And all through the house, three kinds of cookies Tessa was stirring, while Steve slept on the couch.
Like my rhymes? I thought it was cute, while not entirely true. Last Friday, a week before Christmas, Steve and I celebrated our newlywedness with Christmas date night at home. He was a baking champion most of the night, until that part of the night when…he wasn’t. Love you honey.
Since we’re just a few days away from Christmas, I thought it would be a good time for a fun post about our holiday date night in. Perhaps you’ll find it entertaining or use it as a template to give date night at home a try. You don’t have to wait until next Christmas to do so. New Year’s? Valentine’s Day? Random Friday night? All good excuses to party with your sweetie. Or a special friend. Or your sister or mom. Take your pick my fellow homebodies.
Even though I’m sitting in Dallas right now, I have a couple recipes saved up in the photo vault for y’all, but it just seemed like forcing the issue to crank out another recipe post and a new set of pics before the weekly email goes out tomorrow. I’m guessing you’re on top of things and already have your Christmas menu planned, and if you don’t, there are plenty of places on the internet to find quality help. So often in recipe posts, I get caught up in the details of the food (rightfully so) and forget to let you in on the personal side of NCK. It sounds corny, but as much as possible via the internet, I want to be friends, not just another search result. It’s the best warm fuzzy feeling when I log into NCK and see that a couple of you have left a sincere comment about a recipe or a story I told. Trust me, I hear you, and sitting behind a computer or cutting board most of the day, I welcome the virtual community wholeheartedly. If I forget and just get rolling with an endless stream of dinner (and breakfast!) recipes, someone please remind me to stop and breathe and hangout and swap stories with you guys.
Christmas Date Night at Home
First things first: the menu. We snacked, sipped, baked, dined, baked, sipped, and baked some more.
from Darien Cheese & Fine Foods, unless otherwise linked
Provencal olive mix
Parmesan crumbles with Italian truffle honey
Cured fennel salami
California almonds with olive oil and sea salt
linked to their respective cookbooks
Chocolate and vanilla icebox pinwheels (also from Joy of Cooking)
both from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi
Herbed polenta with mushrooms
Spicy winter slaw with caramelized macadamias
Don’t think that I go spreading truffled honey on my toast every morning. For a special night, I made a special trip to our favorite Darien cheese store. They import amazing products from Europe, supply many area restaurants, and most importantly, these people know and love cheese. I have a tendency to get carried away with the snack spread, but the cheese shop price tag and the appeal of dinner kept me in check. Slowly, I’m learning that it’s best to use appetizers as their namesake purpose, not get us so stuffed that dinner becomes unnecessary. It also became clear that Steve would not let me overeat on apps: he camped out with the cheese board and consumed at twice the rate I did, since I kept busy with a few dinner prep tasks.
A word of caution on our menu and cookie selections: they were worth every minute and effort, but we made our cooking as difficult as possible. We chose cookies with 90 minute bake times, that required chilling, and that involved lots of rolling. For dinner, I felt confident that I could multi-task while stirring slow cooking polenta (I could not, and Steve was an all star stirrer), and I underestimated just how labor intensive a single winter slaw could be. Simmered dressing, caramelized macadamias, piles of plucked herb leaves, and no shortage of chopping resulted in the first cabbage salad I’ve ever devoured, and in a very long wait for dinner. My natural inclination is to get stressed when dinner is taking longer than expected, but, on this occasion, the night was salvaged by champagne and consciously releasing that nonexistent pressure I feel to feed my audience quickly. Steve was happy as a clam snacking and baking away at a leisurely pace, and neither of us were frazzled when we sat down to dinner at 10 PM.
Flipping through my first Ottolenghi cookbook in advance of our big date night in, I was in awe of every gorgeous photo and carefully crafted recipe, but the polenta with mushrooms practically jumped off the page at me, and I knew that would be dinner. Stevie loves Taleggio, like the layer of it in this recipe that’s broiled over creamy, rich polenta until it turns golden brown. To top it off, literally, you pile a mixture of sautéed mushrooms, wintry herbs, and a hint of truffle oil, with all those earthy mushroom juices, over the cheese. The presentation might be confusing to some: it kind of looks like a mushroom pizza with an unstructured crust. I, however, did not hesitate for one second to grab a big spoon and dig us each a pile, barely leaving room on our plates for that bright slaw to balance out all the richness of our entrée. If ever a dinner was worth the work, this was it, a verdict sealed by the perfect breakfast it made the next morning as leftovers.
And we needed fuel the next morning, because there were a lot of cookies to finish making. After our dinner, Steve dozed off on the couch, never again to awaken, while I cleaned up the dishes. In a “why the hell not?” kind of moment, I proceeded to mix the late night molasses cookie dough and form the pinwheel icebox cookie log, a task that requires much more skill than Joy of Cooking would have one believe. I was content with a full belly, a mostly clean kitchen, and candles burning, so I let my hubs rest and got us one step closer to tasting our sweets!
Date night continued into Saturday morning. Maybe that sounds like a nightmare, giving up half of a Saturday finishing cookies, and at first thought it kind of sounded that way to me, too. The weekend clock is ticking, and we have a new house and a list of growing projects! But, depending on where life leads, we may have only a few months or years left of waking up on the weekend without having to attend to other living things. So seize the moment! We stayed in PJ’s, drank coffee and tea, and rolled, sliced, and baked sheet after sheet of beautiful, nostalgic, yummy Christmas cookies. And then? Then we rattled off every excuse in the book for sampling approximately 13 cookies each before lunchtime.
It really was the best first newlywed Christmas I could ask for. For us, the new house will bring plenty of material type expenses (as the wedding just did), so we wanted to focus our Christmas activities on sharing quality time, not gifts. Steve learned more than he bargained for about baking, such as the non-intuitive responses chocolate has to various amounts of liquid, when you’re trying to melt it. I learned to slow down in the kitchen and forget about the end product or what time dinner will be on the table. All-in-all, it will be a very tough one to top next year, but I can’t wait to rise to the challenge.