christmas 2023



My family does a monthly dinner, rotating between our households for hosting rights. It landed on my house for December, so we hosted Christmas Dinner. Here’s how we set ourselves up for a relatively stress-free day in the kitchen.

The week leading up to the dinner, my partner made most of the assorted desserts:

  • coconut balls
  • meringue cookies (lemon and vanilla)
  • almond roca
  • chocolate bark with peanuts

The day before, I made some creme brulees and the vinaigrette for the salad. I also cooked a package of bacon for the soup.

The vinaigrette comes together very quickly: the juice from two lemons, dried cranberries, a little olive oil, some dijon mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything together with an immersion blender until the mixture is homogenous and reserve in a jar. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so.

The creme brulee is six egg yolks, a cup and a half of brown sugar, a shot of rum, tablespoon of vanilla, cup of milk, cup of cream. Add the rum, milk, cream, and vanilla together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. While the liquids are heating, mix the eggs and sugar together in a mixing cup . Once boiling, remove from heat and gently stir for a while, maybe ten minutes. This is to cook off the alcohol in the rum without curdling the milk. Then slowly stir in the milk mix to the sugary eggs. Once everything is combined and the sugar is dissolved, pour the mixture into six ramekins and let cool. Once cooled, place in the fridge to chill overnight.

The day of, first thing was starting the soup in the crockpot. It takes at least four hours on high, so I wanted to get it going early. Dice up an onion and put it in a skillet with some oil on low. Stir every once in a while so they don’t burn. While the onions are sweating, dice up fifteen or so potatoes into smallish (~1-inch) chunks. Put the potatoes and onions in the crock pot, a bunch of thyme, some bay leaves, salt & pepper to taste. Two quarts of chicken stock and forget about the soup for a while.

Once the soup was started, I made the marinade for the duck breasts. It was 2/3 cup OJ, 1/3 cup soy sauce (tamari for gluten-free), and three or four heaping spoonfuls of honey. Mix that all together so the honey dissolves. Score the fat on the duck breast in a crosshatch and put everything into a ziploc bag. Place back in the fridge until 30 minutes or so before cook time.

Next I started preparing the charcuterie board, slicing salamis and cheeses with some fruits and crackers and arranging on the board. This wasn’t on the menu but was nice to have anyway. At this step I also sliced an orange into very thin slices, both for the duck garnish as well as some cocktails (Prosecco + cranberries + orange slice + rosemary. They were a hit).

I also started soaking some dried porcini mushrooms and chopped another white onion for the risotto. These I kept off to the side until I needed them.

With all of this prepared, it was time to relax for a couple hours. When the crockpot timer for the soup is done, scoop out some of the potato chunks (optional, but I like some chunks) and the bay leaves. Add a little bit of heavy cream, then blend until smooth. Add the potato chunks back in plus some chopped bacon. It’s ready to serve whenever at this point. I had tiny bowls of chives, cheese, bacon and sour cream available as toppings.

After the soup course, I chopped a red onion and two apples. These went into a bowl with some mixed greens, chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, and a little bit of parmesan. I tossed everything together without the vinaigrette so people could add their own in the amounts they desired at the table. I began preheating the oven here, to 400 F.

The main course was the only real timing challenge of the day, getting the duck breasts, risotto, and baked vegetables ready to serve at the same time. First, popped the veggies (a sheet pan of broccoli, brussels, onions, sweet potatoes) into the oven. These will be in there for 40 minutes or so, flip halfway. Then I strained the soaking mushrooms (reserve the liquid!) and chopped them small. Saute the onions and mushrooms in an instant pot with some butter. Stir occasionally so they don’t burn. The instant pot is cheating when it comes to risotto. It makes the process dead simple.

Now that the veggies are in and the risotto veggies are sauteing, start the duck breasts in a cold pan, skin side down. Keep the marinade in the ziploc, it will become the pan sauce. The duck will stay skin side down for 10-15 minutes. It took closer to 20 minutes for me, because the pan was crowded with 5 breasts. While the duck is cooking, we’ll return to the risotto.

Stir in two cups of arborio rice. It needs to be this type of rice for risotto, it’s starchier and is what helps make it creamy. Once the rice has been thoroughly coated with butter, add the reserved mushroom liquid and some chicken stock. Then put the lid on and lock it. Set the pressure timer to 5 minutes, that’s all it takes!

The duck is probably ready to flip by now, it’s okay to check. The skin should be brown and crispy, but not burnt. Flip the breasts over and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. The temperature should be around 135-140 F internal before removing to rest for 10 minutes. The meat will continue to cook while it rests.

Once the duck is removed, drain off most of the fat from the pan and add the reserved marinade over medium heat. Add a little bit of cornstarch to help thicken. Stir occasionally.

The risotto timer should have ended by now, and be naturally releasing. If the pressure hasn’t fully released yet, do so manually. Then remove the lid and add some parmesan cheese (and chopped parsley, if desired). Stir to incorporate, it should be creamy with very little work!

Remove the veggies from the oven, and assemble plates with risotto, veggies, duck breast, pan sauce and garnish with an orange slice. Dinner is served!

After dinner, set the oven to broil at 450F. Spoon a layer of brown sugar on top of the creme brulees and place them on a cookie sheet under the broiler for ~6-10 minutes, depending on your oven. They should crystallize to provide that nice crack when hit with a spoon. Serve hot, it helps to put them on a small plate.

And that’s how we prepared and served a four course Christmas menu for 5 with very little fuss! Bon appetit!

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