Wednesday, April 11, 2007

An Easy Holiday

This past weekend we had a good showing of family for our holiday dinner. A total of 13 adults and two children – and that’s not even half of them! This time, I wanted to enjoy myself. I often spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and not very much time visiting during an occasion like this, so I changed my gameplan. I ordered the Raw Veggie Box from TCF and made in advance a huge tray of Radishes, English Peas, Zucchini, Yellow Bell Pepper, Scallions, Baby Carrots and a couple Sugar River Cheeses. I also had made a dip made of 1 part mayo, 1 part sour cream and a healthy dash of habanero sauce. It had a kick! I found a bottle of chardonnay I didn’t even know we had, so the day began very pleasantly, indeed.

Dinner was as simple as I could possibly make it. I bought a spiral cut ham and just brought it to room temperature – no cooking needed. I took 5 lb. of Russian Red Fingerling Potatoes and put them in a roasting pan with 5 large sliced Leeks, 5-6 large Garlic Cloves, chopped, a couple Tb. of Kosher Salt and a generous sprinkling of Fresh Rosemary Leaves. I tossed them together with some Extra Virgin Olive Oil, covered the pan and put them in a 400 degree oven for 45 min. Then I stirred them, lowered the heat to 350, and let them go another 45 min. Next, I lowered the heat to 300 and just let them sit in there another 15 min. or so while I finished setting up the buffet.

Before the guests arrived, I took 5 lb. of trimmed Asparagus and peeled the bottom half of each stalk. Then I dropped them in the steamer for 20 min. at serving time. I also melted a stick of butter in a measuring cup in the microwave to dress them (easier to pour that way).

My favorite part of the meal, tho, was the salad. I have a great time experimenting with salads. This one consisted of mainly Romaine, but I also added a little Escarole since I had some in the fridge. I tore and tossed the greens, then zested a few Lemons and minced an equal portion of Flat Leaf Parsley. These, I tossed with the greens to coat them and bring in a nice background flavor. Then I added the rest: chopped Scallions, Grape Tomatoes, and some jarred Roasted Red Peppers. Then I covered the bowl and set it in the fridge till dinner. Next, I made the croutons. Making your own croutons is an essential step to making a great salad. A salad doesn’t need croutons, but if you’re going to have them, make them yourself. Once you’ve made your own, you’ll never eat store bought croutons again. Consider them to be as important an ingredient as fresh lettuce is to your salad. To make them, I bought a loaf of Rudi’s Olive Oil and Rosemary Bread and let it sit out a few hours the day before the party. The morning of the party I cut up the bread in rather large cubes, and brought my wok up to high heat. I then added a generous amount of Olive Oil to the pan, and dropped in the bread cubes. Next, I turned the heat down to medium and began tossing the cubes so that they each got some oil on them, and they toasted evenly. Before they were finished, I sprinkled them generously with Kosher Salt, tasted a couple because I’m the cook, and let them cool on a cookie sheet. Now you can make them in the oven on a cookie sheet, but my oven was occupied, and they take longer that way.

When it was time to eat, I finished the salad. First, I drizzled some Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the salad and barely tossed it. Then I sprinkled some Balsamic Vinegar over it. Again, I barely tossed it. Then, with a vegetable peeler, I shaved huge tongues of fresh Parmesano Reggiano generously over the greens, and topped it all with the cooled croutons.

Then came the fun part: After everyone went through the buffet line, They noticed these little wine glasses on the table with strange colored granules in them. These are some of my salts. I got this idea from Willson, the chef in Madrid, Spain who I link to on the right (“Will’s Eats”). He had done a post about some of the specialty salts he uses, and, truth be told, I’m an incurable salt collector myself, so I took a cue from him. For the dinner I put out Celtic Sea Salt from France, pink Murray River Salt from Australia, and Black Salt from Hawaii. These are only 3 of the 15 or so salts I have in my kitchen, but the idea was to have some fun at dinner, so I kept it simple. The salad described above rises to incredible heights of flavor with the addition of a good specialty salt, and the Asparagus would play well with them, too – so we went for it…it’s amazing what a little very, very good salt can do for a dish. We drank a nice Rose` from Spain and chatted and ate for quite a while. We had wonderfully easy and enjoyable day, and at the end I gave a tip of my hat to Will for the inspiration.

1 comment:

willson said...

¡Well Gosh! Happy to have been of service.

15 salts! That's quite a collection.

And I learned something too. I have never heard of a "spiral cut ham".

I've been living in Europe for the last 20 years & we don't necessarily manage to keep up with all the innovative products you have over there. Hmm... I wonder when they'll come up with a spiral cut turkey?