Garden, Plant, Cook!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Dinner - Trying some new things and Celebrating my Garden Salad

Dear Folks,

I hope your Christmas Day was wonderful, and filled with love and peace.  Today is the 2nd traditional Day of Christmas.

It was just 3 of us for dinner yesterday, Deane, a friend and I.   I wanted to try a couple of new things and they turned out well.  My sweet Deane and friend are such good sports on being guinea pigs for my recipes!

It was such a fun thing to go out into the garden Christmas morning and harvest for my salad:  red romaine, red sails lettuce, curly escorole, arugula, and I added some cilantro and chervil for extra flavor, plus a red scallion (I grow red bulb onions, with extra for harvesting a scallion through the winter when I need it).

When I make mashed potatoes I dice the potatoes so they cook faster and always, always leave the skin on.  Extra fiber and more of the vitamins etc.

Meat Roast in Pastry Dough

A recipe I wanted to try was a meat roast in pastry dough ala Beef Wellington.

The traditional recipe calls for a coating of liver pate (not interested) and a duxelles (finely minced mushrooms and herbs) and can't do that as Deane is severely allergic to mushrooms.

[Pictured one of the roasts ready to go into the oven and the pork roast finished, showing the apple stuffing.]

So I went looking for ideas and had a 2 pound pork loin in the freezer and decided to jump in and do two roasts so I picked up a bottom eye round beef roast.  (This was the roast beef we had as a special treat on Sunday dinners - one of the cheapest cuts of beef because it is also very tough, or can be - the trick is to carve on the bias and you have a nice tender piece of meat.)

I purchased 4 frozen pie crusts (next time I will try to make my own - another of my 'need to try making lists' or purchase puff pastry).

I sprinkled both meats with salt and pepper on all sides, then quickly seared all sides (1 minute each) in avocado.  I left the beef roast with just the S&P, but decided on a stuffing for the pork.  Alton Brown had a nice idea for this (his "Pork Wellington") so I took the general idea and made a mix of dried apples from our trees, a tiny bite of my garlic dried and added some walnuts and stuffed the mix into the pork and put extra on top.

I rolled out the pie crusts and had to kind of cut and paste into a rectangle (the reason why I need to either make my own next time or get puff pastry).  It worked just not quite as sturdy.  It looked beautiful when done, but fell apart when cut for dinner.  Still tasted great!

Since this was my first time making roasts in pastry I chose a 400 degree oven, put each roast in a separate small pan lined with aluminum foil and started the pork first, put the beef in 15 minutes later and pulled them both out at a total hour.  The pork was done perfectly and the beef was still too red in the center for everyone's tastes so I moved the beef off the foil into another dish and popped into the microwave for 4 minutes, perfect!

I used the pan drippings from searing to start a gravy.  There was not quite enough, so I had to improvise with some water, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of espresso coffee powder (I keep a jar in the freezer for use when making things like brown gravy and some chocolate desserts), and a bit of turkey stock.  Salt and pepper and it all came together in a nice flavor blend gravy.

After some years of cooking you get to be a good improvisational cook, but keep notes in case everyone likes it.  Some years ago I whipped up a green goddess dressing*  for a special salad and afterwards my friend asked me what ingredients I used and I could not tell him!  I was just going for texture, look and taste and adding to as a I went. :-)

*Green Goddess Dressing:  All the greens and herbs go into the blender with the acid and oil to make a gorgeous dressing for chunky type salads - almost a sauce rather than a dressing.

Cheese Ball

For a while now I've been wanting to try making a cheese ball.  I know it is simple and folks have been doing this appetizer for years but I kept balking at the Cream Cheese component most recipe ideas start out with.  I LOVE cheese and I want real cheese and real nutrition density.  Then I did some research on recipes using yogurt and found some good ideas.

I had purchased a new Arizona Cheese at the farmers market:  White Cheddar with garlic and black pepper and thought that would be a good start.  I finely grated about half a cup of that along with about an equal amount of Parmesan, added a couple of tablespoons of Greek yogurt, several tablespoons of diced red bell pepper, a sprinkle of sweet paprika. Blended all with a spatula, then I dabbed my hands with a bit of my butter spread* and rolled it into a ball, then rolled it chopped walnut nuts and used plastic wrap to keep in a ball shape to chill.

I served this as dessert with sweet potato chips, blackberries, grapes, some spiced nuts a friend gave us and a mix of chocolates and cookies.  A take off on a dessert tray of cheese, fruit and nuts.

 * Organic butter and avocado oil blended with a pinch of salt to make a healthier butter spread


We desert gardeners can get back into the garden now (with most of the celebrations behind us), unlike 4-season gardeners who can only drool over the seed catalogs waiting until April or thereabouts to sow and plant.

Traditionally I begin the new year by planting my potatoes on New Year's Day.

Keep my month-by-month calendar in mind when considering your next garden plans for sowing and planting.  There are two versions of the calendar - one with stapled (perfect) binding and one with spiral.  Either can be hung on the wall.

Enjoy the rest of the holiday season while planning your garden planting, be safe and have a great week.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

P.S.  NEW COOKBOOK coming - watch for my posts on its availability.  This is going to be a small special-focus book and hope it will inspire some fun ideas for your next dinner or party.

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