A round holiday feast

I’m tired of turkey and all the traditional Christmas and Thanksgiving meals where a big slab of meat is the centerpiece. This year I decided to do something different: most of the foods are round in shape. (Okay, look, I’m an Aquarian, and I’m allowed to be quirky. I thought it would be fun and different and still delicious.)

Here’s the menu:

  • beet-pickled deviled eggs
  • salad with mixed greens, pickled beets, feta, and walnuts
  • baked brie with roasted cranberries, served with round gluten-free crackers
  • meatballs with marinara sauce
  • roasted brussels sprouts with fig balsamic vinegar
  • mashed potatoes (not round but my daughter’s favorite, and I rarely cook for her any more so a special addition to the menu)
  • arancini (risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella, breaded and deep fried (something else I almost never do)
  • chocolate truffles

It seems like a fun meal to make and share, and if you’ll notice, it has a lot of red, green, white, and golden foods, so it’s seasonal, it’s seasonal! And there’s a lot that you can do in advance, so it’s not so stressful the day of the feast.

I’m starting a few days ahead of our mid-day holiday meal for 7-8 people. First up: steaming eggs, a way of making hard-cooked eggs cook evenly and peel easily no matter how fresh they are. You can store these in the fridge for up to 5 days. http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2014/04/steamed-hard-boiled-eggs-recipe.html

IMG_0534Next, I made a brine for pickling the hard-cooked eggs, starting with store-bought pickled beets. That is a food I really like, and yet I often forget pickled beets exist. (Some day I’m going to grow my own and pickle them myself.)

The eggs sit in the magenta-colored brine. These were brined for 2 days. The longer they sit, the pinker and tangier they get. I will devil them the morning of the feast. (The ingredients for deviling include mustard and curry powder, giving the stuffing a bright golden color.)

I bet the brine can be reused for another batch of hard-cooked eggs.

IMG_0536In my search for interesting ways to use a bag of raw cranberries left from Thanksgiving, I found a recipe for baked brie with maple roasted cranberries (both round) and knew I had to make it to see for myself how the creamy, gooey richness of the brie and the tartness of the cranberries combine. It sounds utterly delicious and unbelievably simple. Roast cranberries coated with maple syrup until they get juicy and start to burst, 15-20 minutes. (I’m excited about doing this!) Pour roasted cranberries over the brie and bake for another 7 minutes. I will make it just before guests arrive and serve with gluten-free Nut-Thins. Adorned with rosemary sprigs, it brings the red and green.

Those are the appetizers. Since I bought two jars of pickled beets, I am going to make a mixed greens salad with beets, feta, and walnuts.  The pickled beets I bought are tiny, barely bigger than large olives, so they fit with the round theme as well as being mostly red and green. The beets, feta, and toasted walnuts go on top of some mixed greens, with a vinaigrette dressing using the fig balsamic vinegar I bought at the Austin Fermentation Festival in October. (I’m crazy about this stuff!)

Now onto the meat. Christmas dinner usually features some amazing, photogenic, expensive chunk of animal flesh: a turkey, duck, goose, ham, roast, leg of lamb, etc. It is the centerpiece on the table, and everything else revolves around it. And sometimes it’s not even all that tasty.

Instead, I wanted something yummy yet humble, and round, so I decided to make lowly meatballs. Mixing ground beef and ground pork with seasonings, these can be made ahead of time and then reheated. Here’s the Paleo meatball recipe I’ve decided on. I will make them a day or two ahead of time, reheating them in a slow cooker, serving with a store-bought marinara sauce, sprinkled with minced herbs.

IMG_0535

Roasted brussels sprouts make a wonderful dish. It’s probably my favorite roasted vegetable, but please don’t hold me to that because roasting makes most veggies fantastic. I’ll cut the b.sprouts in half, roast them in bacon grease until they start to brown, and serve coated with the fig balsamic vinegar, sprinkled with Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mashed potatoes have nothing round about them until you plop a big circle of them onto your plate. Lela’s favorite dish is very traditional: peeled, with butter and milk, salt and pepper. No cream cheese, sour cream, buttermilk, chives, Ranch dressing, bacon, or breadcrumb topping. Plain, plain mashed potatoes.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 8.12.33 PMI’ve read a lot of recipes for mashed potatoes. Turns out there’s some science behind the best. I’m using Yukon golds for creaminess with a couple of big russets for fluffiness. This recipe knocks some traditions on their heads: cooking unpeeled whole potatoes and heating the dairy before adding it. I will use this gadget, which mashes and rices potatoes. I can cook the potatoes a day or two ahead of time, slipping the skins off when they’ve cooled a bit but are still warm, mashing and adding melted butter, and then refrigerating them. When dinner time approaches, I will heat the milk with more butter in a saucepan and add the potatoes to reheat them.

So far, the things I have to do the day of the dinner include deviling the hard-cooked beet-pickled eggs (15 minutes), reheating the meatballs in a slow cooker (60-90 minutes), roasting the brussels sprouts (40 minutes), reheating the mashed potatoes on the cooktop (15 minutes), roasting the cranberries and baking the brie (30 minutes), and throwing the greens/pickled beets/feta/walnut salad together (5 minutes). Many of these tasks can overlap.

Screen Shot 2017-12-21 at 8.53.30 PMThe biggest challenge will be making arancini. It’s the most complicated dish I’ve ever attempted, so wish me luck with it. It seems to be something that Italian home cooks made rather than a food that restaurants serve (at least I’ve never seen it on a menu), simply because it is so time-consuming. And wonderful! Appropriate for a feast! Can’t wait to bite into a crispy deep-fried ball of risotto with gooey melted cheese in the middle! I’ve never eaten one, but once I stumbled across the recipe, it was something I knew I had to make. Because where else am I going to get to taste this dish without going to Italy and making friends with a home cook who makes it?

I found gluten-free panko bread crumbs, got sushi rice as directed, and made chicken bone broth with plenty of gelatin in it. I plan to use refined (flavorless) coconut oil for frying, a healthier choice than vegetable or canola oil.

I’ve made risotto many times, and basically this is risotto blended with bechamel sauce that can be made ahead of time and chilled for an hour to stiffen it. Then I will take some cold sticky rice, place a chunk of mozzarella in the middle, shape it into a ball, roll it in flour-and-water, coat it in breadcrumbs, and deep fry it, resulting in an orange-colored ball (the name means “little orange”) with a crispy crust and creamy cheesy interior, repeating until the rice is used up.

It’s about 3 hours of cooking time total, and it can be made ahead of time and reheated in the oven at 350. I’m doubling the recipe to have leftovers.

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 6.27.52 PMWhat kind of round dessert follows this feast? Why, chocolate truffles, of course. These will definitely be coming from a store.

Many thanks to all the great cooks who posted their recipes online.

After Christmas, I’ll be ready to eat simple food for a long, long time, grateful that “the food season” only lasts about a month.

~~~

How it turned out:

  • I’ll brine the eggs in beet juice (or better yet, try beet kvass!) for 24 hours instead of 48 to just get a ring of pinkness
  • I will get a bigger wheel of brie. Baked brie with maple roasted cranberries is an easy and awesome dish to take to a potluck if you can keep it warm.
  • The salad was delicious.
  • The meatballs were delicious and very easy to make. This is a recipe I’ll return to again. What if I always had cooked meatballs in the freezer, just ready to thaw in some marinara sauce? Why, that would be wonderful!
  • The roasted brussels sprouts were great. So easy. I make these often for myself.
  • The mashed potatoes were a big hit, and I’m getting a potato ricer because I want to see if it’s easier than the tool I used for getting lumps out. I also used a mixer when I reheated them.
  • The arancini had a fabulous texture! They were about the size of a baseball, and I’m not sure if that’s traditional. I bit into one, and the outer shell was crispy and crunchy. However, the inside was disappointing. The rice mixture was bland. I will add tangy or savory ingredients, like mushrooms, bacon, garlic, wine, basil, and rosemary, to the rice next time to give it more flavor. The cheese was bland as well. Next time, I will dice the mozzarella into smaller pieces (maybe 1/4th inch cubes and mix it with some good parmesan or another sharper cheese.
  • I didn’t get truffles because I couldn’t find them on my last-minute trip to the store, but we were so well-fed, we didn’t miss them a bit. It was a nice idea, though.

Ruth Reichl’s delicious deviled eggs recipe

My favorite food writer is Ruth Reichl, former food critic of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, editor of Gourmet magazine, book author (Tender at the Bone, Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Not Becoming My Mother, and more) and a wonderful tweeter to follow on Twitter.

Her tweets are poetry, jewels of sensual delight. Here’s a recent one:

Late spring. Damp green grass beneath my feet. A flock of tiny yellow birds. Local strawberries, so sweet, drenched in thick Jersey cream.

Doesn’t that make you want to hang out with Ruth, wherever she is? She’s so present, so alive, so appreciative.

She wrote about how to make deviled eggs, and I learned several things:

  • Fresh eggs do not peel well. Get farm or backyard organic eggs from free-range chickens and let them sit in the fridge for a week before hard-boiling.
  • The term “deviled” was used starting in the 18th century to refer to spicy foods, such as deviled eggs and deviled ham. They are also called “stuffed eggs” and “mimosa eggs”.
  • If you want perfectly centered egg yolks, store the eggs on their sides.
  • Bring cold water with eggs in it to a boil, then cover and turn off the heat for exactly 12 minutes.
  • After cooking, immediately chill the eggs in a bowl of ice water to prevent the greenish tinge on the outside of the cooked yolk.

I made deviled eggs yesterday, before I read this article. They are so easy and yummy in summer! I use store-bought mayo (made with olive oil—Ruth provides the recipe for homemade—click the link above) and topped each filled egg with paprika and exactly three capers.

Below, two eggs are store-bought organic, and two are from Hal’s backyard chickens. Guess which is which? Also notice the greenish tinge on one of the yolks. That egg must not have cooled quickly enough!

My granddaughter, who turns 12 today, has a shortcut to get deviled egg flavor without the work: She peels a hard-boiled egg, cuts it in half, and smears a little yellow prepared mustard on it. Pop it in your mouth, and voila! Quick and easy!