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cheap and sexy christmas eve

For the past few days, I'd been stressing over what to prepare for Christmas Eve dinner.  I wanted to avoid laboring over a meal for countless hours when I had so many other demands on my time and energy, but at the same time, I wanted a meal that would be somewhat elegant and festive, but not crazy expensive.

I know from years of experience, that when it comes to 'elegant and festive', you can choose to save time, or money, but rarely ever both.

Luckily for me, inspiration struck at just the right time!  I've always loved mussels, but I found the process of cleaning and de-bearding them so laborious that I rarely ever prepared them at home.  But since the rest of this preparation was so quick and easy, I figured I could devote some time to the cleaning without too much difficulty.  As it turned out, the mussels that I found were so clean and free of debris that prepping them was a snap, taking less than half the time I anticipated.

Also, to be clear, I did not deliberately seek out the cheapest available version of every ingredient I used.  I purchased the brands/versions that I usually buy, as my goal was merely to prepare a holiday meal with minimal effort that wouldn't cost much more than any other weeknight meal.

I'm including a list of all the ingredients I used, but I am only providing prices for items that I don't usually have in my pantry, i.e. things that I actually had to go out and buy specifically to make this dish. You might have more of these ingredients on hand than I do.



Steamed mussels with fennel

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute
1 fennel bulb, finely diced (save the fronds for garnish) - $2.99
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of dry white wine
1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes - $2.49
1 cup of chicken stock - $1.39
salt, if desired
red pepper flakes
approximately 2.5 lbs of P.E.I. mussels (cleaned and de-bearded) - $7.77
baguette - $2.00

Heat the oil and butter over medium heat, add the fennel and garlic and cook until the fennel starts to soften. Add the wine, simmer and reduce slightly.  Add the tomatoes, stock, salt and pepper flakes.  Bring the mixture to a boil, and add the mussels to the pot.  Cover tightly and steam until the mussels just open.  This happens very quickly (less than 5 minutes), so be careful not to overcook them.  Discard any that don't open.

Just before serving sprinkle some minced fennel fronds over the top.  And have some crusty bread on hand for sopping up the juices!

And what holiday meal would be complete without dessert?  Since I didn't want to have any sweet leftovers sitting around the house to tempt us in the coming days, I bought the smallest panettone I could find and cut it into slices, which I browned in some butter in a non-stick skillet.  I served the panettone with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, and topped the dish with a sauce made from dried cranberries simmered in dark rum and orange juice.  I also added some fresh cracked black pepper to the sauce to give it a bit of a kick.



panettone - $5.99
ice cream - $2.50
dried cranberries - $4.99
dark rum - $5.99
orange juice - $1.79

So there you have it - a wonderfully delicious, romantic and classy meal, suitable for the holiday season, at a cost of around $38  - not including a bottle of sparkling wine (not the wine I used for cooking), which came in at a very reasonable $12.95

Many thanks to Shinae for the inspiration.

Merry dinners to all, and to all a good night!
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