Who doesn't love Christmas? Even people from outside of the traditional Christmas areas (Europe and North America) embrace the season of
gluttony giving! And what says giving better than being giving of your time, your space and your self.
Because, really, isn't that the whole idea?
And in my family Christmas has evolved as a tradition of making time to invite friends and family to the house: fresh cedar boughs by the fireplace, the tree-trimming a celebrated afternoon to itself, the outside lights warm, inviting - without the post-modern garishness of a Chevy Chase Père Noël debacle. It's the only month of the year that sees Roger Whitaker, Bing Crosby and Alvin and the Chipmunks music played on a daily basis. My step-mom makes the most insanely decadent, melt-in-your-mouth, fattening-beyond-belief-but-who-cares? shortbread cookies. My Dad and I make menus requiring days of slavish labor in the kitchen with more than a few trips down to the basement to grab a bottle of this or that... it's the time of year when we celebrate the simple pleasure of being together with a decent meal and some good wine.
Now I've reached that point of my life where my parents and I are separated by long distance (a thousand kilometers or 700 miles) and a mountain range. Driving to their house just isn't the option it once was; what with a precocious 3 year old and her rapscallion 9-month old brother and so this Dad needs to do what my Dad did for me: I have to learn to create Christmas for myself.
Not an easy task. Or is it?
My friend Jenn Hopcott-Foxley invited me down to Hopcott's Meats the other day; something I never pass up on. I packed Clare (Thing #1) in the car and off we whisked along country roads and meandering dusty trails; the foothills to the north already cloaked in cotton-capes of fluffy wonder and the blustery clouds above promising more to come. And as we parked I could hear the query from the backseat "Daddy where are the donkeys?!". Hopcott's, you see, keeps a cute pen beside the store where little ones can pet the little ones and my daughter has been brave more than once - screwing up her courage enough to hand a carrot to the furry fellows.
Inside the store Jenn responded to Clare's question with due gravity and announced that the donkeys needed to visit their friends, the cows, in the barn and would be staying until it warmed up enough for them to come back to the store. Clare stated imperially that "that's a very smart idea". I'm sure Jenn was much relieved.
And as Jenn and I discussed the upcoming "feast-ivites" of Christmas I spoke about how many Irish families (ours at least) were much more likely to serve roast beef than turkey - and thus this article was conceived. The entirety of this meal comes from Hopcott's and I'm proud that it showcases the brilliant quality fruit, vegetables and meat that are available not from within 100 miles - but much closer! And then I thought of my friends at Domaine de Chaberton winery in Langley (now Chaberton Estate) and realized that they were the perfect fit for a #Local Christmas Dinner (Irish-style).
This is a simple meal that I would be proud to share with any chef-colleague or picky relative; the ingredients speak for themselves.
Baron of Beef (medium-rare) and natural beef jus
creamed leeks with Boursin cheese
steamed carrot "jewels", baby red potato and organic Swiss Chard
oven roast parsnip and baby turban squash
"petite salade" of roast beet, hothouse cherry tomato and organic peashoots
To me the key to this, and indeed any, meal is utilizing different cooking techniques to create differing flavors, colors, textures and aromas. Never forget that we eat with our eyes before we ever taste~! If the plate doesn't look amazing then we're bound to pre-determine that it "just-isn't-up-to-snuff". Here are my tricks to making these stunning local components shine:
1. Baron of beef is packed with tons of flavor but is a very lean cut! This means that over-cooking, even just a bit, will give you a dry roast. Go back to the basics: let your roast come up to room temperature before cooking, sear it well and then roast it "low-and-slow" which, for me, means about 290F until the internal temperature reaches 140F. Remember: when in doubt, cook your roast for less than you think it needs and rest it for longer! This roast was about 3-4 pounds and was 90 minutes cooking time, 30 minutes resting.
2. When I make my creamed leeks I wilt them at least 30 minutes in chicken stock - they continue to soak up that rich, buttery flavor and only then do I add the cream and turn the burner down to it's lowest setting. Boursin is added just moments before serving to prevent scorching.
3. When steaming veggies, remember that you can always put them back in for a few more minutes - but you can't "un-steam them". Check, check and re-check if you need to! And when I'm cooking for a large group I always cook in batches and put the cooked ones in a large ceramic bowl close to the stove wrapped in cling-film. Never overload your steamer or you'll end up with uneven cooking.
4. Ever have woody parsnips in the winter? Try cutting the core out of them! The outsides can be lovely creamy goodness even if the center isn't. And baby turban squash is a great conversation piece... my wife couldn't believe it was more than decoration ;)
5. Even in the middle of winter the local hothouses are growing delicious vegetables and fruit. This salad looks far more beautiful than I would have imagined considering it took less than 5 minutes to prep! And the diversity of flavors makes this a winner with the kids as much as the adults.
And, to me, no celebration is complete without a glass or three of wine. The dedicated team at Chaberton Estates has been putting their hearts and souls into crafting elegance from BC fruit and the results are nothing less than spectacular. Remember it was just this spring that Chaberton won first place in the #WTCRightBank (Wine Tasting Circle: Right Banks of the World tasting) with 92+points for their AC50 beating some absolute premier wineries.
And so I was proud to serve this Siegerrebe which I knew would be brilliant with the creamed leeks and steamed veggies and the CabSauv (Cabernet Sauvignon) which is the natural pairing for beef. If you aren't familiar with Siegerrebe then you're in good company because I didn't know very much about the varietal either. It turns out to be fairly obscure and only has about 100 HA planted in all of Germany which is where it's from. Certainly the New World producers have crafted surprising greatness from a grape that most seasoned journalists are dismissive of. I'll let my notes speak for themselves on what I consider to be one of the best value aromatic white wines I had in 2014.
As for the CabSauv, there's not much I can say that hasn't been said before except for this: BC does not grow CabSauv well, with a few exceptions. In an area larger than France we grow less of this bold grape than some of the smallest regions in the world. But! But in those tiny pockets of the Okanagan and Similkameen Valleys, when the conditions are right and winemakers are using the utmost skill: something special can happen. This is a beautiful example of CabSauv and a great representation of that "something special".
2013 Reserve Siegerrebe
Fraser Valley VQA
$17.95 CAD, 89 points Stunning Value
... the best part of this wine is the worst part of this wine: it's highly addictive nature! I am not a lover of sugary, ripe-fruit wines; I prefer the austere or the masculine: Big, Bold Bordeaux is my "thang" as it were. So, when I opened this bottle, I had thought that I was opening it for my wife. Well she's in bed and I'm pouring the last of it into my empty glass as I write because it's just that darned good. Ripe exotic aromas of jasmine and apple-pears, grilled pineapple and lychee, mango and guava... a veritable Fijian fruit salad of exuberance. Pair that with exquisitely crafted full lemon-drop-candy acid and a concentration of flavors that far outweigh the negligible price and you have #StunningValue and then some. This was gorgeous with the creamed leeks (expected) but the real treat was how well it paired with roast beets: a new favorite for me!
2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
Okanagan Valley DVA
$23.75 CAD, 89 points Great Value
... I actually don't have to look that far to find a $20-something Cab-Sauv (blend) that's been aged for 3 years before release; examples abound from Spain, Portugal, Chile... anywhere one might find viticulture en-masse for the past few centuries. But from British Columbia?! Ok - a beast of a different nature, I grant you. I had no idea the price when I made my notes: observing the rich aromas of bramble-berries (blackberries/blueberry/Saskatoon/black currant), musk and cedar... the perky medium+acid which showcases a professional medium+chewy tannin structure and very good concentration. No, I just made my notes and made the mental note that it reminded me quite a bit of a Cru Bourgeois Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux. That's a compliment by-the-way :). Well if you want Bordeaux, buy Bordeaux, but if you want #GreatValue - look no further... one would be hard-pressed to find this quality from that (or any) region for a similar price.
And so the lesson for me this December is that creating my own Christmas isn't nearly as daunting as I had thought it would be; I put the appropriate music on, we decorated the house with lights and tinsel and I took fresh, local, seasonal ingredients and treated them with the respect they deserve. We sat 'round the table, just the four of us, and gave thanks for the richness in our lives and savored not only the meal, but the precious time we have together.
And so from my family - to yours - we wish the very best of the Holiday Season!
Many thanks to Jenn at Hopcott's for the fine fixings I used to create this lavish feast and to the exemplary team at Chaberton Estates for the sample bottles. As always you can find more recipes, free wine reviews, and my notes on premium distillates and cigars on: