A Christmas Menu

Nothing smells better on a cold blustery night than entering a warm home permeated by the wonderful Yuletide aroma of a warm wassail bowl, simmering lightly and waiting for the tasting.

In Dickens's time, actual pieces of buttered toast were placed on the top of the wassail, which gave rise to the expressions "giving of a toast" or "drinking a toast" - the sharing of good cheer and the expression of kind wishes.

Appetizers for your dinner can be a personal choice; pates, potted shrimp, cheeses with accompanying biscuits, an elegant Stilton cheese and tomato tart, roasted oysters, or piping hot chestnuts with melted chocolate for dipping.

Entrees can include roasted goose or pheasant, capon or turkey, roast beef, steak and kidney pie, and roasted suckling pig.

Side dishes can be a few or many such as Sage and Onion Stuffing, Yorkshire Pudding, Warmed Fruit Compote, Parsnip Puree, a Carrot Souffle, or simple Herb Roasted Potatoes.

Sweets can include a simple Sponge Cake with Lemon Curd, an English Trifle, a Banbury Cake (small oval mincemeat pie), a Cabinet Pudding (a bread pudding made with dried fruit), or a Plum Pudding.

Do keep in mind, it took Charles Dickens only six weeks to write "A Christmas Carol" - your Christmas dinner certainly can be planned in far less time. Get out your pudding basin (mixing bowl), your cookery books, and get weaving (translation: get started) - and as Dickens wrote; "Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, wond-der-ful happiness!"

English Wassail Bowl

This nontraditional English Wassail can be served as a welcome warmer to start wintertime festivities, as a treat all on its own, or as an after, which would be traditionally appropriate. Don't forget the toast!

4 large Macintosh apples, washed, cored, and sliced into thick rounds

Nonstick spray

1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

5 slices of fresh ginger root, (thin or thick slices as desired)

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

3 cinnamon stick (quills)

1 teaspoon powered ginger

1/2 teaspoon cardamom, or 6 whole cardamom seeds

1/4 teaspoon mace

12 whole cloves

4 allspice berries

1 quart decaffeinated tea (not flavored)

1 quart cranberry juice

1 quart apple cider

2 cups orange juice

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

8 slices buttered toast, cut into shapes with cookie cutters

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place spices in a large tea ball, or wrap and tie in cheese cloth.

Spray a nonstick baking dish with nonstick oil. Place sliced apples on baking dish and sprinkle with 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. Bake apples for 20 minutes.

On the top of the stove, in a large sauce pan, heat the tea, cranberry juice, cider, orange juice, and lemon juice; add remaining brown sugar, the granulated sugar and the tea ball or bag of spices. Stir all ingredients - bring to a boil, and reduce heat to simmer. Taste and adjust spices and sugar (add more if desired). Keep on low heat until just before serving time.

Place the baked apples into a warmed punch bowl or oven-proof serving container - pour in the wassail, lightly stir. Serve with buttered toast afloat in each cup.

Makes about 20 servings.

Roasted Goose

Nothing makes for a more Dickensian meal than a roasted goose. As goose has very large, heavy bones, figure on at least one pound per person. If it is frozen, make sure your goose is completely thawed in the refrigerator - it may take two to three days. Before roasting, prick the skin all over lightly with a fork - don't go too deep, you don't want to damage the meat - prick again, especially in the thigh area, once or twice while cooking to drain additional fat. Be sure to place goose on a roasting rack while it's cooking.

It's your choice to stuff the cavity or prepare the dressing separately. If you wish to stuff the goose with a bread-type stuffing, use your favorite recipe. A traditional English stuffing of onion and plenty of fresh sage leaves is listed below.

Be sure to reserve goose bones for making a soup stock.

1 10-12 pound goose.

4 to 5 large onions, quartered

12 or more fresh sage leaves (if possible) or one teaspoon crushed, dried sage, or to taste.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 cups apple cider

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Pull any obvious pieces of fat from goose cavity and discard. Rinse goose well in cold water; pat dry; salt cavity. Stuff the neck cavity loosely with onions and some fresh sage - fold the neck skin under the body, and fasten with a skewer. Stuff the body cavity loosely with onions and sage, and truss. Salt and pepper the goose.

Place goose on a rack in a large roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F. Continue to cook for 1-1/2 hours. Prick the bird and baste frequently with cider. The goose should cook approximately 20 minutes per pound. Remove when golden brown, leg joint is loose, and juices run clear.

Let the roasted goose sit for 20-30 minutes before carving - serve with pan gravy.

Make the gravy while your festive fowl is resting. Pour off all pan drippings into a large, clear Pyrex or glass bowl. When juices settle baste drippings from bottom of bowl (or spoon off floating fat, and discard).

Pour drippings back in roasting pan and cook on top of stove over medium heat. Whisk 1/4 cup flour with 1/2 cup cold water, add to drippings and whisk constantly. Add 2 cups of chicken stock and continue whisking, scraping the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Continue cooking and whisking until gravy is smooth and to a thickness you prefer. Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings.

Serves 8 to 10.

Stilton Cheese and Tomato Tart

Stilton, an English cheese, is made from cow's milk, blue-veined with an undertone of Cheddar, crumbly in texture, more mellow than some other blues. In England, Stilton remains appropriate at any meal. Served with biscuits and a pear or tart apple, it makes a perfect dessert.

This cheese tart is a wonderful Christmas appetizer - unusual and rich in flavor, sure to be a hit at any party any time of year!

Pastry for 10-inch tart shell (home-made or prepared)

Parchment paper - cut to fit the bottom of pan

Egg wash - (1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water, beaten)

2 tablespoons shallots, peeled and minced

2 tomatoes, thinly sliced

12 ounces English Stilton cheese, crumbled

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

2-1/2 cups whipping cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon finely ground white pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

If making your own tart shell, place rolled-out pastry dough evenly over a removable bottom tart pan. Trim off excess dough from top of pan, and press into side. Prick bottom of dough with a fork, place a circle of parchment over dough and weigh down with pie pellets, or dry beans or rice.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove parchment and weights. Brush the inside of the tart with egg wash. Return to oven for 2 minutes.

Lower oven temperature to 375 degrees F.

Sprinkle shallots over bottom of tart shell and cover with tomato slices. Spread crumbled Stilton over tomatoes.

In a bowl, combine eggs, cream, salt and pepper, and whisk to mix. Pour mixture over tomatoes and cheese.

Bake 35-40 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool several minutes before unmolding.

Serves 8 to 10.

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