Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tasty Eating's Essential Winter Holiday Feast

The year 2013 was the start of many firsts like my first annual holiday dinner. Move over Thanksgiving, you're not the only feast in town. I really enjoy hosting parties and the holidays brings out the big guns. I have saved a stack of recipes just for large groups. This is where they will shine.
Unlike my Thanksgiving dinner, the holiday dinner showcases appetizers as well as dinner and dessert. It changes things up a bit especially the pacing. But knowing my family well, I served these appetizers at 4pm with the plan on serving dinner around 7pm. That's ample time to recover from massive food in mouth shoveling. As you can see above, we served a charcuterie platter with prosicutto, hot soppresatta, provolone, and mozzarella cheese. Grapes to balance things out and some homemade chicken pate for the adventurous.

With that, we also served peanuts, pistachios, olives, and a variety of crackers.
Another group favorite is shrimp cocktail. Jumbo shrimp cooked then cooled leaving the meat firm yet still delicate. Homemade cocktail sauce is a must. I have gotten confirmation that I am allowed make the sacue spicier with more horseradish next time. They like the heat. Note taken.
When it comes to appetizers, I don't always go for the protein and/or carbs. I like variety. So I made a vegetable platter with carrots, celery, bell pepper, and cucumbers. In the middle is homemade ranch sauce which has a nice kick from raw garlic and onion. It was a hit. People really liked it. Never underestimate the power of a good vegetable dish.
Of course, I couldn't have a party without dabbling in a new dish like gougeres. The practice run came out well a week ago but the actual product during game time was lackluster. The choux pastry didn't rise in the oven like I wanted to. The little cheese balls were dense. Booo. After going through the process in my head over and over again, I've finally figured out what went wrong. While I had halved the recipe for the choux pastry, I had forgotten to halve the amount of cheese leaving the dough to be much denser than normal. The delicate pasty didn't have room to rise. Well, now I know what to do next time.
And what's a party without a signature cocktail. I wanted something that looked festive yet could be mixed ahead of time. Meet the pomegranate champagne cocktail. The morning of (or you can do this a day ahead), I made simple syrup then mixed it with pomegranate juice and white rum. Add to that some mint leaves and pomegranate seeds. When you're ready to serve, add ice to the glasses, then pour a whole bottle of champagne to the mix. Serve immediately. The result is something sweet, tart, and refreshing.
And now dinner time. I served everything family style which is the way I prefer it. It also goes really well with presentation. First up, the salad. Spring mix with pomegranate seeds (see how I tied that together? Haha) and apples lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar and oil.
Then for the main dishes: a cider brined bone-in pork loin roasted over potatoes and onions. Brining ensured that the pork remained juicy through the roasting process which it did. The spices on the outside were coriander seeds, salt, and pepper. I think this dish would have been lovely with some mustard as well. Next time, I'll experiment.
With one big meat dish, I like to keep the rest vegetarian or very light. That's why I made a mushroom lasagna. It's not simple lasagna with just roasted mushrooms. Oh no. It has a mushroom bolognese and roasted mushrooms. I used porcini, king oyster, oyster, chanterrelle, shiitake, and baby bella mushrooms. A bechamel was the sauce and paired really well with the earthiness of the main ingredient. This came out really luxurious without being heavy. I enjoyed this very much.
And the piece de resistance for the night was the salt baked striped bass. Before this night, I never made this dish before. In fact, I never made any of the previous main dishes before. But using my family as the guinea pig is fun. So I bought 2 striped bass about 2-3 lbs each. The fishmonger scaled and cleaned it for me. I took it home, washed off any remnants then patted them dry. Stuff the cavities with sliced lemons and a variety of herbs. I used tarragon, thyme, and parsley. In a large sided cookie sheet, I lined it with parchment paper. Then I mixed 5 lbs of course salt with 8 whipped egg whites. It's kind of like a meringue. I layered some salt mixture on the bottom, added the fish on top, then layered the rest of the salt forming a dome. I made sure to enclose the entire fish under salt. Then I baked it until the top of the salt turned a golden brown.
And this is where the showcasing begins. The cracking of the salt. The salt crust becomes really hard and needs to be cracked and removed. Have another cookie sheet or a large garbage bag handy. Take a large spoon and tap it hard against the salt. Try to create a perimeter around where you think the fish is located. Eventually it should come off in one large piece exposing the cooked fish. Now, don't try to removed the whole fish. It'll get stuck. So instead, carefully removed the skin (it's inedible now) and fillet the meat off. Try to brush away as much salt as you can. Remove the spine and continue removing the tender meat and placing it onto your platter.
When you have removed all the meat, serve it with some lemon and a splash of olive oil on top. If your're wondering if this makes salty fish, it doesn't. It's actually perfectly seasoned. It was certainly a show stopper and tasted great too.
For dessert, I kept things with the holiday spirit and made a variety of cookies/treats. Lemon iced cookies, smores brownie bars, and a cranberry pistachio chocolate chip cookie. Next year, I'll made different cookies except for the lemon. I really like the lemon.
And of course I needed to try something completely new for dessert as well. So I made salted caramel popcorn. Wowza! These were salty. Not overly so but much more salty than most salted caramel recipes called for. I really liked it. I'm a salt fiend.
And my sister also brought over some mini walnut teacups. I really liked these because the walnut flavor was pronounced though a bit sweet.
Overall, this was a very successful meal. I probably wouldn't change the appetizers nor main dishes but the desserts can be improved. Until next year!


  1. This whole meal makes me so happy. The cocktail is awesome. Ahhh so happy.


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