When Beef and I decided to host our very first grown-up Christmas dinner for our parents and siblings, we fretted over finding one crucial ingredient: a theme. First of all, I’m so glad I married someone who agreed a theme was necessary, because it just was. And it was pretty easy to decide on, using this simple equation:
Nerds + Small Kitchen x Christmas = A CHARLES DICKENS DINNER!
If you’re looking for a clever menu for New Year’s Eve or any chilly winter night, here’s what we did: First, I had an idea to make plum pudding. Then I read what was in it, and it sounded gross, so instead, we found recipes that felt 1800s English-y, and then I Googled quotes about them. I did not, as my father-in-law wondered, read the entire works of Dickens. Here’s the rundown and the recipes:
Beverages: While a traditional mulled wine would have been appropriate, I didn’t want to sacrifice a stove burner, so we served a champagne punch: 1 cup Triple Sec, 2 bottles cheap champagne, 3 cans of ginger ale, 2 cups pineapple juice. The coup de grace was the round tupperware I filled with pineapple juice and fresh cranberries and froze the night before– fancy!
Appetizers: Two approaches here. My MIL suggested making Artichoke-Stuffed Mushrooms, which sounded great, so I found a mushroom quote. I gave my dad the classic quote from A Christmas Carol for inspiration: “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” And thus, he created Jacob Marley’s Beef Blotz, a crostini topped with a layed of mashed potato and topped with a bite of mustard-crusted filet mignon. Inspired!
First Course: Ever heard the expression “a pea souper?” It means a day is so foggy that the air’s as thick as pea soup, which Dickens referred to as a “London particular.” Make this Split Pea with Rosemary Soup, and be prepared to make it for the rest of your life– it’s that good. We did ours the day before and re-heated before serving. It’s better the second day, anyways.
Main Course: Molasses Pork Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce. Marinating the meat the night before meant avoiding dry pork, and tenderloins meant a short cooking time– just about a half hour. A roast goose would have taken all day! Serve with Wild Rice and Roasted Root Vegetables (my dad’s favorite): peel and chop up carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and onions into one-inch chunks. Shake them up in a Ziploc bag with a hefty pour of olive oil, salt, pepper and a generous sprinkle of herbs de provence. Roast on foil-lined baking sheets at 400 degrees for about an hour, rotating trays halfway through. We did these in the afternoon, and just reheated at dinner time, although it’s okay to serve these at room temp.
Dessert: Or “pudding,” as the English say. Martha Stewart’s Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake with Toffee Sauce was pretty fool-proof, although it only needs to bake about 35 or 40 minutes, not the 55 to 65 the recipe says. Making a cake was easier than doing individual servings, which is more traditional. And since this cake needs time to let the sauce soak in, I made it first thing in the morning. Note: don’t try to serve with leftover Thanksgiving Cool Whip, because it might be moldy.
Pretty easy, right? Enough effort that it feels special– but totally manageable. We’re already brainstorming next year’s literary theme, and I think I’ve got it: Sweet Valley High!