Christmas Dinner – Pork Rib Roast

December 29, 2010

David gave me the best present ever this Christmas!  He gave me a professional photo studio light set, complete with reflecting umbrellas and 250 watt light bulbs.  Wowee, I about fell out of my seat.  Of course I set the whole thing up immediately, in the dining room.  My dinner guests were extremely good sports and waited for dinner for an hour and a half while I played with my lights.  The food shots on this page are all with the new system.  What do you think?

My Christmas Menu:

Pork Rib Roast, Frenched and Roasted with Rosemary and Garlic

Herb Roasted Potatoes

Mashed Butternut Squash with Butter and Salt and Pepper

Rustic Dressing with Apples, Pork and Calvados (apple brandy)

Steamed Green Beans

Pumpkin Pie with Whipped Cream

Pork Rib Roast With Rosemary and Garlic

Somehow in the flurry of Christmas preparations, I mixed up which pork roast recipe I had planned.  Can you believe it?  I had planned on using a recipe from Williams and Sonoma for Crowned Pork Roast with Calvados Sauce.  I made this a few Christmases ago and it was fantastic.   I was reviewing my own pork rib roast recipe and saw that I usually do it exactly the same way I do a rack of lamb, only I extend the oven time a bit.

Pork Rib Roast with Pan Sauce

So, off to the races.  I mixed up a nice marinade of olive oil, rosemary, garlic, lemon and white wine.  I massaged it into the pork roast entirely,  covered it up with plastic wrap and stuck it in the fridge.  Oops, does that sound like apples and apple brandy?  No, it sounds an awful lot like the rosemary and garlic marinade I put on my lamb.  I had temporarily time traveled back to Easter I guess.  Do I panic?  Heck no, I just decided to make the pork dressing with the apples and calvados instead.  The pork roast was still going to be delicious with the lamb treatment.  Problem solved!

Rustic Dressing with Apple, Pork and Calvados

For the dressing, I used left over french bread that I had cubed and toasted in the oven on low for about half an hour.  I used the left over pork from the frenching of the roast, the process of removing all the meat from the end of the bones.

Most good butchers will either grind this up for you or, at least, give you the scraps.  So I cut it up very fine, browned it with apples, onions,  celery and butter.  I added calvados, apple brandy and chicken stock, then simmered it for a bit before adding it to the french bread cubes.  I like to add an egg to oven baked stuffing.  So, before adding the bread cubes to the meat and vegetable mixture, I cooled it off a little.  Once cooled, I added a beaten egg.  This prevents the egg from scrambling, but still allows the egg to keep the dressing moist and a little custardy.  It came out great.  Very moist, very tender, very delicious!

Herb Roasted Potatoes

I made herb roasted potatoes because they are simple to make and you can’t mess them up.  I had planned on roasted redskin potatoes, but the ones I bought in a big bag were more scraggly looking than I had thought.  I had to peel them.

I have to say, about the only thing I hate to do in the kitchen, is to peel potatoes.  I don’t mind peeling carrots, peeling apples, chopping, dicing, slicing, I just hate to peel potatoes.  Maybe I had too much KP duty in a former life.  Anyway, peel away, I did.  I roasted them by coating with a bit of olive oil, salt and a tiny bit of chopped rosemary.  A little rosemary goes a long way.  I roasted them at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes, turning them halfway through.  Just before serving, I dressed them with a little melted butter.  Wow, very tasty and because they were peeled, they were extremely tender.  No tough pieces of skin that sometimes become leathery.  So, my advice, peel the potatoes!

Butternut Squash

I made the squash the day before.  I bought a few small butternuts.  I cut them in half, seeded them and roasted them, cut side down in a baking dish with a little water in the bottom at 350 degrees for about an hour.  I almost ruined them.  I was taking a little snooze while they were in the oven and my nose woke me up.  Yikes!  Burning squash!  Well, not to worry, my nose always tells me when things are done, even if sometimes, just in the nick of time.  David says I don’t need timers, my nose always tells me what time it is.  Once the squash cooled, I scooped it out of the skin, mashed it with a little butter and salt and pepper and I was good to go.  It reheats beautifully.

I added steamed green beans, the ones I buy from Publix, already cleaned and trimmed in a microwavable bag.  I poked a few holes in the bag, zapped them for 4 minutes and dumped them into a pretty serving dish.  I dotted with a tiny bit of butter and added salt and no pepper – Mum hates pepper.  So, I always serve the pepper on the side at the table.

As for dessert, I made baked Alaska with flaming brandy and homemade cherry sauce from fresh cherries I pitted myself.  Ha Ha!  No I didn’t!  I served Mrs. Smith’s frozen pumpkin pie and it was fabulous!  Give me a break!

Mum - She had a little curl......

Mum was the best sport of all, as always.  She spent the whole day with us and pretended she was enjoying herself while I was photographing all the food for at least an hour and a half.  When I’m in the photo mode, I have to mock up certain dishes so they don’t get cold and overdone when reheated.  The process can get pretty involved, especially with a big menu like this one.  Mum, so patiently, waited while I went through my hi-jinks.  I’m sure she was starving, but she never said a word, except, “isn’t this fun”.  She is a dear!

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Company’s Coming For Dinner!

December 26, 2010

Rack of Lamb Chops Perfectly Medium Rare

My friends Lois and Richard are coming for dinner.  They eat out regularly and tend to have high end, upscale pallets.  Yikes!  I hope I can impress them.

The dinner date was one week before Christmas, a very busy time of the year.  I wanted a menu that wouldn’t overwhelm me, but would still impress.  I came up with a menu that I think will do the trick.

Menu:

Rack of Lamb with Garlic and Rosemary

Polenta with Fontina and Browned Mushroom Ragu

Bacon Seared Brussels Sprouts

Coffee and Assorted Italian Cookies

Rack of Lamb Chops

This lamb recipe is foolproof.  I have made it many times and it never fails to please.  I really love how all the items on the menu complement each other.  I think this is one of my best company menus ever!  Lois and Richard oohed and aahed through the whole meal, so I guess I accomplished my goal.

Polenta with Fontina Cheese and Muschroom Ragu

Wait until you try this polenta.  I think, even if you’re not much of a polenta fan, this dish will still please.   It’s creamy and cheesy with a wonderful earthiness provided by the mushrooms.  The recipe came from the December, 2010 Cooking Light magazine.  I prepared it in individual gratin dishes for extra wow.   It is gorgeous to look at and smells even better.

Brussel's Sprouts

Bacon Seared Brussel's Sprouts

As for the Brussels sprouts, this is my favorite way to prepare them.  I have found that those vegetable averse folks  love this recipe.  I can even get kids to eat Brussels sprouts this way.

Fresh sprouts are sauteed in a bit of bacon fat, then braised in chicken stock until tender.  The last and most important step, is to let the stock cook off completely.  When the stock is gone, the  vegetables take on a lovely brown and crispy edge from the remaining bacon fat.  Really delicious!  It’s simple to make, so give it a try.

Richard

Lois

It seems the meal was a hit.  There wasn’t scrap of food left.  Gee, I hope they didn’t leave hungry!


Caribbean Christmas Eve

December 26, 2010

Caribbean Fish and Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk

Christmas Eve was a little different this year. I ditched the bouillabaisse and went tropical!  Caribbean Christmas Eve seemed like a good idea.  I made an amazing seafood and corn chowder with coconut milk.

I used one part crab stock (made from the shells of a Dungeness crab), one part heavy cream and one part coconut milk.  Wow, what a fantastic, creamy, lush flavor.  I stole a great idea from Ina Garten.  I saw her make a lobster and corn chowder.  She cut the corn kernels off the cob and set them aside.  Then she put the bare corn cobs in the stock with the cream and simmered them for 30 minutes before she removed them.  This added a little starch and thickness to the broth, but mainly it added super delicious flavor!

Steamed Dungeness Crab with Mango Avocado and Lime Dressed Salad

I followed the chowder up with a steamed Dungeness crab and a tasty little salad that I dressed with mango, avocado and lime. I garnished it with some fresh cilantro.  What a great refreshing salad to counter the richness of the chowder and the crab.

I made the dressing ahead of time out of cubed mango and avocado.  I added lime zest and the juice of 2 limes.  I added sea salt and a little vegetable oil.  When it was time to serve I simply opened a nice bag of mixed butter lettuces (you can use whatever you like) and topped it with the dressing/relish and garnished it with fresh cilantro.  Super easy, super delicious!

For dessert, I served Key Lime pie, a no-brainer for my Caribbean themed menu.  I confess, I bought a frozen key lime pie.  I am crazy for Edward’s Key Lime Pie from Publix.  It was perfect.


Fabulous Thanksgiving Menu

December 1, 2010

Oh my God, I love Thanksgiving!  For the menu, I think what most people really want is the traditional fare; Turkey, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Gravy and Pumpkin Pie.  I imagine the favorite sides are whatever sides your family traditionally serves, i.e., green been casserole,  creamed onions, cranberry sauce, etc.  So, I decided to stick with the traditional dishes this year.

WHAT??  Are you kidding me??  Well, sort of.  I decided to kick everything up with superb ingredients, painstaking techniques and artful presentation.  My menu:

  • Roast Turkey, brined and stuffed with aromatics
  • Sage Stuffing with Homemade Pumpernickel and Sour-Dough Croutons
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Gravy made from 48 hour turkey neck stock
  • Mixed Roast Squashes on a bed of greens
  • Sweet Potato Gnocchi sauteed in Brown Butter and Sage
  • Crisp Browned Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
  • Cranberry Relish with a splash of Chambord
  • Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Whipped Cream and Cinnamon Sugared Pecan Crumble
  • Mince Apple Pie with the same topping as above

Brined Turkey Stuffed with Aromatics

I wasn’t having a big crowd, so I had to take care not to prepare too much food.  I tend to err on the side of cooking for at least a full regiment, so this was no easy task for me.  For the turkey, I bought a small (ten pound) fresh, free range turkey from a great Italian specialty grocer, Doris’.  They always have the best meats, seafood and produce.

I used the classic brining recipe from the new cookbook, “The Essential New York Times Cook Book”, by Amanda Hesser.  (This is a must-have book.)  It was brined in water, sugar, salt, carrot, onion, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, chili flakes, fennel seeds, star anise and fresh thyme.  It was brined for 48 hours and then, to make sure the skin was nice and crispy, I tried a new technique I heard about.  I pulled the bird from the brine and rinsed it thoroughly.  I patted it dry as much as I could.  It sat UNCOVERED on a platter in the fridge for another 24 hours.  This helps the skin to completely dry out and cook up nice and crispy.  It worked great!  I will use this little trick from now on.

I stuffed the bird with apples, onion, celery, fresh sage and fresh thyme.  This stuffing is for an aromatic and flavor boost, you don’t actually eat any of the stuffing.  I rubbed the whole thing with olive oil and dried sage and baked it at 325 for about 2 1/2 hours.  All the meat, even the white meat, was tender and juicy.  The brining sees to that.  The skin was golden brown and crispy.

Stuffing Baked with Turkey Wings on top keeps it Moist

The stuffing was the best I’ve ever had.  I made my own croutons from a loaf of pumpernickel and another loaf of sour-dough white bread.  I made the croutons big, about one inch squares.  I wanted to cook the stuffing outside the bird and sometimes stuffing can get a little dry when you cook it this way.  I heard another amazing little trick to ensure moist and tasty stuffing.  The trick is to place two turkey wings on top of the stuffing and then bake it.  While it baked, the juices from the wings dripped down into the stuffing.  It came out moist, aromatic and delicious.  Even better than the kind you make inside the bird.  An extra bonus – the wings were also delicious!

Roasted Mix of Squashes on Bed of Greens with Dried Cranberry Scatter

My best side dish was the platter of mixed squash, roasted and decorated with dried cranberries.  Look at them!!  You have to make them just to look at them.  I bought one acorn squash and one small sugar pumpkin.  I cut them in half and seeded them.  I put them in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes, just long enough to soften them slightly.  Then I took them out, sliced them thin, drizzled butter and salt on them and returned them to a high heat oven, 425 degrees for another 30 minutes or until just turning brown on the edges.   I arranged the slices on a bed of greens that I had lightly dressed with a shallot vinaigrette and I scattered a few dried cranberries around just for good looks!  This recipe is from the 2010 issue of Food And Wine magazine.  My version looks way better than theirs.  Ha!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter

My second favorite side dish was the Sweet Potato Gnocchi sauteed in brown butter and sage.  Can you stand it?  I’m not really a big fan of sweet potatoes and I’m certainly not a fan of sweet, sweet potatoes.  I wanted to make a savory sweet potato dish.  I saw Giada, the Italian chef on the Food Network make a sweetened sweet potato gnocchi, so I stole her idea and cut out everything sweet.  I added some savory spices like; cumin, Chinese Five Spice powder, onion powder and black pepper.  They were pretty straightforward to make, gorgeous to look at and really tasty.  A definite keeper.

For my green veggie, I decided on Brussels sprouts.  I used the fresh ones.  I washed trimmed and cut each one in half.  I put them in a saute pan with a tablespoon of bacon fat and a cup of my turkey neck stock.  I simmered them, covered for about ten minutes.  Then I uncovered them and let the liquid cook off completely (about 15 minutes more).  After the liquid cooks off, they get browned on the edges from the bacon fat.  I promise you, even Brussels sprout haters will love this recipe.

Cranberry Relish with a Splash of Chambord - Raspberry Liqueur

I also made cranberry relish with orange, granny smith apple, walnuts and chambord, a raspberry liqueur.  The chambord dressed up the standard relish and everyone loved it.  With all the rich foods on a Thanksgiving Day menu, a sweet tart cranberry relish cuts through the richness and balances everything perfectly.


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