Some of the most alluring recipes I’ve come across in my years of cooking have been published in Wine Spectator. They are always perfectly paired with wine, described delectably and photographed beautifully, and I’ve been known to keep back issues for years, planning to make that picture-perfect meal a reality in my kitchen. Someday.
The December 23, 2002 issue had just such a meal: A Holiday Menu from Wine Country. Oh my, it looked good: White Bean Soup with Fried Sage, Pan-Roasted Duck with Root Vegetable Hash and Sweet Potato Puree…whee! I held onto that issue of Wine Spectator for a couple of years, revisiting the recipe and ingredients a bit wistfully from time to time while realizing that my everyday life with a small child didn’t really support making this super-sophisticated meal. But as they say, good things come to those who wait. I finally broke out that recipe for a very small girls’ night at my house during the holidays a few years later. It was just two of my closest friends and me, ready to cook, laugh, tell stories and maybe even cry a little (if necessary) in the little kitchen of my 1920s wood-frame cottage. Two of us were single moms at the time, and the third a “restaurant widow”: her husband was the managing partner at a very popular restaurant, and was never home in the evenings. All three of us were without children that night, for various reasons. “Like sailors on leave,” one of them said.
The menu from the magazine, billed as an easy holiday meal to make at home, was provided by the executive chef of Napa Valley’s Auberge du Soleil, Richard Reddington, who was described as wine country’s “hottest young chef”.
The last thing I want to do on a holiday is kill myself in the kitchen,” Reddington says. “I want to be done and I want the kitchen to be clean and I want to sit down with my guests for an hour and drink a glass of sparkling wine.”
Gentle readers, you should know that there are definitely different definitions of “easy”. Easy, it was not. Tasty, it was. Might as well drink that sparkling wine while you’re making the dinner, because it will be a while before you get to the finish line.
In my little kitchen with my two girl-buddies, there was a frenzy of chopping and chatter, and it took us a couple of hours to get the meal made. We had a marvelous time, uncovering the meaning of life and praising the fiber of root vegetables as we sautéed each of them individually before mixing them (they don’t cook at the same rate and might get mushy if crammed together in a pan). We also praised ourselves for being smart and sophisticated enough to appreciate root vegetables – no bourgeoisie, we! We exclaimed over the richness of the pureed sweet potatoes as we laid crispy-skinned pan-fried duck on them and began the devouring.
We drank our wine and told our stories with the desperate urgency of moms who only have a night off a couple of times per year – and of course the kids took center stage in all of those stories.
We knew were were the luckiest gals in the world that December evening, with our wine, our stories, and our fiber-laden root vegetables. I cherish the memories of that night, with that meal, and those ladies. One of them has left us and is now cooking with the angels, and I imagine her in heaven savoring the super-crispy duck skin with the rich, smooth pureed sweet potato and crunchy, root vegetable hash without worrying about the calories. If you’re interested, you can read more about her here, but grab a cup of coffee first, ’cause it’s a long one.
Gather some friends and try these recipes one day when you have time. They won’t be quick and easy, but you won’t be sorry. Here it is again: A Holiday Menu from Wine Country.
Copyright 2016, Glover Gardens Cookbook