Amid the hullabaloo that is the Christmas season, a lovely idea is to have a respite—in other words, a pause in the grand celebrations—by planning an intimate, elegant dinner for two at home.
I adore the idea of moveable feasts and have been known to set up the dinner table in very unexpected places, such as the driveway and entryway when the number of guests threatened to overflow the dining room; or in the bedroom with children and adults; or beside a bay window on an early spring day.
But my favorite place of all has always been in the library by the fireplace. As the mantel is decorated, the tree is dressed up, and the house is beginning to look a lot like Christmas, sitting by the fireplace, soaking it all in, creates a cozy, relaxed moment to delight in the season.
A practical square card table, a round side table, or even one of those folding tables will do the trick for this dinner. If you’re using an unsightly table, first cover it with a thick felt tablecloth. This felt layer will help round the edges, letting the main tablecloth drape better, and also helps keep the tablecloth in place and the plates and glasses secure. (When I haven’t been able to find the felt, I have used a pale-colored bed blanket.)
Once the table feels secure, I place plates, glasses, and accessories to decorate. To fit the season, pinecones and red berries play with white hellebores. Mixing silver and gold adds a bit of glimmer and glow, and white linens add an understated elegance.
The menu is festive and elegant. Sautéed scallops in a creamy champagne sauce are both delicate and decadent, a luscious dish fit for this celebration. I serve them over fresh fettuccine with brown butter and fried sage—a super simple yet sophisticated combination, and one of those genius recipes that will help you create instant, flavorful meals and feel like a kitchen goddess.
After the scallops, I am serving a small green salad made with tender bibb lettuce, crunchy toasted almonds, and creamy pine nuts in a light lemon and champagne vinegar vinaigrette, as a way to clean the palate. Add a scattering of red sun-dried tomato and voila! A red, white, and green Christmas salad!
Dessert, then, can be as simple as chocolate ice cream with hot chocolate sauce.
The timing? Make your salad dressing ahead of time, and have the components ready. Cook the scallops first and make the champagne sauce, then cook the pasta and make the brown butter sauce. Dress and mix your pasta, bring the champagne sauce to a simmer, add the scallops to gently reheat, and serve. When it’s time to serve the salad, simply toss everything together.
Do get dressed up; it’s part of the fun. Then after the meal, lingering at the table is part of the plan, so take your time, sip the champagne, and tell yet another story. These are the moments that make the holiday season memorable. Merry Christmas!