Cue the "Charlie Brown Christmas" music.
Kate and I had a pleasant and mildly exhausting Christmas. Pleasant from a standpoint that it was smaller - we normally go a tad bit overboard. This year Kate and I got each other books and clothes, with a big gift of a DVD player and a new cordless phone/answering machine which have been on the "need to buy" list for some time. I did indulge and got Kate a new, lighter Tai Chi sword.
The day was exhausting because Kate and I throw a Christmas dinner for single friends and couples without kids. A sit-down dinner for 13 people. And THERE we overdid. Poached salmon and a brined 20 pound turkey (more on that later). Green breans, stuffing, potatoes, carrots, rolls and biscuits (corn and bacon). Stuffed mushrooms and rumaki as appetizers, home made cheesecake and chocolate tart for desert. Three types of tea, late harvest reislings, a rouge, and mead. Verily, 'twas a spread, and it was good to gather everyone together (conversation went from movies to politics to the mideast to ancient cities, and at one point I volunteered my Britanicas to settle a dispute). My only regret always is that Kate and I are cooking and hosting and have very little time to just enjoy.
But it was wonderful, and one of the best parts was the turkey, a 20-pound bird that we brined, pulling a recipe from an Alton Brown article in Bon Appetite. Brining is immersing the bird in a salt marinade - in this case a combination of hot water, salt, sugar, vegetable broth, and chilled with ice (to kept the bird below 40 degrees). We brined it in a cleaned cooler we set in the upstairs bath, using bag-wrapped bricks to keep raise the fluid level and cover the entire turkey. After eight hours of this, we blasted the bird for a half-hour in 500 degrees to get the skin right, then slow-cooked for another 2 1/12 hours. Despite a series of follies involving the oven probe not working, we finished about an hour ahead of schedule, which allowed up sufficient time to rest the bird. The resulting turkey was, without a doubt, the best-looking and tastiest bird I've ever served.
So I'm converted to brining, which I have previously mocked as being the latest food fad. Still not going to deep fry the turkey, yet.
The end result was a wonderful meal with good friends and definite feeling of exhaustion. Next year we're seriously talking about doing a menu that involves more stuff prepared in advance, with a minimum of last-minute prep, so we can spend more time drinking and gabbing with the guests.
Yeah, we're already thinking about next year. More later.