Thursday, January 1, 2015

Entertaining in a Small House

 The holiday season is always a time of reflection and it occurred to me that one of the reasons I love to cook is to feed the people I love.  I go a bit over the top. It's really like a gift from me to them, not a material gift but a gesture.  A way,  I guess of saying you are one of my family or dear friends and you matter enough to be included in my little circle.
     A recent dinner party on the Winter Solstice (Yule) reminded me of how long its been since I blogged.  Attempting five classes while working full time took its tole. I did not have enough time to write for my blog, although the creative cooking, photos and plans kept rolling in my head.  This blog is about holiday or anytime gatherings.  My house is very small. I am forced to keep my largest group to a maximum of 16 people.  Every year my dear friends and a few new ones are invited to feast.   It is most enjoyable to see their interesting and varied personalities mingle.

    The key to entertaining in small spaces is good planning. For my house, I focus on keeping the traffic flow out of the kitchen space which is only 12 x 12 and occupied by the usual stove, fridge, hosier cabinet and my work table in the center.   I learned by trial an error not to use this space for the buffet. It was elbow to elbow chaos that year.  I now set up a buffet on a lovely old library table in the dining room and pull up six chairs to the round table. I scatter groups of chairs in the remainder of the dining room and living room, making sure there are small tables near-by to set drinks and plates.  I fix a dessert table in the living room near the tree, again to keep people moving about and mingling. The beverages are arranged on the hosier cabinet in the kitchen.
An old distressed library table serves as the buffet

I like to display food a varying heights to add interest
An important point to remember is the keep the number of guest realistic to the size of your entertaining space.  I really push it with sixteen but it creates a cozy setting where everyone seems to engage in conversation. 
     Part of my planning process includes preparing as many dishes ahead of time as possible.     Generally I like to have some appetizers out before the guests start arriving, that way I can make sure they help themselves to food and drinks while I do last minute prep and plate up the main courses as more guests arrive. Looking back, planning has made it possible to truly have an enjoyable time at my own gatherings. 

     I am a sucker for beautiful and inspiring cooking magazines during this festive time of year.  My favorite remains Taunton press's "Fine Cooking".  Often I use the fabulous menu ideas for entertaining.  Last winter I made the entire Nordic Feast.  The Roast Pork with current gravy and Spice-cured Salmon turned out so well, friends requested it again this year. Therefore, what follows are our favorites from the Yule feast this year and last. 
  • Spice-cured Salmon with horseradish cream
  • Roast Pork & Red Current gravy (my variation)

Spice-cured Salmon and Horseradish cream
1 Tbs. black peppercorns
10 whole cloves
1 Tbs. coriander seeds
10 green cardamon pods
1 Tbs. finely grated orange zest (about 1 orange)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup kosher salt
2 lbs. skin-on salmon fillet(s) trimmed of any belly flap and pin bones removed.

With a mortar and pestle, grind the peppercorns, coriander, cloves and cardamon pods finely.  Transfer to a bowl and stir in  the salt, sugar and orange zest. 
I like to wash the salmon off and pat it dry with a clean linen towel. lay the salmon piece or pieces in a shallow glass dish skin side down.  Cover the fish evenly with the salt curing mixture and cover tightly (I live to use a shallow glass storage container that has its own lid by Anchor). Refrigerate for four days.

After four days, remove the salmon from the dish, rinse under cold water to remove the curing mixture.  Pat dry with a clean linen towel. Transfer to a cutting board and slice thinly using a fillet knife or a long thin bladed knife.  You should almost be able to see through it.  Start at the wider end of the fillet and hold the knife at a 45 degree angle.  

The salmon will keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or can be frozen up to 2 months.  

Horseradish Cream
3/4 cup cream fraiche 
3/4 cup grated horseradish 
1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
2 Tbs. vinegar
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Whisk the cream fraiche, sugar, 2 Tbs. vinegar, and horseradish in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate.  

To Serve: 
Transfer the salmon to a serving platter, garnish with dill and lemon slices. Serve with horseradish cream and crispbreads. I like the big round Finncrisp brand to break into smaller pieces. 

Roast Pork with Red Current Gravy

1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
2 Tbs. butter
3-4 cloves garlic (finely chopped or pressed)
1 tea. dried thyme
1 med. organic orange (cut in half and cut crosswise 1/4 inch thick slices)
4 - 6 lb. boneless pork loin roast

2 1/2 c. chicken stock
4 Tbs. salted butter
1/4 flour (brown rice flour works beautifully if you are keeping gluten free)
1/2 c. heavy cream
2 Tbs. current jelly
1 Tbs. blue cheese
6-8 slices of uncured, nitrate free bacon, cut in half

For the Pork: Preheat the over to 400 degrees and position the rack in the middle of the oven. 
In a skillet melt the butter over medium heat and add the sliced onion. Stir occasionally until tender and light golden brown.  Add or press the garlic, use all the pulp, add the thyme and cook for 1 minute more.  Transfer to a plate to cool.

Score the meat in a criss-cross pattern. Season roast with salt and pepper. Spread the garlic and onion mixture over the top. Overlap orange slices over the garlic and onion mixture the length of the roast.  Lay bacon slices over the oranges lengthwise. Tie with butcher string in several places.
Transfer roast to a large rimmed baking sheet or roaster. Roast for about 1 1/2 hours until an instant read-thermometer reads 145 degrees. 
Remove the roast to a cutting board and allow to rest for 30 minutes to one hour.

For the Gravy: While the roast is resting, pour off some of the fat from the baking pan if there is a lot. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a sauce pan, pour about a cup of stock into the roasting pan, scrape and stir up all the browned bits. Pour through a mesh sieve back into the stock.   Melt the butter over medium heat, add the flour, stirring until it is caramel colored about 5 min. Whisk in the stock and simmer until thick and flour taste is gone. This could be from 5 - 10 min. Add the current jelly, heavy cream, and blue cheese.  Whisk the gravy until everything melts and it is smooth.  Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed.

To Serve the Roast:  Cut and discard the butcher string.  Carve the roast in 1/2 inch slices, include some of the toppings with each slice and serve with the gravy.

Suggested Side dishes to round out your buffet:  boiled or roasted fingerling potatoes, Sweet-sour red cabbage, a winter gratin, tossed salad greens with toasted walnuts, sliced grapes and a vinaigrette. Danish blue cheese and grapes. For dessert we serve our traditional Buche de Noel, but a lovely Black Forest style trifle or fruit cake would be divine. 

I hope you will give these dishes a try. Nothing too difficult here. Just yummy!

Happy cooking and eating,


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