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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012

As I just mentioned the day before, I sometimes cook a large feast on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Usually it has always worked out to be (loosely) my maternal family and their traditions on Christmas Eve, and my paternal's on Christmas day.  I'm not sure if it has anything to do with the former being German, and the latter Norwegian... but there it is.

Anyway, so Christmas day is turkey day.  Traditional with all the traditional fixins, all cooked traditionally.  :)

Here's my raw bird (chicken in this instance, as I can't honestly serve even the smallest turkey among any less than 6 people, so chicken is the better option).  She's been brined for the last 24 or so hours.

And there she is, salted and peppered, and ready for a little bit of searing high heat.

While that was browning at high heat (~500°F), I got the roasting pan, and what would eventually form the base for the gravy (which is arguably one of the more important elements of such a feast!) all assembled.

In this case, we're going to roast the chicken on top of a ton of onion and garlic, along with some nice fresh sage leaves.

Once the chicken has browned at high heat for a few minutes, she gets laid gingerly on top of this delicious-looking bed.  I like the trick of putting some sort of citrus fruit in the cavity (when not filling with stuffing), and then I added a cup of water to the whole thing.

Slap the lid on the roaster, and the whole thing needs about an hour or two, depending on your cooking temperature.

So, while that is cooking, I got to cooking some veggies.

Although not much of a fan myself, the wife really likes brussels sprouts, so I grilled up a batch of those, along with a batch of buttered peas.

A dollop of margarine, and some sage leaves in there for flavour, but those get removed before serving.

A big drum of mashed potatoes as well.  Might as well throw some sage in there too, right?  Also to be removed before mashing. ;)

Those can be set up in advance, and then cooked later in order to time it to the roast.

Which was done about two hours later... and looked amazing!

BTW - she's not bionic-chicken, that's just my thermometer.  :)

So, she gets removed to a safe location where she'll relax for a few minutes before being carved to pieces by a sharp utensil.

Which leaves a large pot full of sage-flavoured garlic, onion, and a ton of chicken juice.  Hmmm... what to do with all that?  


It's called an immersion blender people.  Go get yourselves one now if you don't already have one.  The sage was removed prior, of course.

The veggies were turned on a few minutes ago, and are now ready at the same time as everything else.

That's it!

A traditional feast for tradition's sake.

Carved the bird:

Served everything up on the table, to be dished out accordingly.

Merry Christmas indeed!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve 2012

For as long as I can remember, my family has made a celebratory deal out of both Christmas and Christmas Eve.

I guess it's because I'm half German?  I dunno...

But, in any case, we would have a large meal feast on both nights.  I will say, however, that they were always different.  The tradition was to do a ham and various orange vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, etc.) for Christmas Eve, and then the typical turkey dinner (mashed potatoes, gravy, etc.) for Christmas.

When I am not spending the holidays with my family, I rarely do both... however, this year I did.  My wife's family celebrates Christmas day with a bit more emphasis than mine, and with my mother-in-law spending the holidays with us, I figured I'd just do both.

So, here is my 2012 take on Christmas Eve dinner.

First of all, this year I did not buy a ham.  I like ham as much as the next Gentile, but they can be a little over salted in my opinion.  So much so that you often need to work hard to infuse the meat with any flavour other than salt.  Maybe some cloves are strong enough to cut through... but that's about it.

So... this year I tried a porchetta.  

Oh man was it good.

It was like taking a super lean, tasty pork loin, and wrapping it in a huge sheet of bacon.  Yum!

So, I rubbed the whole thing down, inside and out, and then pinched it shut with some bamboo skewers.

I then seared it at high heat in the oven for a few minutes.

Which made it all cracklin' good!

Then I slow-roasted it on low heat for a little over an hour.

As for the other dishes, we had green beans, roasted heirloom carrots and sweet potatoes.

After washing and trimming the beans and carrots, I threw them into the roaster for about 40 minutes.  The sweet potatoes were boiled in salted water.  Not really a fan of sweet potatoes, so the wife took care of those.

After all was roasted, we had a delicious looking porchetta:

And it was so juicy, the veggies were cooked perfectly!

There was so much good juice leftover, I incorporated it into the mustard sauce I made.  Which is a must-have remnant from my mom's traditional Christmas Eve supper.

Anyway... this was it, for three people it was still quite a large feast!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Arborio Casserole (Chicken)

In my mind, the word casserole smacks a slightly sinister connotation.  My working mother would whip up one of these sort of hodgepodge meals at least once a week.

You can't blame her; they are quick and easy, and often are complete meals in and of themselves.
Neither is she alone; the ubiquitous casserole is practically synonymous with North American cuisine.

However... to me, there's something wrong about using condensed soup as a medium.  If you've read even a little of my posts here, it should be apparent that I'm a wannabe saucier, and all-around general fan of sauces.

Soup is not sauce.

Soup is soup.


<gnashes teeth>.

So, if you're like me, the word casserole invokes a simply (often hastily) prepared, baked dish of some sort of noodle or rice, some form of chopped meat, some kind of green vegetable(s), and all - at least attempted to be - loosely held together by some sort of condensed soup.  When I was a kid my mom would sometimes bake with some cheese on top too, just for a little extra flavour.

Well... my wife can tell you, my kitchen doesn't really see many casseroles.  In fact I could probably count on one hand all the casseroles I've ever made.

That said... this week I was hit, rather unceremoniously, with a strong desire to whip one up.

Not to boast, but to justify my above harsh criticism of 'typical' North American casseroles, and in accordance with what I would hope anyone would come to expect from me, I of course made everything from scratch.

As is my wont.

Here, then, is my account of the Arborio Cream Casserole I made this week.

I begin, as usual, with the sauce.  And, as usual, that begins with sauteing some garlic and onion.

These root veggies are not chopped overly finely, as I'm bringing out the food processor on this one.  

A little bit of olive oil in the mix, and I pureed the onion first.  That gets added to the pan first, and sauteed for a few minutes on medium-low heat.

While that's sauteing, I do the same for the garlic: a dash of olive oil and pureed in the blender.  And, after about 5 minutes - as the onion is starting to change colour - the garlic gets added and gets about another 4 minutes.

Once that is nicely golden, I remove this from the pan, and set it aside for now (in my casserole dish, for lack of anywhere better.

While this is all going on, I am going to start my rice cooking.  A spoonful of chicken bouillon mixed in helps give the rice a bit of subtle flavour.

That will take at least a half-hour, so it's good to get that started early.

So, after scraping out the root veggies saute, I'm left with a deliciously seasoned pan, ready for more additions.


So, now comes some chicken.

A couple of breasts, not too big, cubed and seasoned.

I mixed up a spice melange, consisting mainly of thyme, salt and pepper, and milled that in my mortar and pestle.

Then, cut up the chicken into pieces no bigger than 1"2.  

Toss, in a medium mixing bowl, with a drop or three of olive oil, and the spice mixture.

Then, after bringing that seasoned pan back up to heat, grill the chicken, giving it a good hand toss every few minutes.

Once the chicken is almost cooked, and seared nicely on both sides, throw in that sauteed garlic and onion mixture you had set aside.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and mix that all together nicely.

After a minute, pour in a cup or more of milk.  I used skim milk.

Not much to look at when it's first poured in, but just wait until we thicken it up.

A tablespoon of corn starch, a teaspoon of bouillon (chicken), and a splash of milk (skim), all whisked together cold, gives us a nice thickening agent.

Whisk that into the pan gradually, and watch your liquids magically become a sauce.  :)


Looks kind of like cream of chicken soup, doesn't it?  Except a quarter of the fat, a tenth of the sodium, all natural ingredients, and from scratch.

"From scratch" is always better.

In the words of my hero Ron Swanson: "People who buy things are suckers".

Heh heh heh.

Oh man, Ron is so awesome... <wipes tear>

Anyway, back to the casserole.  At this point, everything is pretty much ready to be combined and baked.

So, lay down the rice:

Pour in the chicken and sauce:

Although this next step is optional, I do recommend it... grate a layer of parmigiano reggiano over the whole thing!

Cover with foil, and bake at 350° for about 20-30 minutes.

After that, remove from the oven, switch on your broiler, and remove the foil.

It's nicely baked, but we want to crisp it up.  So throw it under the broiler for about 5 to 10 more minutes, keeping an eye (and a nostril) on it.

It's ready once the cheese on top gets exquisitely browned.

Let this bad boy cool for a few minutes before cracking it, but it's ready to go!


So, this is my homemade take on the classic North American chicken casserole.

It was really good.