A Cozy Christmas Dinner
- September 09, 2020
More often than not, a cast of thousands enjoys most Christmas feasts. At least that’s how it was, and sometimes still is, with our family. Years ago when it was simply Mama’s father, her siblings (which numbered six) and their spouses, which then made it twelve, plus all of their children brought the count up to thirty.
Then, later when the children grew up, married and had their own children, we got up to almost fifty. We ate in shifts and the meal lasted over three hours.
It was always a great day, with gifts being exchanged along with hugs and family gossip, and the grown-ups sipping on after-dinner drinks while young children fell asleep on the floor under the Christmas tree.
As I got older, my sister-in-law and I washed dishes for hours and sipped on coffee and brandy to fortify us. But now the family has grown so large (we’re now into great-grandchildren), most of my siblings have their own family gatherings simply because the numbers have gotten out of hand.
We do manage to get together for a big brunch during the week between Christmas and New Year’s in order to see everyone, though. This Christmas it appears that my husband Rock and I will have a relatively quiet dinner at home. His two sisters and their spouses are expected to join us and that has worked out just right.
Our dining room table can only seat six comfortably. And I’ve already cleaned Mama’s crystal and polished her sterling flatware. I’ve borrowed some of her china, which was given to my brother and his wife, and I’m anxious to try and duplicate the beautiful table Mama always set. Rock and I have discussed the menu and although it’s not a traditional South Louisiana one, I think it is quite elegant.
The first course is a salad of spinach and cherry tomatoes.
RED AND GREEN CHRISTMAS SALAD
Makes 6 servings
- 8 cups fresh spinach, cleaned and torn
- 1 medium-size avocado, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed
- 1 cup warm Champagne Dressing
- Place the spinach leaves in a large salad bowl and arrange the avocado slices in a circle around the edge of the salad.
- Arrange the cherry tomatoes in the center of the salad.
- Pour the dressing over the salad at the table and gently toss.
- Divide into equal portions and serve on salad plates.
WARM CHAMPAGNE DRESSING Makes about 2 ½ cups
- 1 cup Champagne vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons dry vermouth
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 ½ cups olive oil Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Combine the vinegar, sugar, flour, vermouth and mustard in a small saucepan.
- Heat to simmering over medium heat.
- Gradually whisk in the egg and cream over low heat.
- Whisk in the oil in a thin steady stream.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Remove from heat.
- You will need only one cup for the salad, but the dressing can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container and used within a day or two.
- Warm to serve.
There’s no reason to prepare a turkey for a small party. Rock suggested Cornish hens and they’re ideal!
ROASTED CORNISH HENS WITH FENNEL
Makes 6 servings
- 6 Cornish hens
- 1 ¼ pounds Salt,
- 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 ½ pounds fennel bulbs, trimmed, reserving the ribs for stuffing the chickens, and the bulbs thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ to ¾ cup water, as needed
- 2 tablespoons Pernod or other anise-flavored liqueur
- 6 sprigs fresh parsley for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Season the outside and the cavity of the hens with salt, cayenne, and black pepper.
- Stuff the cavities with the fennel ribs, chopped, then truss the hens.
- In a large heavy skillet, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat until the foam subsides.
- Add the hens, two or three at a time, to the skillet and brown evenly, turning every three to four minutes.
- Transfer them to a roasting pan.
- Pour off all but one tablespoon of the fat and return the skillet to the heat.
- Add the fennel slices and cook, stirring, until golden and soft.
- Spoon the fennel around the hens and add the wine and one-half cup of the water.
- Roast the hens, basting then every 15 minutes and adding the remaining water if necessary, until the hens are tender and the juices run clear, 40 to 50 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to the stop top.
- In a small saucepan heat the Pernod over medium-low heat until it is warm, carefully ignite it and pour it carefully over the hens and letting flames go out.
- Transfer the hens to serving plates and garnish each with a sprig of parsley.
- Boil the pan juices until reduced to about two-thirds cup, season with salt and black pepper if necessary and pass at the table.
A side dish of potatoes with peas is all that is needed to accompany the hens.
POTATOES WITH PEAS AND MINT
Makes about 6 servings
- 20 (about) small red potatoes, rinsed by not peeled
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 2 cups frozen small peas, thawed
- ½ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Sour cream (optional)
- Boil the potatoes in salted water until just tender.
- Drain and cut in halves, leaving the skins on.
- Whisk the oil and wine together and drizzle over the warm potatoes in a large bowl.
- Stir to coat evenly.
- Let cool slightly.
- Put the peas in a colander and warm with hot tap water.
- Drain well.
- Add the peas and the mint, season with salt and pepper, and toss gently.
When serving, you may want to pass a small bowl of sour cream with the potatoes.
Dessert can be as simple as brandy freezes (ice cream, brandy and heavy cream whirled in a blender or food processor) poured in crystal glasses, or as extravagant as your favorite chocolate decadent dessert. Enjoy your Christmas Dinner!