My how the holiday season has flown by this year! Here we are, 6 days until Christmas, and it feels like I pulled my winter jacket out for the first time just days ago. Our recent Holiday Dinner Series almost seems like a distant memory now, even though it only occured a few weeks ago. It was certainly a memorable one, packed with comfort food classics, a beautiful locally-purchased pork roast, and plenty of bubbly and wine. It often happens that I'll start to plan a menu, and a theme emerges - this time, the theme was cranberry. So fitting for the season!
I spent the day of the dinner prepping most of the final components - croutons for the soup, candied walnuts for the salad, a lovely puff pastry tart we enjoyed as an appetizer. There were many moving parts to this meal, which made it tricky to organize, but all that much more satisfying as we moved through each course, plating methodically and making sure everything looked just right.
I based the menu off of a gorgeous 6-pound pork roast I picked up from the new butcher shop M.F. Dulock in Somerville. I hand-picked the cut of meat, which included the tenderloin and attached stomach. It was gorgeous and I wanted to do right by it, so I seasoned it minimally and made sure we had outstanding sides to show it off.
I rubbed the roast inside and out with a combination of chopped rosemary and garlic and olive oil, then generously salted and peppered all sides before rolling and tying it. We roasted it with tools from Local Root - an instant-read meat thermometer and a festive red Le Creuset baking dish.
Our guests included Rene (pictured above) and his wife Cynthia from Hi-Rise Bread Co., our neighbors on Observatory Hill. Rene kindly brought along with him some Marc Hebrart champagne from the bakery, a non-vintage brut that everyone loved. It was smooth and delicious - and polished off fast!
Prior to the dinner, I stopped by Formaggio Kitchen, and picked a few types of cheese for our cheese plate. I originally picked our three cheeses, but one of our pooch pals managed to get a hold of one before the meal - an aged, sharp Cabot Cheddar. Sadly, that cheese never made it back to the plate! The cheeses that survived included Pardou Ardi Gasna, a firm sheep's milk from Aquitaine France and Rush Creek Reserve, a soft cow's milk cheese from Dodgeville WI. The three cheeses were vastly different, with flavors ranging from smooth to sharp, mild to bold, soft, hard and in between. A huge thanks to the folks at Formaggio for helping me put together such a great spread! I also picked up some delicious dried apricots to go with the cheeses and homemade apple cranberry jam.
To start the meal, I served a mixed greens salad with cranberry vinaigrette, candied walnuts, sliced gala apples and crumbled Fourme d'Ambert, a creamy cow's milk blue cheese from Auvergne France (also picked up at Formaggio). The cheese was extra creamy, a bit smokey, and overall smooth and rich. All of the ingredients really complimented each other, and made for a beautiful presentation and delicious first course.
For the second course I served a Roasted Carrot Soup, using a recipe I found in one of the cookbooks sold at Local Root, Keys to the Kitchen: The Essential Reference for Becoming a More Accomplished, Adventurous Cook. The soup was thick and had a very distinct carrot flavor - go figure! I thought given that the carrots were roasted, and many other flavorful ingredients had been added that the flavor might be tamed a bit, but that was not the case. It was a hearty soup, without being too heavy. I garnished each bowl with parmesan croutons and a dollop of sour cream.
The main event featured the pork roast from M.F. Dulock (that I gushed about earlier), which was accompanied by Sauteed Green Beans with Mustard-Soy Shallots and Kale and Olive Oil mashed otatoes. The green beans (recipe also from Keys to the Kitchen) were super flavorful, and cooked just until al dente, so they still had a wonderful crunch. The mashed potatoes were made with yukon gold potatoes, which gave them a delightful buttery flavor. They were whipped until silky smooth, and then the sauteed garlicky kale was folded in. As a child, mashed potatoes were one of my absolute favorite foods, and this was a fantastic grown up version. The pork had a generous ladle-full of Port Shallot sauce spooned over it, recipe courtesy of our merchandiser Katy's mom. We were grateful for the recipe, and it really elevated this pork to a whole new level.
To round out the meal, I made this stunning Chocolate Truffle Tart, made with a recipe from the Flour Bakery cookbook (also sold at Local Root). It started with a sweet crust, reminiscent of a mix between sugar cookies and pie dough. The crust is par-baked, then filled with a thick, dense chocolate filling, cooked until set and then chilled. I decided to garnish the tart with sugared cranberries, which looked stunning, but also ended up tasting phenomenal. The sugared cranberries are made by soaking fresh cranberries in a simple syrup, then rolling them in granulated sugar, so they are still nearly raw which gives them a fun sweet/tart flavor. They were loads of fun to eat, and added a lot to this sweet treat.
This meal ultimately turned out to be smashing success, the food was fantastic and the group seemed to really get into the holiday spirit.
Here's to wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!