Christmas Dinner

Every Christian country has its special observances and foods for the feasts of Christmastime.  In America we have blended a great many of them to make an American tradition; but the vestiges of all the cultures can still be distinguished.  Our family is a blend of English, French, German, Swedish and Latvian.  It’s fun and challenging to come up with a Christmas dinner that is representative of all of them and still American.

The menu may change from year to year to honor new family members or just to keep it interesting, but the main traditions are always present because it comforts and enfolds us in the family circle present as well as providing a bridge to the past.  As I grow older I think more and more of all the ancestors that I never knew but whose blood nevertheless runs through my veins.  Cooking traditional foods, as I guess they did, links us to each other and keeping those traditions alive links us to the future as well.  Someday, hopefully, our great-great grandchildren may feast on the same dishes that we fix for our Christmas dinner today.

The Swedish, Latvian and German contingencies are relegated to a Christmas Eve buffet or smorgasbord and we concentrate on the English and French for Christmas dinner.  The English, God bless them, are not usually known for their fine cuisine, but when it comes to a “joint” (meat) they are rarely surpassed. So here is my menu for this year:

Shrimp with cocktail sauce
Cheese ball with assorted crackers
Christmas punch
Wild Mushroom Bisque
Standing Rib Roast with Madeira Sauce and Herbed Yorkshire Puddings
Browned Brussels sprouts with Bacon and Cheese
Potatoes Dauphine
Green Salad
Buche de Noel
Plum Pudding with Hard Sauce






Wild Mushroom Bisque (adapted from Victoria magazine Nov/Dec ’07)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup sliced leek
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 ¼ cups chopped baby bella mushrooms
2 cups Wild Mushroom Stock (recipe follows)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 cups heavy cream
1/8 cup dry white wine
¼ cup butter
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme

Heat olive oil in large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add leek, garlic and mushrooms; cook until mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes.  Add Wild Mushroom Stock; bring to a simmer.  Whisk in lemon zest, lemon juice, cream and wine.  Add butter and thyme.  Simmer over medium heat for about 6 minutes.

Wild Mushroom Stock (makes 2 cups)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped carrot
½ cup chopped celery
1 Tbsp minced garlic
2 cups dried wild mushroom blend
4 cups chicken stock

Heat olive oil in large stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic.  Cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 4 minutes.  Add wild mushroom blend and chicken stock; simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Strain stock, discarding solids.

Standing Rib Roast with Madeira Sauce and Herbed Yorkshire Puddings (adapted from Cooking Light)


1 (5-pound) rib-eye roast, trimmed
1 garlic clove, halved
½ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray


1 cup water
2 Tbsp flour
½ cup Madeira wine
½ cup beef broth
½ tsp black pepper


1 ½ cups flour
1 tsp. salt
¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups milk
1 Tbsp chopped fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. grated lemon rind
5 large egg whites
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 450.  Rub roast on all sides with garlic.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Place fat side up on broiler pan coated with cooking spray.  Bake roast at 450 for 25 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 300 and bake an additional 1 ½ hours or until thermometer registers 145 deg. (medium) or desired doneness. Place roast on a platter and let stand while finishing the sauce and Yorkshire puddings.  Reserve 1 ½ Tbsp drippings from pan for puddings.

To prepare sauce, wipe remaining drippings from pan with paper towels, leaving browned bits on bottom of pan.  Combine water and 2 Tbsp flour in a small bowl.  Add Madeira to pan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, scraping bottom of pan with a wooden spoon to loosen browned bits.  Add flour mixture; cook 1 minutes or until slightly thick. Stir in broth and pepper; cook 2 minutes.  Keep warm.  Preheat oven to 450.

To prepare puddings, coat 12 muffin cups with reserved pan drippings.  Combine 1 ½ cups flour, salt and pepper in medium bowl.  Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Add chopped thyme and remaining ingredients, stirring with a whisk until smooth.  Spoon batter into prepared cups.  Bake at 450 for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 375 (do not remove puddings from oven), and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until golden.  Yield:  12 servings.

Buche de Noel with Marzipan Mushrooms (adapted from Bon Appetit, December, 2000)

14 servings

2/3 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp flour
½ cup marzipan, cut into ¼-inch pieces
6 Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp almond extract

6 large eggs
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup flour
2 Tbsp butter, melted

2 Tbsp powdered sugar

¾ cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp butter
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, chopped

Marzipan Mushrooms (see recipe)

For filling:  Bring milk to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk yolks and sugar in small bowl until well blended; whisk in flour.  Whisk hot milk into egg mixture.  Return to same saucepan.  Whisk over medium heat until custard thickens and boils, about 1 ½ minutes.  Transfer to processor; cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.  Add marzipan; process until smooth, about 1 minute.  Blend in butter 1 piece at a time, then both extracts. Cover and refrigerate filling at least 4 hours or up to 2 days.

For cake:  Preheat oven to 350.   Butter 11x10x1-inch jelly roll pan.  Line bottom with parchment paper; butter and flour parchment.  Whisk eggs, ¾ cup sugar, vanilla and salt in large metal bowl.  Set bowl over pot of simmering water.  Whisk until just warm, about 2 minutes.  Remove bowl from over water.  Using electric mixer, beat mixture until tripled in volume, about 6 minutes.  Sift flour over; fold in until just combined.  Gently fold in butter (do not overmix, or batter will deflate).  Spread batter in prepared pan.  Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Sift powdered sugar over towel.   Run knife around edge of pan to loosen cake.  Turn hot cake out onto towel.  Peel off parchment.  Starting at 1 long side and using towel as aid, gently roll up cake jelly-roll style.  Cool.  Unroll cake.  Spread filling over.  Reroll cake; place cake, seam side down, on platter.  Refrigerate cake while preparing frosting.

Frosting;  Bring cream and butter to boil in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to melt butter.  Remove from heat.  Add both chocolates; whisk until melted.  Transfer to medium bowl.  Let cool at room temperature until thick enough to spread, about 1 hour.  Starting 1 inch in from each end of cake, cut on diagonal to remove one 3-inch-long piece of cake from each end.  Attach 1 cake piece at sides of cake near each end.  Spread frosting over top and sides of cake and pieces.  Using tines of fork, draw concentric circles on cake ends to resemble tree rings.  Draw fork along length of cake to form bark design.  Garnish with Marzipan Mushrooms.

Marzipan Mushrooms (makes about 10)

2/3 cup marzipan
1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Make about 10 mushroom stems by rolling dime to quarter size pieces of marzipan into cylinders.  Make large and small mushroom caps by rolling dime to quarter size piece of marzipan into balls; then pinch into cap shape.  Attach stems, pressing gently.  Dust with cocoa.

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