Monday, December 26, 2005

A Christmas Dinner at Home

Each Christmas season, we get inundated with the usual roast turkey (usually a tad dry), honey-baked ham, smoked salmon and tasteless brussels sprouts when doing the whirlwind tour of Christmas lunches and office parties. Not willing to stomach another morsel of turkey breastmeat, this Christmas eve saw me marinating lamb shanks instead. This was extremely risky (to say the least) since lamb shanks would be the only meat item on the dinner menu. Nevertheless, I was praying that the lamb shanks braised in red wine and cinnamon (recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence's Eat This Book) would make converts of my parents and hubby, who are not exactly fans of lamb.
  • The lamb shanks are first seasoned with salt and black pepper. Fresh thyme and rosemary herbs are then broken up to release their wonderful aromatic oils and rubbed and scattered over the shanks. Lemon zest from 1 lemon, a couple of halved garlic cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns and a tablespoon of sugar are added to the shanks before pouring 3/4 of a bottle of red wine (I used a Cabernet Merlot) over the shanks. The whole bowl of ingredients is then covered and left in the refrigerator overnight (minimum 6 hours). Marinating with red wine over such an extended length of time helps to tenderize the lamb meat and to a certain extent removes the strong odors of lamb meat.
  • As I was preparing for Christmas dinner, my lamb shanks stayed in the refrigerator for more than 12 hours. The next afternoon, the lamb shanks were removed from the marinade (do not throw away) and they had taken on the red hues of the red wine. After patting dry with paper towels, the shanks were dredged in plain flour which had been seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • Heating a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in my Le Creuset dutch oven over a medium fire, I sauted the lamb shanks until they are a nice brownish color (about 8 minutes or so). The rest of the marinade is then added to the pot and brought to a simmer.
  • 2 cups of chicken stock, a cup of onions (Tyler recommends pearl onions, but I used a combination of red shallots and big yellow onions, quartered) and a handful of green olives are then added to the pot, the whole thing brought to a boil , before reducing the heat to low and simmered slowly for 2 hours, covered.
  • Tyler's recipe also called for the addition of chopped carrots and whole dried apricots together with the chicken stock in the earlier step, but as I didn't want my carrots to be too mushy, I added both items (carrots and dried apricots) in the last half hour or so.
  • Food Network has kindly reproduced the entire step-by-step original recipe from Tyler Florence and you can print the same from here.
Braised Lamb Shanks
This is truly an easy dish that does not require one to spend too much time in the kitchen. With most of the prep work for the marinading done the night before and only some minimum prep work (peeling of onions and carrots) required on the afternoon of the dinner, I sat back and relaxed on Christmas Day (catching up on some internet surfing and merry wishing to other foodbloggers) while the entire pot simmered slowly away on the stove-top, and tantalizing aromas wafted in from the kitchen. When ready, transfer to a serving platter, scatter a couple of cilantro leaves and dinner is ready. The lamb meat was tender and falling off its bone, and the red-wine sauce with the combination of the various herbs, chicken stock, carrots, onions, olives and apricots, was both sweet and flavorful, quite irresistible accompanied with mashed potatoes and crusty bread.

For sides, we had two vegetable dishes, which again were a breeze to prepare (each not taking more than 15 minutes or so), and yet unusual in their presentation style that they are deserving of a place at the Christmas dinner-table.
Prosciutto-wrapped Salad
The first is Prosciutto-wrapped Salad. My fascination with prosciutto continues, and this time, I found a recipe in ABC's Delicious Nov 2005 edition which featured this lovely thin salty and flavorful parma ham wrapped around salad leaves instead of the usual wedges of rock-melon.
  • French beans which had been trimmed, cooked quickly in boiling water, and refreshed in cold water, are added to a combination of salad leaves and drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to season and set aside.
  • Each prosciutto slice is laid out diagonally on the chopping board, a handful of beans and salad leaves are placed on the prosciutto slice, some roasted pinenuts are added and fresh parmesan cheese finely grated on top. The prosciutto slice is then rolled up and transferred to the serving platter.
  • Dressing for this dish is made from a whisked mixture of balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of chopped fresh garlic, a pinch of dried chilli flakes, some chopped cilantro (flat-leaf parsley, if you can find).
  • I thoroughly enjoyed this dish as the salty matured flavor of the prosciutto is balanced quite well against the crunchy beans and salad leaves and the slight chilli-hot sourish dressing. A really simple-to-make yet impressive-looking vegetable dish.
Saute Chinese Cabbage2
The second vegetable dish is Saute Chinese Cabbage, this time from the creative world-class Nobu Matsuhisa. From his inspirational Nobu Now cookbook, this dish was the simplest recipe that I could find and reproduce in the home kitchen. Using just 3 ingredients - chinese cabbage, flaked salt and black pepper - the sweetness of the cabbage is amplified by its method of preparation.
  • the cabbage leaves are first separated, and then arranged on a large sheet of aluminium foil, one on top of each other in alternating directions so that they lie flat and are of even thickness. The foil-sheet is then rolled with the cabbage within (just like rolling a sushi-roll) - pressing the cabbage down so that there is little space between the leaves.
  • the entire roll of foil-sheet covered cabbage is then tied with butcher's string at various 2-inch intervals, and is then cut into cylinders of about 1-1/2 inches to 2 inches long.
  • the tops of the cabbage cylinders are scattered with salt and pepper, before placing them into a saute-pan heated with a generous amount of light olive oil. Saute on both sides of the cut ends, until the edges are slightly browned and the cabbage cooked (but not too long such that the cabbage leaves become shrivelled).
  • remove foil before serving, though I have taken a pic of the cabbage cylinder in foil and without.
  • Nobu's version is topped very dramatically with ito togarashi (long red chillies cut lengthwise in really fine long threads to use as a garnish). Not being able to reproduce such fine long threads, I took the easy way out and used pork floss dotted with bits of seaweed as the garnish.
Saute Chinese Cabbage
This was everyone's fav vegetable dish, as the succulent juiciness and sweetness of the cabbage is the main focus and the dish is none too oily from the olive oil used for sauteing. The ingenious use of the aluminium foil keeps the heat and steam within the cabbage leaves while cooking and that, I suppose, accounts for the wonderful flavors as we bite into the cabbage rolls.

Three very easy dishes to share with all of you, so that you don't have to break your back in the kitchen over a festive meal.

Wishes to one and all for a peaceful and bountiful year ahead and here's to more adventurous, wholesome, comforting and satisfying meals to come!


Anonymous umami said...

Happy New Year Cath!
The prosciutto looks smashing.

12/26/2005 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger joone! said...

Cheers to New Year Cath! Everything looks so goood!

12/27/2005 12:36:00 AM  
Blogger boo_licious said...

Wow! That is such a lovely feast Cath - *clap! clap!* Happy New Year Cath.

12/27/2005 04:31:00 AM  
Anonymous dimsumdolly said...

Lovely food! Happy New Year!!!

12/27/2005 09:08:00 AM  
Anonymous S said...

Hi Cath,
Looks like you had a scrumptious Christmas! Beautiful pix. Happy New Year!

12/27/2005 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger pfong said...

Best wishes for the new year Cath. Thanks for sharing your lovely pics and recipes.

12/27/2005 11:56:00 AM  
Anonymous gwenda said...

whoaaa cath they look soooo delicious!! glad to read that you had such a yummy christmas feast.

happy new year!

12/28/2005 12:54:00 AM  
Blogger eatzycath said...

thank you one and all for dropping in, and HAPPY NEW YEAR to everyone and your loved ones :)

12/28/2005 09:03:00 AM  

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