Risking it all on feast day

So I’m trying a completely new recipe for Christmas this year – Andrea Nguyen’s Peking duck from her vietworldkitchen.com blog.  That is how I found myself in the kitchen last night inflating two ducks with my exercise ball pump, in preparation for three days of cooling and drying.  I practiced a wide repertoire of outraged quacking noises as I did it, largely for the benefit of my son, who was trying to bake cookies a few feet away.

“How hard can it be?” has been my guiding principle for too many years to count.  It’s a pure triumph of hope over experience – for me, it’s pretty normal to risk all by trying a new recipe when any normal person’s instincts are calling for something safe, traditional, and comforting.  Christmas dinner is usually duck or goose, both birds I cook so rarely that even if I did the same exact recipe every year, I would have forgotten how to do it in between.  Muffled curses are common, smoke alarms often go off, and it is not unheard of for a slippery, fatty bird to hit the floor and be surreptitiously cleaned up before the next step.

Still, I think I enjoy the sense of adventure – the slight but definite chance that disaster will strike and we’ll have to do some last-minute McGyvering.  Or even order a pizza.  I enjoy cracking the spine of a completely untried book on the morning of December 25th and crossing my fingers.  So, in that spirit, here are a few 2014 ideas to try for your big showpiece.

You could go the Fred Flinstone route and try Michael Ruhlman’s Standing Rib Roast from this year’s How to Roast.  You could try Gabrielle Hamilton’s Roast Suckling Pig with Black-Eyed Peas and Pickled Tomatoes.  You could make Wild Boar Strozzapreti from Flour & Water, because why stop at making your own pasta?

For dessert, why not make Dorie Greenspan’s Gingerbread Bûche de Noël from Baking Chez Moi?  Or Niamh Shields’ Salted Caramel Christmas Truffles?  Wash it all down with a Fire in the Orchard cocktail from Sean Brock’s Heritage.  All you’ll need is: green-skinned apples, sugar cubes, apple bitters, jalapeño chiles, bourbon, applejack, Cointreau, pickled jalapeño brine, cinnamon sticks, and a handful of hickory chips.

Whatever you do, enjoy it with a carefree heart.  How hard can it be?

[Exits left, to the sound of smashing crockery.]

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  • hillsboroks  on  December 23, 2014

    I have always loved trying out new recipes for special dinners but found long ago that it was better to try them on guests rather than immediate family. Why? Husbands and children can be merciless in their critique of a new recipe while company is nearly always polite and willing to follow you anywhere. I actually have quite a few now family favorites that started out as experiments on guests.

  • hillsboroks  on  December 23, 2014

    Good luck with your ducks Susie! We will look forward to another report about how your experiment turned out after the 25th.

  • Aggie92  on  December 23, 2014

    I usually stick to the tried and true for Thanksgiving since it is so traditional. And really, not many guests want you going wild with the turkey day menu anyway. Christmas, on the other hand, all bets are off and you never know what will come out of my kitchen!

  • Jane  on  December 23, 2014

    I'm always prepared to try out things I've never made before, whatever the occasion. Like you Susie I enjoy the thrill of the unknown. This year I'm going completely against my Christmas tradition of turkey and I'm baking a ham. Partly because it's just two of us this year and partly because I don't have my Jewish ex-husband at the table. I'm looking forward to it – and ham leftovers are much better than turkey.

  • Vanessa  on  December 24, 2014

    I'm with Susie. I have no fear. Give me a new recipe any time! I'm the only one in my husband's extended family who really likes to cook, and over the years they've come to graciously accommodate my food moods. (They've given up complaining about "weird" turkeys!) I just add a pan of mac and cheese to pretty much every menu to ensure that we have something on the table for every one.

    On the other hand, there are some "staples". Garlic mashed potatoes are a must. And last year, I had a gravy cook-off at Thanksgiving. I made a vegetarian gravy from the blog Herbivoracious (mushrooms and Marmite), and a traditional turkey-dripping gravy. The veggie version won hands down (all voters thought it was the "real" turkey gravy), and it is now the standard gravy.

  • Foodycat  on  December 25, 2014

    I'm quite good at reading a recipe and "tasting" whether it will work with the rest of my meal, so mostly I am happy to risk new dishes, but not things like pastries where the technique might be a disaster. I won't be doing spur-of-the-moment croquembouche.

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