Monday, January 3, 2011

Casual but delicious late December dinner party

You know how this kind of thing goes.  You have a friend who has a longtime interest in a subject (in this case, WWII), and he's enlightened you over the years from what he reads.  Then you find out another friend has the same interest, so you want to get these two guys together and just listen to their conversation.  And then yet another couple comes to mind because of their similar interests.  Well, it's a lot easier finding people with similar interests than it is to get them together because all of them have Very Busy Schedules.  But finally, you find a date when everyone is available.  But it's three days before Christmas.  People are already sated from a lot of holiday parties.  And even though your guests don't really celebrate Christmas, still and all it's a time of major eating.  So how to plan a menu?

KISS.  That's right.  Keep it simple, stupid.  Just make sure that every entry is delicious.  Or hope that's the case.  So I decided to serve a fabu meatloaf, whipped parsnips, and braised Brussels sprouts...with's sensationally easy and delicious chocolate bundt cake.  A small endive, pear, walnut, and gorgonzola dolce salad. 

Oh, lest I forget, in my quest to make an acceptable focaccia, I made one with rosemary, sauteed onions, and roasted garlic.  My theory here is that the more often I make it, the easier it will be over time.

The result?  Perfection itself.  Each element of dinner was simple, elegant, and related well to the other dishes.  Best of all, I had an appreciative audience, which makes any cook feel much better.

Okay, here goes with the recipes.  They're all quite easy.  Honest.  Just the way I like my recipes.

The Best Meatloaf

Makes: 8 to 10 servings
3/4 cup packed fresh, plain, torn bread pieces, crusts removed
1/3 cup whole milk
4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 medium celery ribs, finely chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste (3/4 cup)
1/2 cup finely chopped roasted red peppers
1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, whisked until smooth
2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds ground pork
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup ketchup
Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Combine torn bread and milk in a small bowl; set aside. Heat oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add celery, onion, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook until no longer raw tasting, about 4 minutes more. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside to cool slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add soaked bread, half of the roasted red peppers, parsley, eggs, Worcestershire, salt, mustard, and pepper to the vegetables and stir together until evenly combined. Add pork and turkey and using clean hands mix until combined (don’t squeeze or overwork).
Form meat into a loose loaf and transfer into a 9-by-5 1/4-by-2 3/4-inch metal loaf pan (don’t press down). Mix together the remaining roasted red pepper and ketchup and brush it over the top. Place meatloaf in oven and bake until internal temperature is 150°F, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and let sit about 15 to 20 minutes, before slicing.
MY NOTES:  In lieu of the 2 lb pork and 1 lb turkey, I bought 3 lb of Guido's meatloaf mix, which is, I believe, equal parts beef, veal, and pork. 

In lieu of the chopped roasted red peppers, I used the appropriate amount of a delicious red pepper condiment I had in the refrigerator.

The ketchup I used until it ran out was homemade by Julia Erickson from a recipe by Carole Murko.  I can't make it myself until next summer when tomatoes are at their peak because it calls for 50 lb of tomatoes.  And I don't think Carole meant them to be the type of tomatoes available in winter.

Pureed Parsnips

3 pounds parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 1/2 cups whole milk

Cook parsnips in water until a knife goes through a parsnip easily.  Drain, put in bowl, add butter and start mashing with a potato masher.  Add milk and continue mashing.  Add salt to taste. 

You can make these earlier in the day and reheat before serving.

Braised Brussels Sprouts
3 ozpancetta, small dice (about 1/2 c)
3 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 c)
2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/4 c dry white wine
1 c chicken broth

Line a plate with paper towels and set aside. Place the pancetta in a large frying pan with a tightfitting lid and cook over medium heat until browned and crispy, about 10 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate, leaving the fat in the pan.

Add shallots and garlic to the pan, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and edges begin to brown, about 3 minutes.

Add Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper, stir to coat, and cook until just browned, about 3 minutes.

Pour in wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and cook until wine reduces by half, about 5 minutes.

Pour in broth, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook until Brussels sprouts are knife tender, about 20 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning as desired, transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with reserved pancetta.

I'll have to post the recipes for the chocolate bundt cake and focaccia later.  But this should tickle your palate enough to get you going.

Happy new year!

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