closest and most inspiring friends. I popped back in Vancouver at the end of the summer, where I was humbled by the amazing work God is doing in the lives of the young adults I used to mentor. Came September, and returning for a second school term in a row, I thought I was headed towards a sure-fire burnout. Instead, I fell in love with a ministry which is so real, so powerful, so alive. In awe at how God has orchestrated every detail this year. Oh, and did I mention that I’ve gotten my degree? Yeah, that too.
3. Do you like eggnog?
I’ve never tried it until the day after the dinner (when I learned, to my surprise, that there were three cartons of the stuff in my fridge). I made it into ice cream, and put it on apple crisp. I liked it that way. Still don’t think I’d drink it straight though. I sneak it into my mum’s coffee. Kevin likes it though, especially with a glug of Bailey’s slipped in.
Now, enough about me. Let’s get down to the grub. All of these were featured on December 18, 2017.
Since God chose you
to be the holy people he loves,
you must clothe yourselves
with tenderhearted mercy, kindness,
humility, gentleness, and patience.
Make allowance for each other’s faults,
and forgive anyone who offends you.
the Lord forgave you,
so you must forgive others.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds us all together
in perfect harmony.
Salt and Pepper Peanuts – makes 2 cups
- 2 cups raw red skinned peanuts
- 1 large garlic clove, grated to a fine paste
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 tsp ground five-spice
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- In a colander, rinse the peanuts under cold water thoroughly.
- Transfer the rinsed peanuts to a large microwave safe bowl and toss to evenly coat with the remaining ingredients.
- Microwave on HIGH for 3 minutes. Stir, and microwave 1 additional minute at a time, stirring in between each minute, until completely dry, golden, and fragrant.
- Cool completely then store in an airtight container at room temperature. Can be made up to 2 weeks in advance.
Broiled Dates with Prosciutto – serves 12
- 12 medjool dates, pitted
- 4 slices prosciutto
- espresso balsamic reduction*
- To make the espresso balsamic reduction, combine 1 tbsp espresso, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and 2 tsp honey in a small saucepan until sticky. Cool completely.
- Cut the prosciutto slices into four lengthwise. Scrunch each piece up and stuff them into the dates’ cut.
- Broil or bake at 425 degrees F until the dates are caramelized on top.
- Transfer to a plate, drizzle with the espresso balsamic reduction. Serve immediately.
Young Greens with Yuzu and Grainy Mustard Vinaigrette – serves 6 (double up for 12)
- 2 tbsp yuzu tea preserves (marmalade will work in a cinch)
- 1 tbsp good mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
- salt and black pepper, to taste
- 8 cups young salad greens (mesclun, baby arugula, mache, Bibb lettuce, are all good)
- In a large salad bowl, whisk together all ingredients except for the greens until creamy and emulsified.
- Add the salad greens and toss until evenly coated. Serve immediately.
Butternut Mac and Cheese – serves 12
- 1 small butternut squash, halved and seeded
- 1 white onion, peeled and halved
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 200 ml heavy cream
- dash of grated nutmeg
- 6 thick slices bacon, diced
- 2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
- 500 g rice elbow macaroni (or other fun, short, chunky shape)
- 300 g extra old white cheddar, grated
- Place the garlic cloves, squash and onion halves cut side down on a parchment lined baking tray and bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes, 1 hour, and 45 minutes respectively (or until tender). Let cool slightly.
- Place the roasted vegetables in a blender with the cream and nutmeg. Blend until completely smooth (add a splash of water if necessary to keep things moving). Season well and set aside.
- In a large pan, fry the bacon on medium heat until well rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the sliced onions to the pan and fry on high heat until browned and soft. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil Season heavily with salt and add the pasta. Stir until the water returns to a simmer. Cook until completely tender – 2 to 3 minuted more than the recommended time on the package.
- SAVE THE PASTA WATER!!! Fish out the pasta with a slotted spoon and add it to the large pan with the caramelized onions. Add the squash puree and bacon and stir over medium heat, adding a ladle of pasta water at a time until the mixture comes together but is loose, almost risotto-like. (Make sure you have enough liquid in the mixture, otherwise it will be dry after baking.)
- Transfer to a large casserole dish and top with the cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until the cheese is bubbly and golden. If the top hasn’t browned by then, just broil it for 3-5 minutes until it’s crisp and golden.
- Serve immediately.
Maple Glazed Brussels Sprouts with way to much Bacon – serves 12
- 3 lb small Brussels sprouts, halved
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 400 g thick sliced bacon, diced
- 1/4 c maple syrup
- 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
- 1/8 c soy sauce
- Toss the Brussels sprouts with the oil and sea salt and spread onto a baking sheet. Roast for 20-25 minutes at 425 degrees F until browned and tender.
- Meanwhile, in a large pan fry up the bacon until crisp and rendered. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Add the roasted Brussels sprouts to the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes on medium heat. Add the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, an soy sauce. Cook and stir until the sprouts are coated and the glaze turns sticky. Return the bacon to the pan and toss to coat.
- Serve immediately.
WARNING: this recipe demands a certain level of commitment. Please proceed at your own discretion.
176-hour Wind Cured Roast Duck – serves 8
- 1 fresh young duck, (or previously frozen and defrosted)
- 1 orange, zest only
- 1 tbsp ground Chinese five spice
- 1 tbsp szechuan peppercorns, toasted and ground
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup whiskey
- Rinse the duck thoroughly under cold water and pat dry with kitchen paper towel. Set aside.
- In a food processor, combine the orange zest, spices, salt, and sugar. Pulse until a wet sand forms.
- Brush the duck all over with whiskey, then rub generously inside and out with the spice curing mixture. Patting any extra on the breasts and in the cavity.
- If temperatures will remain under -4 degrees C, transfer the duck onto a rack and place it in a cardboard box, uncovered, outside, to cure for 7 days. Otherwise, place on a rack on top of a baking sheet in your fridge for a week (this will not be as good, just sayin’).
- On the eighth day, take your duck inside. No need to wait for it to defrost. Rinse under cold water and rub off any spices still clinging onto the skin. Pat dry completely and score the skin on the breasts at 1 cm intervals.
- Place back on the rack and in a roasting dish. Roast at 275 degrees F for 7 hours. Increase the temperature to 350 degrees for the last hour, the skin should be very crisp and richly browned all over. RESERVE THE RENDERED FAT!!!
- Let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
Thyme and Duck Fat Roast Spuds – serves 12
- 18 medium Yukon gold potatoes, washed and scrubbed
- rendered fat from 1 slow-roasted duck (recipe above)
- 1 bunch fresh thyme
- fine sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
- sage pesto, thinned with olive oil (regular pesto recipe, just use half sage half basil)
- Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover and season the water heavily with kosher salt.
- Bring the pot to a simmer and continue for 20-25 minutes or until the potatoes are completely tender. Drain.
- Place a potato on a flat surface and press down with the bottom of a plate until the potato is about 1 inch thick. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining potatoes.
- Season the potatoes with salt, pepper, and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Top with a spoonful of duck fat.
- Roast at 415 degrees F until crisp golden, about 15-20 minutes. Flip the potatoes over, season again with salt, pepper, and thyme, and continue roasting for about 10-15 minutes until the other side is crisp golden.
- Top with the thinned sage pesto and serve immediately.
NOTE: this isn’t really a recipe, just a bunch of things that go well with certain cheeses. Rule I generally go by: a) have odd-numbers of cheese types (1, 3, 5, or 7), b) cut the cheese before your guests do so they have something to follow, c) have at least one cheese that you’ve never tried or you’re sure your guests have never tried.
Sweet Cheese Plate – serves as much or as little as you’d like
- Chevre or goat cheese – honeycomb, black pepper, candied kumquat, walnuts
- Manchego – persimmon, roasted almonds, currant preserves, dried cranberries
- St. Andre – grapes, dark chocolate covered espresso beans, roasted hazelnuts, bosc pears
Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies – makes 24 to 36 depending on size
- 1 c butter, softened
- 1 c packed brown sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 10 ml vanilla
- 2 1/2 cups AP flour
- 3 ml fine sea salt
- 1 c white chocolate, chopped
- 1 c dried cranberries, de-clumped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F on convection bake.
- Cream together the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until the sugar is no longer gritty.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the creamed mixture to the flour and mix until a rough dough forms.
- Add the chocolate and cranberries. Mix, until a dough forms once again. Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight
- Use an ice cream scoop to help with portion size, scoop mounds of cookie dough onto non-stick cookie sheets (or line a regular with parchment paper). Gently press down on the rounded tops so that they are evenly thick throughout.
- Bake for 9 to 10 minutes until edges are just starting to turn golden. Let cool for 10 minutes until transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Cardamom Rye Apple Crumble – serves 12
For the apple filling:
- 3 lbs small local apples, UNPEELED, cored and thinly sliced (my current favourite is Ida Red)
- juice from 1 lime
- 2/3 c packed brown sugar
- 1/4 c corn starch
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
For the crumble:
- 1 c butter, softened
- 1 c oat flour
- 1 1/2 c dark rye flour
- 1 c instant rolled oats
- 1 c packed brown sugar
- 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tbsp fine sea salt
- For the apples, sift together the brown sugar, corn starch, 1 tbsp cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl.
- Add the apples and lime juice and toss with your hands until evenly combined.
- To make the crumble, place all ingredients in a stand mixer and mix on medium low speed with the paddle attachment until clumped and crumbly.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, with the rack placed in the lowest part of the oven.
- Arrange the apple slices as tightly as possible in a deep 9 or 10-inch pie dish. Pour over any juices left at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully pile on the crumble mixture. (This is a ridiculously massive apple crumble, I am aware, but it’s worth it!).
- Place the pie dish on a large baking sheet and place on the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for 80-90 minutes, or until the juices bubble over and the top is completely crisp.
- Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving, or cool completely. It will stay crisp for at least 3 days at room temperature, so you can definitely make this ahead.
So there, all the recipes that went into one dinner.