Have Yourself a Stove Top Little Christmas

It is Christmas Eve, and here at my house the power is out. While I am lucky enough to have an old Dual Atlantic wood and gas cook stove, the oven has some pretty significant limitations. Like it doesn’t work with gas, and the poor old dear seldom can get itself over 225 degrees on wood. While that is a terrific temperature for baked beans, Indian pudding, toasting granola, and lots of other slow, very low, cooked things, it won’t work for roasting the Christmas beef or making the Yorkshire pudding. For those, I need my electric oven which isn’t working today.

There is no way that I am going to turn the roast of beef into pot roast. It is going to stay frozen (in a snow bank, if it comes to that, which it might). I can live without Yorkshire pudding. The mashed potatoes are still on, the butternut squash is still possible, either boiled and mashed with gobs of butter and a handful of brown sugar, or cubed and sautéed on gas at a high temperature with olive oil until the edges turn brown. Leeks and Brussels sprouts are very good sautéed together in the wok. I’ll cut the sprouts in half, and slice the leeks, use olive oil, then give it all a sprinkle with vinaigrette. I already made the plum pudding, and can warm it up in my low, slow oven, swaddled in its pudding cloth, and flamed with brandy afterward, and passed with hard sauce mixed by hand. All the condiments and pickles are set.

So it looks to me that the centerpiece meat will be a steak-like item cooked on top of the stove, and perhaps that fine little venison rump that my neighbors Nancy and Terry shared with me is just the ticket. It ought to be marinated first. How about in oil and red wine vinegar with mustard, salt, pepper, and lots of garlic? It needs something on top of it. Well, there are lots of leeks in the cellar, and we can sauté them in butter, then dump in the marinade. That should do it.

Toby is really good at cooking meat, so he will have the responsibility of turning the venison into a tender, toothsome, thinly sliced, delectation. He usually dumps the marinade into the pan, lets the vinegar, lets the meat juices bubble away, then cooks the steaks in the remaining oil. The garlic turns into crunchy little bits. I sauté the leeks or onion, in a spearte pan, then dump them in the steakpan at the last minute, and cook them a moment longer, scraping up all the cooked on bits, adding a touch of red wine if necessary to loosen them, while we plate the rest of the food.

What do you want to bet that good old CMP will get the lights on five minutes before dinner is served? Those poor guys, out in the cold and ice, when they would rather be home with their families around the Christmas tree. As Tiny Tim could have said, “God bless the linemen, everyone.”

Marinated Venison Steak

4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar

½ cup olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

3 cloves of garlic, sliced

Salt and pepper

1 pound of venison, cut into inch-thick steaks

Sliced onions or leeks, to taste, lightly fried

Whisk together the vinegar, oil, and mustard. Add the garlic, a couple of shakes of salt and a couple grinds or three of black pepper. At least two or three hours, preferably longer, before you plan to cook the venison, put it in the marinade, turning it to cover it completely. Let it sit at room temperature.

When you are ready to cook the meat, heat the fry pan and put the marinade into it. Any water will cook away, and leave the oil, then add the steaks. Cook the steaks to taste, three to four minutes a side to medium rare, or until the meat feels firm but not hard. Remove and add the onions to finish cooking, then serve.

Makes enough for two to three servings.

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About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.