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A Holiday Feast
It is fun to go all out on a gala feast for the holidays, enjoying specialties that are not part of the daily fare. This special dinner for eight offers several cook ahead options. The pastry-wrapped entree can be assembled and refrigerated a day in advance. Make the baba dessert a day or two ahead or up to 2 weeks ahead and freeze it. The chutney makes a great food item to pack several weeks ahead for gift giving, or serve a commercial chutney at dinner.
For wine, commence with your favorite champagne, such as a Gloria Ferrer Brut Sonoma County NV or 1994 J sparkling wine, and enjoy an elegant pinot noir, merlot, or cabernet sauvignon. Sanford Pinot Noir Santa Barbara 1995 or Markham Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1994 are top California selections. For a superb choice at great value, consider either of these imports: Castello Vecchio Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 1997 or Barton Guestier Bordeaux Merlot 1995.
1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes
1 can (3-4 oz.) smoked oysters
Flat-leaf parsley sprigs
Chive-Stuffed Pea Pods
24 Chinese pea pods, trimmed
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 bunch fennel
3 ounces blue cheese, at room temperature
Prepare the three stuffed vegetables. Cut a slash in each tomato, insert an oyster, and skewer closed with a toothpick. Garnish with parsley. Blanch the pea pods in boiling salted water 30 seconds; drain and refresh in cold water. Slit open 1 side of each pod pod. Blend the cream cheese, cream, and chives and spread the filling inside each pod. Cut the fennel bulb into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Spread the ends with blue cheese. Arrange all on a platter.
Smoked Salmon with Eggs
Overlap 1 dozen slices of smoked salmon on a platter. Arrange in mounds alongside it finely chopped green onions, sieved hard-cooked egg yolks, shredded hard-cooked egg whites, and capers. Include a basket of dark rye or pumpernickel bread. Let guests compose their own open-face canapes.
Cream Cheese with Green Tomato Chutney and Crackers
Makes 2 dozen appetizers
8 ounces cream cheese
Green Tomato Chutney: follows
Place the cheese on a platter, spoon over about 1/3 cup chutney, and ring with crackers.
Green Tomato Chutney
Makes 4 half pints
1-1/2 pounds green tomatoes, diced in 1/2-inch cubes
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup golden raisins
1 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon each salt and ground ginger
1 tablespoon mustard seed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green or red chili pepper, chopped or 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
In a large, heavy saucepan, place all the ingredients, bring to a boil, and boil gently 30 minutes or until the chutney is thick, stirring occasionally. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars; seal, cool, label, and refrigerate or freeze.
Fillet en Croute
Makes 6 servings
2 1/2 pound fillet steak or chateaubriand
2 tablespoons soft butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 pound brown mushrooms, finely chopped
1/4 cup minced shallots or green onions
1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
2 ounces Black Forest ham, minced
1 tablespoon brandy or dry sherry
1 package (10 oz.) frozen puff pastry shells, thawed and warmed to room temperature
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Watercress or parsley sprigs
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Tie the fillet steak or lamb roll in several places with heavy string. Rub the top and sides with 1 tablespoon soft butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place fat side up in a baking pan. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove pan to a rack and let meat cool to room temperature; remove string. Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms and shallots in remaining butter until soft. Add parsley, ham, and brandy and cook 2 minutes to reduce juices. Chill.
Arrange the patty shells on a lightly floured board and press the edges together, making a rectangular shape. Roll out to make a rectangle about 12 by 15 inches or large enough to encase the meat. Trim the pastry and save the scraps for garnish. Spread mushroom mixture over pastry to within 1 inch of all sides and press in firmly. Trim any thick fat from the outside of the meat. Place meat top side down on the pastry. Wrap pastry around meat; seal securely down the middle and at ends, moistening pastry edges with water. Place seam side down in a greased baking pan. With a scalloped cookie cutter, cut out designs from pastry scraps and arrange on pastry-wrapped meat. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook. Brush pastry with lightly beaten egg white. Insert a meat thermometer through pastry into the center section of the meat. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 30 minutes or until the meat thermometer registers 140° for medium rare meat. With a spatula, transfer the meat to a carving board and remove the meat thermometer. Garnish with watercress. To serve, cut the meat into 3/4 inch thick slices.
Lamb en Croute Variation: For a smaller gathering of 4 guests, a 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pound boneless cut of lamb top round, cut from the leg and sometimes called a lamb butterball, can substitute for the beef fillet.
Roasted New Potatoes and Onions
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds small assorted potatoes: Yukon Gold, Red Bliss, and purple
6 medium red onions, cut in wedges in sixths
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the potatoes and onions in oil and vinegar and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Place on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until tender.
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup light cream, heated to lukewarm
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
Orange Syrup: follows
1 1/2 cups halved strawberries and 2 kiwifruit, sliced (optional)
Orange Whipped Cream: follows
Sprinkle the yeast into warm water and let stand until dissolved, about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy, then beat in the sugar and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until smooth. Stir in the yeast and cream. Gradually mix in the flour and beat until smooth. Mix in the orange zest and beat for 2 minutes longer. Butter and flour a 2-quart ring mold. Spoon in the batter, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until tripled in size. Preheat the oven to 350°F and bake in the oven for 40 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the baba comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then loosen the edges and turn out onto a rack, rounded side up. Cool completely, then return to the pan. Pierce the cake with a long skewer and pour in the hot syrup. Let stand until cool. Turn out the cake onto a platter and fill the center with berries and kiwi fruit, if desired.
Orange Syrup:. Combine in a saucepan 1 cup each water and sugar and simmer until clear. Stir in 1/4 cup each orange juice and Cointreau.
Orange Whipped Cream: Place in the top of a double boiler 1/2 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 eggs, lightly beaten, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons soft butter. Cook, stirring, over simmering water until thickened. Chill. Whip 1 cup heavy whipping cream until stiff and fold in. Makes 2 1/2 cups sauce.
Lou Seibert Pappas is a former food editor of the Palo Alto Times Tribune and a home economist with Sunset Magazine. She currently writes food, home, and travel-related articles for national magazines and newspapers and is the author of more than 30 books.