…and a few suggestions for turkey if you are going to get together with some other men:
(c) 2013, Davd
This winter, i am without “wheels”. The day before a 45 cm snowfall, my vehicle wouldn’t start. Last winter i drove 11 times between late December and mid-April. A friend i won’t name without his blessing to do so, said he could drive me a few times per month—as many as i’d driven the first months of this year—and suggested i take the vehicle off the road until Spring. (He even drove me to the city to suspend the insurance, return a library book, and do some food shopping, after the storm.)
This won’t be my first Christmas alone. I do plan to feast. I don’t plan to get exotic—no pineapple, no sweet potatoes; my vegetables will all be kinds that grow near here and the whole meal is likely to be from Canada.
I’m still deciding between salmon, steak, and a shoulder-ham for this Christmas’s feast. A turkey is ‘way too large to cook for one man, and those three alternatives are waiting in the freezer. The shoulder ham is less likely than the other two, because it’s difficult to time the thawing.
I don’t want to go outdoors and stand in two feet of snow to “grill” either steak or salmon. The steak would be ‘fried’ using the technique i’ve posted for frying meat, with mushroom gravy and pasta or boiled potatoes, and spinach frozen from my summer garden. (The mushrooms are optional; i happen to have some salted forest mushrooms in the fridge. There’s also some Siberian kale from the fall garden, and some tomatoes that were picked green and have ripened to pink but aren’t likely to get red, so i might have a second-class but still good kale-tomato salad. There will definitely be cranberry jam or sauce, because cranberries grow all around here.) The wine will be home made Merlot or Pinot Noir.
The salmon would be steamed with carrots and probably rice. The steamed cabbage blog describes steaming technique; with Pacific pink salmon i’d use vegetable stock for the steaming liquid, put the rice in the pan with the stock—a little more than twice as much stock as rice—cut the carrots to half an inch thick or less, lay them in the steaming basket with gaps about that same width, put the salmon filet on top, and sprinkle it with frozen chive and dried tarragon. One pot cooks the fish, the carrots, and the grain; and the carrots and salmon flavour the rice. When the carrots are done, the fish should be; i’ll check the rice and if it is also done, add some more frozen chive . The other vegetable will be either spinach or salad—steamed cabbage is not quite feast enough for Christmas, in my opinion anyway—and the wine will be Riesling or Chardonnay, also home made from a kit. (I like robust flavours, as you might have noticed.)
Some of you reading this know enough cooking techniques to mimic one of those solo feasts, or plan one you personally will like even better. If so, enjoy … If not, think what you can readily do with the skills you have so far: For instance, you might have a favorite kind of sausage—one that’s too high in saturated fat to eat often, too good to make soup from, but easy to cook. (I thought of salami, but it’s normally eaten cold, and a cold Christmas dinner is something to have if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics… so it won’t appeal to most readers.)
If you like the idea of steak—or a pork chop, chicken filet, fried rather than steamed fish—but aren’t confident about making gravy or sauce for the pasta, rice or potatoes, you could choose pasta and buy a bottle of commercial sauce. (I buy commercial sauce myself, when it’s on special for a dollar a bottle [650-700 ml], and keep some handy for when i am in a hurry.) When you take the meat out of the pan, pour the commercial sauce in to heat; and it will pick up some meat drippings and taste better.
With my experience, i buy more crushed and diced tomatoes—and grow tomatoes also—and make most of my own sauces; but commercial sauce which has captured some pan flavour is good enough to go with a steak, a pork chop, or a chicken filet. Fish doesn’t seem to improve commercial pasta sauce, though. A better trick with fried fish is to boil some potatoes and mash them in the pan after the fish comes out.. then add some butter, oil, or margarine, and pepper. If you happen to have chive or green onion, add some of that too.
If you have a favorite commercially prepared food—some favorite brand of pizza, corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips—maybe that’s your best Christmas dinner this year. The main point is, it should be a treat—and to your taste, not mine (unless our tastes agree, in which case it’s both.)
If you know another man who will be ‘alone’ at Christmas, think about getting together for a feast you both appreciate. I won’t suggest turkey, though—a whole turkey is awfully big for two.
If you are organizing to join three or more other men who will be ‘alone’ at Christmas, and have bought a turkey, looking up the roasting procedure in a good cookbook, and “doing the usual Christmas dinner” together, isn’t really that difficult. Give yourselves plenty of time if you aren’t experienced at cooking turkeys. Share out the tasks other than the big bird: One man makes dessert, maybe; one makes cranberry sauce and gets one vegetable, one does the mashed potatoes, maybe one makes the stuffing, and so forth. Get together ahead of time to agree on who does what.
My favorite seasoning for stuffing, for turkey, other poultry, or baked fish; is Sage, Celery, Onion, and Pepper*. Some blog early in the New Year, i intend to give more attention to herb and spice combinations; for instance, i make chicken cacciatore with Sage, Oregano, Celery, Onion, Pepper, and often add basil or garlic in season. The oregano goes especially well with mushrooms and tomatoes, and is the signature herb for Italian cooking that’s not sweetened.
When boiling potatoes, adding bay leaf or rosemary will give them a special extra flavour that most people really appreciate.
As i was writing this blog, CBC Radio’s “Maritime Noon” show began with the announcement that a professional butler would tell listeners how to behave properly at holiday dinner, so they might be invited back. (I turned off the radio, so i didn’t hear the butler’s advice.) If being a guest is really so difficult—which i guess it is for some and not for others—dinner alone might be more comfortable. So depending on where you live, how well you get along with your nearby kinfolk if there are any, what other single men you know near by, and what faith you follow, go to church if that suits you, have some kind of a special meal without worrying whether it’s fancy enough, share it with men you like if kin you like aren’t near by and single buddies are—and maybe, remember that on that first Christmas, all Jesus ate was milk.
Many scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in the springtime, and that the church’s choice to celebrate His birth at the start of winter has two main reasons behind it. First, Easter—Resurrection Day—definitely was in the spring, and the two great feasts with their weeks of thought and preparation shouldn’t overlap. That gave a reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a different season. Second, there were pagan Winter Solstice festivals that the churches didn’t want their membership taking part in, and remembering His birth gave Christians something else to hold their attention. It does seem reasonable, that a Caesar ordering hundreds of thousands of subjects to travel to their ancestral home towns, wouldn’t order them to travel in the winter.
* I grow liveche (Lovage, Levisticum officinale) and use it instead of celery in soups, sauces and stuffings. Its taste is stronger and richer than celery, but definitely celery-like. Most readers probably won’t have it available. Celery leaves, outer stems, and trimmings are at least as good for seasoning stuffing as are the succulent, mild inner stalks: Cut them fine, same as the onion. Chive is (in my opinion) better than bulb onion for most cooking; but for stuffing, i’d cut the onion fine and fry it in canola oil or bacon fat until it just begins to brown, then add to the stuffing. Put it in raw if the frying is a bother—but do cut it fine.