We’ll start this not-so-merry Christmas story about a week before the holiday when I came down with an odd infection, causing a severe rash over large swaths of my body. Two days later, an allergic reaction to a medication I’ve taken for years made my face swell up like a balloon. Then, the morning of Christmas Eve, and I’m hit with a cold, to top it all off. Oh, the joys of the Holiday Season.
Surprisingly, I did have plans to go to a lovely dinner with friends, who kindly invited me to join their family for the festivities.Â I’ve looked forward to it for weeks, picking just the right things to bring them.Â Â Alas, I was forced to call and politely cancel our plans.Â My graciously understanding friendsÂ wished me well and I’m sure missed my normally jovial character.
Well, knowing I was going to be stuck at home, alone on Christmas Day, I made arrangements to get some foods I’d like to prepare and so the gift I gave myself this year was to cook a small feast.Â It was the sort of thing Dr. Seuss would have contrived for one of his Christmas tales.
Not wanting to overdo it because of my health, I opted to use some quick, time-saving solutions among the things chefs normally do manually. After all, I don’t have a staff of commis or a sous chef at my beckon call.Â All I have was myself.
So, I started off planning my meal. Yes, this meal was for one, but could easily have fed four. Needless to say, I have leftovers.Â While I may be fascinated by food, I try hard to avoid the sins of gluttony.Â With pen and paper at hand, I thought about flavors, researched menus and came up with the following menu:
Roast Duckling Montmorency
Long Grain and Wild Rice with Chestnuts
Haricot Vert with Lemon Beurre Blanc
Sparkling Apple Cider
Gingerbread and Poached Pear Trifle with Whipped Cream
Not surprisingly, preparation of the dessert came first, starting the night before with the making of a commercial gingerbread cake in a 9-inch square baking pan.Â Using a commercial mix was the easiest and fastest way to ensure a good result.Â I also took two Bosc pears, peeled them, setting them in a deep saucepan with 1 1/2 Cups sugar, 4 Cups water, 1/2 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger. I boiled them, then reduced the heat to a simmer.Â The house filled with the scent of Christmas.Â I turned the pears several times, but let them cook a good hour and a half.Â When done, I set them aside to cool.
Cheating on the production of the custard, I used two boxes of Royal brand Vanilla Pudding, cooking it with milk on the stovetop, which worked a charm.Â This was timed so that the pears were already cooled, and sitting in a small bowl, drained of their poaching liquid (which was still set aside).Â Â Once the custard was made and cooled just a bit, I cut up the gingerbread and placed about half of it in the bottom of the trifle bowl in nice pieces, evenly spaced.
Turning to the poaching liquid, I pulled out about a cupful to which I added 1/2 Cup Cream Sherry. Using a small ladle, I gently soaked the gingerbread with the mixture.Â I then spooned some custard over it, then sliced one of the pears into 1/4-inch thick pieces and layered them over the custard.Â I repeated this order once more, taking the remaining gingerbread and using it in rough crumbs to top the trifle, setting the whole thing in the fridge to chill.
It was time to take that proverbial long winter’s nap. So I did. A good two hours of solitude, rest and relaxation.Â What a treat. No phones, no emails, no texts or instant messages.Â Everyone I know busy celebrating the holidays, leaving me to enjoy the peace and serenity of a darn good snooze.
For the Antipasto, I put together a small plate of Italian salumeria – Bresaola, Salami, Sopressata and Prosciutto, with some olives and cheese, marinated artichokes and giardiniera.Â Just a simple bite of each to enhance the palate and tantalize it for more yet to come.
The Duck was a Maple Farms Duckling, which I ordered cut in half lengthwise, saving me the trouble of doing that at home. The butchers did a fine job of this, and the other half sits nicely in my freezer awaiting my next foray into roasting.Â Whilst the folks at Maple Farms are kind enough to pack a large container of sauce, I’d have none of that.
A can of cherries, a container of beef (yes, Beef!) broth, some sugar, red vinegar, arrowroot and ruby port, with a goodly spoonful of Duck Demiglace made for a perfect Sauce aux Cerises (Cherry Sauce) for the duck.Â Surprisingly, duck is pretty easy to cook. You simply need salt, pepper, thyme and patience, and of course, a good roasting pan.Â Just preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.Â Salt and pepper the inside and outside of the bird and using a very sharp knife, score the skin in a wide diamond shape, particularly under the breast and leg.Â Using a poultry sheers, I clipped off the last two sections of the wing, as they’re mostly bone with little or no meat.
To make this glorious sauce, I placed 3 Tablespoons sugar in the bottom of a steel saucepan over medium heat.Â To it, I added 1/4 Cup red wine vinegar and stirred as it boiled, gently rocking the pan back and forth or swirling it, but not using a spoon to dissolve the sugar.Â As the mixture boiled, it turns a lovely mahogany red.Â At this point, I added 1/2 Cup beef broth and stirred (with a spoon) till the mixture was fully blended.Â In a small cup, I added 2 Tablespoons Arrowroot to 3 Tablespoons port wine, blending it thoroughly to ensure that the mixture had no lumps. I drained this into the saucepan, which thickened quickly.Â At this point, I added a can of cherries, stirring very gently, reducing the heat to a simmer. The sauce remained very thick and after about 5 minutes simmer, I removed it from the heat and set it aside.
The duck cooks quickly, set cavity-side down in the pan.Â After 35 minutes, I turned the duck over, cooking for an additional 25 minutes. Meanwhile, I prepared the Long Grain and Wild Rice mix (Uncle Ben’s Original), adding about 8 dried chestnuts, coarsely chopped to the mix.Â Â That takes about 25 minutes, so I focused some time on resting for about 15 minutes.Â Â The odd thing was, in all this work, I hadn’t felt tired, run down, sneezy or even stuffed up.
When my little rest was done,Â I turned the duck over again, skin side up.Â The roasting pan was full of duck fat and lovely crusty bits on the bottom.Â Â Mind you, I could have enhanced that with some sliced onion and carrot, but I knew the duck would do what I needed without help.Â As soon as that was over, I set a medium saucepan on the stovetop with plain water, bringing it to the boil.Â Into that, i tossed a small bag of haricot vert (green beans would do just as nicely) and reduced the heat, covering the pan.
While the beans cooked, I cut open a large lemon, juiced it into a pan where I had placed 1 shallot, finely chopped, making sure none of the lemon pips were in the mix. I supplemented the lemon with a tablespoonful of white vinegar and brought the mixture to a simmer, letting the shallots cook gently, covered. Once the shallots were nicely softened, I took the cover off and sliced some very cold salted butter cubes into the mix, one at a time, whisking the mix together to create a lovely beurre blanc.Â Â Can you imagine if I actually felt good?
Now the duck was done, so out of the oven it came, removed from the pan and plated; set aside to rest.Â I drained the fat from the pan and placed it back on the stovetop over a high heat.Â I poured in 3/4 Cup of beef broth and used a wooden spurtle to scrape down the pan till all those nice crusty bits came loose.Â The sauce turned a deep, rich brown.Â I strained it through a fine sieve into a measuring cup and added the broth to the cherry sauce, which I had started to reheat.
I set the table for one.Â Oh, what a joy that was (being cynical), to be alone for Christmas dinner! The duck was cut and trimmed nicely for the plate, the sauce spread with great gentility around it.Â In two separate bowls, I portioned out some of the Chestnut Rice mixture, and the beans, gently spooning some of the beurre blanc over the beans.Â Out of the fridge came a bottle of Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider, which I opened and poured into a champagne flute.
Dinnertime!Â What a meal! It was fantastic.Â I didn’t care one brass farthing that I was alone.Â The world had no need to beat a path to my door, and though I missed my friends and family, I was enraptured by the glories of the season;Â a wealth of great food created by my own talent and skills.Â It was a meal few crowds, large or small would enjoy, but I, in my solitude, could savor.Â I was dining in style – the best Christmas gift I could have given myself – a truly memorable meal.
By the time I finished with that poor duckling, he was more naked than a jaybird, without a single morsel of meat upon any of his bones. Picked clean, as it were, by my surgical skill with a table knife.Â Were I not squeamish about human blood, I’d probably have made an excellent surgeon.
The dinner done, the dishes, pots, pans, glasses, flatware and such in the dishwasher, it was time to rest, and not a darn thing to watch on hundreds of channels of television.Â There I was in the best of Christmas spirits, and not one holiday movie in sight.Â Of course not, they’ll all be playing on cable in July! What am I thinking?
After a nice rest, I arose without clatter, pouring 1 1/2 Cups cream into a mixing bowl, adding very little Neilsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste and 3 Tablespoons Confectioners’ sugar.Â Despite all my woes about health, I managed the energy to whisk that into one heck of a delightful whipped cream.Â Spooning it onto the top of the trifle, it was time to sit and enjoy dessert.Â Â A cup of delightful chamomile tea (always good for a cold), sweetened with some of the pear syrup to accompany my dessert and I was a happy puppy.Â The trifle proved a perfect dessert, even though there’s enough left for five more people.Â Â Rest assured, I will not be alone later or tomorrow and it will be gone by then, as it’s wonderful for breakfast too.
Oh, and if you’re asking what I did with the leftover haricot vert and rice,Â the beans will be cooked for tomorrow’s dinner (for two) and the rice will be be paired up with some cold chicken (now frozen), heated and rolled into a flour tortilla before being baked for luncheon.
Now here I lay, writing up this lurid tale of holiday cookery for one at Christmas.Â No fireplace burning, only old Andy Hardy movies on that are almost worth watching, no visit from St. Nick, who likely would have enjoyed this particular feast. Nothing in my stocking, but of course tomorrow, there’s a big bag of garbage to take out.Â Â Still, despite all my illness, and the fact that for one of the most communal holidays we celebrate, I was in solitude, I’ve not had such a nice Christmas in years.