Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Dinner (Three Days Early): The Many Days of Christmas, Day Two

Beth with a fimo clay owlDay Two of the Christmas cheer at Chateau Papillon kicked off with more presents and our traditional Christmas dinner, only three days ahead of schedule.

Since Beth is a vegetarian and I do most of the cooking at Chateau Papillon, it's not that often that I get to enjoy a holiday treat like turkey, stuffing, and gravy, so understandably I look forward to the holiday feast-days, and with them the scent of turkey in the air and dreams of days of turkey salad, turkey soup, reheated turkey and gravy, and so forth. I'm like the dad in A Christmas Story, and we even have our own "Bumpus Hounds," albeit pint-sized versions of them--Didi did manage to snag a chunk of turkey breast two years ago (she got to the turkey even though it was sitting at counter-height!).

When it comes to cooking at Chateau Papillon, Beth is my she's my sous-chef, if one who can't be trusted with typical sous-cheffery like prepping the vegetables due to my fears she'd lop off a fingertip with her knife "skills." Nonetheless, she's invaluable in providing an extra set of hands--don't let me sell her short.

Together, then, we prepared our feast. Actually, I started the day before, brining the turkey by a method based on Alton Brown's recipe. Believe me, brining makes for the absolute best turkey by far, much better (and safer) than methods like deep frying. After defrosting the bird, it goes in a cooler with a mixture of salt, vegetable broth, sugar, several seasonings (allspice, ginger, peppercorn, etc.), and this year, apple cider. This stands overnight (at a minimum!), kept well-refrigerated, then after rinsing off the brine, I stuff the turkey's cavity with apples, onions, rosemary, thyme, sage, and a cinnamon stick or two, and into the oven it goes.

After roasting, the turkey drippings come out and form the basis of a fantastic gravy--and if you know how, gravy is incredibly easy to make: you simply start with a roux of melted butter stirred and lightly cooked with an equal portion of sifted flour, then gradually whisk in the turkey drippings and cook until thickened. I like to finish the gravy with a splash of good cream sherry or perhaps some Irish whiskey, but the drippings themselves are so flavorful there's no need to add additional seasoning.

For Beth, I prepared a fillet of Chilean Sea Bass (MSC certified for the sustainable fishing folks amongst us) by pan-frying it after crusting with some panko and Parmesan cheese, then finishing it in the oven until cooked through. Yes, the vegetarian eats fish... though it took me years of wheedling and a Faustian bargain to myself eschew fois gras to accomplish that culinary upgrading. As sides, we had goat cheese and garlic mashed potatoes, fresh French-style green beans with a splash of olive oil and pepper, a sweet potato casserole I made up on the fly, and stove-top (not the brand, but the method) stuffing. Normally, I'd bake up some rolls from scratch, but due to time constraints, we went with a loaf of ciabatta from Whole Foods.

A nice muscadette from California (a fairly sweet white wine) finished things off.

John and Mr. Parker open a present from BethBefore I get into Round Two of presents, let me pause to point out the photo opening this post, which shows Beth enjoying the fimo clay owl figurine I brought back from Denver International Airport earlier this fall. Now, onto a second night of presents being unwrapped: above, you'll see me and Mr. Parker with a big, heavy package from Beth, which turned out to be a laptop stand--basically, a tray table designed for use with a laptop; quite a nice and very thoughtful gift indeed!

Beth with presents and doggies!
Beth's presents from me included an aged brass night light cut with a butterfly (or Papillon, if you will) design, which I picked up at the Elkhorn Slough gift shop out in the Monterey area earlier this year while birding. I also gave her a DVD of Point Break, a film Beth had mentioned as a favorite every time she watched Hot Fuzz (recall the many scenes where Nick Frost's character quotes American action-cop films, even reenacting the shooting-into-the-air scene from Point Break at one point...).

Onward the holidays march--what gifts might we unwrap next?

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