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Happy Holidays! (November 24, 2010)

So what's new for the season? Done turkey, did goose... we eat duck all year. What else?

Cruising through Easy Christmas: Classic Recipes for the Perfect Christmas gave us just what we wanted! A gorgeous, fresh ham! But wait, there's more... This collection of the "best" recipes from a number of top food writers, Easy Christmas covers all meals from brunch and light bites to sides, sauces, sweet things, party food and of course the traditional Christmas dinner! Get one for yourself, and a few for your best friends!

This just in, and a must-have for all food lovers: Michael Chiarello's Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California's Wine Country. In one of the most historic buildings in the Napa Valley, Chef Michael Chiarello welcomes guest to Bottega, a restaurant showcasing his signature combination of bold flavors and refines techniques. Bottega, named for an Italian artist's workshop, is the culmination of Chef Chiarello's life's work, and – indeed – on every food lover's "must try" list. Can't make it out to Napa this year? Get the book, for it includes all the recipes that have made Bottega so wildly popular from the very first day! We're not going to give you the recipe for his whole-pig Porchetta (do you have an oven big enough?), but will give you one of the most unusual and delicious sides we've ever, ever had.

The New Thanksgiving Table is the latest from award-winning teacher and food writer Diane Morgan, who gave us The Thanksgiving Table a couple of seasons back. Both these books are full of interesting and occasionally quirky takes on traditional holiday classics, and we've loved every one we've tried. Not stopping there, Morgan has also written Skinny Dips, which we featured in the last column. This little gem is a treasure for finding just the right beginning to any party or meal. Thank you Diane Morgan!  

Southern Pies: A Gracious Plenty of Pie Recipes, from Lemon Chess to Chocolate Pecan is a dessert lover's bible. Author Nancie McDermott should know; born and raised in North Carolina, she writes, teaches and has 10 cookbooks to her credit. We also love her Southern Cakes... both these books are on the kitchen "A" list shelf!

Happy Holidays everyone!

On today's menu:

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Date and Blue Cheese Ball

Family and friends have arrived, coats are hung and it's time to start the party. Make sure you have a yummy cheese ball on the table; someone is sure to say "I love those, and haven't seen one in years" before scooping up a generous mouthful. Cheese balls were all the rage in the 1970s and to us should never have dropped off the radar. Your guests will agree and will want the recipe as well. This lightened-up version from Skinny Dips seduces with the sweetness of dates, the savory bite of blue cheese, a hint of shallot and a teasing whiff of lemon zest. Oh, my goodness! Happy holidays everyone!

  • 8 oz/225 g low-fat cream cheese (bar style), at room temperature
  • 1 cup/115 g crumbled blue cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp reduced-fat buttermilk
  • 3 Tbsp minced Medjool dates (5 or 6 pitted dates)
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tsp grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 tsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground paper
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2½ tbsp finely chopped toasted walnuts

Skinny Dippers: Crostini, baked pita chips, baked bagel chips, marbled rye toast, celery and carrot sticks.

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the cream cheese, blue cheese and buttermilk on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the dates, shallots, lemon zest, salt and pepper and beat until well combined.
  2. Transfer the cheese mixture to a large sheet of plastic wrap/cling film and form it into a ball. Wrap the ball in the wrap/film and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours or overnight.
  3. In a shallow bowl or plate, mix together the parsley and walnuts. Remove the cheese ball from the refrigerator. With the wrap/film still on, shape into a well-formed ball. Unwrap the cheese mixture and roll it gently in the nut mixture until all sides are well covered. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Dip Do-Ahead: The cheese ball can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate.

Tony's wine recommendation:
an off-dry white – Riesling Spätlese, off-dry Vouvray


Roasted Chestnut Soup with a Mushroom Garnish

Roasted chestnuts are a winter's treat any way you eat them! One of our happiest memories in New York City was finding the season's first roast chestnuts on Fifth Avenue, and munching them happily while cruising the beautiful Christmas window decorations. While peeling is very labor intensive, it's so worth it to bite into warm, nutty, buttery rich nutmeat with a hint of smoke... sigh. So plan ahead to do the work needed to produce this silky, extravagance to start your holiday meal. From The Thanksgiving Table, author Diane Morgan tells us that peeling the chestnuts can be done up to 2 weeks in advance. The peeled, roasted chestnuts can be frozen, then thawed at room temperature for 1 hour before using.

Serves 12

  • 2 pounds fresh chestnuts (about 2½ cups peeled)
  • 2 large yellow onions (about 12 ounces each) cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 8 cups chicken stock (or canned low-sodium chicken broth)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Using a sharp paring knife, make a long slash on the flat side of each chestnut, cutting through the outer shell and inner brown skin. Place chestnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Every 15 minutes, sprinkle the chestnuts with a little water.

While the chestnuts are roasting, place the onions and carrots in a 9×13-inch baking pan. Drizzle with the olive oil and toss the vegetables so they are thoroughly coated. Roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Let cool while you peel the chestnuts.

Peel the chestnuts while they are still quite warm, but cook enough to handle. Using a sharp paring knife, remove the outer shell as well as the inner brown skin. Discard any chestnuts that look rotten. Sort the chestnuts that are hard to peel and rewarm on a 400°F oven; or place on a paper town and rewarm in a microwave for 45 seconds on high. Repeat if necessary.

Combine the chestnuts and roasted vegetables in a medium mixing bowl. Place one-forth of the mixture in a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add 2 cups of the stock. Process until the puree is uniformly coarse rather than smooth in texture. Pour into a 4-quart saucepan. Repeat 3 more times with the remaining chestnut and vegetable mixture and the stock. Add the salt and a few grinds of pepper to taste. Heat to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Add the cream, stir to combine, and remove from the heat. Taste and add more salt or pepper if desired. Keep the soup warm while you make the mushroom garnish, or cool and refrigerate, covered, up to 3 days prior to serving.

To make the mushroom garnish

  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake or crimini, wiped or brushed clean stems trimmed, and thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley

Melt the butter in a 10-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, raise the heat to high, and sauté, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add the thyme and parsley and sauté until the liquids evaporate and mushrooms are lightly browned, 2 minutes longer. Set aside until ready to serve.

This garnish can be made up to 2 hours in advance. Rewarm just before serving.

Ladle the soup into heated bowls, and mound a spoonful of mushrooms in the center of each bowl.

Tony's wine recommendation:
off-dry Sherry – Palo Cortado, Alvear's Amontillado


Spiced Roast Ham or Pork with Juniper Berries

We did goose last year, and turkey... well, what else? One of our favourite holiday memories is a fresh ham, artistically scored and perfectly spiced. In this charming and most useful collection of recopies for memorable holiday meals, Easy Christmas, Sonia Stevenson gives her ham an intriguing Eastern flavour with a blend of spices that lightly pickle the meat. Stevenson reminds us that ham is a generally fatless meat, and will dry out unless basted frequently. We suggest you order the top end of the leg from your butcher, and consider tunnel-boning the cut for easier carving. Enjoy!

Serves 6

  • 1/2 leg of pork, about 5 pounds
  • 2–3 Tbsp peanut or safflower oil
  • 1½ cups water or chicken stock
  • Sea salt
  • Spice mixture:
    • 1 tsp ground coriander
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • 1 tsp ground caraway
    • 1 tsp ground ginger
    • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
    • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
    • 12 juniper berries, crushed
  • An instant read thermometer

To prepare the spice mixture, put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Remove the rind from the meat and rub the dry spices into all the crevices in the meat. Wrap in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and refrigerate for 48 hours.

Score the fat with a cross-cross pattern on the upper side of the meat. Put in a roasting pan, baste with the oil, and sprinkle well with salt. Put the pan in the middle of a preheated oven at 450°F and add 5–6 Tbsp water. Roast for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 325°F and cook for 2½ hours. Baste from time to time and add extra water as necessary to keep it moist because this will form the base of the gravy.

When an instant-read thermometer reaches 175°F, transfer the meat to a serving dish and let it rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, deglaze the pan with the measured water to make gravy, then boil to reduce and intensify the flavours. Taste and, if necessary, adjust the seasoning with salt. Carve the meat in thin slices and serve the gravy separately in a pitcher.

Cook's Notes, Chestnuts: You can buy peeled chestnuts in vacuum-sealed packages, cans or jars at specialty food store. Drain any liquid, then place them on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes at 400°F. This really improves the flavor.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Riesling Kabinett style, Viognier


Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Marcona Almonds and Pecorino

This salad is utterly delectable, and completely worth the time and effort.

Michael Chiarello in Bottega says, "If you never thought you'd take to Brussels sprouts, this will be better than the best coleslaw you've ever had!" Chiarello's magic secret is the full-flavoured citrus vinaigrette, which uses the whole fruit, processed in a juice extractor. It's a winner!

    Whole-Citrus Vinaigrette
  • 2 lemons, preferably Meyer lemons
  • 1/2 navel orange, or 1 small orange
  • 1 large shallot
  • 1½ cups olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt, preferably gray salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 dozen large eggs, hard cooked
  • 5 dozen (8 to 9 cups) Brussels spouts
  • 3 dozen (3/4 cup) Marcona almonds, finely chopped (see note)*
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino-Romano

For the vinaigrette: Use a juice extractor to juice the lemons, orange and shallot, using the entire fruit with peel. Pour the juices into a small bowl and gradually whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream to form an emulsion. Season with the salt and pepper. Tate and adjust the seasoning. Whisk again, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. You should have about 2 cups.

Michael says: At Bottega, we push the hard-cooked egg whites through the sieve, then sieve the yolks and layer the two separately when serving. If it's easier, you can sieve the whole eggs and not bother separating whites from yolks.

For the salad: Using a mandoline, carefully shave each Brussels sprout, holding the stem end. You should have about 9 cups when they're all grated. In a large bowl, toss together the shaved Brussels sprouts, sieved eggs and chopped almonds. Pour on about 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette and toss again. Spoon into chilled small bowls and top with the pecorino. Top with a little more of the vinaigrette.

Summer variation: Substitute 9 cups of julienned sugar snap peas for the shaved Brussels sprouts.

*Marcona almonds from Spain add the crucial crunch to this salad. If they are not available at specialty stores, fry your own blanched almonds in a few tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of sea salt.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Sauvignon Blanc – New Zealand, Loire Valley, Ontario


Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato Spears with Lime

The New Thanksgiving Table brings us this cross cultural recipe that will enhance the ham, and enchant your family and friends. We couldn't get enough of it... better make extra!

Serves 10

  • 4 pounds uniformly (medium) size dark-orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled, cut in half crosswise, then cut into 1/2-inch wedges.
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp kosher or sea salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the sweet potato wedges in a large bowl. Coat a large rimmed baking sheet with the 1 Tbsp butter and set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the ½ cup butter. Whisk in the chipotle powder and then add the honey, lime juice and salt. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly; continue simmering for 3 minutes to meld the glaze.

Pour the glaze over the sweet potatoes and toss until well coated. Arrange them in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl, drizzle any remaining glaze over the potatoes. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast, covered, for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and baste the potatoes.

Tony's wine recommendation:
same wine as you serve with the ham


Butterscotch Pie

Hands-down favourite pie, and what a perfect match with this holiday meal: handsome colour, silky texture and plush flavour; you don't want to leave anyone alone in a room with this dessert! From Southern Pies, where author Nancie McDermott tells us that butterscotch pie first appeared in 1915 in The American Century Cookbook: The Most Popular Recipes of the 20th Century. OK, the century was only 15 years old at the time, but this pie is still ranked right up there in the top few! They called that one right.

Makes one 9-inch pie

  • Pastry for a 9-inch single crust pie (store bought is fine)
  • Filling:
    • 1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
    • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 1¼ cups evaporated milk, half-and-half, or milk
    • 3 egg yolks, beaten well
    • 1/4 cup butter
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Meringue:
    • 3 egg whites
    • 3 Tbsp sugar

Line a 9-inch pie pan with crust and then crimp the edges decoratively. Line and fully bake the crust (see notes below).

To make the filling: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, flour and salt. Use a fork or whisk to mix them together. Add the milk to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until you have a thickened, smooth sauce, about 10 minutes.

Place the egg yolks in a small bowl. Add about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolks, stirring constantly as you pour the milk slowly into the bowl. Mix well. Pour the warmed egg yolks into the saucepan of sugar and milk, stirring constantly to help them mix in smoothly.

Cook, stirring often to 3 minutes more, until the filling is thick an s smooth. Remove it from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla, mixing everything evenly and well. Pour the filling into the baked pie crust and set aside.

To make the meringue: Heat the oven to 350°F. Beat the egg-whites in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until foamy. Increase the speed to high, and add the sugar gradually, about 1 Tbsp at a time. Beat the egg whites until the meringue is thick, shiny and able to hold curly firm peaks. Scoop the meringue onto the filling. Spread it out to seal the edges to the crust, mounding it up in the middle. Use the back of a spoon to swirl it up into curly shapes.

Place the pie on the middle rack of the oven. Bake until the meringue has turned a beautiful golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Place the pie on a cooling rack or folded kitchen towel and let it cool. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve chilled.

Tony's wine recommendation:
something sweeter than the dessert: Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Muscat Beaumes de Venise, Tawny Port


For permission to publish material and photographs,we wish to thank:

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, and Raincoast Publishers, Vancouver, for Skinny Dips. Text © 2010 Diane Morgan. Photographs © Sheri Giblin.

And for The New Thanksgiving Table. Text © 2008 Diane Morgan. Photographs © Leigh Beisch.

And for Michael Chiarello's Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California's Wine Country. Text © 2010 Michael Chiarello. Photographs © 2010 Frankie Frankeny.

And for Southern Pies. Text © 2010 Nancie McDermott. Photographs © Leigh Beisch.

Thomas Allen and Son, Toronto, for Easy Christmas: Classic Recipes for the Perfect Christmas. Recipe and text © Sonia Stevenson. Photograph © Sandra Lane.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (132 KB)




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