Celebrate! New Year's Dinner & Champagne at Home

Celebrating the New Year at home was a lovely way to bring in 2012. We planned on making dinner together, so I had picked up groceries with a few recipes in mind. Roasting a chicken with root vegetables was Darling's job, while I put together beluga lentils with quinoa, potato celery root gratin, and cauliflower soup. Darling wasn't sure about the temperature of the chicken as we didn't get home until late in the afternoon, and the chicken was still in the fridge. He needed it to be room temperature. We had hoped to make the roast chicken a la Thomas Keller. Correction: I was thinking Keller, he was thinking Ludo. Well, he did his very best and I was getting all girly watching him in the kitchen. Of course, I had to leave to fetch a bigger roasting pan, so I missed watching him stuff the chicken with lemons, garlic, herbs, and seasonings. Darn that. I get a thrill watching him cook.

I made a tiramisu the night before just in case I didn't get around to making dessert. And I didn't get around to making dessert. I made the pastry dough and separated the yield into two discs, wrapped them up and refrigerated them for the next day. Dough must rest and I had too many other dishes to make.

With the pastry dough I had hoped to make a pear and hazelnut tart, but as time was pressing, I sighed and left the idea alone. Besides, we were having so much fun cooking together that I just didn't mind leaving the tart for tomorrow. More cooking together would follow, as our plan was to cook over the New Year's weekend. And that's what we did. It was New Year's Eve, so we did enjoy a little champagne!

Did I mention? My favorite champagne is Veuve Clicquot. Surely it would be nice to advertise for them someday, and I have visions of a burlesque me spinning around inside a giant champagne flute on stage when I mention that. If Dita Von Teese can do it, so can I. Because of all the champagnes I have tried, Veuve Clicquot hits the spot. There are days when a little champagne lifts the mood, and why wouldn't it? And, did you know, that back in the 17th century, champagne was accidentally invented. Yes, it was not an intentional thing, the bubbles of carbon dioxide appeared in fermenting wine. Now, how it actually happened or who "invented" champagne is a debate. Some say it was Dom Pérignon, then a Benedictine monk at the abbey Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers, where he tended the vineyards and was the master of the cellar. Others say it was a science experiment by an English physician and scientist Christopher Merrett, who created his own Champagne method in 1662. Well, whomever it was and however it happened--- POP! Champagne was born. And thank goodness for that.

I absolutely love champagne. My two favorites are from traditional Champagne makers in ReimsClicquot (founded in 1772), and Roederer (founded in 1776). We popped open our bottle of Veuve just before midnight and poured it during our very late dinner around 11pm. But isn't that what celebrating New Year's Eve should be all about?

Darling rubbed the chicken down with butter while I was off at the market doing the last minute run for various items needed at the store (for a larger roasting pan, mainly). When I came back, he was covered in butter. The urge to tongue bathe him back to pre-buttery state was a tempting idea, however, we had some cooking to do. The rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes, carrots and all were chopped up and surrounding the beautiful bird, and Darling's hands, arms, and clothing all covered in butter and seasonings. You know, the saying goes, that everyone has their thing, and my thing is a handsome man in the kitchen covered in butter.

So what to begin first? The beluga lentils or the potato celery root gratin? Well, I began the lentils first. I really should have started the gratin before the lentils. I didn't layer enough celery root and potatoes and the Béchamel sauce was a swimming pool of cheese and cream. Lesson learned! Don't rush things. I was in too much of a scattered hurry to focus on one thing at a time. Something I should know already. I was indeed hurrying it along. Not enough potatoes and celery root layering the pan. Too much cream and cheese. Oh well! The next day it was lovely all mixed with the leftover vegetables from the roast chicken. Sometimes things taste better the next day, mixed in with other dishes. And the vegetables were, the next day, better when roasted longer and mixed with spoonfuls of the botched gratin. Point proven.

The lentils with quinoa, on the other hand, were quite delicious hot from the pan. (More quinoa next time is the only addition I'd make). I was very pleased with how they came out. I read somewhere that lentils symbolize wealth and prosperity and are served on New Year's Day. Similar thinking for Chinese (Lunar) New Year: long noodles represent longevity and whole chickens symbolize happiness.

I started off the lentils with generous amounts of olive oil in the pan, adding shallots, garlic, carrots, celery, and pancetta. Once the mixture was softened by sautéing on a medium heat, allowing the shallots to caramelize and the pancetta to get juicy, I added in the beluga lentils, swirling them into the pan, coating them with olive oil. A splash of sherry, then a douse of red wine.

Separately in another pot (the kitchen was cluttered and every burner was going) I made the quinoa. Braising the lentils in the red wine, adding some homemade chicken stock (and defrosting it all the while), I added in some fresh bay leaves and Herbs de Provence, a dash of Himalayan salt. Once the lentils were done, I mixed in the quinoa. Voila! Beluga lentils with quinoa. 

The roast chicken was smelling up the kitchen so wonderfully, and the cauliflower for the soup underneath the roasting bird was turning golden. Everything was humming along and being in the kitchen with my Darling made me so very happy. His chicken was succulent and quite a beautiful bird when done. The veggies needed some extra time, but we were happy enough with how the chicken and lentils came out.

The roasted cauliflower was easy to make into soup, dressed in dashes of curry powder and herbs, olive oil, sherry, and garlic. Just add to a pot of broth and blend smooth in the Vitamix blender. Add some cream, salt and spices to taste. Soups are enhanced by the roasted flavors and you don't need to fiddle with it too much.

Eating so late at night seemed decadent and celebratory to welcome in the new year. I didn't express my pleasure over the chicken as much as I felt it, but it occurred to me that chickens symbolize love. At least to me they do. I don't have a reason for that except it's my pet name for my youngest daughter. "Chicken of love" is a name I call her, which goes with a song I made up when cradling her as a baby. (The Chicken of Love song is best sung with a bluegrass sort of twang). My Darling has become part of this chicken-y kind of love, first with the photo of him with a chicken foot in his mouth that intrigued me for who knows what reason, but it did, and now with his delectable roasted chicken. I'd have to say that if anything during our New Year's Eve dinner was symbolic, it was the Roast Chicken of Love in root vegetables. The lentils and quinoa were a good pairing to the chicken. And again, I wished I took the time with the gratin. It wasn't altogether a bad gratin, just needed some improvement. I tend to mull over these little failures until I'm certain I'll never make that mistake next time. So I can't think of what the gratin symbolized for the New Year,  except perhaps taking time and not hurrying good meals. Or just adding more potatoes to cheese.

By the time we finished dinner, we had much to clean up. I wanted nothing more than to sit out on the balcony (with a clean kitchen and dishes all washed) and sip champagne with my Darling man, to celebrate our new beginnings, our hopes, dreams, realizing that the moments we share are little happinesses all bubbling up like tiny champagne bubbles.

Midnight was approaching. Fireworks and noise outside clamoring, the warmth of food in our bellies, fireplace glowing and the sparkle of champagne in our crystal glasses. I felt thankful for such a moment with my family, and with a man that has given me reason to celebrate. Love, when you find it, is the best recipe for everyday meals, and an ingredient I never want to cook without.

We sat outside and barely had another glass of champagne before we kissed and went back inside. Dessert forgotten on its plate, bubbling glasses of champagne by the bed. Happy New Year.