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Category Archives: Christmas

MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

MEAT AND POTATOES MADE EASY

It’s the week before Christmas and chances are good that most people are just thisclose to either exploding or imploding, whichever comes first.  The sheer amount of nonsense and self-imposed misery people are willing to accept is mind-boggling – but we’re not here to talk about that.

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Well, yeah. My blog. I CAN talk about that. I sometimes think I might implode myself if I hear one more person whinging about the commercialization of Christmas as they head out the door to shop for more presents for little Esmeralda and little Heathcliff – well, pull up your big girl/boy panties and accept responsibility for your part in that commercialization. “They EXPECT presents/ my mother-in-law will judge me/I don’t want to be Scrooge” – oh, put a sock in it. No one HAS to be out there in the mall. If you really feel that way, declare your home a commercial-free zone. Little kiddies WILL get over your giftlessness. If your MIL has a cow, tell her to give it lots of hay and milk it every morning.

The worst Christmas I ever had – and I’ve had some bad ones – I had to return a present to the store because the intended recipient died before I could give it to him. If you want to give presents, don’t think that Christmas is the only acceptable time. You see just the right veeblefetzer that Aunt Hilda would love, but it’s only April? Get it and hand it over. Aunt Hilda may not make it to December.

Where were we? Oh. Yeah. Meat and potatoes.

Among the many headaches at this time of year is the need to feed a lot of people. You’ve already had spaghetti and lasagna and take-out and bags of lettuce with bottled dressing; now you need to come up with something a little more festive but also substantial. This dish works on all those accounts. And it can be prepped ahead and left in the refrigerator until time to roast it.

I saw a friend make a roast this way, the meat balanced on top of new potatoes, and I marveled at its simplicity. The seasoning idea came from an episode of Man, Fire, Food on The Cooking Channel. Roger Mooking visited Rancho Llano Seco, which is about 70 miles south of here, where they prepared an amazing porchetta roast on a rotisserie, allowing the pork fat to drip down onto oysters. The thought makes me salivate.

For this dish I used a boneless pork roast just under 5 pounds – not a tenderloin. Ask to be certain that the pork roast you choose is ideal for the dry heat of an oven; some cuts are better suited to braising in a crock pot. To fill the 8″ X 11″ baking dish took about four pounds of potatoes. You don’t have to use pork – you could do a whole chicken, leg of lamb, or beef roast, though because they don’t take as long to cook, you’d want to start the pan of potatoes in the oven about 45 minutes before putting the meat on top.

You’ll need kitchen string and a meat thermometer.

PORCHETTA ALLA LLANA SECO

  • 1 boneless pork roast, 5-6 pounds
  • 4 pounds new potatoes (use a thin-skinned type such as Red Bliss, White Rose or Yellow Finn; Russets or other baking-type potatoes will fall apart)
  • 2 heads of garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (the type you get in pizza parlors)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Broth or stock

Put the fennel seed in a small dry frying pan over medium-high heat. Shake the pan every few seconds until the seeds begin to lightly brown, pop, and smell fragrant. When they are lightly toasted, remove them immediately. if you have a mortar and pestle, pound them in that; if not, use a spice grinder. If you don’t have either one, put the seeds in a sturdy plastic bag and whack them with a hammer to break them up.

Wash and thinly slice the potatoes. Stand them on edge in a baking dish large enough to put the roast on top of the potatoes and not have any hanging over the sides.

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Distribute plenty of chopped garlic throughout the potatoes; sprinkle lightly with salt and generously with freshly ground pepper. If you want, you can add another herb or two – thyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.

Unwrap the pork roast. This one was tied with string to keep it from flopping around. Snip and remove the string. DO NOT REMOVE THE FAT ON TOP! If the pork rind is still intact, leave it on too!

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The boneless roast should have a flap where the bones were removed. Pull it open, so that you have a long somewhat flat roast; if necessary cut an opening so you can unfold it like opening a book.

Sprinkle the cut side with the toasted ground fennel, lots of chopped garlic, the teaspoon of hot pepper flakes, and salt and pepper.

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Put a hand under each end of the flattened-out pork and carefully snap the roast back together, fat side up.

If there is a rind (skin) on the roast, score it lightly with a knife.

Cut four lengths of kitchen string long enough to go around the pork cross-wise, and two pieces to go around it length-wise. Slide the cross-wise lengths under the roast, spacing them apart, and one by one tie them tightly. Then slide the length-wise strings under the pork package and tie those. Snip off excess string.

Pour stock into the pan to about 1/2″ deep. (You can see some jellied stock on the left side of the roast here.) Put the porchetta package on top, fat/rind side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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At this point, you can put the whole thing in the refrigerator as long as overnight. Bring it out about two hours before you want to roast it.

Here is a chart  from the National Pork Board detailing how long to cook pork. I usually figure about 25-30 minutes per pound at 325 Fahrenheit. This is where a meat thermometer comes in very handy.  I roasted this to 160F, then took it out of the oven and let it sit about 20 minutes, covered.

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All roasts will continue to cook for a while; they will firm up and be much easier to slice if allowed to rest after removal from the oven.

Snip and pull the strings off. Slice the meat. If the roast has a rind, remove it, put it on a cookie sheet and run it under the broiler (watching CAREFULLY) to crisp it; slice it and put it on the platter with the meat.  Although the roast looks really spiffy on top of the potatoes, it is much, much easier to serve if you put the meat on a separate platter from the potatoes.

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I think that you want a slightly sweet side dish like carrots, beets, applesauce, red cabbage, or parsnips alongside, as well as some sort of green like spinach, kale, or collards. This is a very rich dish; a big ol’ cheesecake for dessert would be too, TOO much. Some simple cookies and sorbet would be less overwhelming. And a big red wine or dark beer is appropriate.

Obviously the seasoning can be varied – one of those barbecue rubs that’s sitting around in your cupboard would work. A Mexican seasoning like toasted cumin seeds with garlic and oregano would be great, or a good curry mix. Google “dry barbecue rubs” and go wild. I particularly like the spice rubs suggested by Chris Schlesinger in Big Flavors of the Hot Sun.

JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: PUMPKIN LOG

JUST IN TIME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: PUMPKIN LOG

I am not a fan of the entire pumpkin spice craze, the lattes and teas and candles and whatnot. I have a limited view of how pumpkin & its usual spices should be incorporated into food.

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For instance, this is wrong in so many ways.

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This, on the other hand, is funny.

Here is something I do approve of, seasonal, festive, and simple to make. I stole the recipe years ago from a blog on LiveJournal and have no idea who contributed it. It’s rather good and not nearly as difficult as you might think. This makes a lovely dessert for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any holiday occasion.

I realize that while many people have heard the term jelly roll*, they have probably never seen, tasted, or made one, it being a bit passé like bar le duc, prune whip, and croquettes. Too bad, because those old-fashioned dishes are fun and tasty.  Jelly roll might be thought of as the American version of a buche de Noel.

*I am speaking of jelly roll in the culinary sense. There are other meanings which Urban Dictionary covers.

Before serving, dust with powdered sugar. You can go all festive and decorate the plate, as I did here for a Christmas party.

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To serve, cut into one-inch slices.

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Variations: Use almond, maple, or orange extract in the filling, or add grated orange peel. I really don’t think this cake should be frosted as it is quite moist and sweet already. Chocolate goes well with pumpkin so a dark chocolate filling could be substituted for the vanilla cream cheese filling.

ADVOCAAT: DUTCH EGGNOG

“So it doesn’t have any dairy in it?” a friend asked.

“No, just eggs.”

“Then…. it’s not eggnog. There’s no nog.” I agreed, though I wasn’t actually sure about the etymology of the term and wasn’t in a position to look it up at that moment.

Since then, I looked it up. It appears that nog may come from noggin (a wooden cup) which comes from nog, ale from Norfolk, England. Hence: eggnog = eggs + booze = delicious.

I didn’t like eggnog for most of my life. Every year or two I’d buy a carton at Christmas and round it out with some brandy or rum or both, and be unable to finish it. It was just… gummy, weird-tasting, and nasty. I decided I was an eggnog Philistine and that I would probably get along just fine the rest of my life without it.  I now know that I was buying cheap-ass eggnog that wasn’t worthy of the name.  I don’t remember just how we discovered Clover-Stornetta brand eggnog – dear knows at the price it wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment extravagance – but it’s become our Christmas heroin. Eggnog is one of those things that you get what you pay for. It’s a good thing it’s only available about seven weeks a year because it would kill us to drink this stuff year-round.

In the Netherlands they make this thing called advocaat, which is sort of a Dutch eggnog.  The name may or may not have come from a drink of Suriname made with avocados (the Dutch ruled Suriname for 300 years and there are quite a few Surinamese in the Netherlands). Personally, I can’t get too enthused about the idea of an avocado-based drink, but maybe you had to take what you could get in Suriname.

You can buy advocaat in liquor stores here in the liqueur section and apparently it’s pretty good, but I decided to make it. I found a number of recipes online and they all followed pretty much the same format, varying only by a few ingredients.  This is what I came up with. This cannot be considered healthy, but it is delicious.

ADVOCAAT

  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brandy (use good-but-not-great stuff)
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract

Break all the eggs into a sturdy pan. You can use only the egg yolks if you want, but then you’re stuck with a dozen egg whites. Unless you have plans to make angel food cake and divinity, it might take a while to use all of them.

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Add the sugar, brandy, and salt. Place pan over medium heat, whisk to combine, and keep stirring constantly.

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If you run into problems with the eggs cooking too fast – i.e. you see bits of scrambled egg – remove pan from heat and employ the stick blender, or pour the mixture into a blender and blitz it.

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The mixture should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, but don’t sweat it if it isn’t quite that thick.

Add the vanilla and store in covered jars in the refrigerator.

005To serve, shake or stir, then pour into liqueur glasses or small cocktail glasses. Top with whipped cream if you like. If your advocaat turns out very thick, eat it with a spoon (as is done in the Netherlands).

You can substitute rum for the brandy. I suppose other liquors like bourbon or  Amaretto would be quite tasty also.

This will keep in the refrigerator for about two weeks.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THAT MINCEMEAT

Following my post about making your own mincemeat, I was asked for recipes for mincemeat cookies and mincemeat cake.

The Betty Furness Westinghouse Cookbook from 1954 is a cute little basic cookbook with declarations such as “Today we know that deep-fat frying, or French frying, as it is sometimes called, can be a healthful way to cook foods” and “It is not unusual, in California, to see salads mixed over a large bowl of ice, so deeply do Californians believe that a colder the salad is, the better tasting it will be” and “Some people think they do not like liver, yet it is very healthful and should be eaten by every member of the family at least once a week.”  Despite these statements (and an unhealthy obsession with commas), there actually are some good recipes in here.

That’s where I found the cookie recipe titled Florence’s Mincemeat Cookies. The first time I made it, I didn’t read the whole recipe before I started in, and halfway through I read,  “Make a depression in dough… and fill with mincemeat.” Oh hell no. That is not what I had in mind.  So I did what anyone else would have done: I punted. This is the result.

FLORENCE’S REVISED MINCEMEAT COOKIES

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups mincemeat

Cream butter and sugar together, then beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour and baking soda and add by increments to the butter. Stir  in mincemeat.  Chill dough for 1 hour.

Drop by tablespoons onto greased cookie sheet, about 2″ apart. Bake at 375 about 10-12 minutes, until tops are still wet but just starting to dry. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to cooling rack right away.

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This sweet bread-cake is from Christmas Treasury, a production of Sunset Magazine – a magazine marketed to Western United States residents and which was a great magazine for 92 years until 1990 when Time-Warner bought it, at which time it started to suck mightily and is now indistinguishable from any other lifestyle magazine. No, I’m not bitter and deeply resentful. Not at all. Not me.

MINCEMEAT BREAD

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups mincemeat
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine dry ingredients and add to butter mixture alternately with mincemeat, mixing until thoroughly blended. Stir in nuts.

Grease and flour an 8-inch bundt pan or 5″ X 9″ loaf pan, and scrape batter into pan. Bake at 350 for 50 to 55 minutes until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Run knife around pan edges to loosen. Let cake stand 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

This cake looks pretty with powdered sugar sifted over, or mix powdered sugar with lemon juice, orange juice, rum or brandy to make an icing to drizzle over the cooled cake. Serve with butter or cream cheese to spread on each slice.

CHRISTMAS COOKIES

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I always wanted to be the sort of person who could make perfectly decorated cutout Christmas cookies. I’m not. I have come to grips with this and decided I can live a full life anyway. But I do like to make cookies and other sweets at Christmas, even though I don’t have the sweet tooth I used to – I just like to bake and then give the results away to presumably appreciative people.

On Tuesday my husband and I made some of our favorites to pack up and mail off to his family in Nevada.  None of these recipes is complicated. They aren’t fancy but they taste good and are quietly addictive.

About ingredients:

  • eggs are jumbo or extra-large
  • butter is unsalted
  • flour is pastry flour – all-purpose will work but I think pastry flour is superior for cookies
  • I used organic raw granulated sugar but ordinary granulated works fine
  • all extracts are pure (NOT imitation)
  • And always thoroughly preheat the oven.

From Mimi Sheraton’s Visions of Sugarplums  (a cookbook you really ought to have if you love Christmas foods – all about sweets served at Christmas around the world) is this classic recipe for Scottish shortbread. I use a wooden mold I got in Scotland to shape the cookies.

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But it isn’t necessary, just a fun touch.

SCOTS SHORTBREAD

  • 1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound; 3 sticks) butter
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup rice flour or cornstarch

Cream the butter and sugar together. Combine the two flours and cut into the butter mixture; mix as for pastry. Add just enough of the flour so that the dough forms a soft ball. Divide dough in half and pat each half into a round cake tin. Either press with a wooden mold, or use a knife to score the dough into wedges emanating from the center like sunrays. Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork.

Bake at 350 until golden and lightly browned. The cookbook says 45 minutes to 1 hour; I have always found that to be far too long and usually it is done in about 15 -25 minutes. You can further cut the wedges when it is warm, or wait until it cools and break the shortbread apart.

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This second shortbread is from Mollie Katzen’s The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. It is quite a bit more delicate than the previous recipe but has a light caramel taste that is equally addictive. I like to toast the cashews in a dry frying pan before chopping them, but this is strictly optional.

CASHEW SHORTBREAD

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 cup chopped cashews
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the nuts and mix well.  Combine the dry ingredients and work them into the butter with your fingers. The mixture will be crumbly.

Dust a work surface with flour. Divide the dough in half. Roll half at a time into a simple shape like a square or circle to about 1/4″ thickness. Cut with a knife into wedges or squares.  Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 8-10 minutes at 375. These puff up and expand a little bit, so space them about 1/2″ apart. Let cool about 10 minutes on cookie sheet before carefully removing to a rack to finish cooling. These are fragile but get a little more firm as they cool.

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This is my go-to biscotti recipe, from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere (a comprehensive work on all kinds of basic desserts like tarts, basic cakes, ice creams, etc, with an excellent appendix). My husband’s elderly aunt loves these so I always make them for her.

BISCOTTI

  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons grappa (substitute brandy or cognac)
  • 1 teaspoon anise extract
  • 1 teaspoon aniseed
  • 2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Toast the almonds in a dry frying pan until they start to smell nutty. Remove from pan and chop into 1/4″ pieces.

Cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the eggs, grappa, anise extract, and aniseed and cream the mixture again. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and beat them in just until mixed. Stir in the almonds.

On a lightly floured board, make rolls of the dough about 1″ in diameter and lay them on a baking sheet about 2″ apart. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes.  Remove the cookie sheets from the oven and let cool a few minutes, then carefully slice the rolls into 1/2″ pieces on the diagonal. Place the slices on their side and bake another 5-8 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool completely on a rack. Store airtight. Serve these with a cup of coffee and a glass of grappa (or brandy or cognac, since grappa is a bit of an acquired taste, even for me).

Note: these can be flavored in many ways – omit the aniseed & anise flavoring and instead try grated lemon peel & lemon extract; orange peel and orange extract; Amaretto; hazelnuts in place of almonds with Frangelico, and so forth.

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This recipe is courtesy of my niece Aimee Rice Bennett. Even though I am not a huge sugary dessert fan, these are really special and taste like more; my husband, who is death on sugar, LOVES these. I tweaked the spices a bit from her recipe.

SOFT MOLASSES GINGER COOKIES

  •  

    ¾ cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice

 Cream butter and sugar; add egg and molasses and cream again. Combine the dry ingredients and mix into the butter. Cover the bowl and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Make a mixture of

  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  •  1 teaspoon cinnamon

Take your dough out of the fridge, roll it into little balls and roll them around in the sugar mixture, then place them on a greased cookie sheet about 2″ apart. Bake them for 9-10 minutes, until the tops of the cookies crack. Cool on the cookie sheet for a minute or two, then remove to a wire rack.

Note: I had leftover spiced sugar after rolling the cookies. I just tossed it into a date-nut bread batter rather than throw it out – delicious.

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Last but far from least are oatmeal cookies. This is the same recipe I have used for over 50 years and it is absolutely perfect; it is the recipe from the Quaker oatmeal box and cannot be improved upon. My husband has learned to make these and he cuts the sugar a bit; I leave it as is. He adds about 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon; I don’t. What we do agree on is no raisins, lots of walnuts, and the most important instruction: take the cookies out of the oven before they’re done.

QUAKER OATMEAL COOKIES

    • 3/4 cup butter, softened
    • 3/4 Cup firmly packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 Cup granulated sugar
    • 2 Eggs
    • 1 Teaspoon vanilla
    • 1-1/2 Cups flour
    • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
    • 1/2 Teaspoon salt
    • 3 cups old-fashioned oats (NOT instant or quick-cooking)
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts (or more)

Cream butter with sugars. Mix in the eggs and vanilla thoroughly. Combine flour, salt, and baking soda, and mix into the butter mixture. Mix in the oatmeal and the nuts.

Drop by tablespoons onto ungreased cookie sheets, spacing about 1 1/2″ apart. Bake at 350 degrees. Watch cookies carefully. When the edges start to set up and brown a little but the center is still wet, remove them from the oven. Let cool on cookie sheet a few minutes, then remove to cooling rack. You’ll thank me later.

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