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Cooking for Comfort

Ken Morris, Cooking for Comfort: Christmas Dinner: The main course

Mention Christmas dinner and the first image is a festive table, weighed down with roasts and potatoes and rich desserts all worthy of appearing in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

On most Christmas’s maybe you host an extended family dinner or throw a party for your closest friends, people you want to share the magical season that brings joy, love and togetherness.

This year (I hope) means you will be raising a toast with friends and family by Zoom, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still celebrate at home. Here are three main courses that I hope add to the festivities.

Prime Rib with Potato Purée

Serves 4 to 6

Adapted from a recipe in The New York Times Cooking section

Is a rime rib actually prime beef? When you see it in the supermarket meat section, it may also be called a standing rib roast since it is usually roasted “standing” on the rib bones so that the meat does not touch the pan. This is from the primal rib, one of the nine primal cuts of a cow. The meat is from high on the back of the cow, where it doesn’t get much exercise, so it is the most tender and laced with fat marbling, which imparts moisture and flavor. Traditionally, it served with au jus, a simple pan sauce made from the meat’s juices.

But, it is not necessarily “prime beef,” since that is a legal designation, meaning the beef has been graded prime by the US Department of Agriculture. Prime is the best, most richly marbled beef. Restaurants buy most of the inventory wholesale, so consumers rarely see it at the local supermarket. As a result, you will most likely find a standing rib roast, or, if it is boneless, it is a rib-eye roast.

1 3-rib portion of a standing rib roast, each meat section should be tied around its perimeter to keep it neat and compact ½ cup freshly ground cumin ¹³ cup ground cayenne ¹³ cup Kosher salt ¹³ cup freshly ground pepper

Steak Sauce:

Yes, you could use that steak sauce you have had sitting forever in the refrigerator but then I wouldn’t have anything to write about.

2 cups Worcestershire sauce ½ cup ketchup 2 tablespoons Tabasco 3 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature Kosher salt

Potato purée:

I don’t normally dictate what foods should be served with what we are cooking but this spicy rib roast and these silky potatoes is a magical combination. If not a potato purée, the least you can do is bake a Russet (also called a baking or Idaho) potato for each guest. Come on, it’s Christmas!

3 pounds baking potatoes, peeled and quartered and place in a large pot covered with cold water (so they won’t oxidize) Kosher salt 1 cup whole milk ¹³ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

Remove the roast from the refrigerator two hours before cooking. Heat oven to 375° F. In a small bowl combine cumin, cayenne, salt and pepper. Set roast fat-side up and rub a thick layer of spice mixture over entire surface. Transfer roast to a wire rack over a shallow roasting pan and place in oven. Allow 13 to 15 minutes per pound.

While the meat roasts, prepare sauce and potatoes. In a medium-size pot, combine Worcestershire, ketchup and Tabasco and set over medium heat. Reduce until mixture has thickened, about 20 to 25 minutes. Lower heat to warm and add slices of butter, stirring until they are melted. Taste to see if you need salt. Pour into a gravy boat and allow cooling before serving.

For potato purée, place the pot of potato pieces over high heat and add salt. When the water starts to boil, lower heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are soft (thin knife should be able to slide through potatoes: try several to make sure). Turn off heat.

Next, check the roast after it has cooked an hour by inserting a meat thermometer deep into its thickest part, not touching a bone. For medium rare (yes, that’s the temperature you want for this) remove from oven at 125°F. Allow to rest 15 to 20 minutes before carving.

While the roast rests, finish potatoes. Place a small pot over medium-low heat, add milk and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off heat. Drain potatoes in a colander. Pass them through a potato ricer back into the same pot. Add butter, milk, salt and warm the potatoes over low heat while stirring everything with a whisk. Turn off heat and cover to keep warm.

Carve roast by slicing down the sides of the bones to remove. Turn the roast on its sides to carve slices for everyone, just like you’re the chef at the House of Prime Rib. Serve on a warm plate with potatoes and the sauce on the side.

Oven-Glazed Ham

Serves a lot, plus leftovers

Writer Dorothy Parker is said to have been the author of one of cooking’s truisms: “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Yes, if you’re feeding just yourself and your mate, this can seem to be a bad idea, but besides a few dinners, plus ham sandwiches for lunch, you can then freeze a portion for a great ham and beans (worlds better than the stuff from a can) in a couple of months, after you recover from ham overload on Christmas.

The hams you find in supermarkets are “city hams,” meaning it was cured in a solution of salt, water, preservatives and usually are smoked over hardwoods. They are marked “ready to cook,” “partially cooked” or “ready to serve.”

A whole ham usually weighs between 15 and 17 pounds, and a half ham is typically seven to eight pounds.

And, I know what you’re thinking: if it’s ready to serve, I’ll just slice off a few pieces and put it back in the refrigerator. Turns out, “ready to eat” in Ham Speak means it will be ready to eat after it has been warmed up and for a half ham, that can be after 2 1/2 hours, so you can rest that carving knife for a little bit.

One fully cooked (see note above) bone-in ham, around 7 pounds. (It may seem like Unsportsmanlike Conduct for a cook to confess, but I buy a spiral sliced ham and when I serve it, just slice against the bone and the meat magically falls off as if I knew how to carve a ham.)

Hand full of cloves 1 cup packed brown sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, keep the juice 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon yellow Dijon mustard ¼ teaspoon salt

Take ham out of the refrigerator about 2 hours before baking to allow it to come to room temperature. Remove ham from packaging. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a shallow baking dish with fat side up. Score the surface, cutting diagonal lines in each direction to form diamond shapes. Insert the cloves in a pattern where the diagonal lines meet. Doesn’t have to be every intersection.

Mix a tablespoon of the pineapple juice with the cornstarch. Combine brown sugar, salt, pineapple and remaining juice, lemon juice and mustard in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add half of the cornstarch mixture and stir. The mixture should become thick and syrupy. If not, add the remaining cornstarch and stir again until it thickens. Brush half of the glaze onto the ham and into the folds of the cut slices. Reserve the other half of the glaze for later. Place ham in a preheated 325°F oven and bake for 1¼ to 1½ hours.

Carefully remove the ham from the oven and brush the remaining glaze onto the ham. Return to the oven and continue to bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or until internal temperature of ham reaches 140°F (the temperature can go above that to 165°F without harm, so don’t panic if you don’t pull it out of the oven at exactly 140°F. Allow ham to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Broccoli Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Serves 6 to 8

Adapted from Good Housekeeping website

What if all that meat of a standing rib roast or half a ham sounds like an overdose of protein? We’ve already anticipated the emails and letters demanding a vegetarian alternative and maybe even a new writer. Still, you need something classic, filling, maybe even evokes fond childhood memories. Sounds like a job for Mac and Cheese!

You won’t buy the Mac and Cheese that comes in a box when you see how easy it is to make real Mac and Cheese, without the additives and preservatives you find in the box variety. I don’t usually study Good Houskeeping for cooking tips but my search for the right Mac and Cheese took me to this venerable magazine.

2 slices whole wheat bread 8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese 2 tablespoons cornstarch 3 ¼ cup milk 6 ounces Gouda cheese 1 box elbow macaroni ¼ teaspoons kosher ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper 1 lb. small broccoli florets (not essential but makes you feel like you’re eating something healthy) 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Heat covered 8-quart saucepot with 6 quarts water to boiling on high. Set oven rack 6 inches from broiler heat source. Preheat broiler. Tear bread into large chunks. In food processor with knife blade attached, pulse bread until crumbs form. In small bowl, combine bread crumbs and 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar.

Meanwhile, in 3½- to 4-quart saucepot, with wire whisk, combine cornstarch and ¼ cup of the milk until smooth. Heat on medium-high, gradually adding remaining 3 cups milk in slow, steady stream, whisking constantly. Heat to boiling, whisking frequently, then cook 2 minutes longer, whisking constantly. Remove saucepot from heat and immediately stir in Gouda and remaining Cheddar. Stir until cheeses are completely melted and sauce is smooth.

Add macaroni and 1 teaspoon salt to boiling water. Cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally, then add broccoli. Cook 4 to 5 minutes longer or until pasta is just tender but firm and broccoli is bright green and crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Drain well, then immediately return to saucepot. Add sauce, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and stir over medium-low heat until well mixed.

Transfer mixture to 3-quart shallow baking dish. Sprinkle bread-crumb mixture evenly over top. Broil 1 to 2 minutes or until topping is golden brown.

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Ken Morris has been cooking for comfort for more than 30 years and learning in kitchens from Alaska to Thailand to Italy. He now cooks and writes from his kitchen in Napa. Email him at macmor@sbcglobal.net.

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