Thursday, December 9, 2010

You’ll Love the Dickens out of this Holiday Menu! Here’s How to Bring the Spirit of a Victorian Christmas to Dinner

"turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, long wreathes of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam". -Charles Dickens

What foodie doesn’t love A Christmas Carol? The Dickens classic lavishes words on Fezziwig’s holiday feast—not to mention the mountain of mouthwatering treasures lorded over by the Ghost of Christmas Present. For my readers’ dining and entertaining pleasure, I thought it might be fun to present a Christmas party menu, inspired by the Victorians of Scrooge’s era. Some of the selections here are a bit labor intensive, but well worth the effort!

Cocktails and Appetizers
Oysters were extremely available and cheap during the Victorian age, costing just 2 pence for dozen--everyone loved and ate them, from poor folk to British royalty. Here’s a waste not want not proposition: enjoy a welcoming cocktail of Oyster Shooters—refreshing and holly berry red, thanks to the tomato juice, and/or dine on an appetizer of Baked Oysters Rockerfeller. For the cocktails, fill a tub or large bowl with crushed ice, plunging shot glasses into it as guests arrive. Remember that raw oysters are at their best during fall and winter because they spawn during the summer months and become soft and fatty as they mature. Enjoy!

Choosing Your Bird of Paradise
I deliberated hard and long over this one. No matter how many times I watch A Christmas Carol, I marvel at how much meat there is; it’s easy and charmingly proverbial to picture the city streets of London in those days, lined with butcher shops. I thought about a simple Roasted Chicken with Herb Butter, but then thought the colors, aromas and “olde” traditions of Christmas merited something more festive; I ultimately chose Simply Roasted Duck with Orange Cranberry Glaze. Oranges were an exotic, but popular stocking stuffer in the days of Dickens, adding a dash of color around the bird.

Notes on Preparing the Perfect Duck
The hardest part is the thawing process. Most duck is purchased frozen. The best way to thaw the whole bird is to place the frozen duck in your refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours. Unlike chicken, duck can be served rare or medium rare. You can determine the doneness of a duck by observing the color of the juices. The more rosy the juice, the more rare the bird. For medium rare duck, pick the duck up from the pan and observe. If the juices are pale and just slightly rosy, the duck is medium rare…mmm….

A Scrumptious and Very Filling Side Dish
My Gram used to make finger-sized cabbage rolls, simmering them in a deep pot for hours. This Our Grandmas’ Stuffed Cabbage Rolls recipe makes larger bundles, so that you can serve one as a first course, or several for a hearty supper. You can use a shortcut here: put the entire head of cabbage into the freezer overnight. The next day, remove the cabbage and place it on the counter. As the cabbage thaws, the leaves become soft.

For Dessert
Warm Ginger Pudding with Rum Butter Sauce fulfills a long enduring English tradition, when pudding steamed for hours and was served with brandy hard sauce. This pudding is just as good and is baked in a smidgeon of the time!

As they said in A Christmas Carol: The pudding is…"like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half-a-quarter of ignited brandy, Christmas holly stuck on the top".
For more Dickens quotes on X-mas food, you know where to click. In the meantime, enjoy the feast!

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