Wednesday, December 20, 2006

" endless banquet" holiday bash 2006

xmas decorations, 2006 fig. a: xmas decorations à la AEB

After skipping a year and taking some time to regroup, the " endless banquet" almost-annual holiday bash was back with a vengeance last Sunday, bigger and better than ever before. We tossed around literally dozens of party themes, including everything from the exotic to the mundane, before finally settling on one that would simultaneously satisfy Michelle's ongoing yuletide Anglophilia as well as my yearnings for something rum-soaked and Caribbean. The idea was to turn the Ploughman's Lunch, complete with glazed ham, an assortment of cheeses, and a dizzying array of homemade chutneys and pickles, into the centerpiece for a cocktail party, and then further tease out the Anglo-Caribbean vibe with a couple of rum punches.

We put out some freshly cut spruce branches and decorated our hearty rosemary bush and the bright red branches we picked up at Jean-Talon Market, but otherwise kept the Christmas decorations minimal. Just the odd clove-studded orange here and there, and a few candles.

mexican chocolate cookies fig. b: Mexican chocolate cookies, clove-studded oranges

As our first guests arrived, we were just finishing laying out the spread:

glazed ham (two years ago, either because we didn't have any of our own marmalade on hand or because we'd decided not to use our private stock to glaze a ham, we can't remember which, we used commercial marmalade in the glazing of our ham--this time around we used Michelle's mineola marmalade and the results were stupendous--the moral: like most other similar situations, the better the marmalade, the better the ham)

an assortment of cheeses: a huge block of 2-year old raw milk Quebec cheddar, a lovely hunk of Stilton, and a wedge of le Maréchal

condiments: dill pickles, bread & butter pickles, mustard pickles, pickled red onions, pickles sour cherries, pickled prunes, oignons confits, golden pear chutney, Camilla's peach chutney, devil chutney. In fact, there were so many bowls of condiments out on the table, we had to create little signs for each of them to help our guests navigate the selection.

bread: we'd bought a couple of nice rustic loaves from Le Fromentier and some baguettes from Première Moisson, but they all got shoved aside pretty quickly because we got showered with a selection of the most beautiful freshly baked loaves of bread you've ever seen by a couple of our talented guests, including a phenomenal fig-anise number.

potato salad: a variation on Julia Child's classic French Potato Salad with refreshing slices of fennel added.

punches: we made two house punches, both culled from an article in the most recent issue Saveur on the rum of Martinique: a sort of planter's punch made with black tea, lime juice, and dark rum that was served on ice, and a milk punch--a lighter, more delicately flavored sibling of egg nog--that was served hot.

desserts: Mexican chocolate cookies, mincemeat tartlets, panforte (fresh from a sold-out performance at the Souk@SAT sale), plus some beautiful Caribbean-themed macarons, with a rum and spice ganache, that another one of our generous guests brought.

In fact, the generosity of our guests was quite something else. People brought beautiful bottles of wine--red, white, and sparkling--imported beers of all kinds, home-brewed liqueurs, desserts and baked goods, gifts--even an Amish sausage. That's right. I'd casually mentioned to a temporarily Kingston, ON-based friend of ours that there was fine Amish sausage (unusually smoky, unusually addictive) to be had there, and--lo and behold--a few weeks later he turned up at our holiday bash with an entire Abner Bauman original "summer sausage."

abner bauman in the house fig. c: Abner Bauman summer sausage

Hell, I got so excited, I held my trophy aloft and went barreling into the packed kitchen to a thunderous volley of whoops and cheers. No one reacted quickly enough to snap off a photograph at the time, but we here at " endless banquet" managed to re-enact the moment just to give you, dear readers, a sense of the electricity that was coursing through the air as it became apparent that Abner Bauman was in the house.

we'd like to thank abner bauman for coming by tonight fig. d: Abner Bauman in the house! (note: re-enactment)

So you wanna be a yuletide star? These might come in handy.

Martinican Rum Punch

Fill a medium freezerproof bowl with water and freeze it. Make 6 cups of strong black tea using 6 tea bags and 6 cups of water. While the tea is still hot, add 1 1/2 cups of demerara sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves, then refrigerate. Once the tea mixture is cool, put it in a punch bowl and add 1 1/2 cups of fresh lime juice and 2 750-ml bottles of dark Martinican rum, such as St. James. Stir well and refrigerate. About 30 minutes before serving, loosen the ice from the bowl and slide it gently into the punch bowl. Top with a generous grating of nutmeg.

Serves 30.

[based on a recipe from Saveur, December 2006]

Martinican Milk Punch

Put 15 egg yolks into a large bowl and set aside. Pour 5 quarts milk into a pot and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the milk to the yolks in a slow, steady stream while whisking constantly. Add 1 1/4 cups of sugar, 1 1/4 tsps ground cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, and vanilla extract, and strips of zest from 5 lemons. Stir well to combine. Add 1 750-ml bottle of dark Martinican rum, such as St. James, stir well, and strain. Pour the punch into cups and serve while still hot.

Serves 20.

[based on a recipe from Saveur, December 2006]

Glazed Ham à la AEB

1 15-lb smoked ham, on the bone
1 cup orange marmalade, preferably homemade
2/3 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup freshly packed brown sugar
8-10 whole cloves

Preheat the oven to 300º F. Trim any tough bits of outer skin and excess fat from the ham. Put the ham in a large roasting pan and score it, making crosshatch incisions all over it with a serrated knife. Roast for 2 hours. Remove the ham from the oven and increase the temperature to 350º.

In the meantime, combine the marmalade, the mustard, and the brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud the ham with the cloves, spacing them evenly, then brush the entire surface of the ham generously with the glaze and return the ham to the oven.

Cook the ham another 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 hours, brushing it with the glaze at least another 2 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 20-30 hungry ham lovers.

[based on a recipe from Saveur Cooks Authentic American]

Potato Salad à la AEB

8-10 medium boiling potatoes
1/4 bulb of fennel, cut into thin slices
1/2 small red onion, minced
2 tbsp dry white vermouth
2 tbsp potato "stock" (from your pot)
2 tbsp champagne vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
6 tbsp salad oil
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp chopped parsley (optional)

Drop the potatoes into boiling salted water and boil them until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a small knife (be careful not to overcook them or undercook them, but err on the side of overcooked if you have to because there are few things worse than undercooked potatoes). Drain. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, peel them, and cut them into slices about 1/8-1/4" thick. Place them in a mixing bowl.

Pour the vermouth and "stock" over the warm potato slices and toss very gently. Set aside in order to allow the potatoes to absorb the liquids.

Beat the vinegar, mustard, and salt in a small bowl until the salt has dissolved. Then beat in the oil by droplets. Season to taste, and stir in the red onion and fennel slices. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and toss gently to blend.

Makes roughly 6 cups.

[based on a recipe from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1]

Many thanks to everyone who braved the bracing 10º C weather (?) to join us. To paraphrase the great Sandra Bernhard: "Without you we're nothing."

When the last of our beloved guests departed some time after 11:00 (this being a Sunday, we'd started things off at 4:00), there was nothing left to do but dream of sugar plum fairies.

fait dodo fig. e: fait dodo


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