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The Cookstr 10: Ten Main Dishes for Holiday Feasts

December 9, 2010

A family invited a bunch of people over for a holiday dinner. At the table the mother turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” The girl replied, “I wouldn’t know what to say.” “Just say what you heard Mommy say,” the mother answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?”

Linda and Martha Greenlaw's Crown Roast of Pork with Cranberries

Yes, even those of us who love to cook have our moments. But there’s one dish on the table that makes it all worth it: the piece de resistance, the crown jewel, the showpiece. It’s this one centerpiece, a showstopper of an entrée, that the host gets to bring out with a flourish to a chorus of  “Oooohhh!” that reminds us why, indeed, we host large holiday meals. It’s a lot of responsibility for one dish to carry, but we know you’re up to the task; it’s just a matter of choosing what your centerpiece will be. And it doesn’t have to be a challenging dish, just one that says, “This is a special occasion, and we’re celebrating.”

Judy Rodgers' Quail and Sausages Braised with Grapes

So, please, allow us to make a few suggestions. And then feel free to browse around and find the dish you will be proud to ferry to the table or the buffet, lowering your eyes modestly (or not) as you prepare to take your bow.

1. James Beard’s Roast Goose with Chestnut and Fruit Stuffing. If you are a fan of the classic movie A Christmas Carol then you may well have fantasized about serving a roast goose at your own holiday table. This goose is stuffed with layers of marinated prunes, chestnuts, and slices of apples that have been rolled in sugar and lemon juice. Delightfully old-fashioned and decidedly un-Scrooge-like.

2. Julia della Croce’s Viola Buitoni’s Stewed Salt Cod with Tomato, Raisins, and Pine Nuts. Cod, salt cod in particular, is a featured dish at holiday gatherings in many cultures, from Southeast Asia to Portugal. This luxurious Italian version includes Swiss chard, raisins, pine nuts, and tomatoes. The cod has to be soaked first to remove most of the salt that was used to preserve the dried fish, leaving behind silky moist chunks. If you can seek out traditionally preserved cod in an Italian market you will be rewarded for your efforts.

3. Lora Brody’s Honey Baked Ham. Find a great–no, find a fabulous ham to start with, since this ultra simple recipe merely requires you to glaze one glorious fully cooked ham with a mixture of apricot preserves, honey, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, orange juice, cloves, and ginger, and toss it in the oven. The only real challenge is enjoying the ham without secretly hoping that your guest leave enough behind so that you can make spectacular sandwiches the next day. It’s also a great item to make the day before and serve for an open house type affair.

4. Debra Ponzek’s Roasted Duck. Another very sophisticated fowl centerpiece. You’ll need one duck for every two people, so this dish is probably best for a smaller gathering. Dark crispy skin and juicy flavorful meat are the result of roasting with very high heat. The duck is seasoned with nothing more then salt, pepper, and a bit of orange juice to highlight the flavor of the bird itself. You can have lots of fun pairing side dishes with this.

Nigella Lawson's Seafood Pot

5. Nigella Lawson’s Seafood Pot. Seafood is very much a part of many Christmas Eve dinners across Europe and elsewhere, and this robust stew is overflowing with clams, monkfish, salmon, and squid, seasoned with just a bit of wine and sherry, steamed and heaped into bowls. Pick up a great loaf of crusty bad to soak up all the ensuing sauciness.

6. Linda and Martha Greenlaw’s Crown Roast of Pork with Cranberries. This is a serious “Ta da!” of an entree. Your butcher can do the fancy footwork of forming the crown for you, and then what’s left for you to do is to make a simple and colorful bread stuffing with chopped cranberries and some simple seasonings, heap it in the center of the crown, and roast away. The slow roasting means you put this in the oven before your guests even arrive. You can present it at the table, then carve it in front of your admiring fans, or take it back to the kitchen and plate it there.

7. Judy Rodgers’ Quail and Sausages Braised with Grapes. One more little bird, and one more offering from Italy. The burst of sweet grapes is unexpected, and nothing short of brilliant against the rich, salty sausage. The quail and the sausages are browned and then enrobed in a jammy sauce made from the grapes and tempered with a bit of salt and vinegar to balance the natural sugar.

8. Michel Nischan and Mary Goodbody’s Winter Vegetable Stew. There is no question that most holiday feasts center around a meat dish of some sort. But with more families including a vegetarian or two, or just looking to cut down on their meat consumption, vegetarian main dishes suitable for a festive gathering are in high demand these days. This is that kind of dish. First of all, the stew contiains a dazzling array of root vegetables seasoned with North African spices, all melded together with a fabulous and simple squash sauce. But THEN the whole thing is BAKED IN A PUMPKIN! Which is then SERVED WITH THE STEW! We don’t mean to yell, but we find this all VERY EXCITING!

9. Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso’s Roast Lamb with Peppercorn Crust. A leg of lamb definitely connotes a feast, and really is easy to prepare. The deep flavor of the meat is well-matched to the piquant coating, which includes an array of white, black, and green peppercorns, rosemary and mint (two of lamb’s all-time best herb partners), garlic, mustard, and a few other ingredients, which make this very attractive crust a powerhouse of flavors.

Jamie Oliver Apple and Walnut Risotto with Gorgonzola

10. Jamie Oliver’s Apple and Walnut Risotto with Gorgonzola. A risotto is well worth considering for a holiday meal. As discussed ad nauseum, risotto does require quite a bit of stirring and attention. But since many of us spend most of the beginning of the party in the kitchen anyway, getting your friends to take turns stirring isn’t often a big deal, and gets everyone into the action. This cheesy risotto with bits of apples and walnuts strewn all about is a sublime winter dish, and, again, something to consider when there are vegetarians in the mix.

One Comment leave one →
  1. V. Jennings permalink
    December 31, 2010 6:21 pm

    Fran McCullough’s almonds with cumin, chili powder and salt were terrible. I wasted some great almonds on a poor recipe. I doubt that this recipe was tested as I had to double the cumin and chili powder to get any sense of spice flavor.

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