Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Dinner

I typically leave the hardcore holiday cooking to the more experienced members of my family and choose to steer clear of the kitchen altogether. This Christmas was the exception to the rule; the first time I have been left to spearhead a holiday meal and feed my friends and family gathered for the celebration. My sister, her boyfriend, her father, a very good friend of mine, and I spent Christmas at the charming Tillinger household in Connecticut. I was in charge of the bulk of Christmas day dinner though my sister did prepare the salad and her father got a decadent carrot cake from a local restaurateur. After much thought and preparation I settled on a menu of leg of lamb, celeriac brandade, potato gratin, and peas.

Lamb is delicious, plain and simple though I hardly ever make it. I prepared the leg of lamb the way my father and mother used to for Easter lunch, crisply roasted with garlic and rosemary aroma permeating the tender meat. I made small 1/2-inch deep incisions in the leg and stuffed a sliver of garlic, a sprig of rosemary, and a few fresh mint leaves in each slit. Mint and lamb is a match made in heaven and fresh mint leaves add a bright flavor to the roast. After generously seasoning the lamb with salt, pepper, and a few sprigs of rosemary, I roasted it uncovered in a 325-degree oven till medium rare and then let it rest for about twenty minutes.

Celeriac, or celery root, is one of my favorite winter vegetables and is currently at its prime availability. I thought the light celery anise taste would lend itself well to the lamb, throwing a different flavor profile into the mix. Brandade seemed like an appropriate dish and I happened to want to try one with Celeriac. Brandade is a traditional dish from the south of France composed of salt cod, olive oil, and milk served with bread. Potatoes and butter are sometimes substituted but I thought it would be interesting to use celeriac and fennel instead of fish. It was a snap to make, just steam cubed celeriac, fennel, and a few potatoes over boiling water and then puree them with heavy cream, sautéed garlic, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. The dish is a very good vegetarian alternative to the classic though I feel it was a little too rich next to the potato gratin.

Who doesn’t love a good gratin with all that bubbly cheese and creamy goodness! A potato gratin or gratin Dauphinois as it is lovingly referred to in France is a perfect holiday dish because it is rich, elegant, and can easily feed an army. I made a deep-dish gratin with tons of Gruyere, milk, and cream which are basically the only other ingredients besides russet potatoes. Needless to say it was a big hit and people kept coming back for second helpings. For the final side dish I sautéed peas with finely minced red onion and a handful of fresh mint ribbons. The dishes added some much needed greenery and the mint in the dish paired well with the mint flavor running throughout the lamb. I would say it was not a shabby first attempt at a holiday feast. Everything went smoothly in the kitchen and everyone seemed to savor the dishes that I had prepared to celebrate Christmas. I wish you all the very best and hope that 2009 brings nothing but joy and happiness to us all. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!

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