In the last post, we talked about planning for your Merry Little Solo Christmas Dinner, now it’s time to shop for your feast!
I’m also sharing my recipe for lemony carrot and dill soup, created when the ingredients for my favorite soup were out of stock one too many times at the market.
Making a List, Checking it Twice …
Once you know your menu, you can create your shopping list. Be sure to read through each recipe carefully—it’s easy to miss things.
- For each dish, establish what you have on hand
- Make a list of what you need to buy, dish by dish
- Look at your list, noting where you have common ingredients and determine how much in total you need. Create your master shopping list
- Create a backup plan list too, including some shelf-stable substitutes in case you really need to change course
IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to reduce the amount you need to buy when you’re reducing a recipe!
Red or White? Neither?
What do you want to drink with your feast? Pairing wines with your courses is fun, but generally, just a bottle of something nice that goes with your main suffices. You can wind up with too many open bottles … or feeling very sad on Boxing Day.
My wine shop has splits (smaller bottles), not just for sparkling wines, but for reds and whites as well, and, depending on what I decide to have, I may go that route. Smaller bottles of sparkling wines are easier to find and add a sense of occasion.
If you don’t drink or won’t be drinking on Christmas, sparkling cider might be nice. Also, there are a number of non-alcoholic spirits available now. I’ve been meaning to try them—if you have, I’d love a recommendation.
I also have sparkling water with my meals. I tend to get this in cans to avoid it going flat.
Shop for your Merry Little Solo Christmas Dinner!
Now you’re ready to shop! Be careful about shopping too early—you don’t want ingredients like meats or delicate vegetables to spoil. However, you also want to make sure that you get everything.
When shopping for the holidays in regular years, my dad and I would typically head out on the 23rd for an epic shop. If you’re ordering from a butcher shop, I’d get that order in right away and ask them when you can pick it up. I’m getting my online order in tomorrow and am calling the butcher this afternoon.
If something is out of stock, don’t panic. You had a backup plan, remember? If you’re shopping in person, and the missing ingredient means that you have to completely change your planned dish, simply get those ingredients and put back any you had in your cart. For online ordering, many services allow you to indicate an acceptable substitution—do that. You also might want to order a couple of “just in case” ingredients that keep, should you need to really change course.
Remember, you’re just cooking for yourself. As long as you like what you end up with, who cares?
Recipe: Lemony Carrot Soup with Dill
A recipe born from ingredients for my favorite soup always being out of stock
Do you ever beg for a recipe after a dinner party? I did that nearly twenty years ago, and that’s how I got the recipe on which this soup is based. Alice Waters’s Carrot and Cilantro soup (the photocopy doesn’t show the book title, but I am pretty sure that it is from Chez Panisse Vegetables) is one of those dishes that’s so delicious that I talked about it the entire dinner, and my host graciously got me a photocopy of it, probably so that I’d shut up about it.
I made it for dinner parties (not ones he was at), and I’ve given that recipe to other people. Once I even won a prize for it at a friend’s Soup Off party. I stuck to that recipe faithfully, never varying.
Out of jalapeños again?!
It wasn’t easy, though, because, when I really, really wanted that soup, I would often find that the market was out of cilantro, or the jalapeños. Sometimes even the limes, or all three ingredients. I live in New England, and at the time didn’t live in the city—I suspect that this isn’t an issue in other parts of the country, but it happened one too many times here for me.
Improvisation, going from good to great
Frustrated by missing cilantro, I decided to forego the salsa improvised with some dried chervil, adding a bit of cream to the finished soup. Yum.
Then I tried fresh dill. Also yum, and fresh dill was easier to get than chervil, and I found that I personally liked dill better than the cilantro. I started adding more herbs to the soup base, as well as a bit of lemon for some acid. And, behold, it was good. I got rave reviews from friends and family alike.
One time I wasn’t really thinking, and I squeezed more lemon juice than I normally added to the soup. That, my friends, took this from a very, very good recipe, to a truly tasty one. I had forgotten that one of the best parts of the original recipe was the salsa with lots of lime juice. The extra kick of acid here was what I hadn’t known was missing. The last time I served this at my family’s Christmas diner, a guest blew kisses at me.
Lemony Carrot Soup with Dill
Lemony Carrot Soup with Dill
- stick blender, food mill, or blender
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 medium yellow onion thick sliced
- 1 pound carrots trimmed, peeled, and cut into chunks
- ½ pound russet potato peeled, and cut into chunks (you can use another kind of potato, but russet really is best for the texture)
- Kosher salt see note in the method
- 4 cups Chicken stock to cover start with about four cups, but note that you may need to add more if too much cooks as it simmers (see note)
- 2 parsley sprigs
- 1 dried bay leaf if it’s a big one, cut it in half
- 1 sprig of thyme
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 lemon, juiced or to taste (if you aren’t sure, start with less and work your way up)
- Several sprigs of fresh dill rip off the stems, to taste, plus more for garnish
- Cream, crème fraîche, or butter Optional, to serve
- In a heavy bottomed pot with a lid (a Le Creuset French oven is perfect, if you have one), melt the butter over low heat. Add the onion, stir until it glistens, and then cover and sweat slowly for about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft. Check on it a couple of times and stir. You do not want the onion to brown at all.
- When the onion is soft, add the carrots and potatoes and stir to combine. Salt generously (see note). Cover again and sweat for about 10–12 minutes, again checking and stirring and making sure that nothing is browning.
- Remove the lid, add the stock to cover. Add the parsley, bay, and thyme. Add a twist or two of pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Taste. It’s probably going to need salt. Add it, if necessary.
- Simmer, uncovered, for a while until the carrots soften (you should be able to almost cut into one with a fork).
- Add the lemon juice (see note in ingredients) and give it a stir. Taste. Add more lemon, if necessary.
- Let simmer until the potatoes and carrots are soft enough to blend smoothly. Note that this can take a good long time, and, if you find that the stock reduced too much, add a little more stock or water.
- Taste again and adjust seasoning. Skim off any foam that has risen to the surface. Fish out the bay leaf, and the parsley and thyme sprigs.
- Add the sprigs of dill.
- I’m supposed to tell you to use a food mill or a blender. But I use a good old-fashioned stick blender to puree the soup. As I mentioned above, I like a thicker soup, so the fact that a stick blender does result in a perfectly velvety soup does not bother me. It’s so much easier. However, if a velvety smooth soup is your game, then use a food mill or the blender, and then pass it through a sieve.
- Puree the soup. Taste it again. If it needs more dill, add some finely chopped dill.
- To serve, heat the soup through. Serve with optional cream or crème fraiche, and a bit of fresh dill
Cooking Your Merry Little Solo Christmas Dinner! Tips and tricks for getting everything on the table when you want to eat, without freaking out.
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