It is officially the holiday season. Everywhere I went in the last month there have been signs — lots and lots of signs. The ghouls and goblins barely made it back into their crypts before the sleigh bells were ringing, Christmas lights were blinking and tinsel was hanging from every banner in the stores.
There are two things that will happen during this time of year. The first is that we will drive ourselves to the brink of craziness trying to find presents in stores so packed with people trying to find their own special gifts that it is almost impossible to move. The second certainty is that most of us will eat entirely too much.
Here are a few easy things you can try to add that little extra flavor to some of your dishes.
Though this is the time for endless dinners, parties and celebrations, there are meals that are usually the two biggest meals of the year. I say meals instead of dinners because when you think of dinner, it is a time to sit down at the table, eat your food, have a glass of wine and possibly some dessert — and then it’s over. On Christmas, it is a daylong event. The meal can go on for hours as we have second and third helpings. When they finally take all this from the table, it doesn’t mean the meal is done. There is usually a second act.
There can be a few hours of naps, nibbling, football, nibbling, storytelling and. yes, more nibbling before the dessert makes its appearance to the table and the crowd finds their seats again. These meals go beyond the usual meat, starch and vegetable. These holiday meals can include more side dishes than you will find on the normal high-end restaurant menu.
With this said, here are a few easy things you can try to add that little extra flavor to some of your dishes. As far as the main item goes, it usually comes down to two choices: prime rib or turkey with stuffing and mushroom gravy.
First, let’s talk red meat. Personally, prime rib is my favorite cut of beef. If I am not buying a whole prime rib, I’ll try to find a piece that has plenty of marbling and a nice thick fat cap on the top. Season it heavy with salt, pepper and garlic. If you use whole garlic, try using the side of the knife and rub it with some salt on the cutting board to make a salt and garlic paste. This will keep the garlic from burning and from getting bitter. Cook the rib three-quarters of the way upside down and then flip it over to finish it. Remember to let it rest at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Now for the turkey. First, prepare the stuffing separately; do not cook it in the bird. I’m sure you have heard that cooking stuffing in the turkey can add to the risk of contamination. Also, remember that stuffing is basically dried bread, which is like a sponge. It can suck a lot of the moisture out of your turkey and no one likes a dry bird. Season the cavity with salt, pepper, sage and a little rosemary. Cook it on a rack or cut off the wings and make a rack and keep a little water in the bottom of the pan. If you happen to be making your stuffing from scratch, try slicing some breakfast sausage in half length-wise and remove the meat from the casing. Sauté the meat and then add finely chopped carrot, onion and celery to the fat and sauté this before adding the bread, herbs and stock.
Here are some more tasty tips to try:
- Try using maple syrup instead of brown sugar to sweeten your squash.
- Add a little feta cheese to your mashed potatoes before you salt them.
- Be sure to add nutmeg to the mashed potatoes.
- Add a spoon of sugar to the salted water to cook your pearl onions.
- No. 1 addition to your gravy is a little cream sherry. The sherry alone will make everyone want more, so be prepared.
This Christmas give some of these tips a try and enjoy your meal. Have a happy holiday season.
Smitty is a personal chef specializing in dinner parties, cooking classes and special events. Trained under Master Chef Anton Flory at Top Notch Resort in Stowe, Vt., Smitty is known for his creative use of fresh ingredients. To read archived copies of Smitty’s column, visit chefsmitty.com or TheTahoeWeekly.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 412-3598.
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