What worked well, what didn't?
What worked well over the last few days and what didn't? I wasn't on the hook for main dishes, but did make a few things. One of the best things I made was an appetizer for a party. Was the spiced nuts with sugared bacon from the New York Times a few weeks ago. People loved that and I will definitely be making it again. My pizzelles turned out kind of soft, not crispy. Got some good advice on how I might fix that. Thought I'd have time to make another batch this year, but didn't. The advice will definitely be used next time tho. I made financiers with almond flour. I didn't have any premade almond flour so I ground my own in the food processor. May have been a little thicker than usual, more like a macarroon, but people liked them. I made a wine reduction sauce with dried cherries in it from a Susan Spicer recipe for the financiers. I will definitely make that again. Super easy and would be good over ice cream or other things.
What worked and didn't for you?
We ate with my wife's brother and sister-in-law - she's French, been cooking all her life and is pretty good at it, and the goose, the apple-and-chestnut stuffing and the potato gratin were all insanely rich and very good. The wild rice was a major superfluity, as it almost always is in my book, and crunchy and boring, but that could be just me. Her Buche de Noel was as tasty as ever. My contribution was a cabbage gratinée that I've finally figured out how to make party-presentable: cutting the cabbage into more or less uniformly fine shreds, and then braising it with some finely-chopped bacon and little if any extra liquid until it's tender but firm to the bite is the first step. I kept it overnight in a Ziplock, and then when it was time I spread the cabbage out in the gratin pan, poured a little cream over it - maybe a quarter-cup for the large pan - and topped it with a mixture of grated Parmesan and buttered panko crumbs. This went into a 350º oven for about 35 minutes, then got a bit of broiling at the end to brown the crumbs. Maybe a bit more richness than we actually needed given all the rest, but nobody complained.
I decided to do our Christmas turkey with a citrus-sage brine and have to say that it didn't quite live up to my expectations. Sure, the turkey was moist had a more intense flavor than it would have without the brine, however, the citrus and sage flavors really didn't penetrate deep enough into the meat (especially the dark meat) for the time and effort involved.
OTOH, the sage stuffing (epicurious), mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and apple bread pudding all worked out very well.
I was thrilled with the mushroom gravy that went with a boneless pork loin roast recipe from epicurious.com. Sauteed shallots, garlic and a pound of interesting mushrooms , added chicken broth to pan juices, mixed it all together with added sherry. The gravy was dark and rich and spooned over the meat and mashed potatoes.. Wow! I always agonize over the lack of drippings with pork loins, so this is the answer. Jfood's description of his sauce for the beef seems similar. I guess this is the answer to lean meat.
We always have about 20 or so people at Christmas. My favorite thing to do is a whole rib roast, with 7 ribs. It's usually a 20 pounder. My problem is that I always neglect to write down what worked and what didn't, and so I forget every year, and do everything as if it's the first time!
My recipes said the meat should take 5-6 hours to medium rare, but my convection oven had it ready in 3. I was freaking out, thinking we would be eating cold, overdone roast beast.
I wanted this to be easy. So, I came up with 3 sides that should have been no-brainers: mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, and carmelized onions with dried shitake mushrooms, in addition to the gravy from the meat. The problem with all these was that when you make any recipe for 20 people, it takes longer to prepare it.
What worked, however, was putting guests to work. My partner and nephew made the potates, my sister-in-law made the spinach, and my other sister-in-law took over the onions. All this was going on while I made gravy, and my brother-in-law made creamed horseradish.
The miraculous thing was that after sitting for two hours, as everything came together, BIL carved the roast , to find it perfectly rare to medium rare and nicely hot. We sat down to a feast rivaling the Who's in Whoville.
Teamwork and forethought worked. I think next year, I'm just going to do the meat, and ask people to bring sides.
And right now, I'm going to go write everything down.
Most of what I made, I'd made before, and had no problems. My favorite dish was a new one though. I had intended to make Goin's potato and tomato gratin for the first time. But, I also had these black truffles that I wanted to add, and decided they wouldn't go well with the tomato and basil. So, I made the carmelized onions per the recipe, and put a layer of them at the bottom of the dish. I used Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced by hand, and put them in heavy cream after slicing. I then layered potatoes on top of the onions, added sliced truffles, and a generous amount of grated Fontina Val d'Aosta. I repeated this twice, and added some parmesan to the top layer of cheese. Goin calls for adding quite a bit of the heavy cream to the dish, but I just added about 2T, and some nice olive oil on top. I baked for an hour at 350, covered (she called for 2 hours). I made this the day before, then reheated at 450 for about 20 minutes, by which time the top was nice and crispy. This really was delicious, and would be almost as good without the truffles.
2 things that worked well: wild mushroom bread pudding and double-chocolate sandwich cookies (both from Gourmet Dec '07). the mushroom bread pudding was a unanimous favorite, and it was relatively uncomplicated. the cookies were a little more difficult--the dough was so crumbly--but in the end, entirely worth the effort.
2 things that were a little disappointing: free-range grass-fed NY strip steaks and crab bisque. the steaks had a great beefy flavor but we weren't accustomed to the texture (I also think we should have grilled them at an even lower temp). the bisque was also a recipe from Gourmet and admittedly, I didn't follow the recipe verbatim, but I thought it was a little plain.
here are the two recipes that worked:
Every year we have a holiday open house and each year the guest list gets a little larger and the menu more ambitious. This year we had 50 or so people come by and the menu included 20 different items, including 6 kinds of cookies that I started baking 2 weeks before the party. The two biggest hits of the party were:
--Tiny twice baked potatoes - a Fine Cooking recipe that isn't available online. A similar Rachel Ray recipe is here: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipes/appetizer-side-dish-recipes/sinfully-stuffed-potato-skins/article.html . It takes a bit of work to make 100 of these, but everyone loved them, they are impressive in a chaffing dish, and the recipe is very versatile. Next year I think I'll try Manchego cheese. You can make these a day ahead (at least) and just pop them in the oven before serving. They kept beautifully for the whole party in a dish heated with just a tea light.
--Goat Cheese Crostini with Blood Orange and Black Pepper Marmalade http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo... . I think these were a hit because they were completely unexpected and so colorful. Blood oranges are a fantastic seasonal citrus option that don't get used enough in my mind. The marmalade is a great partner for the goat cheese in both taste and texture. I made both of the marmalade and goat cheese the day before the party and the crostini early the day of so all that was left pre-party was quick assembly.
Interestingly enough an Asian Meatballs with Sesame Lime Dipping Sauce recipe from Epicurious that I thought would be fantastic was only okay. I substituted parsley for the cilantro in the meatballs because I had guests who really dislike cilantro, and I think that threw the whole thing off. Next time I will try adding scallions possibly or even some lemongrass to the meatball mixture to bring the flavor level up.
All-in-all my party went better than I could have ever imagined. People who only planned to stay for a while stayed all night and I had a great time making the food. I think they key to surviving the ambitious menu was putting together a balanced menu of tastes and textures, most of which could be made ahead of time. I also took the time to plan everything out so I wasn't completely crazy before and during the party.
Chocolate Caramel Pecan Shortbread went well, as did the rest of the baking. Christmas dinner was a joint effort between DH and I and my SIL brought her pumpkin pie - the filling was made from scratch and although it was flavourful the texture was somewhat off-putting. Mental note: give SIL a decent food processor...
The biggest OOPS though was mine... on Boxing Day we had a dozen people in for brunch and I got busy getting people drinks and whatnot and forgot to turn the oven baked french toast... it ended up as black as charcoal on one side and was nearly smoking when I carried it out to the garage and dumped it in the trash. Thankfully there was plenty of other food so no one left hungry - in fact the last of our guests were going out the door as I started dinner prep.
We had a big party and the ham from Ina Garten (mango chutney glaze) was a huge hit- So was the baked brie with cranberries and smoked salmon sandwhiches with herbed butter. One of my most requested dishes is a corn casarole that is so easy and not good for you but oh so yummy! My least faveorite was a rice dish that I made with beans and tomatoes- I make rice and beans all the time but for some reason I forgot to season and I put too much tomato- Its was good but not great and thats annoying because sometimes at home with just me and my husband i will make it last minuet and its great- you know what i mean!
I did this recipe for panforte:
only this year I wanted to make 2, so I doubled it. Stirring was a pain, but it worked out well. For nuts I used 8 oz. whole hazelnuts, 8 oz. pecans, and 1 lb. almonds. For fruit, 8 oz. candied orange peel, 12 oz. dried black figs, 6 oz. prunes and 6 oz. golden raisins. I made the spice mixture suggested and added a little cardamom, and dusted the outside with the cocoa/sugar/spice mixture.