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THE QUESTION: I thought it'd be just the four of us for a relaxing Christmas Eve. The chestnut soup is made and a five-pound capon -the biggest bird my little oven will fit - is brining. But, my polka-loving in-laws (don't ask) just called and invited themselves and a pair of cousins over for dinner. How do I double the menu, fast?

THE ANSWER: You're going to need a piece of stovetop meat and a stiff drink. I'd go with a 2½-pound bone-in rib-eye and a double Jameson's, neat. While the chicken's roasting, double up your vegetables (or make potatoes; polka people like potatoes), and stretch your soup if you've got peeled chestnuts on hand (if not, it's soup shooters - how fashionable). Once the finished chicken is resting, pan-roast your rib-eye. Pan roast, you say? Look it up, it's easy (the recipe in the Momofuku cookbook is aces - you sear the steak in a pan, roast it in the oven, then finish it back on the stove while spooning molten herb butter over the meat). There's almost no better way to prepare a piece of beef. Slice it, drizzle with the pan juices and serve alongside the capon. And be sure that by dessert (I'm thinking ice cream and bakery tarts) the in-laws know you expect an invitation to their St. Kitts' beachfront condo come March.

Chris Nuttall-Smith is a food writer and restaurant columnist.

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