A Festive Feast

Christmas dinner – a meal nearly as stressful as its Thanksgiving precedent. The setting: a cozy apartment in sleepy Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Cast of characters: my mom and stepdad, my sister Sarah, and her boyfriend Grant (the latter three possessing a strong appetite for southern-style food). With all of its familial expectations, a great amount of pressure is placed on the designated chef for Christmas dinner. Being the crazy person I am, I (naturally) volunteered to be said chef. Though I was only cooking for four other people, I knew this meal had to be an outstanding occasion for all parties involved. Avoiding the hackneyed honey-baked ham or roast turkey, I decided to go with a more humble, hearty feature: Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Gravy.
History doesn’t delegate a specific type of game or meat for the holidays – goose, turkey, oysters, ham, pot roast, pheasant, suckling pig, fish, and more have graced Christmas tables around the globe. These dinners tend to reflect more extravagant renditions of traditional cuisine, celebrating family and faith with a bountiful feast. American traditions most closely reflect those of the UK: a roasted entree paired with ample side dishes, including mashed potatoes, roasted squash, braised greens, cookies and pies, etc.
While I relish experimental menus, I went with a  traditional one for this dinner. I managed to sneak in a few unconventional touches to the tenderloin. For the gravy, it relies on a red wine reduction that is brimming with flavor. You can opt to keep the aromatics (shallots and mushrooms respectively), though I followed the recipe and discarded them for a smoother sauce.
The meat itself is spiced with fennel, caraway and thyme – the latter is arguably a beautiful pairing for any rich meat, yet the fennel and caraway gave the meat an aromatic depth unlike any I’ve experienced. As you can tell, we went for a rarer cut, yet roasting times will vary depending on your personal preference. Regardless, I can guarantee this recipe will create a beautiful centerpiece to your Christmas dinner – click HERE to see how to make this flavorful roast.
Kale is endorsed as one of the healthiest greens available to consumers today…this recipe is perhaps not the healthiest realization of the green’s potential, yet it is pretty darn amazing. I mentioned my Georgian sister was present – the bitter edge of kale was a far-fetched bet with this one. So I chose a recipe that would appeal to her “Southern roots” with Southern-Style Braised Kale.
What makes is Southern? Bacon. The remarkable thing about this seemingly simple ingredient is it can truly be a chef’s secret weapon – a dish can go from sophomoric to superb. This recipe is a standard for collard greens, but proved to be remarkably successful with kale. To see how to give kale a “southern touch,” click HERE. We also served basic mashed potatoes and a personal favorite of mine, Orange & Fennel Salad with Citrus-Shallot Vinaigrette (recipe can be found HERE).
The musical pairing for this meal may seem cliché, yet it was too perfect: Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (especially considering I had just seen it at the Boston Ballet). While its original premiere in 1892 wasn’t markedly successful, it has since become one of the most celebrated works by the composer. Its themes are recognizable by nearly anyone (particularly The March and Sugar Plum Fairy), and no Christmas would be the same without it. Its variety of characters and themes pairs all too well with the colorful, unique traditions of Christmas dinners across the globe. I hope all of you had a beautiful holiday season, and wish you the happiest New Year – enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vP5oVMvYHBs

Sources Cited:
“Christmas Dinner,” Wikipedia.com
“The Nutcracker,” Wikipedia.com

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