Holiday Dinner.

There never seems to be time enough to get together with important people in your life. You have to insist upon it when the holiday blur commences, even put your foot down to secure the date, time and guest. The promise of “we’ll get together soon” falls down on Hollywood like snow in Maine this time of year.  After much running around we insisted on a playdate with our two lovely and busy friends, Sheena and Danielle. The apartment was festooned, I see to that most years. The vibe of the season and twinkle it puts on everything makes me wish we could keep it around longer than just Halloween- to New Years. I love this time of the year and am pushing for a Half Christmas in June. I think I may have enough support to start a petition. If people can ring in a Half Birthday, why the hell not?  Step from Graduation parties into Half Christmas. Seems amazing, I know, but I digress. The girls were coming for dinner.

KISS theory for dinner. Keep It Simple Sweetie.  Menu was simple; fun holiday fare with flare. Make two easy incredible appetizers and a really homey dinner so conversation can linger and time can all but stop for the visit. Time stopped, and the sun almost rose. But I digress. First made was Easy Crab Salad in wonton cups. Real straight forward with good crab, mayo,  mustard,  celery seed, tarragon and a little lemon. I love making these cups, I usually have wonton wrappers in the fridge as they keep nice whenin a  sealed baggie. They make a great sub on fresh pasta recipes, especially good as a ravioli to make your guests think you put so much time into their visit. (and you did) Spray a mini muffin pan with your favorite cooking spray.  Into a 350′ oven for 15-20 minutes, try to shape them in to different looking baskets. Remove and let them cool, set aside for later.

Second made is a quick caponata. Cube a large eggplant, removing skin if preferred. Sautee on medium high heat in oil. Season with salt and pepper. When they start to sizzle add a cup of favorite chicken stock and a drained 20 oz can of seasoned, diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. When liquid’s absorbed add 2 tablespoons drained capers and 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley. Set caponata aside and toast polenta crackers. Buying pre-made polenta sleeves in the store never dawned on me as helpful until someone suggested this appetizer. Remove polenta from casing, cut in to dials and put onto lined sheet pan. Toast under broiler, keeping an eye on as not to burn. I trust no broiler for toasting and a bit neurotic like this. Flip and do both sides. Cut dials in to quarter pieces and top with caponata.

I plated and garnished and was ready to rock the ladies. Check them out:

bring in the highballs, bring in the holidays.

Crab salad in wontons, Caponata/polenta

I made Grandma Spats’ stuffed artichokes (recipe to follow), they are always to great and a family treasure not to lose to Johnny Depp.

Pork tenderloin was on sale and is such an amenable protein. Alton brown has a clever 2 hour brine (recipe courtesy Yummly) that uses tasty ingredients like brown sugar and apple cider vinegar.

loin (thick, end pork chops can use less or use what ever cut pork)
34 cup kosher salt (regular white table)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp mustard powder (prepared)
2 cups cider vinegar (heated until hot)
1 lb ice (cube)
1 In a large plastic container with a lid, put the salt, peppercorns and mustard powder; add in the HOT vinegar and swirl to dissolve the sugar and salt completely.
2 Let the mixture stand for 20 minutes at room temperature to develop flavor.
3 Add in the ice cubes and shake to melt most of the ice.
4 Add in the pork chops, making certain that the meat is completely covered with the brine.
5 Cover with lid and refrigerate for 2 hours (NO MORE than 2 hours!).
6 Rinse the pork well under cold water before cooking.
7 Cook as desired.
The tenderloins were amazing, served with roasted potatoes and scalloped apples. (I just did these for Hal’s Dinner, maybe feeling homesick?) For a green veggie I plied some blanched green beans with a quick saute with garlic spears, in olive oil. Before serving I added chopped almonds and raisins. Let the nuts toast until fragrant, and the raisins will get nice nice and soft soft.
I can’t bake to save my life, but I can dress a cheesecake like Marc Jacobs can do a model, that came out wrong. Frozen blackberries and raspberries reduced with orange juice, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Before we served in went a chiffonade of fresh basil. I garnished with slice of juicy starfruit and sent dessert down the runway. Yummers.
Time was made to see our friends, time shouldn’t be wasted sweating over dinner. I made the apps in the am, same with blanching the green beans. I brined the pork, prepped the artichokes and went to my company’s christmas party. When I came home I fired the chokes, fired the potatoes and rinsed the pork. Always dry the pork completely and let come to room temperature before roasting. The green beans went into their pan.  I pulled the potatoes and sent the pork in. I readied he apps and served, all in an hour. The sauce for the cheese cake I started as we sat to dinner and shut off as we all couldn’t keep our mouths shut for an instant, this is a very social group.
We were a slew of chatty cathy’s and the night went by too fast. I swear I heard the milkman’s bell as the ladies left, we all had a blast. Make the time to do this in the New Year, and learn as you go. KISS theory, Keep It Simple Sweetie.  I’m glad to do as much a head of time, with as much ease. This gives me so many perks. I get past cooking projects off the ceiling,

“When you cook with passion sometimes even the ceiling gets involved” – Spats

I get to iron the fancy linen (yeah, right, like I own an iron), set the table with some good china. This is how we make a great time here in the Dish Test Kitchen. You will see more of Sheena in our forth coming episode Chilly’in with Sheena Metal. If you want to know more of the ladies,  you can read check out  their sites, address’s are below. Have yourselves a Merry New Year!!! Best Holidays to all and as always; Come Hungry!