The Twelve Days of Christmas
For those so inclined come hither to hear,
As the 12 Days of Christmas are about to appear,
The celebrative time it soon does begin,
With pear trees and partridge, and me drinking gin.
And on they’ll continue with spirit and cheer,
As I collect all my thoughts and the ‘morrow comes near,
Through maids and swans and doves and those lords,
Until I have exhausted all my culinary words.
A tip or recipe daily to celebrate the song,
I’ll offer my thoughts to each day they belong,
What will I say to make sense of those rings?
Follow me daily and see what I bring!
On the 1st Day of Christmas...
I love to roast pears and use them as an accompaniment to poultry or pork. They are not just for dessert.
Use any firm pear but Bosc are preferred.
Peel them, cut them in half from stem to bottom, scoop out the core and toss in lemon juice.
Place them cut side up in a roasting pan or casserole.
Dot with butter and splash with port, apple cider, brandy or all three.
Drizzle with honey and scatter lightly with salt.
Add water to the pan to cover ½ way up.
Roast 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or till fork tender, basting 2-3 times during the roast; you can also finish them with 45 seconds under the broiler to caramelize.
Remove the pears and hold.
Reduce the roasting juice till somewhat thick,
Serve basted with the thickened juice and scattered with pine nuts or any nut. Blue or goat cheese are great on them too.
So, about that partridge... They are tough birds to come by and even tougher to cook and eat.
I’ll take a pass. Let these birds fly free, and enjoy my luscious pears!
On the 2nd Day of Christmas...
Unless you are planning a trip to Europe for the holidays, there won’t be any Turtle Doves in your life. These delicate birds (Streptopelia Turtur of the family Columbidae) are not found in these parts. So I will give thoughts to the turtle part of the song, not the birds. Specifically the chocolate turtle (of the family See’s). These wonder confections (dark chocolate only!) are a favorite of my darling wife Jennifer, and remind me of one of my favorite ways to serve dessert:
Instead of offering a single centerpiece dessert, or even in addition to, serve a selection of serious chocolate candies. Chocolate turtles included of course. Offer an assortment of nice cheeses as well. People love the change of pace, and love picking and choosing as well. Like kids in a candy shop! The cheeses add a bit of European elegance (there’s that trip to Europe after all!).
On the 3rd day of Christmas...
Faverolle, the “French Hen” is not great for either eggs or meat. But they’re pretty.
I prefer to take the opportunity to discuss the perfectly roasted American Chicken.
So simple yet one of the absolute cornerstones of French/American cuisine. Ask Julia or Thomas Keller.
The bird must be plump and heavy for its size. A heritage or organic bird is all the better.
Rinse and dry well inside and out. If you know how to truss a bird, do so. If not, learn. It is very simple. Once you know how it’s easy and absolutely makes a difference in the uniform shape and cooking time for the bird.
Oil the bird evenly with a light cooking oil, not olive (too dominate a flavor. You want to taste chicken).
Season with kosher salt and a little fresh or dry thyme and place it on a baking rack inside a roasting pan.
Roast at 400 degrees. It will probably take an hour or so depending on the size of the bird.
The best test for doneness is just knowing after great experience that it’s done. It will be golden in color, feel firm to the touch and give when you flex the drumstick. Use a quick temp thermometer if you need. You are looking for 160 degrees down by where the thigh meets the breast.
Remove the trussing string, take it out of the roasting pan and let it rest for 10 minutes while you make a light pan sauce.
Take a tablespoon of flour and add it to the roasting juices, either right in the pan or removed to a small sauce pan. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. It should bubble or “smile” as the French Chefs say.
Add about a cup of good chicken stock and a splash of dry sherry.
Cook for 4-5 minutes more. The jus will be very lightly thickened. It will glisten with the fat and juices from the roasting jus and will be mysteriously rich from the sherry.
Carve the bird and pour the jus over... Simple details for a perfectly meal.
On the 4th Day of Christmas...
There are 2 interpretations of this verse of the song which, of course, offers gifts of birds of England in the first 7 verses. In this case, Calling Birds.
One thought was that the Calling Birds referred to were Song Birds, of which there are hundreds of options, none particularly tasty.
The second thought was that, in 1780 when the song was written, the author really meant Colly Birds. Colly being English slang which at the time meant black, hence Black Birds. Which made me think of the “four and twenty” in a pie from the nursery rhyme.
So work with me now: Calling Birds to Song Birds to Colly Birds to Black Birds to Black Birds baked in a pie to, what else, one of the finest winter comfort foods there is, Chicken Pot Pie! (OK, a stretch but so what!)
First the crust. Way too much to say here so leave it at this: the crust is EVERYTHING and must be light and flaky as can be. And no real pot pie can be made without both a top and bottom crust. None of this pour a filling in a casserole and toss a pastry on top. NO!
As for the filling, I like to keep it simple and classic. White chicken meat, carrots, celery, onions and peas.
You can get fancy and do roasted asparagus and mushrooms or winter root vegetables. Corn and Bacon is great too. But I like the basics. And lots of them. The pie should be heaping with the “stuff’. I poach my chicken breast in lemon-water and sherry then tear or pull the meat rather than dicing it. Makes the filling more interesting and more tender in the pie.
As for the sauce that binds all the stuff. A thickened blend of good chicken stock and cream. It should be thicken that a finishing sauce ‘cause you don’t want the filling to be runny. A little chopped parsley, salt, pepper and thyme and you have a beautiful centerpiece for Christmas Eve (or any other) dinner. 375 degrees and an hour later you have all the comfort you’ll need, at least for one night.
On the 5th Day of Christmas...
5 GOLDEN RINGS!!
Where’s this going? Easy. As I mentioned before, the songs first 7 verses are all about celebrating the beautiful birds of England. So, rather than the literal interpretation of the rings, what’s actually being referenced are Ring-Necked Pheasants!
So now I need to get elegant on you. One of the classic dish of a by-gone era is Faison Sous Cloche or Breast of Pheasant under Glass. A cloche is a small bell-shaped glass cover, like a cake stand cover.
The pheasants, similar in size and composition to chicken, are roasted. Do this early in the day.
The key with pheasant is that it cannot be over cooked or it will be inedible, very dry. So you roast them (see the 3rd Day of Christmas) but stop after about 30-40 minutes while the juices still run pale pink.
Let the birds rest for 10 minutes then carve away the breasts in one whole piece each. And hold.
Use the rest of the bird to make stock for the sauce by simmering them in water with a few carrots, an onion and a bit of thyme and rosemary. Reduce the stock to about 2 cups and strain.
At the time of service combine the stock with a cup of champagne. Reduce again to 1 ½ cups.
Add a cup of heavy cream and simmer till lightly thickened. Taste for salt. The sauce should be lightly thick, beautifully rich and a pale ivory in color.
Use the sauce to simmer the pheasant breast in JUST TO HEAT. Again, do not over-cook.
You can go to the effort of finding cloche if you want to be that fussy. But cloche or not, serve the pheasant, bathed in this luscious sauce over rice, a mix of white and wild rice and some dried fruit.
5 golden rings... pure elegance.
On the 6th Day of Christmas...
Forget the geese, we’ve had enough birds. Let’s talk about what they are “a laying”. Goose Eggs.
Much bigger than chicken eggs (almost double) they are richer, more flavorful and have a higher ratio of yolk to white. The downside is that they are a b…. to crack. So you have to strike (get it?) a happy medium between the force it takes to break through the shell and avoiding breaking the yolk in the process.
Assuming you successfully break them, goose eggs perform just like chicken eggs. Scrambled richness, dramatic sunny side up, unbelievable for making pasta and on and on.
So I am going back to something really simple. But the love is in the details. Let’s scramble goose eggs
Crack and scramble the eggs thoroughly. But do not do it with an electric mixer. The more you mix, the more air that is added. Great for some things but not creamy scrambled eggs
Once the eggs are thoroughly scrambled with a fork, add a bit of heavy cream, maybe ½ T per goose egg
Add some pea-sized bits of cold butter, again maybe ½ T per egg. Then a pinch of salt.
Now the key. Set a non-stick pan on low heat and melt a tablespoon of butter.
Add the eggs and let them sit for 30 seconds.
Then, with a plastic spatula, begin to push the cooked eggs from the front edge of the pan into the rest of the eggs by scraping the bottom of the pan with the spatula and allow uncooked eggs to drain back into the void created by pushing the cooked egg forward.
Keep doing this. Do not “scramble” the eggs in the pan. Just keep pushing and pushing till all the eggs are cooked. This takes a few minutes. But the low temperature of the heat, the pushing motion and the moisture in the mix from the cream and butter keep the eggs from cooking too fast.
You must be patient and diligent. Simple steps to the softest, richest, creamiest scrambled eggs you have ever eaten. And save the geese for the hunters.
On the 7th Day of Christmas...
Here we are with a dilemma. Do we cook a swan or do something else? Since swans have not been regarded as food for about 500 years (Henry VIII liked a swan or two on his dining table) and most of us couldn’t bare damaging such beautiful and graceful birds, let’s turn in a different direction. Let’s do something related to the number 7.
I choose this approach to this verse as I want to get a strong plug in for one of my favorite and most popular side dishes: Potato Gratin.
No, potatoes au gratin is not correct. Au gratin is an Americanization of the correct French.
So, now that we have that clear, the dish makes sense of this verse because it is comprised of 7 layers.
From the bottom, potato then onions then cheese then repeat. Finish with potatoes and you are set.
The details are that you can use either yellow or russet potatoes. They must be sliced very, very thin. I use a cheap Japanese-style mandolin. Does the job perfectly.
Then the onions. Just regular yellow onions but also sliced very thin.
For the cheese I use Gruyere, a fine Swiss. I also mix a small percentage of mozzarella in. Both shredded.
In addition to the three ingredients you’ll need cream, cold butter, salt and pepper.
Start by buttering the bottom and sides of a casserole with butter.
Lay in a layer of the potatoes covering the bottom of the pan completely.
Scatter the onion over the potatoes generously.
Pour cream over the surface of the onions and potato.
Dot with bits of butter everywhere then season with salt and pepper.
Repeat this process and then finish with a layer of potatoes.
To be truthful, I sometimes do another sequence of the layers making it 9 layers but that’s some other song.
Bake 350, covered with foil till the casserole is fork tender, about an hour or so. This can be done ahead.
½ hour before service remove the foil. Scatter more cheese over all, sprinkle a bit more cream over.
Bake uncovered till the surface is brown and crusty. Let sit for a few minutes to let everything settle.
I promise you one of the best potato dishes you will every serve.
And you get to keep that lovely vision of swans gliding by in your mind.
On the 8th Day of Christmas...
So many ways to go with the lovely maids and their milk. So let’s think about all those holiday side dish casseroles with their canned cream of something as a key ingredient.
How ‘bout we make them a little more special by using home-made cream of something soups?
Here’s a recipe for the base for most any creamed soup. Make it in bulk, freeze it in 1 ½ C portions in freezer bags. Then anytime you need one, pull it out, add the “primary” ingredient and use as needed, including just having a nice bowl of creamed soup for lunch or dinner.
So 6 simple ingredients: butter, onion, flour, chicken or vegetable base (I love the Better Than…. Brand) water and cream or whole milk.
For every “can” of soup you want to freeze use ¼ C each of the butter, onion and flour, 1T of base and
¾ C each of water and cream/milk. This will give you 1 ½ C of finished soup which equals a can of store-bought.
Sauté the onion in the butter till soft. Add flour to make a roux and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the base and blend into the roux. Add the water and blend well. Cook to reduce for 3-4 minutes. Add cream/milk and simmer to desired thickness. Pour into freezer bags and freeze. You can strain it through a fine mesh to give you a really velvety texture if you’d like. You lose the onion but the flavor has been given up to the soup already so no real loss.
Double, triple or more this recipe and you’ll have many “cans” of delicious and, even better, home-made creamed soup in your freezer.
When you need a recipe, say for cream of mushroom, sauté ½ C of mushrooms in a little butter to soften
Break out a bag of soup, thaw and pour in. Now you have what you need for that casserole or comforting bowl of luscious creamed soup. Something those maids of yore would find very comforting.
On the 9th Day of Christmas...
Ladies dancing conjures up an image for me, that of a grand party. And during the holidays I think that the greatest centerpiece for the table of such a big event is Crown Roast of Pork.
It feeds a crowd, give you a centerpiece entrée that most people just don’t see every day and has a substantial dramatic effect. Very grand indeed. And who doesn’t love roast pork.
A crown roast is made by tying 2 center cut, bone-in pork loins together. And the bones must be frenched, a technique for removing all the meat from the long end of each bone, exposing only the bare rib bones. This is something any self-respecting butcher can do for you but it really isn’t that difficult to do at home. Still, I’d ask your butcher to do it for you. There are some sketchy explanations on the internet but I didn’t find a great step-by-step. Look at FoodLab and CookingAmerica for some general descriptions of the process.
Anyway, assuming you have this beauty fabricated and ready to roast, all the normal rules apply.
The center of the crown provides space for some sort of stuffing. Use your favorite turkey stuffing.
The roast takes a couple of hours but what comes out is beautifully flavorful and juicy.
Slice between the bones and you have essentially 12-14 bone-in pork chops. And all that stuffing.
But the real deal is that you will bask in the glorious beauty of this magnificent roast, and the oohs and aahs of your family and guests... Let the party begin!
On the 10th Day of Christmas...
I really had to dig for this one but the result of my research produced surprising and perfectly fitting results.
It turns out that the route words for lord are the old English Hiaford which stems from the even older Hiafweard, all of which turns out to mean Keeper of Bread!
Are you kidding me? I have a culinary connection for lords a-leaping! Who would have guessed??
So, as a result, I am using this verse to give away one of my favorite culinary secrets.
Call it my Christmas gift you each of you that have been so kind to follow these posts.
Here you go:
I am not a baker. I would love to lock myself in a kitchen for a week and teach my self how to bake breads and pastries. But I never seem to find the realistic time to do such a thing. Non-the-less, I do have a great trick that ties into bread. I have the best method for making incredible garlic bread and garlic croutons in the world! Maybe not culinary ground breaking but delicious and super handy for many occasions.
The secret is mayonnaise. Instead of using garlic butter, which absorbs down into the bread and loses its ability to convey the flavor, you use ½ melted butter and ½ mayonnaise with a ton of fresh, pureed garlic, black pepper and parmesan mixed in.
Spread that generously on rustic bread and place under the broiler for a minute or so.
Or toss rustic bread croutons in the mix and bake them at 375. The mayonnaise captures the butter, conveys all the flavors, browns beautifully and, once again, I promise you the best garlic bread you have ever had!
A trade secret. Don’t say I never did anything for you.
On the 11th Day of Christmas...
If the pipers were Chefs, they’d be piping in one of two ways. Either they’d be piping creams and icings for pastries or they’d be piping fillings for savory dishes. And that’s where I get the opportunity to talk about another one of my favorite side dishes for a formal Christmas dinner: Twice-Baked Potatoes.
Like the potato gratin I discussed a few verses ago, this potato dish always gets very high praise from our guests and is a big family favorite. So here are the details:
First, start with nice uniform russet potatoes. Wash and dry them well. Then rub them with a light coating of olive oil and sprinkle them with Kosher salt. A great baked or twice baked potato must have a flavorful skin. Bake the potatoes till they are fork tender and let them cool enough to handle.
Next, cut a “lid” off the potato. Choose the side to cut wisely so the opposite side lays flat in the pan. Scoop out as much potato as you can without breaking the skin. This is best done while the potatoes are still warm. The potato, when riced and mixed with a few more ingredients will be the filling.
(A note here. Sometimes I bake 1-2 extra potatoes so I have plenty of potato to work with.)
The potatoes must be riced so that they become smooth enough to be piped through a pastry bag. Lumps will not do!
Mix the potato with an egg yolk, 3-4T of Cream, 2-3T of parmesan cheese for every 3 potatoes and add salt and pepper to taste. Note that this is not simply typical mashed potatoes.
Now for the piping. Fit a large pastry bag with a large star tip, fill it with the potatoes and PIPE the mixture into the potato shells. Make sure they are over-filled and try to make a decorative rosette to finish the top. Bake 375 till the top rosettes are nicely browned.
Beautifully piped potatoes are, I assure you, music to us all!
Santa is coming tonight! I wish you all a wonderful Christmas Eve!!
On the 12th Day of Christmas...
We made it. So now to the main event.
You might expect me to go for the easy reference to poultry drum sticks for this march of drummers.
But no! Let’s go deeper and come out big.
In the oldest days, drum skins were made from animal skin drawn taunt and beaten on with sticks.
First it was fish skin. But as domesticated animals became common, lamb and cattle were used. Ultimately calf skin was the skin of choice. Since I don’t do veal, let’s finish this very grand song with a fitting culinary reference: Beef Cattle, and more specifically the king of all roasts: Roast Prime Rib, or Standing Rib as it was called when I was younger. So appropriate for a Christmas feast,
I am most respectful of all Christmas traditions but you can have all your turkeys and geese and anything else you might choose to prepare for Christmas dinner. Nothing can stand (I kill myself) up to a big, must I say it, magnificent Prime Rib of Beef!
Deeply browned, dramatic for its size, feeds a crowd and satisfies your inner guilty pleasures for rich, beefy flavor. And the bonus is that, other than dealing with the size of the roast, it’s really very easy to put Prime Rib on your table.
Though I would never think of roasting anything but a full rib roast (all 7 bones and about 16-20 lbs.) you can do a smaller roast. Allow one rib for every 2-3 guests. 2 is very generous and 3 is more sensible. I go for generous.
Rub the meat with pureed fresh garlic and Montreal seasoning and roast at 425 for 30-40 minutes. Then turn the oven down to 275 to roast till done. Done means a uniform 120-125 on a meat thermometer when inserted. If you must have you meat done more, take it to 130-135. By roasting hot first then fairly low for the remainder of time, you will have a beautifully browned exterior but a fairly uniform medium rare from end to end. There is nothing like a medium rare end cut!! If you roasted at a higher temperature the outside cuts will be more done. Maybe that’s wat your crown wants. I’m just telling you want Chefs do. The whole roasting time depends on the size of the roast. My 20 pounder will take about 4 ½ hours.
You must let the meat rest for 20 minutes before carving to allow the juices to relax and redistribute throughout the roast. This gives you time to make the Jus. Note that I did not say au jus. Once again, as we discussed with au gratin potatoes, the liquid produce with a roast like prime rib, in the correct French is Jus. A one-word noun. Au jus is an American bastardization of proper French.
To make the jus, simply skim off as much fat as possible from the liquids in the roasting pan, return the jus to the pan. Add a bit of water and a small shot of beef base and splash a spot of sherry in. Boil to reduce a bit and you are ready.
Carve the meat, pour the jus, and serve with Yorkshire pudding (a MUST!) and all your favorite accompaniments. Man! This is grand eating. Commence with the drumming of drums! The meal is server!!
I wish you all the most merry Christmas and best wishes for a wonderful 2016! Thank you for letting me into your cyberspace and kitchens.