This was the first of three small holiday meals we are hosting this year. We normally have several fairly involved meals around the holidays but decided to pull back from previous season’s menus and while still very abundant, focus on more comfort foods. Several friends are probably wondering why the guestlists have shortened dramatically, but we have donated to charity heavily this year instead. This dinner was for our dearest friends, and we were ten at the table that evening.
When the guests arrived, we had several bowls of nuts laid out on the coffee table. Some turkish pistachios in the silver bowl… smaller than Californian or other varieties, but packed with amazing flavor. Some salted pecans which I brought from a recent trip to NY (harvested just weeks earlier I suspect), in the footed glass bowl. Macadamia nuts roasted in their shells that I discovered at Bacchus Epicerie a few days ago. And a bowl of hazelnuts for variety, but which will probably end up in some cookies down the road… In addition, we had some sliced prosciutto from a leg in the fridge that seems to keep going, going and going. And superb salametti from Citterio. On the cheese boards are a selection of four terrific cheeses including an aged Manchego, a P’tit Basque, an aged Gouda, and a spectacular Cabrales. Several of the guests were cheese fiends. :) The cheese was either in my luggage from New York, or part of a treasure trove I discovered from a wholesaler in Manila. Since I had to buy whole wheels, they will feature in all our holiday meals, and as gifts to relatives who love cheese.
To start, we had a fresh and simple seafood salad with lemon and good unfiltered olive oil. Some shrimp, squid, crab meat and one lobster cut up with a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped Italian parsley. I make this once or twice a year and the holidays are definitely a good time to serve this. This was served with some Prosecco and followed by a white wine brought by guests.
The main feature of the meal was a large Clifty Farms southern style ham from Tennessee, just like this one from a holiday meal several years ago. I was so crazed I forgot to take a photo of the ham this year! The ham was served sliced, with a choice of smooth or grainy mustard and with a dried fruit compote on the side. The sweetness of the compote paired nicely with the salty ham.
What made this a “comfort food” type of meal were the sides, first these scalloped potatoes doused in milk and cream and cheese and tops broiled to a golden brown crust.
We also made one of the richest and most unctuous macaroni and cheese, with lots of cream, milk, and three or four kinds of cheeses. It is shown here being scooped into baking dishes before spending some time under the broiler to get that nice crust. I think guests were amused to be served mac & cheese at a holiday meal, but tucked in and finished two serving dishes filled with the stuff!
Also served were some baked sections of butternut squash with butter and maple syrup, and some asparagus, the token green for the evening.
For dessert we had a totally anal-retentive pecan tart, one of only 3 or 4 I have ever made, but this one had every nut lined up like their lives depended on it. :) This was served with creme fraiche. We also had an apple pie, a special request from a college roommate who used to eat half a pie in one sitting! And guests brought other goodies like Cerveza Negra ice cream, pate des fruits, and other sweets.
The table was festively set, but flowers and candles scaled back to match the menu. Guests were told to come dressed casually.
The big treat for the evening was the red wine. Friends and frequent dinner guests always provide the spectacular wine to go with the dinners we cook, and this time they brought both a wonderful and “newsworthy” wine… Several magnums of Chateau La Dominique 2001, the same wine, it turns out, that was served at the White House dinner to celebrate President Obama’s receiving the Nobel Peace Prize a few weeks ago. Guests were referring to is as the “L’Obama” wine. Hahaha. It was superb.