Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Eve: a dinner in three parts

Oh, poor blog, how I've been neglecting you. I blame Christmas, with all of its madness and associated last-minute trips to the mall and the grocery store and the LCBO and the couch. OK, maybe not that last one. In any event, I have plenty to tell you all about, but I think I will begin with Christmas Eve. Yes, I hosted both a cookie making day and a Christmas dinner for both sides of our family, but Christmas Eve dinner is just Chris and I. We started doing this soon after we got married - since we usually spend all day out and about the city visiting and eating with our families, we chose to spend the previous evening alone with some amazing food and a great bottle of wine. It's a fun tradition and we always have a blast thinking up what to cook and then cooking and eating it.

This year we had a bottle of 1999 vintage Moet et Chandon to enjoy - Chris's parents gifted us with it upon taking possession of the house earlier this year, and we'd never found a suitably festive occasion on which to open it. Christmas Eve - the first one in our new home - felt like it was finally the right time. And it was delicious, dry and shimmery and subtle on the tongue, wicked in its alcohol delivery, giving a spin to the head and a sparkle to the evening.

Chris helped plan the menu this year - he loves to grill, and despite the snow he wanted to do so - he'd found a reference on the internet to someone cedar plank grilling a wheel of brie, and wanted to try it. I agreed - really, there's never a bad way to eat warm brie - and made some cranberry compote to put on top of it once it came off the grill. We got a very small wheel of double-creme brie, which is good, because we ate it all smeared onto slices of sourdough bread, topped with the sweet-tangy jam. Accompanied by a glass of bubbly, sitting on our couch gazing at our Christmas tree's sparkling white LED lights - it was bliss, let me tell you, and I'm making him do it again. The brie took about six minutes on top of a soaked cedar plank on the gas barbecue - them the cheese started to ooze out the sides. It could have been a titch warmer, but he didn't want to burn it. Good call, as it turned out - the cedar plank caught fire shortly thereafter. Hazard cooking - it's what men thrive on.

After the brie and some bubbly, we took a break from eating to compose some truffles and rum balls in the kitchen. Chris had found a recipe for rum balls and decided he wanted to make something to contribute to the Christmas Day feast. I like to encourage cooking of any kind on his part, so I told him to go to it. He did a great job, though I did have to mention that maybe he was making them a little large. (We were both two glasses down by this time, and I'm not sure how well he could gauge size.) I rolled truffles from the ganache I'd made earlier in the day and split into two batches for flavouring - one was done with plain vanilla extract and rolled in cocoa; the other, I added cinnamon and chipotle powder to, and rolled them in icing sugar for a kickass Mexican chocolate truffle. Both turned out deliciously.

Once the confections were safely in the fridge, we moved onto prep for the main course: steaks with balsamic caramelized onions, accompanied by a spinach-pecan-dried cranberry salad with maple-mustard-balsamic dressing. I had planned all along on pan-roasting a duck breast, but in the end we couldn't justify the cost and went with small, but thick sirloin steaks that Chris grilled most gorgeously, with just a dusting of salt and pepper to gussy them up. The pan-cooked onions were a sweet and savoury counterpoint, draped lusciously over the meat (cooked divinely to medium-rare with a fabulous crust outside). The salad, a very simple construction of fresh baby spinach leaves, toasted pecan halves, dried cranberries and a tart-sweet-sharp vinagrette, was a light and lovely accompaniment.

This is how the main course looked plated:

We forgot to take photos of the brie, we were so anxious to eat it. Next time.

After dinner and a wee bit more wine (drunk a bit slower at this point), we puttered around the house finishing up a few more tasks in preparation for the next day: wrapping gifts, stuffing stockings, making soup and so forth. By the time I got around to tucking the individual molten chocolate cakes in the oven, it was 10:30 p.m. I'd made up the batter earlier in the day, after making the ganache for the truffles. I had brought back a 10 oz. bag of semisweet chocolate pistoles (big chips) from our trip to Lake Champlain Chocolate's factory store in November, and decided that two decadent treats were the best way to use them. 2 oz in the cakes (the recipe makes two, which is perfect) and 8 oz for the truffles - perfect!

The cakes were beyond delicious. They always stick a tiny bit in the ramekins, no matter how well I butter them, but inside they were warm and oozy and gorgeously molten. I sifted some cocoa over the tops and they were unutterably perfect. We moaned as we ate them. We never wanted them to end. And Chris was awake until 4 a.m. because of it. Worth every bite, though.

As you can imagine, we forgot to take photos of the cakes too, because we were too busy moaning. And licking our plates. I declared this the best Christmas Eve dinner ever - it was so good, in fact, that I'd be willing to eat exactly the same thing for dinner next December 24.

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