A Very Squirrelly Christmas

Once again, Christmas has come and gone. This year, when the family question of who would host Christmas dinner came up, the Squad looked around at each other and said, “Oooh! We’ll do it!” And so we did in a moderately insane and squirrelly way.

We decided that the theme for our meal would be a twist on traditional Southern Christmas fare. Each course would focus around a Southern staple, but we would add our own squirrelly notions to make things interesting.

It was a very cold and rainy Christmas day for us this year. To warm up our guests, we had a pot of cider mulling on the stove and greeted everyone with a steaming spicy cup. Penzey’s mulling spice made that a nice and easy touch.

To get everyone in the mood for food, we started with an amuse-bouche. On my last-minute grocery trip, I found a half-round of dense Spanish fig bread at Wild Oats, and since we knew how much Granddaddy Squirrel loves figs and fruitcake, we decided to use that as the base for our dish. We topped thin wedges of fig bread with thin curls of Parmigiano Reggiano and warmed Cappicola. Ham and fruitcake, two things that are present at every Southern Christmas get-together that I’ve ever been to.

Tamales and venison chili
Tamales and venison chili

For the appetizer, we served tamales. The hot tamale is about as Southern of a thing as you can eat, and one of these days, we’re going to spend a weekend following the Tamale Trail, but until then, we’re lucky enough to have several local Latina sources for hand-made tamales. This batch was shredded pork wrapped in spicy pepper-flecked masa. We served it with our venison chili and wedges of Chihuahua cheese topped with Papa Squirrel’s very creative jalapeño wreaths.

Corn velouté and gruyere gougères
Corn velouté and gruyere gougères

One ingredient that is present in one form or another in so many Southern dishes is corn. While the Squad was in northern California earlier this year, we had some wonderful dishes based around sweet corn velouté. Even though this isn’t exactly the best season for fresh corn, we were able to find some reasonably sweet yellow and white ears at the grocery store. So, being brave and adventurous, we decided to make a velouté of our own. It was more work than we expected, but it came out smooth, sweet, and beautifully pale yellow. We served it with a dollop of crème fraîche and fresh chives with hot-from-the-oven gougères on the side. We’ll have to try that again next summer when the corn will be at its sweetest.

Smoked goose with savory bread pudding
Smoked goose with savory bread pudding

Our first course was centered around a wonderful gift. Granddaddy Squirrel is a bona fide grill master, and every Christmas, he presents us with a miracle: a smoked goose. Goose is probably not typical Southern dinner fare, but grilled and smoked meats are. We served slices of perfectly cooked juicy goose breast with a bread pudding, a definite Southern dish. This bread pudding wasn’t the standard dessert variety, though. We used dried cranberries and sourdough bread and add savory herbs to the mix instead of sugar. We served it with a Calvados-based hard sauce to pick up on the apple flavor cooked into the goose and the pudding.

Pepper-crusted venison tenderloin
Pepper-crusted venison tenderloin

For our main course, we served a meat that many Southerners (and Yankees) enjoy. We crusted venison tenderloins with crushed pepper and served slices of the meat with a port wine and juniper berry reduction. For sides, we had green beans sauteed with shallots and a creation that everyone seemed to enjoy: sweet potato grits. One thing to know about Southerners is that grits are good at any meal; they aren’t just for breakfast. A dollop of lingonberries gave our plates their dose of red for the holiday when paired with the green beans.

Cranberry coulis with creme anglaise
Cranberry coulis with creme anglaise

Finally, we made it to dessert. Papa Squirrel had the idea to make a deep dish pecan pie. His test pie came out with wonderful filling, but the crust just wasn’t right, so we changed things up a bit for the production pie. This time, the crust was perfect, but the filling just didn’t set up as well as we had hoped. It was still one of the most delicious pecan pies I have ever put in my mouth. Sometimes, ugly food just tastes better even if some people don’t want you to take pictures of it. We served the pie with small glasses of creme anglaise topping a cranberry coulis.

Yes, it was a lot of work. And we probably went a little overboard with plating. But the whole family enjoyed it, and to us that’s the whole point of the holiday.

Peace on Earth and good will to all y’all!

Quench your thirst
Wag your tail

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