Saturday, 26 December 2009

Making My First Christmas Dinner

I'll remember Christmas 2009 as a unique if not watershed moment; it was the first Christmas which I did not spend with family. Considering that I'd been able to take time off work for three consecutive Christmases including the flights there and back, it was about time I'd let my colleagues take the time off while I would hold the fort. Of course, with a few days off (perchance a long weekend), that gave me the opportunity to cook experimentally for myself. My Christmas may have been solitary, but that didn't mean that I couldn't make the best of the situation.

Turkey was off my menu for a couple of reasons: even the smallest turkey available at the supermarket or a butcher would've filled my fridge with leftovers for days if not weeks, and quite frankly I didn't feel prepared to attempt roasting one, knowing that it can easily become a dry bird to chew on if not done right. Add to that the fact that I've had turkey every Christmas that I could remember, I thought change was in order and for the better. With that, I decided to attempt a (beef) rib roast and extend the roasting theme to my vegetables as well.

Fortunately the internet can be a decent resource, and I relied on it to do both the roast and the Brussels sprouts. Online recipes for cooking a rib roast were consistent, and many cautioned against attempting smaller cuts (i.e. 1-2 ribs) due to the greater difficulty to control the cooking. To be honest with you, I only made do with a 1.4kg 1-rib roast, and with the total cooking time at 75min. (15min. at 450F, 30min. at 325F and 30min. to rest covered), it still turned out medium rare very nicely as one can see above. Granted, a smaller cut does mean less drippings for making a jus or gravy; fortunately I had some beef stock on hand to remedy this.

Not only was this my first attempt at cooking a rib roast, but it was also my first attempt to cook with Brussels sprouts. It'd been a while since I last had some of these curious little vegetables, and with its underlying bitterness I can see why it has been portrayed in the media to be disliked, if not reviled, by kids. Funny how one's taste tolerances can change as one gets older; as a kid I couldn't stand bitter melon, but today I can not only enjoy it but other bitter vegetables like Belgian endive and yes, Brussels sprouts. (I still can't tolerate the bitterness of alcohol, but I digress.) I halved the recipe since I was cooking for myself, and it turned out quite well. The sprouts looked almost charred, but they fortunately weren't, the flavour of the mushrooms (I used fresh shiitake and oyster mushrooms) was a nice counter to the sprouts. The fried shallots added a playful dimension to the dish as well.

I also made a second dish of roast vegetables, this one consisting more of ground-dwelling vegetables. Though I've roasted vegetables in the past, I actually first attempted this particular version at our office Christmas dinner party a few weeks ago; judging from my colleagues' reactions, my experiment was very successful. I substituted potatoes with one of the orange varieties of sweet potato typically sold in North America, as sweet potatoes were more colourful and naturally flavourful. My recipe can be found below.

Voila! This was my Christmas 2009 dinner. That bowl to the left was the jus. I'd originally planned on making gravy instead, but after having to deal with the smoke alarm for a few minutes (note to self: my next residence must have a powerful fume hood) as the roast was being seared, my procedures for cooking the three dishes were thrown out of whack, I settled with the jus. In spite of my not having given the roast any rub or seasoning, the roast with the jus tasted just fine.

Considering the many firsts that occurred that night (first Christmas dinner alone, first attempt at a roast, first attempt at Brussels sprouts), it was a successful and delicious evening. I'll count my blessings to not only being to cook but to also have the means to live (and eat) well. I hope you have/had a pleasant Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, and I wish everyone a Happy New Year! (One more thing: cherish your time spent with family and/or loved ones during the holidays, such moments must never be taken for granted.)

Roasted Root Vegetables
1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into ~2.5cm (~1") cubes
1 medium or 1/2 large red onion, chopped into ~2.5cm (~1") pieces
4-5 carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
8 large white mushrooms, sliced
1 bulb of garlic
15mL/1 Tbsp. dried rosemary
5mL/1 tsp. coarse sea salt
2.5mL/0.5 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 190C/375F.
  2. Cut off bottom portion of garlic bulb and wrap bulb in aluminum foil. Place wrapped bulb in oven and let roast for ~60min.
  3. Mix all vegetables except for garlic into a roasting pan. Sprinkle rosemary, salt and pepper evenly across surface; salt and pepper amount could be changed to suit personal tastes.
  4. Roast vegetables in oven for ~40-60min. until especially all sweet potato pieces are soft, turning the vegetables every 20min.
  5. Remove vegetables and garlic from oven. Unwrap and squeeze garlic bulb until all the cloves have been popped and/or squeezed out of their skins.
  6. Mix garlic evenly amongst the vegetables and serve.

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