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Monday, November 28, 2011

A Christmas Dinner Story

A few years ago all my planning,weekly countdown, preparation and numerous notes did not save me from what could have been the meal disaster of my life. I will preface the story with a reminder that I do not eat red meat, except once a year for the Christmas meal.

It was Christmas 2005 and I was thrilled that I was bringing together some of my family and my family to be. On Christmas eve my now husband and my then single daughter who was "home" and I traveled early in the afternoon to my mothers for the traditional Christmas Eve get together. In my small home town in Western Pa., beginning in 1947 Santa Claus visits every home which signals his welcome with a mere porch light turned on. My three siblings, their children and of late grandchildren have life time photos of sitting on Santa's knee, reciting what we want for Christmas. The request for a doll or toy train from the little ones, to a new car and a six-foot good looking guy is met with the same wink and nod. I myself had only missed Santa once. Even when it was just of four kids, beyond the "magic" stage Santa would stop to chat with us and join my dad for a treat in the kitchen, sometimes a cookie and milk and sometimes a shot and beer! On one Christmas Santa awed several of the little ones if he could see aunt Jo on the porch. With faces pressed to the glass they watched as Santa kissed me as he was revealing that he was my grade school boyfriend! Believe me it is a small town.

Coming home that cold December night in a car packed with gifts from the family exchange, my daughter half asleep in the back seat, and I sitting close to my soon to be husband, said to whoever was listening..."please remind me when I get up in the morning the first thing I need to do it go over to the store and pick up - gasp- oh my god tomorrow is Christmas, I was to have picked up the fillet of beef today...XXX###@@@!!!XXXX!!. "

The tears (I am told hysteria) followed ...trying to regain composure, I called my brother who was still at my mom's "Tom, please call Jess's (his friend's restaurant) see if they are still open and have a fillet of beef ...don't ask me why right now, just know I need the meat.. you can bring it tomorrow when you come..." There was silence but I could here him saying something to those that were still gathered at my mom's, followed by hoots and expressions of disbelief that "Did she forget to get the meat...not Jo...She must not have had a sticky note for that one..."

My brother told me that he knew his friends restaurant had closed earlier and put my mother on the phone. Not really knowing what happened but assuming the worst she calmly responded with her common comforting line (no matter the circumstance) "oh honey it will be alright." When I explained that we would have no meat she said .."so we will eat what you have..." To which I replied "starch???!"

By this time, daughter in the back had become alert and said ..I can't believe you forgot the meat, followed with a laugh. "This is not funny..." I said sternly. The more upset I became the more my two travellers tried to make light of it - I suspect they thought they were trying to calm, or they may have thought that it truly was humorous.

We were about 10 miles from home and I had a second thought of finding the meat. I gave instructions, " before going home drive over to the grocery, there is probably and emergency number on the door that I can call..." "

'Mom, grocers do not have emergency numbers for people who forget to pick up their meat," and husband to be said, I will drive by, but really I am sure there are no emergency numbers for the butcher.."( chuckles and groans). I still did not see the humor or the irony.

Being the nice guy that he is, husband to be did go to the grocery store, we got out of the car and read all the signs on the door - of course there was no emergency number for the butcher!

Driving up to the house I once again started berating myself with words that I usually only utter on the golf course. Being the patient calm man that he is, husband to be said, let me think and starts paging through the phone book and then dials.

"John, Mike her, hey how you doing, busy night I am sure, but glad you are still there....oh you are just getting ready to leave....why I called, you wouldn't happen to have a fillet of beef about 6 or 8 do, great... and I can come get it...ok 10 minutes and at the 2nd street door."

He looks at me and says "in the car." My daughter said she would stay at home to take any calls that "might come in from people who know I need meat,"(she always was a little sarcastic). Driving way over the speed limit and me still yelling at myself we entered the downtown...and I breathed for the first time in an hour. We were the only car on the streets that were lined with white lighted trees and the holiday decorations. It was beautiful, and I began to fill with the Christmas Spirit, but not long enough to forget our mission. We drove up to the 2nd street entrance, knocked and one of the owner's answered the door, ushering us in to the darkened restaurant. In his arms was a fillet of beef. For someone who does not like red meat. it was a very welcome sight.

He quickly gave us instructions on how to prep it for cooking, telling us that we could also check our "Joy of Cooking." With this in mind we headed back home. As we walked in the door my daughter looked at us and said "Ah the meat miracle on Second Street!" Seriously!

This restaurant has been and still is our favorite downtown restaurant and I certainly continue to "sing the praises" of this restaurant, and the owners for saving my Christmas meal.

It was a wonderful Christmas Day, blessed with members of the two families sharing conversation, food, drink, and getting to know each other a little more.

Now to the meal. This was before I took pictures of my dishes, so let your imagination envision the smells and tastes.

Gathering Selections:Shrimp with cocktail sauce, Baked Brie, Bloody Marys and Veuve Cliquot Champagne.

The Meal
Wild mushroom Soup - (posted previously)
Roast Fillet of Beef with Black Peppercorns (adapted from the Silver Palate)
Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Yorkshire Pudding
Sweet Yams
Asparagus and Green Beans with Almonds

Beaujolais Nouveau

Dessert: Ginger Bread (from the Silver Palate)
Lemon Tart (not sure what recipe I used, but I know use the one from the Bouchon Cookbook)

May your holiday be blessed and your holiday gatherings and meals be shared with the ones you love.


Monday, November 21, 2011

A Chef's Table par Excellence

We recently returned from a 15 day trip in Australia...Sydney...took in an opera at the famed and magnificent opera house....walked the Bondi Beach outdoor sculpture exhibit...visited Melbourne for two days, where we caught a glimpse and rode the elevator with a few of the President's Cup notables (sorry mom, not Phil)...spent four very lazy days on Hayman Island and ended the trip with a great visit with cousins who went to Australia 23 years ago for "1 year" and now have a wonderful home in Tasmania with ocean views! And they have a wine refrigerator that rivals many wine cellars.

But since this blog is about food, I am sharing some of the exquisite presentations of a seven course Chef's Table meal which were accompanied by seven different wines. Each course was a work of art prepared by the Haymnan Inn's chef Anthony Healy. The winery was Majella of the Coonawarra region.

Shown here is the first course:Compressed kingfish, green apple noodles, baby radish, nasturtium, arugula caviar yoghurt(in the tube!) The vegetable entree shown is my substitute for the Beef Cheeks, which were enjoyed by the other 16 guests.
The third dish shown is the utterly awesome Hayman sloe gin martini igloo. This item took ice art to the next level.

The chef shared the history of the chef's table which originated in Europe in the
18th century, giving chef's the opportunity to invite patrons and friends into the kitchen to experience specialty dishes which were difficult and not suitable for the restaurant. The meal was served in the kitchen which had been "prepared for guests" ... complete with chandeliers which replaced the bright working kitchen lights.

The other courses included Quail, Lamb Noisette, Wagu Sirloin,and a Valrhona manjari chocolate biscuit souffle for dessert. The chef accommodated my "no red meat preference" and provided me with substitute dishes. Following the dinner we had a tour of the kitchen, the chocolate room and the wine cellar. It was truly an experience.

There probably was not one course served that I would even attempt to duplicate. Most of the ingredients are not readily available and while I do consider myself a decent cook, I am far from a cuisine artist. So this was one meal I just enjoyed with out even taking mental notes!

And the beaches were nice.....very nice.