Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Return to Victoria: A Confab Christmas Dinner

Craving a little tradition for Christmas, even if it isn't your own? For us former English majors, there's nothing as captivating as a savory description of a well-laid holiday repast--a table groaning from the strain of supporting a bulging  joint of beef, sumptuous pudding, quivering aspics, and anything with thick, fluffy mounds of cream. From Chaucer to Austen, Dickens to Woolf and beyond, English authors have known how to transform the basic annual Christmas meal into memorable culinary repasts.

Then there's real life. In San Diego. In 2012. But English expat Andrew Spurgin and his merry band of Confabularie will bring that style of sumptuous holiday dining on paper alive--in their unique way. On Sunday, Dec. 16, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Cafe Chloe's sister space, Oliver & Rose, Cooks Confab, with its extraordinary assortment of chefs and mixologists from around San Diego, will take us back to the days of Victoria and Albert--adding a bit of a French twist--and offer a Christmas meal that marries British tradition with Escoffier. Guests are even asked to arrive dressed to the nines in dinner attire, period dress, or even Steampunk-inspired ensemble. And, don't forget a Teddy Bear or some other new unwrapped plush toy that the Confab will be donating to children in need for the holidays.

"We're going to whisk you away to a forgotten era," Spurgin says. This is the style of food in which he finds great romance and he's long been fixated on even the most esoteric of traditions, like "port-iquette." For instance, Spurgin says, according to British naval custom, a decanter of port is placed in front of the host, who then serves the guest to his right, then passes the decanter to the guest of the left (port-side), at which point the port is passed to the left all the way back to the host. If the decanter doesn't make it all the way back, it's impolite to ask for it directly. Instead the host asks the guest closest to the decanter if his knows the bishop of Norwich or any other English village. This should get the decanter moving again. However, if the offender answers, "No," the response is that "the bishop is an awfully good fellow, but he never passes the port!" Even the most oblivious guest should realize then that he's hogging the decanter and will send it on its way.

Now, the menu is too long to list (mostly because I have a recipe to share with you below), but suffice to say that terrines, aspics, mince meats, Welch rarebit, rolling carvery, Yorkshire pudding, Christmas pudding, Stilton cheese--and port-- will all be involved. (There will also be a sixpence hidden in one of the puddings that will bring both good luck and a gift certificate for dinner for two.)

Surely, following dinner you'll be inspired to prepare at least one traditional English dish for your loved ones. Spurgin gave me his recipe for Yorkshire Pudding to share:

Andrew Spurgin's Yorkshire Pudding
(printable recipe here)
Serves 6

1 cup whole organic milk
1 cup hens eggs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted twice
1 teaspoon rosemary, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cold water
1/4 cup turkey drippings

1. Drain off turkey drippings and strain through a fine strainer. If cooking a beef roast do the same. If you have no drippings, use duck fat, bacon fat, lard, or butter.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.
3. With a mixer, beat the eggs into the milk and salt. Sieve the flour into the custard and get rid of any lumps. Let rest for an hour at room temperature. Pour through a strainer and stir in the rosemary.
4. Heat a 12-count muffin or pop-over pan in the oven until very hot.
5. Heat the fat if it's not liquid. Mix the cold water into the custard. Add about a teaspoon of fat into each muffin cup. It should be smoking.
6. Give the custard one quick stir, then immediately fill each muffin cup 1/3 full with the custard and pop it into the oven. Do not open the oven until they're fully cooked.
7. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn down the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Remove from oven and serve immediately, sopping up with lots of lovely gravy.

Tickets for Cooks Confab Christmas Dinner are $175 with a percentage of the proceeds going, as always, to Slow Food Urban San Diego. You can purchase tickets at Brown Paper Tickets. Oliver & Rose is located at 726 Ninth Ave. in downtown San Diego.

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