Christmas dinner is the time to grace your table with holiday elegance. Set the table with linen, your best china and dishes, and all those favorite foods that make memories for your friends and family.
Make your entree the centerpiece, whether you select an inexpensive meat or a pricey roast, whether you create a health-conscious menu or a calorie-laden feast, and whether it is dinner for two or 20.
Family-priced roasts include turkey, ham, and beef cuts such as round tip, tri-tip, and eye round. These are very flavorful cuts, and they are leaner and more economical than premium roasts, which have more fat and bone. Eye round is at its most juicy and flavorful when cooked to medium-rare doneness.
The price-conscious cook can use the same seasoning and spices on an economical beef roast such as bottom round as on a premium cut such as prime rib. For example, the recipe for Lemon Thyme-Crusted Beef Holiday Roast calls for a boneless bottom round beef roast; the Lemon-Thyme Paste is just as excellent on a pricier beef rib roast.
Whatever cut you select, the fragrance from this roast will fill your house with a delicious aroma, reports Barbara Ray, who tested the recipe for The Blade.
A premium roast such as rib-eye, rib, tenderloin, and top loin often have a bone that requires a longer baking time. By using a meat thermometer, you can make sure you don't overcook the roast, especially if it is boneless.
When you buy a roast, think about larger “holiday helpings” rather than the traditional 3-ounce cooked, trimmed portion. A boneless beef roast will yield 11/2 to 2 six-ounce cooked, trimmed servings per pound. A bone-in roast will yield about 1 to 11/2 six-ounce cooked, trimmed servings per pound.
Retail prices for premium meats have fallen in some parts of the country, according to experts. In locations abundant with upscale restaurants, resorts, and cruise lines, “restaurant dining is down,” said Mary Jo Plutt, associate director of food communications with National Cattlemen's Beef Association. “Normally restaurants purchase the rib cuts [generally the most tender cuts]. Typically many premium beef cuts go to restaurants. Because of the economy and less business travel, restaurant dining is slightly down. As a result, there is a surplus of these rib and loin cuts, so the price is slightly less than a year ago in most markets.”
Premium veal has moved to the retail market in locations such as Los Angeles and Florida, according to Lena McCoy of the NCBA in Denver. These areas do a brisk business in the restaurant trade with veal, also.
“In casual-themed restaurants, business is still brisk. People perceive them as giving a value,” said Ms. McCoy. “Suburban places continue to do a really good business with local clients, and they are not depending on tourists or travel trade.”
In Northwest Ohio, veal roasts are not prepared as often as they once were, but such roasts are still available from a butcher. “It's about twice the price of beef,” said Jim Meads of House of Meats. “Veal is very lean and you want to be careful about overcooking.” Roast veal until a meat thermometer registers 155 degrees, then remove the meat from the oven to rest for about 10 minutes before carving and serving.
At medium doneness (160 degrees), a veal roast is slightly pink in the center, according to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
Mr. Meads estimates the price of veal roast at $11.99 per pound, whether it is boned like prime rib (cut off the bone and tied back when baked so that it is easy to carve) or French cut with the ribs sticking out like a rack of lamb.
To prepare holiday beef and veal roasts, remove from the refrigerator and immediately place the meat, fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Season as desired. Insert ovenproof meat thermometer so the tip is centered in the thickest part of the roast, not resting in fat or touching bone. Do not add water.
CONSIDER A HAM
Ham is especially convenient for the beginning cook. Unless you want to baste a glaze on the ham, you need only remove it from the packaging and place it in a roasting pan in the oven.
Ham can be economical or pricey, if you select a specialty ham.
When buying a ham, estimate the size needed, based on the number of servings the ham should yield:
Vacuum-packaged, fully-cooked ham and canned ham can be eaten cold just as they come from their packaging. If you want to reheat these fully-cooked hams, set the oven at 325 degrees and heat ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees as measured with a meat thermometer, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Meat and Poultry Hotline.
Fully-cooked ham that has been repackaged outside the plant should be heated to internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Cook-before-eating hams must reach 160 degrees to be safely heated before serving. Use a 325-degree oven.
During the holidays, cooks are stressed to impress. A pineapple ham garnish is traditional. For something different, try Spiced Apple-Glazed Ham, a recipe from Light & Easy Holiday Cooking by Sandra Woodruff R.D. (Avery, $15.95).
By not adding heavy gravies and sauces, entrees can remain relatively moderate in calories and fat.
The great thing about ham, large beef roasts, and turkey is that each can feed a crowd, often with plenty left over for sandwiches and other dishes.
COOKING FOR TWO
There are small holiday feasts. A small roasting chicken, Cornish Game Hens, or a small turkey breast can yield an excellent entree with all the festivity of the holiday.
One Cornish Game Hen, which can feed two people, may be the most inexpensive entree yet. It's simple and really a lovely entree when pulled from the oven. You'll find these frozen in the supermarket.
The meat is tender and practically all white. A Rock Cornish hen is a hybrid of Cornish and White Rock chickens.
Simply bake or roast according to package directions until crispy. I usually place a baking dish of stuffing in the oven, too. When you remove the hens from the oven, serve one hen per person or slice in half for smaller appetites.
Serve with wild rice or stuffing and baked acorn squash garnished with fresh cranberry sauce.
Whatever entree you select, 'tis the season to be merry. Enjoy cooking. Enjoy the day. Enjoy the holiday meal with those at your table.