Christmas Challenge


December 19, 2012 by caitlinvaclark

One week until Christmas, and someone in this household is getting very excited…


In hopes of having a very relaxing holiday, I am making a huge push to get all my preparation, organization, and shopping done well in advance. Tackling this in a new home, in a new city, in a new country, has provided a few challenges.

Challenge # 1- getting all my groceries home.

At the end of our road, about a quarter mile, there are two local, or express, markets. These have enough fresh veg and meat to get dinner on the table in a pinch. But when I want to cook I have to continue down to our main drag, about a 15 minute walk away. There is also a very efficient bus system that runs. But regardless, this means you buy it, you carry it. Generally I just plan my trip to the gym around swinging by the store a couple times a week. It seems to work. I mean, clearly we have been getting fed.

But for something as big as Christmas, dramatic measures need to be taken, which means a lot of forethought and planning. I decided to order the majority of our groceries from an online delivery service. The last available delivery day was Thursday so it was an effort to get everything sorted. Oh and they had an exorbitantly high spending minimum. So I may have ordered a handful of extra bottles of wine to meet the minimum. Not that we haven’t made a pretty decent go at the advent calendar. Can you believe there are only 6 days until Christmas Eve?!


Now, how I’m going to fit everything in my small fridge and pantry, that’s a whole other battle. And don’t get me started on cooking things in enough stages that I don’t go insane with kitchen clutter and dirty dish piles. Have I mentioned that I don’t have a dishwasher…


Or I guess you could put it this way: I’m the dish washer.

Challenge #2- discerning the ingredients.

The fun I faced in fulfilling my grocery list was all the Christmas merriment one needs. (Sarcasm implied.) Thankfully, since I was ordering things online, I could google what certain US ingredients are called in the UK. Now here’s just hoping that black treacle is indeed the same as molasses. Otherwise, I really don’t know what to expect from my gingerbread.

But there also isn’t a google in the world that will make a product magically appear and as far as I can tell, there just aren’t breakfast sausages here. I was able to order a tasty sounding package of pork & apple sausages that should suffice, even if they are regular, aka bratwurst, sized. Lots of meat on our breakfast plates, I guess!

And I’m still not entirely sure what “swede” is, but I ordered some and will be adding it to my roasted root vegetables, so we will see. I think it’s a root…

Challenge #3- deciding what to cook.

For me this is the part of the obstacle course where you break for a puzzle, but a puzzle you happen to be really good at and like solving. Now if this was actually a race, I probably wouldn’t be crossing the finish line first. I really, really like thinking about food, so I take my time with this. You know how a lot of people take their Christmas decorations down the weekend after Thanksgiving? Yeah, there’s still turkey and stuffing in my fridge and I’m reading up on crown roast and Yorkshire pudding. Okay, I’m also one of those peeps who has started decorating. (We had neighbors in NC who were fully decked out the day after Halloween, so I’m not that bad, right?)

Back to the puzzle: there will be 5 people in my home for Christmas Eve through Boxing Day. They will be hungry. One person is vegetarian. What do you make? Twist- Chris’ whole family (again 5 sisters!) are flying in on Boxing Day, when the stores are still closed and I can’t restock. So that means feeding 12 people with what I have on hand. Go!

Our close friends, Brian and Kim, live in Scotland, and barring an East Coast Rail strike, will be arriving on Saturday to stay through the holiday. We can’t wait to have them here! They have offered to cook up something for Christmas Eve, so that menu is a bit out of my hands. Thanks, guys! But here are my menus for the remaining meals:

Christmas Breakfast:

Eggs Royale or Florentine*

Maple Sausage and Bacon

Cranberry Ginger Coffeecake

Pomegranate Champagne Cocktails

I was struggling between making cranberry bread or gingerbread muffins, or both. But given my lack of dishwasher and push for time, decided to just combine the two into one delicious breakfast item.

Christmas Dinner:

Mustard Rubbed Rack of Lamb

Creamed Swiss Chard (hold the pancetta for one)

Honey Roasted Root Vegetables

Individual Potatoes au Gratin

Yorkshire Pudding

The English would probably call this Roast Lamb “with all the trimmings.” I love that. Though, after watching enough cooking shows here, I think they would be disappointed that I’m not including a gravy. They really love their sauce.

Boxing Day:

serves 12

Duo of Lasagna- Butternut Squash or Meat

Cranberry Stilton Salad

Garlic Bread

For desserts, I am going to make a chocolate mint bunt cake and a banoffee pie. Why banoffee? Because it’s British and I like it and I’m writing the menu. Not sure which nights these will appear, but I’ll have everything on hand. I’ve also been told that our friend, Brian, has been feeding his traditional British Christmas Pudding healthy doses of brandy all month, so we have that to look forward too. More on that for sure!

*Eggs Royale- in our local bakery here I can get gorgeous, huge and fluffy English English Muffins, so I’m so excited to make this dish happen. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this dish, essentially it’s Eggs Benedict (English muffin, topped with Canadian bacon, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce) but with smoked salmon instead of the Canadian bacon. I’ll also swap out the salmon for sautéed spinach, making Eggs Florentine for our vegetarian. Now that I have practiced my hollandaise technique, I’m ready to go.

I have been working on a secret project for you though… making my own gravlax. I was inspired after taking that Scandinavian cooking class and seeing how easy it claimed to be. But before I was going to put all my eggs in the homemade salmon basket for Christmas morning, I wanted to try it out.


Here’s how I did it:


Mix together equal parts sugar and salt. Add any additional flavors you desire. Since I’m a first timer, I opted for fresh dill, cracked pepper, and lemon zest.


Place fresh salmon in a glass dish and evenly cover the salmon with the curing mixture.


Now you want to weigh your salmon down. I covered my salmon with wax paper and then used another baking dish with a few cans placed in it.


Then you just wait. Oh, I mean you put the raw fish in the fridge, obviously. Then wait… for 2 days. There will be a lot of liquid in your dish. Give the salmon a really good rinse and dry. Then try your best at slicing it very thin. It’s that easy!!


In the end, true confession time here, while that bagel was quite tasty, I have decided not to leave Christmas breakfast up to chance. My slicing skills aren’t perfect. Frankly, I don’t have the fridge space to give this double decker pyrex contraption. And they don’t rave about Scottish smoked salmon for nothing. But I will make it again soon!

Homemade Gravlax

1 lb fresh salmon filet

1/4 cup kosher salt (make sure it’s coarse)

1/4 cup sugar

2 Tbs lemon zest

1/4 fresh dill, roughly chopped

1 tsp fresh cracked pepper

Place the salmon in a glass dish.

Mix together the salt, sugar, dill, lemon zest, and pepper.

Spread evenly over the salmon.

Place a large sheet of wax paper on top of the salmon. Then fit another glass dish on top. Weigh it down with a few cans. Refrigerate for 48 hours.

Remove the salmon after 2 days and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry.

Thinly slice, using a very sharp knife. Serve with bagels and cream cheese or Eggs Royale.

Challenge #4- making it happen.

The finish line is in sight. We have one week to go! And I will keep you posted as my dishes turn out.


One thought on “Christmas Challenge

  1. Becca says:

    I die for Gertrude

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: