What I cooked this Christmas (2013)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas is normally a busy period for me, with the second part of my monicker kicking in (the Canon bit) and this year has been no exception.

Not that I mind, of course. With each passing Christmas, I always feel that there could have been more I could do to serve the One whom we are celebrating. The recent riots in Little India triggered again some reminders. One in seven persons I meet here is a foreigner. Truth be told, I loathed the idea of throwing yet another party and hand out more free or "pay it forward" meal coupons. Not that there is anything wrong with this but instinctively in our hearts, we knew that it had to be more than this.

As Christians believe, Christmas is about God sending Jesus Christ to earth so that He could dwell among us (Immanuel). I think the best present we can give to someone is presence. If we can each spend more intentional time to get to know, listen and understand a foreigner or a group of them, that I think is something we could do a little more. To welcome another is to love. It is the best gift you can give to another - to welcome and to accept.

I almost forgot that this is a food blog.

So, what did I cook this Christmas?

I love mesclun and rocket (arugula) salad. We were delighted by Poulet's version and read elsewhere that the chef behind it was inspired by something he ate in Mexico. Since I agreed to supply greens to three potluck parties, I decided to make something as close as possible to their version.

First off, get the freshest greens (2 parts mesclun and 1 part arugula) you can lay your hands on. It needs to be fresh, triple washed and ready to go. Loon at Holland Village market, my usual supplier, is a fantastic source. As can be seen in the pic, a neat box of this is 1.5 kg and it goes straight from the fridge to the mixing bowl. There is no need to wash or spin dry or to worry about keeping them chilled.

To that I added some toasted & crushed pistachio. Poulet's uses pine nuts but I thought using something green will be nice for this season. Then some preserved cranberries for the sweetness and red , and fresh pitted black olives (Cold Storage counter). For the vinaigrette, olive oil of course, some balsamic vinegar and some sprinkled salt. If you can use olive oil from the black olives, that will add another flavour dimension. We also cut the greens for easier eating.    

Roasted Anxin Chicken did not disappoint and again, I am thankful to Keong, my usual supplier. I took an extra step to brine it and the chicken was noticeably juicier. I was rushing the roasting process and it could have been browned more consistently. Roasting a chicken is not difficult but if you like to know how I usually do it, check the post here.

I also like the way the caramelised carrots turned out. Cooking the side dishes can often be an after thought but with a little care, they can turn out quite spectacular. Cut up the carrots into various shapes of roughly the same size. Use a large pot and using low fire, heat it up. Add butter, some cumin seeds, sugar and salt. Add the carrots, stir a bit and close the lid. Stir it around once in a while to avoid bottom burning. After 20 minutes, it should be done. Don't overcook the carrots. It should retain it's bright color.

Pan-searing the Beef after they have ben slow cooked.
36-hour slow cooked boneless beef short rib (lead photo and the one above) using my Sous Vide enabling PID was a dinner favourite. My Sous Vide Magic gadget has paid off many times over. It turned a $40 per kilo average priced boneless short rib beef into something really spectacular. After SV, pan-sear, a minute or two per side and slice. I have some details in this post on how to make this. Add some salt and sauce.

As it is already cooked in advance, it took some pressure off the final preparations before dinner starts. You don't need to be a culinary genius to make this. It is just science.

Leftovers from sauce making
This time round, I use my new Silit pressure cooker to prepare the brown demi-glaze sauce. Roast the beef bones, beef meat, carrots, onions first till they are slightly browned. I bought my beef bones and meat form MMMMFresh but you can get it from any beef seller, including those in wet markets. To these, add some water, bay leaves and some salt. Use some of the herbs you have,  i.e. bay leaves, tarragon or thyme. Pressure cook for 2 hours. Fridge it and later, skim off the solid fats at the top. Reheat and add some red wine, Madeira or any hard liquor. Simmer gently and skim off the fats and scum along the way. Reduce it to a thick sauce, adding some corn flour to thicken it (if you need to).

It can also be prepared in one go, without fridging, as long as you are diligent in skimming off the fats.

I did not regret going the extra mile as a properly made sauce has a deep unctuous flavour. Vary the ingredients according to what you have. Making sauce is an art by itself and there are ways to perfect it. This is just one simple approach and if you have a pressure cooker, it cuts down the time by a third.

Demi-glace sauce
There you go. The best thing about Christmas meals is the time spent with your families and friends. Treasure those moments. And when you have nice dishes prepared, it enhances the evening.

Blessed Christmas to all of you.

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