Emily L. Stephens last graced The Toast with Alternative Christmas Movies.
It’s February. The winter holidays are long over, the lights are coming down, and the dark is creeping in. It’s time to invite some friends over for a night of bright, lighthearted fun – quick, before the metaphorical winter closes in around you and snows you into the labyrinthian hotel of your heart.
Enter The Shining, Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s notorious tale of a family trapped together in a vast and elegant hotel as the winter beats on outside. If your guests haven’t seen it, they’re in for a jolt. And if they have seen it, they’re ready to see it again. Now all we need is a viewing party menu, something suitable for a casual home cook. Oddly enough, I’ve never found one online, though I obsessively search for “the shining” “viewing party” menu the way other Kubrick devotees search for “the shining” spatial analysis or “the shining” “moon landing” fake.
So I had to create my own, complete with two choices for dinner (one easy and one easier) and for dessert (did I mention? one easy and one easier). Instead of spending the evening in the kitchen cooking, you’ll be on the sofa having a cocktail (or mocktail) with your friends.
The menu’s a little ALL-CAPSy, but hey, it’s an ALL-CAPSy kinda movie. Speaking of ALL-CAPS, outfit your table with Shane Parker’s cheeky Overlook Hotel Children’s Corner placemat, featuring a jumble, word-search, and (of course) a maze.
Start the evening’s festivities with a specialty cocktail: the REDRUM, a playful blend of blood orange soda (I buy mine at Trader Joe’s), white rum, and lime juice. You could, of course, use grapefruit soda or lemonade tinted red with pomegranate or grenadine, but then you miss the delicious shiver of announcing that it’s bloooooood orange.
One part rum to two parts soda makes a good strong drink, but I like a lighter punch – say, 1 part rum to 3 or 4 parts of soda with a good squeeze of lime. Blood orange soda and lime makes a tart, tasty drink on its own, too, and is handy for those who don’t drink alcohol. If you like, offer a bottle of rum on the side so guests can doctor their own drinks.
I serve this punch right in the glass bottle, which makes for easy mixing: just pour out 6-8 ounces of soda, add juice from half a lime and a long strip of zest to the bottle, and top up with rum. Recap and invert a few times to mix. You can even relabel it! Soak the bottle in cold water and the label will slip right off. Scrawl REDRUM on a plain white label and slap it on or write directly on the well-dried glass with a red permanent marker. (Write it high up where no one will grab the bottle to pour or your guests will get caught red-handed.)
For a simple, tasty, and vegan-friendly appetizer, start with:
hummus layered with homemade romesco sauce
1 7 or 8 ounces (a 12-ounce jar, drained) of roasted red peppers, chopped
1 medium tomato, roughly chopped, or scant 1/2 cup canned tomato
1 thick slice French or Italian bread, just the soft bits
1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil, approximately
1 heaping tsp smoked paprika, hot or sweet
1 clove garlic, smashed
a fat pinch of salt
Romesco can be served chunky with toothy bits of almond and pepper, but for this purpose we’re making it – at least some of it – smooth. You’ll need a food processor or blender (traditional or immersion). If you’re using an immersion blender, pour 1/4 cup of olive oil into your bowl or jar and dip the blender’s business end in; this will protect it from the orange stains peppers and tomato can leave on plastic. Pan-toast the nuts and smoked paprika in a spoonful of oil to round and deepen the flavors. Now plunk everything – drained peppers, nuts, bread, and seasonings – in with the oil and blend until it’s thick and creamy. If it’s too thick to blend, add more oil a spoonful at a time. Refrigerate well covered up to 5 days.
Like most sauces, this is a template you can tinker with. Add a squeeze of lemon or a jolt of sherry vinegar, a pinch of red pepper flakes or ancho powder, a handful of parsley. Replace almonds with hazelnuts or pine nuts. Omit the bread to accommodate wheat-free diners. When I leave out the tomato for an allergic friend, the sauce is still vibrant and tangy.
In a serving dish, layer your dips: plain hummus, then romesco, then plain again. Don’t worry about keeping the layers smooth except for the top. If you’re doing this ahead – and why wouldn’t you? – wrap tightly and refrigerate up to 2 days. (No time to make romesco? Substitute store-bought red pepper spread, red pepper hummus, or sun-dried tomato spread.)
An hour or so before your guests arrive, write out your murderous motto. If you have a piping bag, use that. If not, make your own disposable piping bag: spoon the romesco into a heavy-duty plastic bag, twist-tie it closed, and nip off the corner. Spell it out in a shaky hand: R E D R U M. Serve with crudités and a stack of crackers, pita bread, or tortilla chips for a hauntingly delicious snack.
Now for dinner. The two menu choices are calling to you… steadily, spookily, like a pair of eerie little girls at the end of a long hallway.
ALL PORK AND NO SLAW MAKES JACK A DULL BOY
Buy a bottle of good barbecue sauce and 8-10 pounds of pork butt. (That’s pork butt, a.k.a. shoulder, shoulder butt, Boston shoulder, Boston roast; second choice is picnic butt. Bone in or bone out doesn’t matter, because the meat will fall right off the bone when you’re done.) Rinse and pat dry the pork butt and put it in a casserole with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the barbeque sauce over the pork.
I hear you: “Two ingredients? Come on.” You’re tempted to gussy it up. Me, too! Sometimes I rub the butt (I said it) with a palmful of cumin and oregano and a smashed garlic clove, then splash in a glass of wine or beer or sherry. But if you do that, you can’t humble-brag about your terrific two-ingredient pulled pork, and it really is terrific. Try it just like this at least once.
Put the covered casserole in the oven at 225º F for 8-10 hours while you sniff the intoxicating aroma and ask “Hey, what smells like pork butt?” Cooking low and slow lets the collagen in the meat melt into a tender, succulent tangle. When you prod it and a hunk slides off, it’s done. But you should taste it just to be sure. Then taste some more. Then pull the meat apart with two forks and try not to eat all of it on your own, standing over the stove with two forks.
A few store-bought fixings round out this meal:
-a bag of slaw greens. Are you too classy for bagged cabbage? Kale slaw with dried cranberries is classy.
– a bottle of dressing. Are you too classy for mayo-dressed slaw? Poppyseed is classy. So is sesame ginger.
-a jar of sliced pickles. Some like sweet, some like dill, and I’m not trying to get between those sides.
– a bag of slider rolls.
You’re done. WENDY, I’M HOME. You could add potato salad, but now you’re just showing off, show-off.
Make your favorite lasagne: (butternut squash! spinach! 0r take it even easier and buy a family-size lasagne from the grocery store) and finish the top layer with a thick sprinkle of mozzarella to make a nice pale surface before you bake it.
Bake your lasagne as instructed by the recipe/package, then let cool 5-10 minutes. (If your recipe doesn’t include this instruction, it should. A brief rest sets lasagne so it’s easier to cut and your guests won’t scorch their mouths. Don’t worry, it will still be piping hot.) With a pastry brush, outline a green maze on that cheesy landscape. If you want a clean edge, guide your hand with a folded piece of foil of parchment. You needn’t make it elaborate; a few confusing turns is all it takes.
NB: if you own the Baker’s Edge pan, you are morally obligated to make hedge-maze lasagne for this viewing party.
Add garlic bread (Meg at Budget Bytes has a great simple recipe; so does Elise at Simply Recipes) and a simple salad. A peppery green like watercress or arugula makes a crisp complement to all that cheesy, buttery goodness.
For dessert, take inspiration from Dick Halloran’s rambling inventory of The Overlook Hotel’s pantry: “We’ve got Post Toasties, Cornflakes, Sugar Puffs, Rice Krispies, Oatmeal, Wheatina, and Cream of Wheat… We’ve got dried peaches, dried apricots, dried raisins, and dried prunes.” That homey collection of dry goods makes a favorite fun dessert.
fruit-studded marshmallow fingers
Melt 10 ounces of marshmallows (or, to eliminate the gelatin and keep it vegetarian, substitute 7 ounces of marshmallow cream; check your brand’s label) with 3 TBS butter or oil over low heat. Stir in 6 cups of cereal (puffed rice, corn flakes, puffed oats, flavored cereal) and up to 1 1/2 cups of roughly chopped dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, dates, pineapple). Press into a well-greased 13” x 9” pan and let cool completely before covering or cutting.
For variety, you can add some peanut butter or Nutella to the marshmallow mixture as it melts, or swap out the fruit for some mini-chocolate chips, or add mini peanut butter cups or broken pretzels or… you get the picture. If you cut them into long, thin bars and call them “fingers,” you have an excuse to crook your own finger eerily and croak out “Heeeeee’s not herrrrrre, Missus Torrance!” whenever you reach for one.
How’d you like some ice cream, Doc?
For an even simpler dessert: How’d you like some ice cream, Doc? Turn up the deliciousness on ice cream, sorbet, and any other scoop of frozen yum by serving it with homemade chocolate shell topping – vegan-friendly, a snap to make, and just the thing for watching Jack Torrance, that hollow shell of a husband, transform into something far worse.
Gently melt 1 cup (~6 ounces) of chopped chocolate or chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. I funneled mine straight into a clean, dry bottle and warmed it in a pan of hot water, but you can melt it in a double-boiler or microwave. Use any chocolate you like: dark, milk, white, dairy-free, even flavored. If you like a thinner shell, add a bit more coconut oil.
Serve immediately over ice cream or let cool, cover tightly, and store at cool room temperature. To reheat, place the bottle or jar in the hottest possible tap water until sauce melts enough to pour or spoon.
Now hunker down in the warmth of your friends’ compliments and enjoy!