***For an introduction to A.O.K "trial" Gourmet - click here***
It was the morning after Christmas.
I was sitting in my sister-in-law's kitchen, watching her mother-in-law begin the preparations for a classic Indian brunch recipe - ROTI - which I couldn't wait to try (mmm... Indian food... it's so yummy and I just don't get to eat it enough).
And I started reflecting on this year's not so traditional Christmas.
I realized that in the my eleven Christmas' with Brandon... we seem to have started and stopped several different holiday "traditions". I realized that although I seem to be "in love" with the idea of traditions... I also really like to change things up from time to time.
For one reason or another, when B & I were dating we always did 3 Christmas gifts - a regular gift (think sweater, watch,...), a meaningful gift (think reflective, sentimental, spiritual, ...) and a handmade gift (among which were scarves, blankets, photo albums and miniature Christmas trees). It was fun... especially figuring out what to make for each other. If I remember right, that tradition died the year before we got married because we were running out of ideas.
Over the years we've established a busy Christmas schedule sharing our time with families and friends. For the last three years (this year excluded) we hosted a "pre-Christmas" cocktail party to get in some holiday time with friends. And right around the big day... we have Christmas eve church followed by a hot/cold buffet with my side of the family, Christmas morning with our little family (which now includes stocking from Santa for the babies and a "fun" breakfast) and then the rest of Christmas day with Brandon's side of the family. On Boxing day we are off to the "country" to visit Brandon's extended family. That leaves new year's day for visiting my own extended family. OOF. It sounds like a lot when I actually write it down - but I know we've managed to keep things much more manageable than a lot of people I know.
So why do I say things were a little less on the traditional side this year? Well - for starters we didn't get it together to host our pre-Christmas cocktail party this year. A good friend picked up our slack and hosted one - and he did a FANTASTIC job! And on the family side of things, we spent the time with Brandon's family at his sister's place in Ottawa this year (she was 38 weeks pregnant - 'nough said!) and I offered to cook Christmas dinner - and (gasp)decided to forego the turkey and stuffing (which surprised a lot of people since I am a faithful lover of turkey dinner)!
Some traditions (like 3 Christmas gifts or the location of Christmas dinner) are okay to play around with. Some should be left alone. Case in point - My Christmas dinner fiasco in my SIL's kitchen (with her MIL wondering what is wrong with this white girl - she calls this a holiday meal?... actually her MIL was super sweet and even complimented my cooking... but if I were her... I would have been wondering...)
THE MENU*recipes at the end of this post*
Baked brie with chutney
Herb rubbed rib roast w/ horseradish sauce
Asparagus spears with pine nuts and parmesan
Garlic mashed potatoes
Lemon mousse cheesecake
It sounds good enough. The menu was even a suggested Christmas meal from my "how to entertain with confidence" cookbook. The flavours of the evening included rosemary, garlic, cheese... all of which are very tasty and go very well together.
But you know... I didn't really have any idea what it meant to cook a big meal in an unfamiliar kitchen. I'm no pro... I just enjoy cooking... so this presented a challenge that I wasn't expecting. Knowing that we have different cooking styles (and generally use different spices) my SIL told me to "assume nothing" when sending her a list of groceries. I probably should have taken her more seriously.
So where did things go wrong? The moment I forgot to pack my meat thermometer!
This is what happened to the one we borrowed from their neighbour. We replaced it. Obviously. But how embarrassing. As I'm sticking the roasts in the oven, my BIL asks if the meat thermometer can go in the oven. I confidently replied "yeah, they're made to go in the oven". Less than ten minutes later I was wondering what the burning smell was... and then I was eating my words.
So... with no meat thermometer, cooking the roast was a real guessing game. There are lots of tips on the web for time per pound - but all those tips are accompanied by a "disclaimer" that strongly recommends using a meat thermometer to attain the best roast. After putting the meat back in the oven a few times, my asparagus was getting a little "droopy" and my mashed potatoes weren't as light and fluffy (and hot) as they should have been. Sigh.
In hindsight, the meal (& recipes) probably had way more potential that what we experienced for our Christmas dinner. Although my food was pretty cold by the time we were all sitting around the table, the actual mix of flavours was really excellent - and so - even though I had some trouble with my roast which led to trouble timing "done" times for everything else - I'm still recommending the menu. Go figure. I'm also recommending that you buy a good meat thermometer and that you make sure to know if it can or can't stay in the meat while it cooks!
RECIPES (all directly from or modifcations of recipes in "How to Entertain with Confidence")
Baked Brie with Chutney
1 round or wedge (8 oz) of Brie Cheese
1 jar of chutney of your choice (cranberries are particularly festive)
1- Heat oven to 350.
2- Lightly brush a round pan with vegetable oil. Do not peel the white from the cheese. Place the cheese in the center of the pan.
3- Bake uncovered for 8-10 minutes (or until cheese is warm and soft, but not runny)
4- Remove cheese from oven, carefully place on serving platter, top with chutney
5- Serve with bread and/or crackers
Herb-rubbed Rib Roast
4 lb beef rib roast
3 cloves garlic
¼ cup Dijon mustard
¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 ½ teaspoons dried thyme leaves
1 ½ tablespoons chopped fresh or 1 ½ teaspoons dried rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1- Preheat oven to 450.
2- Peel 1 clove of garlic, cut in half. Rub the garlic over the beef. Spread mustard over top and sides.
3- Peel and finely chop remaining 2 cloves of garlic. Mix the chopped garlic, parsley, thyme and rosemary in a small bowl. Stir in the oil. Spread mixture over tops and sides of beef.
4- *Insert meat thermometer* so the tip is in the thickest part of the beef and does not touch bone or fat.
5 – Place the roast on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 F and cook until desired doneness is reached. Count on between 12 to 20 minutes a pound for rare (depending on the cut), but it’s best to check the temperature frequently. For a rare roast, remove from oven at about 120 F (it will come up to 130 F after resting). For medium rare, remove at 125 F (rests to 135 - 140 F). For medium, remove at 135 F (rests to 145 F).
6- Remove from the oven. Cover loosely with a ten of aluminum foil and let stand for 15 minutes or so.
Peppery Horseradish Sauce
(*this was actually very tasty with the beef)
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon horseradish sauce (not prepared horseradish)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1- Mix the sour cream, horseradish sauce, mustard and pepper in a small glass bowl.
2- Cover and let chill at least one hour to blend flavours. Cover and refrigerate any remaining sauce.
Garlic Mashed Potatoes
*It seems silly to be putting this recipe in. The only change to regular mashed potatoes is cooking the garlic cloves with the potatoes and then mashing everything together.
6-7 medium potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
¼ cup margarine or butter
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
1- Wash and peel potatoes, cut into large pieces.
2- Peel garlic.
3- Add 1-inch of water to saucepan. Cover and heat until boiling. Add potatoes and garlic. Bring to boiling once again. Once water is boiling reduce heat just enough so water bubbles gently.
4- Cook covered 20-25 minutes or until tender. Drain water.
5- Return potatoes to saucepan and cook over high heat for 1 minute to dry them. Shake pan often to keep potatoes from burning and sticking.
6- Place potatoes in a medium bowl to be mashed (or mash them in the saucepan if it won’t damage it)
7- Mash with a potato masher or electric mixer until there are no lumps. Add milk in small amounts, beating after each addition. Add margarine, salt and pepper. Beat until potatoes are light and fluffy.
Asparagus spears with toasted pine nuts and parmesan cheese
*If you like asparagus and parmesan cheese – you’ll love this!
1 lb asparagus spears
1 cup water
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
½ cup pine nuts
¼ cup fresh parmesan cheese
1- Break off the end of asparagus stalks where they snap easily. Discard ends.
2- Heat the water in the skillet to boiling over high heat. Add asparagus. Once water is boiling, reduce heat just enough so water bubbles gently. Cook covered 4-6 minutes or until asparagus are crisp tender.
3- While asparagus is cooking, melt butter in saucepan and add pine nuts to toast.
4- Add asparagus and shake saucepan to coat it with butter and pine nuts.
5- Place in serving platter, sprinkle with parmesan cheese.