Wednesday, December 5, 2012

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Please, excuse the "iPhoneography." ;)
It's the most wonderful time of the year! Christmastime (specifically, holiday dinner party season) is upon us! Of course, I couldn't wait to whip up a festive feast packed with holiday inspiration, but before I get to that, here's a quick round-up of my Thanksgiving dessert spread, as pictured above. 

(Clockwise beginning from the top left)
These desserts were a huge hit at my family's Thanksgiving gathering this year. And best of all, they would all work fabulously for upcoming holiday gatherings, too! Give them a try, I promise you won't be disappointed!

Now, back to holiday dinner party season. There's something so fun, festive and cozy about inviting friends and family over for a delicious home cooked meal during the Christmas season. Especially on those nights where it's just too darn cold to face going out! So, in the spirit of seasonal entertaining, I teamed up with my friend Sumi (yes, again, remember her from my last dinner party?) to create a fabulous meal inspired by all the beautiful colors and flavors of the holidays.

Of course, we kicked things off with a lovely bottle of red wine. Toscana is on the fruitier side as far as red wines go, and with it's medium body, it paired well with the fruity notes in the meal we enjoyed.

The star of the show was our Garlic and Herb Braised Leg of Lamb with a Red Wine Cherry Reduction! I'm ashamed to admit that before this meal, I hadn't tried lamb before (I know, try to withhold your gasps). I'd heard lots of great things about it, especially when it came to pairing it with cherry, and I loved the idea of incorporating the rich, festive, cherry red hue in our holiday meal. Combined with the slightly bitter and acidic flavors of merlot, sweetness of cherries and a touch of balsamic, the reduction turned out to be the perfect addition to our tender, garlic and herb braised lamb with roasted asparagus. Don't you love that red and green?!

Alongside the leg of lamb and roasted asparagus, we enjoyed Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Red Wine Gravy, and of course, extra Red Wine Cherry Reduction. Is there a better comfort food pairing than mashed potatoes with gravy?! I certainly don't think so. And, this meal was all about the comforts and coziness of the holidays, so the side dishes were perfectly complementary. I love the red specks of potato skins in the mashed potatoes dish. Best of all, the gravy was made mostly of the drippings from the lamb, so it can be whipped up in no time!

And, of course, no holiday dinner party is complete without a fabulously decadent dessert! We opted for a Flourless Chocolate Cake since Sumi is gluten intolerant, and also just because I love the richness of a flourless cake for a change! This recipe serves as a perfect example of why all great dinner party hosts need to make sure they read the entire recipe through before deciding to make it, however. It turns out this recipe calls for overnight refrigeration, whoops! No need to fret though, I improvised a fun, rosette-inspired design in the gooiest inner circle of the cake (that would have set overnight), and it still tasted amazing! We didn't have any on hand, but I might try garnishing this cake with crushed candy canes or any other festive decorations sitting in your pantry for an eye-catching, seasonal finish!

This holiday season, take a moment to enjoy your friends and family around this festive meal made with love. Because, really, what more do we all want most for Christmas than to be surrounded by great food and the ones we love?  

Happy Holidays, everyone! :)

Garlic and Herb Braised Leg of Lamb with Red Wine Cherry Reduction

For the Garlic and Herb Braised Leg of Lamb:
1 5 pound deboned leg of lamb
1-2 large garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 bunch fresh sage
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2-1 bottle of merlot
2-3 cups chicken broth

For the Red Wine Cherry Reduction:
2 cups merlot or 2 cups other red wine
2 cups fresh cherries, pitted (I have very successfully substituted bottled morello cherries)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
4 cups lamb stock or 4 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

For the Garlic and Herb Braised Leg of Lamb:
1. Preheat oven to 475°F. Place lamb in large roasting pan.

2. With a paring knife, poke holes all over the leg and insert small pieces of garlic into them. Coat lamb with salt and pepper, olive oil, and additional garlic. Scatter fresh chopped rosemary and sage. Roast lamb 20 minutes.

3. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Pour half bottle of merlot and enough chicken stock over lamb so that it is about 2/3 covered.

4. Cover and roast until lamb is very tender, about 1 hour and 50 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, uncovered, 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm, covered, in 350°F oven for 30 minutes before continuing.)

For the Red Wine Cherry Reduction:
1. Combine the wine, cherries, garlic and shallot in a saucepan over high heat and reduce until the mixture is almost dry, about 20 minutes.

2. Add the stock, decrease the heat to medium, and reduce until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, 15-20 minutes.

3. Add the butter and stir until melted.

4. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the balsamic vinegar.

5. Keep warm until you are ready to serve.

Red Wine Gravy

1 cup remaining braised lamb drippings
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon flour
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1. In a medium skillet, whisk together braised lamb drippings, butter and flour over medium high heat. Stir with a wire whisk until the flour has thickened and the gravy is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook slowly to brown the flour, and stir constantly, about 10 minutes.

2. Keep warm until you are ready to serve.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

5 partially peeled, quartered red potatoes
2 crushed garlic cloves
3 Tablespoons of butter
1/4 cup sour cream
Heavy cream to taste
Salt & freshly ground black pepper

1. Bring a pot of boiling water in a medium saucepan to a boil. Partially peel, quarter and boil potatoes until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain.

2. Heat butter, sour cream and heavy cream over low heat until butter is melted. Using a potato masher or electric beater, slowly blend milk mixture into potatoes until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup white sugar
18 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate
1 cup unsalted butter
6 eggs

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Grease one 10 inch round cake pan and set aside.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat combine the water, salt and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside.

3. Either in the top half of a double boiler or in a microwave oven melt the bittersweet chocolate. Pour the chocolate into the bowl of an electric mixer.

4. Cut the butter into pieces and beat the butter into the chocolate, 1 piece at a time. Beat in the hot sugar-water. Slowly beat in the eggs, one at a time.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Have a pan larger than the cake pan ready, put the cake pan in the larger pan and fill the pan with boiling water halfway up the sides of the cake pan.

6. Bake cake in the water bath at 300 degrees F (150 degrees C) for 45 minutes. The center will still look wet. Chill cake overnight in the pan. To unmold, dip the bottom of the cake pan in hot water for 10 seconds and invert onto a serving plate. (Or, in our case, chill the cake in the freezer for about an hour and cross your fingers that the cake will transfer onto a plate!)


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