Thu 30 Dec 2010
I had a real treat for Christmas: an invitation from my friend Nancy for dinner. She said she was making salmon, which is a Northwest Icon, and she’s an excellent cook, so I knew it would be good. All I had to do was show up, and then lounge around nibbling on cheese and olives while others cooked. Not a bad deal, eh?
The house was beautifully decorated, and family from Oregon was in attendance – there were three generations at the table, a wonderful thing at the holidays.
When I walked into the kitchen, I stopped, in awe of the perfect cake that was sitting on the counter. It looked like a marshmallowy snowball, perfectly white, with delicate peaks. Nancy said it was a Lady Baltimore cake, and I whooped in delight. I’d heard of this classic southern cake, but had never had one. It turns out that this cake is a traditional Christmas dessert for her family, so she was paying homage to her family by making it. Lady Baltimore Cake is a white cake with a meringue-type icing. The filling is the icing mixed with nuts and chopped figs.
The rest of the meal, before the cake was a classic Northwest feast. Nancy and her husband had discussed the menu options. They don’t eat red meat, and had just had turkey for Thanksgiving. They opted out of other poultry and decided on Salmon, which is one of the preferred holiday dinners here in Seattle. Our fish markets get some of the best local, wild salmon in the world, so we are privileged to have this at the table.
The starter was an excellent salad of greens, super-ripe Comice pears, gorgonzola and candied pecans. It was so fresh, with so many flavors going on; I could have just eaten a bowl of that for dinner and been happy.
But no, there was the main course to come. The salmon had been prepared at the fishmonger, head and tail off, so Nancy seasoned it with a dry rub and lemons and simply popped it in the oven. She put the two halves together, belly to back, so that the whole of the salmon was the same thickness to ensure even cooking.
Fingerling potatoes were scrubbed, well salted and peppered and doused with good olive oil, then roasted for about 45 minutes until they were crispy and browned on the outside, but tender on the inside.
The meal was rounded out by perfectly gem-bright sautéed green beans and, in another nod to her family tradition, a dish of ruby red jellied cranberry sauce. Champagne and a Chardonnay were served in the elegant stemware.
It was so lovely to be there with her family, enjoying that classic meal. The salmon was beautifully cooked and a little spicy from the rub, the potatoes perfect, and the green beans crisp and bright.
While the food was wonderful, I really enjoyed lingering at the table with the women while the men cleaned up in the kitchen. We relaxed and exchanged stories about family, recipes, and in a nostalgic moment, were a little sad about those who have passed. It was all appropriate, though, to acknowledge absent loved ones while enjoying the company of those who are here.
When the cake was served, I was amazed at the pure whiteness of both icing and cake. It was a beautiful, sweet cake with a hint of almonds and bursts of flavor with the figs and nuts in the middle.
It was a wonderful Christmas dinner, and I’m grateful to have been invited. I hope your holiday dinners were as delightful, and that you all have a very Happy New Year.
Nancy made the Lady Baltimore Cake from a recipe in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. If you have the book, use that one. If you don’t have it, here’s a recipe from Epicurious: