Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas dinner story

Rib Roast
Vegetarian Lasagna
Mashed potatoes
Butternut Squash & Apple Soup
Almost No-knead Bread
Woodbridge Merlot 
Smooth Chocolate Pudding

Christmas dinner should be special. This year for us, as many times before, this meant roast beef. Diane and I discussed the menu during our morning walk on Thursday the 22nd. Caryn (our daughter, home for the holidays, a vegetarian) had already purchased a frozen vegetarian lasagna for her entrĂ©e. I selected several recipes for roast beef using different cuts of beef—rib roast, tenderloin, and eye-round—so we'd have a little flexibility at the supermarket. The shopping list was made and the ingredients purchased on Thursday.

On Thursday evening the the roast was prepared. We did not get an expensive Prime rib roast. What we got was not labelled as to its grade but presumably is Choice, a 4.5 lb "beef rib roast small end". It won't be as tender as a prime rib roast but should be fine and the recipe provides this as an option. I was surprised that the ribs (2 of them) had been cut from the rest of the cut, saving me a step. I cut slits in the fat cap in a cross-hatch pattern. The directions said to cut through the fat but not into the meat. This is easier said than done and I didn't do it very well as I cut through the fat, which was not uniformly thick, and into the meat in several places. The meat was covered with 2T kosher salt, put onto a plate, and placed into the refrigerator, uncovered, to dry out the surface for better browning. This seems odd to me, as food is always wrapped tightly before being delivered to the refrigerator so it doesn't dry out, pick up odd flavors, or being a culture medium for whatever mold and bacteria are around. However in this case drying out is exactly what is desired, so in it goes to sit for several days.

Things that could be prepared in advance, or had to be, were made on Christmas Eve Day. The bread dough was prepared around 3 PM and left to rise until the following morning. Smooth Chocolate Pudding was made, using the same recipe as for dinner on December 4, and put into the refrigerator. It's always a good sign for a recipe when it gets reused! A piece of lightly-greased parchment paper was placed on top of the pudding to prevent a crust from forming, this worked well the last time I made it.

Finally, Butternut Squash & Apple Soup was made. A friend at work at recommended this to me and even provided a recipe he got from the restaurant where he had enjoyed it. Before I could make it, I found another recipe at Gizdich Ranch when we were there buying apples and I decided to use that one. Several modifications were made to the recipe. I generally don't modify recipes, especially the first time I make them. Out of respect for our vegetarian, however, vegetable oil was used instead of bacon grease to cook the vegetables and vegetable broth replaced chicken broth. The recipe called for two cups of broth and two cups of water. Since the store-bought broth came in a 4-cup container I just used 4 cups of the broth. It will be interesting to see how this butternut squash soup compares with the Silky Butternut Squash Soup that we have enjoyed in the past.

On Christmas, after the traditional cinnamon roll breakfast and opening of presents, bread was started early so the oven would be ready for the long roasting time for the roast, filling the house with the delightful smell of baking bread. Once the bread was out of the oven and cooling (I listened to the cooling loaf to hear it "sing", no luck this time.) the roast was seared and placed in a 200° oven until it reached an internal temperature of 110°. The oven was turned off, leaving the roast inside and the door closed, and after another 30 minutes or so the meat had reached 120°, the target temperature for rare beef. The roast was removed from the oven to rest and the oven was cranked up to 400° for the lasagna. Potatoes were peeled and put on to boil; I used red potatoes as we had no russets. After 40 minutes the lasagna was taken out, the potatoes were mashed (using cream, rather than milk, left over from the pudding). Peas and soup were heated in the microwave, and the roast placed under the broiler for a few minutes to finish it.  A granny smith apple was peeled and cut up to garnish the soup. Dinner was served.

The beef was cooked perfectly, tender and juicy. It was a little too salty near the edges, I should have reduced the salt called for in the recipe due to the smaller roast. The soup was good but didn't really have much apple flavor. No surprise, I suppose, since only 1 apple was added to 1.5 pounds of squash along with other vegetables. I'll have to try the restaurant recipe next time. The bread was beautiful, one of the prettiest loaves I've made, and tasty, too.

After a rest following our meal we enjoyed our chocolate pudding dessert. This Christmas story had a happy ending.


Best Prime Rib, Cooks Illustrated, November 2011
Almost No-Knead Bread, Cook's Illustrated, January 2008
Butternut Squash & Apple Soup, Gizdich Ranch
Creamy Chocolate Pudding, Cook's Illustrated, September 2011


  1. Maybe some apple cider in place of some of the water/stock in the soup recipe to give it some more apple flavor and a sweetness associated with apples. The later you add it in the more aroma I would expect you would get.

  2. I like that idea ... maybe half a cup or so to start? You would want the flavor of the squash to still be dominant.

  3. The amount would depend on when you add it. If you are adding towards the end 1/2 cup should do it. If you are using it in place of water at the start I would go with the full cup.

  4. Sounds delicious! Our Christmas day tradition is cinnamon rolls in the morning (which I let rise in the fridge overnight) and Rib Roast with Yorkshire pudding. I've been opting for the high heat searing and low roast, but will try this method next time. Looks more reliable to produce that rare/med rare meat we prefer....

  5. Our cinnamon role tradition has always involved heat and serve rolls from a can. For New Year's this year I tried a Quick Cinnamon Roll recipe from America's Test Kitchen but I wasn't real happy with the results. I like your approach of making yeast rolls that rise overnight. Can you share the recipe?

  6. Doug - I use Bridgford frozen white 'ready-dough' and follow the recipe on the back of the package. It comes in a package with 3 one-lb loafs, ready to thaw and roll out. I had trouble finding it this year, but finally one of our A&P markets had it. I prepare the rolls Christmas eve and let rise overnight. Recipe is as follows, but I often use less of both the butter and sugar mixture.

    For each loaf: 4T melted butter/margarine, 1/2 c. sugar, 1/4 c nuts or raisins (I leave this out), and 2 tsp. cinnamon.
    Roll the thawed dough to 10x12, spread with 2T melted butter and sprinkle with all but 2T cinnamon/sugar mixture. Roll jellyroll fashion, slice into 12 pieces and place in either lightly greased 13x9 cake pan, cupcake pan or (if you like softer doughier pull apart rolls like my family), a 9" cake pan. Brush with remaining butter and sprinkle with sugar/cinnamon mixture. Let rise covered with plastic wrap overnight in refrigerator. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes.

    Mix 1 1/2 C powered sugar + 2 T milk or cream + 1 tsp vanilla and frost.