Monday, January 2, 2012

The Ghost of Christmas Goose Past

Peking Duck from New Moon Cafe, San Francisco
Many years ago my parents called me from California just days before I was to return home from New York for the holidays, to ask if I could help procure a goose.  Apparently my then teenage brother had been reading a bit of Dickens that year and got it in his head that a proper Christmas dinner was not the ham our family ate every year on December 25th but rather, a goose. 

Days before Christmas a goose was not going to be possible.  Should I find one in New York on short notice, I couldn’t exactly tote it home in my suitcase.  And there was zero chance of sourcing one in my dusty desert hometown in Southern California. 

But it was that call that nonetheless started a yearly mission to outdo ourselves in the category of Christmas dinner year after year.  The next year I was able to get a goose.  A meal that each member of our family enjoyed except for the boy who’d asked for it.  The years that followed would produce majestic standing rib roasts, racks of venison, and duck done two ways- confit legs paired with seared rare breast. 

Peppercorn Crusted Ahi
It turns out to be rather exhausting to come up with a completely new menu each year that will surprise, and please, every member in a growing family of relatives and significant others.

Per a special request, last year I revisited Duck Two Ways and this year brought back the standing rib roast- weighing in at 16.6 pounds, the single largest piece of beef I have ever cooked. 

But just because the main courses are now settling into a rotation of greatest hits does not mean the holiday is free from invention.  For Christmas at my grandfather's house in Sonoma this year, we started off the weekend with a light but filling seafood chowder and a tray of peppercorn crusted ahi on spinach salad.  Because it was the holidays, I went the extra mile to make the seafood stock from scratch with Dungeness crab shells leftover from the previous night’s dinner.  It wasn’t exactly a feast of seven fishes but in taste and flavor it was a welcome departure from the heavier meals to come. 

Me carving the Standing Rib Roast
In case anyone was missing duck, for midday noshing John and I brought a couple of Peking ducks up with us to Sonoma from New Moon Café in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  A large step up from a grocery store rotisserie chicken and it sure beat the two-week process of making my own duck confit. 

Potato gratin and Brussels sprouts were far from inventive sides for the beef at Christmas dinner, but we changed things up a bit from our normal routine with a spicy butternut squash and apple soup to start.  And for dessert, pecan pie turned extra decadent with a layer of bittersweet chocolate on the bottom.

Even day-after leftovers where not relegated to ordinary.  As most of my family lounged in front of a football game on TV Monday evening, reviving foggy heads from a day of wine and beer tasting, John and I whipped up something just a little new.  He worked his magic with sweet potatoes, impressing all with his crispy orange cubes roasted with garlic and rosemary, and I made up several trays of crunchy baked kale. 

Chocolate Pecan Pie
The boy with the Dickensian dreams of a Christmas goose is not so young anymore- he is now my tall and lanky, knife-wielding sidekick in the kitchen, working beside me each year to turn out Christmas dinner on time.  Where the goose may not have lived up to his fantasies, he proved yet again to inspire enthusiasm for new entrants to our family’s world of holiday food.  “Amy, this has changed my life,” he said to me, eyes wide with passion.  Was it the standing rib roast of which he spoke?  Or maybe the chocolate pecan pie?  No, my brother’s life-changing moment this year was, drum roll please, the baked kale we served alongside the reheated beef the day after Christmas.  Perhaps a new tradition is born. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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