We are going to the old country for Christmas, to jolly England where Jonathan is from. When you are the cook there is a lot of pressure to come up with The Perfect Menu. And when you are the cook, you want to make it look like it took no effort at all to plan or create, whether you are in your own kitchen, on an island, or at your mother in law’s. My husband likes to say things like “just don’t cook” or “it doesn’t matter what you cook” or “you know they love you no matter what”, none of which are any help to a compulsive obsessive perfectionist with a seasonal back problem.
Perfect and Effortless are really hard to achieve, especially together, so it’s good to ask yourself 2 things before you really get into planning, why and is it really worth it?
Why: because let’s just say I don’t cook. In a dental emergency would the family dentist just stand there and not get out the drill? Would the mechanic let the family sit out in the cold trying to turn the engine over while he had another drink?
Is it really worth it? I don’t get this question. Asking myself is it really worth it to take on the cooking is like saying to a penguin, “look penguin you don’t have to catch fish. Just relax.”
I’m cooking, and after thinking through 27 menus appropriate for an English/Scottish clan eating in the late afternoon, with one vegetarian and six children, just for research purposes, I asked my husband if there were any traditional can’t do without dishes that had to be present.
“It’s all traditional” he said, “I’ll tell you exactly what the menu is”: Roast Turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes, and carrot. That’s it.” It’s going to be harder than I thought. Now what? Now how do I plan? I’ll tell you how. I’m going to get all the must haves on the table and introduce the others, things they never even considered, but won’t be able to resist, as appetizers, sides and noshes. Braised onions with balsamic and orange, finished in the oven to caramelize, pan seared mushrooms with garlicky spinach and giant garlic croutons, oven roasted tomatoes with rosemary, and fennel poached ever so gently with olive oil, salt and thyme until it is just soft and then covered with a reduced heavy cream that has been infused with a whole garlic clove while it simmered on the stove, and then the fennel and cream set under the broiler for just a second with Parmigiano Reggiano sprinkled on top.
For the appetizers:
a mousse pate with truffles spread over French butter on slices of baguette and served with a good English cheddar
pan seared shrimp that have marinated in dijon, garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and fresh thyme
a rectangle of filet seasoned with a gorgeous salt on all sides and seared on each side until it is chestnut brown. Sliced the moment before and served with thin croutons and a dollop of mascarpone and chive.
Done, and I won’t mention anything until it’s all on the table.