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Christmas

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During the Christmas season, that magical time of year when children and adults are giddy with excitement, every dinner at home, even a simple family gathering, has a feeling of festivity. I adore the season with its pomp, traditions, enchantment and anticipation.

Christmas is really not just one day; it spans for two weeks. Think about it, during this two week period we have plenty of reasons to celebrate all sorts of feasts and traditions, from casual New Year’s Hangover breakfasts to sophisticated gala dinners. There is something for everyone and everyone has something.

For dinner parties at home, I bring out all the glamour and glitter I can possibly muster. I adore the spending a few precious hours clinking golden champagne glasses and tasting simply elegant food in the company of good friends and family. That to me is the key of entertaining at home: the simple elegance of things well done without the pretension of over-the-top expenditure. Entertaining is about being generous, open armed, welcoming. This is the season to share the best of what we have.

This year, my new color is purple. Yes, purple. I had some kilim carpets made in Turkey for the living room in a deep aubergine color. Totally edible. The purple carpets are paired with white and pale grey fabrics in furniture and curtains creating a soothing, calming palate but with a bit a kick. I like to think of this combination as the millennium colors; like the avocado green of the sixties and the neon pinks of the seventies. I hope it works for many years to come.

The table is set following those same colors, purple, crystal, white and silver. It is truly decadent and rich looking: a bit regal, totally sensual and really smart. A few pieces of silver herald the season with whimsical touch. The flicker of candlelight makes our eyes sparkle and our complexions glow.

The party begins with Bellini, the famous white-peach and champagne drink invented by Cipriani in Venice. This cocktail, if you can call it that, is pure ambrosia and immediately sets the tone as a special dinner. To nibble with drinks, Roasted Spiced Pecans add a touch of flavor and crunch. I adore how this nuts taste with everything from soups to salads and even roasted fruits; I keep a big batch in my pantry. I have also made the same recipe using walnuts with amazing results.

Dinner starts with White Winter Soup that is as smooth as vichyssoises and as delicious as all the vegetables in it. I love serving this soup with garnishes like diced tomatoes, croutons, scallions and crabmeat or simply grilled shrimp. It really allows for a myriad of accompaniments, or none at all. Make it ahead of time and re-heat it gently for flavors to develop even further.

For the main course I am serving two of my favorite winter dishes, Scallops with Champagne and Risotto with Champagne…can you guess the thread here? Grilled Asparagus add the necessary color and goodness to the main course. The scallops are first seared at high heat and then, after the sauce is done, re-heated in the creamy champagne mixture. Totally delicious. The risotto is simply made using broth and champagne and stirred until creamy. A bit of Parmesan is fine, but not too much, as you don’t want to overwhelm it with strong flavors.

Use any champagne, cava or proseco that you like; keep the Cristal for drinking!

A green salad follows the main course. Dressed with Champagne vinaigrette and served with goat cheese on toast. These tart and sharp flavors are ideal as the ending of the savory courses and cleans your palate for dessert. I love to linger at the table and savor flavors, sip wine and reminisce… this is the time.

Torta de Santiago, is a flourless cake that was traditionally made by the pilgrims during the peregrination to Santiago de Compostela. Instead of flour it uses finely ground almonds, eggs and lemon to make a sensational collection of flavors. I love it as is but you can always serve it a la mode with a pecan ice cream.

With coffee and tea, I am serving mini mincemeat tarts. These are vestiges of my British education and one of the many epicurean traditions I have kept. Brandy Butter or even whipped cream with a touch of brandy is a perfect garnish.

Making traditions and creating memories is how I think of these festivities. All of them have an ancient reason for being and none cheer our spirits and lifts our moods better that a mid-winter festival. It is after all, what it is all about: the celebration of being together with family and friends.

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