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Christmas in the English style

The Canal House cooks, feeling quite "Christmas Carol"-y, choose stately prime rib and Yorkshire pudding for the feast.

Roast prime rib of beef. Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton have the butcher cut the meat from the bones then tie the roast back together.
Roast prime rib of beef. Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton have the butcher cut the meat from the bones then tie the roast back together.Read more

Hooray, it's the holidays! And you'll find no "Bah humbug!" here. We're caught up in the festivities of the season. If we're lucky there'll be just enough snow to dress Bucks County in winter white. The little river towns along the Delaware look downright Dickensian - big stars and bells strung with twinkling lights hang from every lamppost, people hurry through their errands, while others stroll and peruse shop windows decked out with bling. There are even carolers on street corners singing the old favorites. Hollywood couldn't stage it better.

We drive back and forth across the river over pretty iron bridges decorated with wreaths and evergreen roping, shopping for our Christmas dinner. We are going Brit this year with a menu of prime rib of beef and Yorkshire pudding. It's fun to go from store to store as we tick off our list. Laden with bags of delicious ingredients, we splurge a little more and buy Marcona almonds, dates, and chocolates for nibbling. Soon our fridge is filled with bottles of sparkling wine, chilled and ready to serve to any guests who drop by.

We order a three-rib roast and ask our butcher to cut the meat from the bones then tie the whole roast back together. The big meaty bones act as a roasting rack; when the time comes to carve, it will be a breeze. But first we will brown the meat in a big cast-iron skillet, then into the oven it goes to roast low and slow to an even rosy pink. We'll serve it with its pan juices or make good old-fashioned gravy. Of course, we will have a little horseradish sauce. We both grew up with the tradition of Yorkshire pudding, which isn't really a pudding at all, but rather a giant popover with a golden crust and soft, tender insides. Often it's made right in the roasting pan while the meat is resting before carving, but we make smaller individual puddings, with more crisp edges that hold their puff a bit longer.

Starters will be something fishy, like a big platter of freshly shucked oysters with tiny hot sausages - first a slurp of an ice-cold oyster, then a bite of a hot, fat sausage. Or we pile thinly sliced gravlax or smoked salmon on pumpernickel slathered with our mustard butter. We'll pour a good growers' Champagne or prosecco into elegant flutes. And when it comes time for the main course, a big watercress salad that's fresh and peppery will complement the richness of the meat. It is all easy and relaxed, a delicious meal with little fussy cooking.

There will be enough time to take a walk through the woods before our early Christmas dinner. We'll take the dogs and they'll run and romp through the snowy fields the way we wish we could. Then it will be time to head home, light a fire, turn off the phones, turn up the carols, and gather together around the table to share stories, food, and love.

Roast Prime Rib of Beef

Makes 8 to 10 servingsEndTextStartText

1 8- to 12-pound prime rib roast of beef, tied between the ribs

Salt and pepperEndTextStartText

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Generously season the roast all over with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet large enough to accommodate the roast and sear the meaty sides until nicely browned, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Transfer the roast to a large roasting pan, rib side down, and roast in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees for rare, 130 to 135 degrees for medium-rare, and 140 degrees for medium, 3 to 4½ hours.

3. Transfer the roast beef to a carving board or a warm serving platter and let it rest for 30 minutes. Remove string before carving the roast.

Per serving (based on 10): 674 calories; 110 grams protein; no carbohydrates; no sugar; 23 grams fat; 324 milligrams cholesterol; 355 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.

Little Yorkshire Puddings

Makes 8 servings


1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup whole milk

3 to 4 tablespoons roast beef pan drippings or melted butter


1. Whisk together flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add eggs and milk, whisking until batter is well mixed (it's OK if there are a few lumps). Cover and refrigerate the batter for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a small spoonful of pan drippings or butter into each cup of an 8-mold popover or muffin pan and put pan into the oven until it is hot. Give batter a stir, then pour it into hot cups, filling them no more than 3/4 full. Quickly return pan to oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until puffed and browned, about 20 minutes more (resist the urge to open the oven door and peek; the puddings will deflate). Tip puddings out of cups and poke their sides with a toothpick to let steam escape. Serve hot.

Note: Use the pan drippings from the roast beef for best flavor.

Per serving: 129 calories; 4 grams protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams sugar; 7 grams fat; 55 milligrams cholesterol; 206 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.EndText

Chocolate Gingerbread

Makes 12 servingsEndTextStartText

For the gingerbread:

2 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 eggs

1 cup molasses or sorghum

8 ounces chocolate chips, melted

1 cup espresso or strong coffee, cooled

For the chocolate icing:

8 ounces chocolate chips

1/2 cup heavy creamEndTextStartText

1. For the gingerbread, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9-inch springform cake pan, then dust it with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. Sift or whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, and pepper together in a large bowl, then set aside.

3. Put the butter into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the brown sugar, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the molasses and the chocolate until smooth. Add the dry ingredients and the espresso alternately while you continue to beat the mixture. Use a rubber spatula to help incorporate any batter on the bottom or sides of the bowl. Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake until the top springs back when you lightly press it in the middle, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

4. For the chocolate icing, while the cake cools, heat the chocolate and the cream together in a small heavy pot over low heat. Stir with a whisk as it melts.

5. Transfer the cooled gingerbread onto a plate. Arrange strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean. Smooth the icing on top of the gingerbread, allowing it to drip over the sides. Remove the paper.

Per serving: 488 calories; 7 grams protein; 67 grams carbohydrates; 38 grams sugar; 22 grams fat; 63 milligrams cholesterol; 419 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.

Watercress Salad

Makes 6-8 servings


1 small garlic clove

A good pinch of salt

Black pepper, to taste

Juice of half a lemon

4 to 6 tablespoons really good extra-virgin olive oil

1 bunch of scallions, chopped

4 bunches cleaned watercress

Cleaned tender inner leaves of 1 small head Bibb lettuce


1. Mash together a minced small clove garlic with a good pinch of salt and some pepper in the bottom of a salad bowl. Stir in the juice of half a lemon. Add 4 to 6 tablespoons really good extra-virgin olive oil, stirring as you do so. Taste the vinaigrette and adjust the seasoning. Add 1 bunch of chopped scallions to the bowl, stirring them into the vinaigrette.

2. Pile 4 bunches cleaned watercress and the cleaned tender inner leaves of 1 small head Bibb lettuce on top of the vinaigrette.

3. Toss the salad just before serving. It wilts quickly.

Per serving (based on 8): 67 calories; 1 gram protein; 1 gram carbohydrates; no sugar; 7 grams fat; no cholesterol; 45 milligrams sodium; trace dietary fiber.