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Published: Tuesday, 12/14/2004

Perfecting the holiday entree

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork with Roasted Grapes Prosciutto-Wrapped Pork with Roasted Grapes
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That once-a-year holiday roast can be the centerpiece of your table.

Festive entrees for a larger gathering can be as simple as a roasted leg of lamb, a ham, or prime rib. If we get a warm week, you might even consider grilling your entree. For smaller gatherings, a pork tenderloin wrapped with prosciutto and served with a roasted grape and pearl onion sauce makes an elegant main course.

A fancy roast signals a special occasion. Whether it's a regal rib roast, a tempting tenderloin, or individual filets favorite, coat the roast with a savory rub and serve it with a special sauce.

A savory rub can be as simple as this idea from the Cattlemen's Beef Board: Mix together 4 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Or simply use lemon pepper and salt.

Herbal Leg of Lamb can be roasted or grilled. Herbal Leg of Lamb can be roasted or grilled.
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Some cooks prefer sauces to accompany beef rather than the beef au jus or light pan gravy. Among the possibilities is Red Wine Shallot Sauce recommended for rib-eye steaks or filet by Sid Goldstein in The Wine Lover Cooks with Wine (Chronicle, $24.95). Recipes on Page 2.

To ensure a perfect beef roast, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association advises:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees for rib-eye and rib roast; 325 degrees for round tip, top round, and eye round roast, and 425 degrees for tenderloin and tri-tip roast.

2. Place the roast (straight from the refrigerator), fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Season as desired. Insert an 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. Do not cover.

3. Roast to 135 to 140 degrees for medium-rare and 150 degrees for medium. Transfer roast to carving board; tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let roast stand 15 to 20 minutes (the temperature will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees to reach desired doneness, making the roast easier to carve).

Lamb is a full-flavored meat that melds with many vegetables, fruits, and grains. A leg of lamb or a boneless lamb roast can be roasted in the oven at 325 degrees. (Our recipe recommends preheating the oven to 400 degrees and then lowering it to 325 degrees.) The lamb may be seasoned with an herbal rub of tarragon, thyme, and peppercorns, or with garlic, salt, and pepper. Use the pan drippings from the oven-roasted lamb added to 1 cup red wine and 2 tablespoons cornstarch for a serving sauce.

If the weather cooperates, grilling a butterflied (boneless) leg of lamb is delicious. Weber-Stephen Products recommends brushing the lamb lightly with olive oil and placing it in the center of a cooking grate and then placing the lid on to grill 1 1/2 hours until the roast's thickest part reads 140 degrees for medium-rare. Remove the lamb from the grill, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before carving.

If there's a new cooking appliance under the Christmas tree, such as a rotisserie or stove-top smoker (see column), you might consider using it the day after Christmas. Steve Raichlen's Raichlen's Indoor! Grilling includes recipes for spit-roasted lamb with berber spices and leg of lamb with garlic mint wet rub using the rotisserie and smoked leg of lamb for the stove-top smoker.

A number of larger cuts of pork - for pork roasts such as rib and loin roasts and even fresh ham - make great holiday entrees. But don't overlook the pork tenderloin, which is versatile and quick to prepare.

Pork tenderloin is very lean and tender. It makes a good roast for a small gathering. One tenderloin weighs 12 to 20 ounces; count on two to three servings per tenderloin. Care must be taken not to overcook it, writes Bruce Aidell in Bruce Aidell's Complete Book on Pork (Harper Collins, $29.95). He recommends brining pork tenderloin or using a dry rub, paste, or wet marinade to ensure flavor and juiciness.

Prosciutto-wrapped Pork with Grapes is a beautiful presentation and delicious entree. First seasonings are rubbed into the meat. Then, thinly sliced prosciutto is wrapped around the pork tenderloin and it is placed on a cookie sheet and drizzled with olive oil. Grapes and pearl onions are later added to the pan juices and cooked with madeira wine and chicken broth and beef broth. This makes a delicious entree that cooks within one hour.

As for the traditional bone-in ham, a whole ham (a 10 to 20-pound cured hind leg of pork) is the most flavorful and least wasteful cut. It serves 20 with leftovers, according to Mr. Aidell. It is sold boneless, whole, in halves, and in various chunks.

Ham glazes provide a sweet finish to a ham. He recommends glazing after a ham baked in a 325-degree oven reaches an internal temperature of 130 degrees. Then turn the oven up to 425 degrees, baste on the glaze, and return to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. A basic fruit glaze uses marmalade, jam, or preserves as the base.

Any of these ideas will deliver great taste to your holiday table.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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