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Thursday, December 29, 2011


Christmas has come and gone, although I am still enjoying some time off through the New Year.  This year’s festivities were definitely more low key than others. Perhaps because both my daughters are working and I was left to my own devices for more time than usual. I engaged in very boring activities, like cleaning out drawers and closets, ironing linen and wrapping presents. Nothing makes time go more slowly than cleaning house.  By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I was ready.  
Traditionally we celebrate Christmas Eve at my Mom and Dad’s home.  They took over the tradition years ago after my Grandparents could no longer do it. It’s really an open house; everyone is welcome and this usually yields about 18 to 20 of us. The guests change slightly every year but the menu stays pretty much the same. Tamales are the Mexican food tradition we look forward to. These delectable purses of corn masa and various meats and chile are accompanied by corn casserole and a baked ham. We went retro this year and decided to bake a fresh ham instead of buying a spiral cut ham. In the old days, before one could purchase a spiral cut ham in every city, we always baked our own ham. The recipe from Emeril is the one my Dad used: Emeril-Lagasse/baked-fresh-ham It was a good decision. Whole Foods had the pork leg on sale for $2.99 per pound and it was worth every penny.  At one of my several trips to the market with my Mother, we went past the Ham store, where we saw at least 100 people in line waiting to pick one up. We knew at that moment we made a great decision to cook our own.  As great as the ham and the tamales are, the party favorite is always the corn casserole. It is a simple blend of corn, sour cream and cheese, which after baking together are incredibly satisfying and one of the top ten on my list of comfort foods.  It has been part of the holiday repertoire well before I was ever around and I’m sure it will be on the top ten list when my daughters take over the holiday traditions with their future families.
Family gifts are opened after dinner and deserts are grazed on all through the night. When I was younger, I would go to Midnight Mass after our family gathering, now I am satisfied watching the Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on T.V. when I get home.  Regretfully, I never make it to the end before falling asleep. I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow.
Christmas Day arrives and after opening the gifts Santa has left, I start preparing for Christmas dinner. This day is just family and an occasional friend, for a sit down dinner.  I had a surprisingly easy menu that would be ideal for any dinner party.  Egg Nog punch greeted family warmly and an assortment of cured Jamon Serano, Chorizos and Italian Mortadella and olives, was just enough to open our appetites. The main attraction was a 12 rib, pork crown roast with a mustard sauce, served alongside black truffle macaroni and cheese and brussel sprouts in a mustard seed, creme fraiche bath. My husband made Rice Pudding Brulee for dessert. 
Setting the table is the first thing I do.
I decided to let the oven do all the work this year and I was not disappointed. The meat turned out perfectly. Amazingly, I figured out how to use my remote thermometer, without the instructions, and it alerted me when the roast was at a perfect 158 Degrees F.  While the meat rested, the macaroni went in and 10 minutes later the sprouts went in for their final roasting.  Everything was timed perfectly and all the food was ready to be eaten in sync with our appetites. Surrounded by family, lively conversation and laughter, Christmas was indeed perfect. Now, I'm onto New Year's Day preparations. Stay Tuned.

                                                                      The Punch Station is ready

12 Rib Pork Crown Roast:
Ready to roast

12 Servings - 1 rib per person
Order the prepared roast from the butcher.
12 Rib Roast
Olive Oil
4 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 cups white wine
Heavy Cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Let the roast rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before putting it into the oven. While it's resting, rub the entire roast with olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine 2 tablespoons of each mustard together and rub all over the roast. If using a remote thermometer, place it through the center of the meat careful not to touch bone. Pour white wine into the bottom of the roasting pan. Put into oven and roast, basting it every 45 minutes with white wine. Remove when the temperature   registers 155 to 160 degrees F, about 2 to 2.5 hours. After removing from the oven, place the roast on a warm platter and cover tightly with foil. Roast should rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Sliced and Plated up

For the sauce:
Place the roasting pan over a medium low heat on the stove top. Add about 1/2 cup of cream slowly, while whisking to form the mustard sauce.

Slice through each rib on either side for a serving. Pour sauce over the top.

Black Truffle Mac n' Cheese:
12 side servings - 8 main servings
1 1/2 pounds dried pasta, elbow macaroni, penne, or any other shape you like. I used Pipe Rigate. Note: 1 box is usually 1 pound.
2 containers of Black Truffle butter
4 - 6 oz. pound Comte, Gruyere or Truffle cheese
3-4 cups Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons Panko Bread Crumbs
Olive Oil
Finely chopped chives to finish

                                                                The Basic Ingredients

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
Cook pasta in boiling salted water for two minutes less than the instructions indicate i.e., 8 minutes vs. 10.  The  pasta will continue to cook while baking and if it's cooked through it will be too soft after baking.  While the pasta is cooking, grate the cheese and bring the truffle butter to room temperature. After the pasta cooks, drain and return to the cooking pot. Add the butter, 2 cups cream and half the cheese, blend gently. Taste for salt and pepper before adding to the baking dish.  If the pasta absorbs the cream, then add some more cream directly into the baking dish as it will absorb the liquid. If there is not enough in there, it will end up dry. Sprinkle the remaining cheese and panko bread crumbs on top. Drizzle with olive oil to ensure Browning. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a golden crust has formed. Top with finely chopped chives or other fresh herb of your choice.

Arroz con Leche Requemado: Serves 12
3 Quarts Whole Milk
1 cup Cal Rose (or short grain) Rice
2 cups Sugar
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 Vanilla Bean (optional)
1 Lemon Rind
Plus extra sugar for final torching - Turbinado sugar is best for this process but regular sugar will do.

This is a tedious process, which takes about 1 1/2 hours of active time. It's worth it though! Unlike other rice puddings, the rice is cooked in the milk slowly, like risotto, absorbing all the milk until it becomes thick and creamy. It doesn't seem like a lot of sugar, but when sugar is added to the top to "brulee" it will become sweeter.

Start by heating the milk one quart at a time in a separate pot. It should simmer, but not boil. To a large pot, like a stock pot, add the rice, cinnamon and/or vanilla bean, lemon peel and sugar. Add 1 quart of the heated milk and stir constantly. The heat should be medium-low so that the mixture is just simmering.  The rice will start to absorb the milk and as the milk is absorbed, heat another quart.  Slowly add to the large pot with the rice, stirring constantly. You can add the 2nd quart of milk in two parts. Again, stir slowly, but constantly until the milk is absorbed. Make sure to get the stirring spoon to the bottom of the pot to remove any rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. At this point about 40 minutes have gone by. For the third quart of milk, add it in 2 -3 parts. This will help you to control how thick it gets.

At the last step, you may choose to add less than the third full quart of milk, depending on how thick you want the pudding. I like it to be about the consistency of custard before it sets, thick and liquid enough to pour. If you like it thicker, cook it longer but remember it will thicken more as it cools. My husband sits right in front of the pot with his wood spoon, for the entire process. If the rice burns, it will ruin the flavor of the whole batch so be careful.  After about 60 - 90 minutes the pudding will be ready to cool. Pour pudding into a serving dish and refrigerate. I am one of those like like my pudding warm, so if you are like me, don't refrigerate it and serve it warm, or you can take a portion out for the chef and snack on it before refrigerating.

                                                     The Final Step

The final step should be executed just before serving. To brulee the pudding, you need a torch. If you don't have a torch, you can put it under the broiler until it is golden, watching very carefully so it doesn't burn.
Sprinkle sugar generously on top of the pudding dish. If you don't put enough sugar on it, it will not form a crust as it is torched. Hold the torch about 4 inches from the dish and let the flame gently do the work. If you hold it too close, it will burn, not close enough and it won't caramelize. To serve, spoon the rice into individual bowls making sure there is a crust or sugar shard on each.

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