Saturday, January 7, 2012

Christmas Dinner for Two

Here's another of my favorite sayings:  Portion Control Begins at the Grocery.

While it seems odd to be discussing portion control amidst the year-end holidays, here we are.  As I've been focusing on using up the contents of our refrigerator and freezer, I've been working on a better sense of portion control for myself, for my family, and for my food storage goals.  Too much food results in overstuffed folks; too many leftovers result in science experiments located in the back of the refrigerator.  All of this is waste, one of the main things I'm resolving to reduce drastically.

This year we didn't bother much about the holidays.  We didn't bother to put up the tree.  More accurately, we didn't bother hauling the tree down from the attic, a cumbersome task on the best of days.  We didn't bother to do any decorating at home, didn't bother to send cards, didn't bother much with gifts.  We didn't find the time. 

My children spend their holidays with the OP (Other Parent).  Our family traditions are folded into the every day "regular time" experiences we share, rather than saved up for specific days and times.  This a mixed-up, messed-up time of year for me. 

The lack-of-bother helped me clarify the value of some tradition and the ridiculousness of much of the rest.  This year, I focused more on what each of the holidays means to me and which parts of our family tradition I don't want to let go.  It was much, much, much less about things and much, much, much more about love.  For me, a big part of love is food.  Food = Love.  In so many, many ways.

Food has always been a large part of our lives, and never more so than at Christmas.  During my youth, we spent many Christmas holidays at my grandmother's house (yes, over the river and through the woods, but the horse was a V8, it took 3 hours to get there, and it only snowed about half the time).  Those are my favorite memories, by far, of Christmas.  Most of my mom's immediate family would be there in my gram's big New England house and we'd spend a week preparing and playing.  There would be skiing, hot chocolate, shopping, snow forts, decorating, and (of course!) baking and cooking.  There was always plenty of food, and every family member's favorites were solicited and prepared.  We ate and snacked and nibbled and ate again.  Constantly.  My Oldest Uncle once advised "You can't leave Dot's kitchen without a calorie," as he stuck his hand into one of the storage tins, winked at me, and raised another treat to his mouth.

The highlights of this wondeful season are numerous and polished well with the passing of time.  There are too many to share in a dozen posts, although a 12-memories-of-Christmas essay sounds like fun.  In the future. 

This is a which-traditions-I-kept-this-year-when-I-skipped-Christmas post.  This month's theme is food.  This is where we hit the EASY button.  I promise.

When I planned my Christmas escape this year, I planned activities and menus.  I love making menus, copying recipes, and making shopping lists.  Love, love, love.  Two summers ago we vacationed for a week in a State Park cabin, and I had a four-meal-a-day-for-a-week menu plan, complete with recipes and shopping list, and as many pre-made food kits as possible.  I planned to shop once and not leave the Park after we arrived.  No doubt I'm my mother's daughter: we did this often as we prepared for camping or backpacking deep in the Maine woods, nary another human for miles, let alone a supermarket.

My menu focus this year was on using what we have already, PLUS easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy recipes which allow more relaxing and less working.  Pack what we need, make one small grocery run for the things which don't travel well, and live with it once we're there.  I had a great plan. 

We spent $200 at the grocery store.  So much for portion control.  So much for packing what we needed.  Note to self: Take the day off to pack and stick to the plan.  Throwing everything together in 10 minutes before take-off doesn't work for air travel, nor for this sort of trip.  It does result in many miles of aggressive silence during the ride.

I digress.  Again.

We had two big meals at Gram's during the Christmas season:  the Christmas Eve Smorgasbord (a nod to my grandfather's Swedish heritage) and Christmas Dinner, usually mid-afternoon on Christmas Day.  I wasn't giving either of these traditions up, but they were going to get a serious makeover.  Rather than feeding a dozen or more and needing a week's worth of leftovers to feed our largish extended family of Christmases past, this year we'd be feeding two, no leftovers required.  Rather than a month of preparation, we had a day.  This is a serious makeover.

Christmas Dinner at Mama Dot's was a huge affair.  She had the biggest, longest dining room table I've ever seen.  The menu included ham and turkey, sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans with almonds, carrots with orange and brown sugar, home made yeast rolls, pearl onions in a cream sauce, and many other dishes I'm forgetting.  When Aunty was alive, she hosted Christmas Dinner and it included onion soup.  Dessert included pies, cookies, and candy.  It all came from Gram's tiny kitchen (no bigger than mine), and many, many hours of loving preparation.  It was truly wonderful.  Particularly because in those days my only responsibility was "stay out of the kitchen."  Whew.

These days I prefer everyone else to stay out of the kitchen and let me chef.  Call me selfish, silly, or simply controlling, but I love to cook.  Even more, I love to feed.  Feeding people = LOVE.  Love people.  Cook them tasty food.  (Thanks, Penzey's Spices, for another great slogan).  It's one thing I CAN do for those I love.

So here we are.  Christmas Dinner for Two.  Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy (hold the lemon).  DH LOVED it, particularly because it was done so quickly and effortlessly.  He kept saying "this is done already?"  This may have been commentary on how long it takes me to prepare things at home.  No comment!

Pork Tenderloin with Cardamon-CranApple Jam and Winter Vegetables
Serves more than two, with plenty of leftovers

Pork tenderloin (rinsed, patted dry, and butterflied)
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Fresh garlic, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Sweet potato, baked and mashed
Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1/4 cup)
Salt and pepper (freshly ground, to taste)
Maple syrup (about 1 T.)

Brussels sprouts, trimmed (about 1/2 lb. fresh)
Carrots, peeled and sliced (2 or 3 carrots)
Onion, sliced (about 1/2 c.)
Dill (about 1 tsp.)
1 tsp. sugar
Olive oil

Take-and-bake loaf of bread
Butter, softened for spreading, or oil-and-balsamic-vinegar for dipping

Cardamom CranApple Jam (see previous post) or any other sort of chutney, jam, sauce, etc.

Preheat oven to 350degF.

Rinse pork tenderloin and pat dry.  Butterfly.  Line inside with sprigs of rosemary and sliced garlic.  Add a few grinds of salt and pepper.  Close up tenderloin (tie if you wish, but we didn't).  Place in oiled baking dish.  Grind a little more salt and more pepper on the top.  If you have pancetta or another sliced, cured meat, layer it on the top of the pork loin.  Cover with foil and seal well (to keep juices inside and pork moist). 

Wash sweet potato.  Prick skin with fork several times.  Wrap in foil (this prevents any of the potato juices from escaping onto the oven bottom or coil - this is a holiday; you don't want to be cleaning the oven when dinner's over).

Place both pork and sweet potato in oven.  Check sweet potato after about 30 minutes (it's done when you squeeze it gently and it gives); remove when done and let it sit until cool enough to handle. 

Mash sweet potato and mix with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese.  Add a little butter if you wish.  Place in greased baking dish.  Drizzle maple syrup on top.  Cover with foil.

Prepare carrots, brussels sprouts, and onions; place in a large skillet.  Add about 1/2 c. water (about 1/4 inch in the skillet).  Cover. 

Check pork after about an hour (cooking time will depend on size of tenderloin).  Remove foil and allow to brown on top (or the cured meat on top to crisp), another 15 minutes or so.  Remove from oven and allow to rest.  Internal temperature will continue to rise.  Pork is done when internal temperature is 170degF.

While pork is resting, braise the vegetables and bake the bread:

Crank the oven up and bake the bread according to package directions.Bring the water in the skillet to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down and simmer the vegetables for about 5 minutes until crisp-tender (longer if you like them softer), then turn off the heat.  Add the sugar, dill, salt and pepper (if desired), and drizzle with olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Cover until ready to serve.

When bread is done, remove to cutting board and turn oven off.  Put sweet potato "casserole" into oven to heat through.

Remove rosemary sprigs from pork before slicing.  Serve with sweet potato, winter vegetables, a dollop of Cardamom Cran-Apple Jam, and bread.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll confess that we made this dinner the first night we dined at the cabin, Christmas Eve Eve, anticipating leftovers (the only pork loin the grocery had was large enough to feed Gram's extended family).  We noshed on it the rest of our time there and a while longer.  We came home with leftovers and leftover leftovers, but we ate every single bite. 

So THERE! for portion control.  Sort of.


Jennifer S said...

I love the digressions. Thanks for the trip down memory lane about being at Gram's. I plan to have a big party around the dining room table for my birthday, and this helps get me in the right spirit.

Oh, you're so right about the portion control at the store. Now for the practice.

Accidental Artisan said...

I think I got that one from you. In fact, I'm pretty sure I did, from back in the Quilt Camp days.

Stay tuned for another of our favorite quotes... deep digression amongst my admission of failure(s).

- Beeg Seesta