“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.” – Julia Child
Valentino’s Complete Guide to Your Holiday Feast
By Stephen Valentino
It’s The Holiday Season and its time to celebrate and prepare a feast to surprise and entertain your family and friends. This is good for the holidays or anytime and everything freezes well for a later service. It also will stay for up to a week in a cold fridge in nice airtight bags or containers, and the flavors will blend and meld and can taste even more intense. Many of these recipes are from my own collection and are of my own creation, but feel free to experiment and customize your own feast with say a Rack of lamb or a Rack of Pork Chops and perhaps the crown center mounded with stuffing and perhaps including wild rice.
When it comes to seasonings I find it that is always best to find them in bulk because they are going to be fresher and also cheaper. For example at a store like Whole Foods, Sprouts, Stater Brothers, or other upper-end markets, they will have a section of herbs where you actually will put them in a plastic bag and label them with an appropriate number and you will be very pleased with the price. I am extremely fond of the flavor of herbs de Provence and find that it adds an amazing flavor to many dishes from a simple vinaigrette to an elaborate sauce that can be made from chanterelle mushrooms and Madeira.
Stuffing Casserole and Stuffing Balls with Brunoise
Begin with making a brunoise to be put into my stuffing casserole and my stuffing balls. First we take the turkey fat off the top of the pot of turkey stock. We put it in a frying pan along with a combination of two large chopped onions and entire bunch of thinly sliced celery, chopped chanterelle mushrooms, and a pound of mild Italian sausage seasoned with herbs de Provence, salt, pepper, sea salt, and garlic along with roasted garlic. This will be mixed in with two boxes of stuffing, preferably cornbread. Then moistened with about 2 quarts of turkey stock. Put in a large well buttered casserole and bake at 350 degrees till brown and crunchy on top and 160 is degrees in the middle.
For stuffing Balls: Proceed as with stuffing Casserole preparation, but take half of it, add in four to six eggs well beaten. Mix the eggs into the moistened stuffing mixture along with sliced green olives with pimento. Roll the remaining mixture into balls and put onto a well-butter-greased baking pan, dot the stuffing balls with butter and cook at 375 for approximately one hour. These stuffing balls are delicious and they puff up while cooking and when they have cooled in the refrigerator for the next day you can slice them like bread about a half-inch thick and use it for canapés with turkey stuffing and drunken cranberry sauce or sliced ham.
In the fresh vegetable section of many quality stores you can find haricots verts which are French thin string beans which you can also find in a frozen bag at Trader Joe’s for a dollar 99 for 2 lbs which are also quite delicious. We put the string beans into a steamer. Now we have a green dish which are these string beans.
Valentino’s Drunken Cranberry Sauce
At one point in my life I had the pleasure of sharing this sauce with the great Julia Child, who paid me the complement of saying “This is the most wonderful cranberry sauce I’ve ever tasted!”
In a medium-sized sauce pan, bring a cup and a half of Grand Marnier to a boil with the grated zests of a tangerine, a lime, and a lemon along with a teaspoon of ground ginger (or one tablespoon fresh ginger root finely minced) and a teaspoon of ground allspice. Add a cup of sugar, stir it to dissolve, and then bring back to a boil. Now add your cranberries and bring back to boiling before dropping to a simmer for ten minutes. Squish the whole berries with a wand blender or a potato masher if you prefer a smoother sauce but I prefer to pop them in my mouth and the whole berries make for a more beautiful presentation.
Peas and Onions
Purchase baby frozen peas at Trader Joe’s along with tiny pearl onions at Trader Joe’s, We will put the peas into a pot into a pot and boil them till they are nicely cooked we sauté the baby onions in butter with herbs de Provence till they are translucent and starting to turn brown strain the peas mix the onions with herbs de Provence and butter in with the peas and we now have another green side dish.
Valentino’s Whipped Yams
We begin with approximately 8 pounds of garnet yams. We bake them at 400 degrees on a baking sheet covered with foil till they are easily pierced and obviously done. When they have cooled, we will then scoop all of the interior out and put it into a pot. Then in a good-size saucepan we will place a quarter of a bottle of bourbon, approximately 4 tablespoons of roasted garlic paste, along with pink ground salt. Season further with a melange of different colored peppers ground, a touch perhaps a quarter of a tablespoon of either allspice that is ground or nutmeg that is ground and approximately one tablespoon of herbs de Provence. Cook this with two cubes of salted butter adding cup or so of half and half or cream, pouring this mixture over your potatoes as you mash the yams with this bourbon reduction and whisk them till they are smooth. Then you may place them into a well-buttered casserole or pan and put them in the oven when your ready to warm them up. It is essential to use the red garnet yams, not the orange, for the flavor and color are magnificent and they go very well with any sort of poultry as a side dish, also with ham, pork chops, and even lamb. If I were going to serve them with beef and even lamb I would put butter into a frying pan then add 3 inch round patties about half an inch thick of the whipped yams on a high temperature and fry on both sides till golden brown and then serve next to a steak or lamb chops. We sprinkle the top with a tablespoon or so of ground herbs de Provence and ultimately melt butter to drizzle over the top. So now we have a starch that’s sweet yet savory.
Beautifully marbled piece of beef adjacent to a bone is just delicious and Visually spectacular and nothing is more spectacular than a prime rib of beef. Base the size on how many people you are having. A good rule of thumb would be one rib for every two people so if you are having 8 to 10 people you would want a prime rib that is approximately 4 to 6 ribs if you are using the small end which is what I prefer as there is less fat and more luscious meat. If you are using the small end increase overall size roast by 30-40%. There will also be a smaller lifter which is that section of the muscle around the top of the prime rib and can be very delicious but can also be very fatty. Take a sharp fillet knife and 4 to 5 large cloves of garlic that you will slice into about four slices each lengthwise. Then take your fillet knife and poke holes in the top of your prime rib in varying areas and depths and insert each piece of garlic into the prime rib and sort of squish it back together. We are going to season this prime rib with our Lawry’s seasoning salt, some sweet Hungarian paprika, and also an excellent Worcestershire sauce, plus you can even add some extra garlic and pepper. Frankly, if you do not want to use Lawry’s seasoning salt you can make your own simply by using salt, pepper, a touch of celery salt, plus sweet Hungarian paprika and Worcestershire sauce. Coming to Worcestershire sauce I have a definite preference for Crosse & Blackwell and you can find this British company’s products in premium stores or online because the flavor is everything and the same thing goes for the sweet Hungarian paprika which adds flavor but not heat. I like to have my butcher French the bones which is cutting the fat away and the meat off the first two or three inches of the bone which makes for a very attractive presentation plus you can use this meat to make more beef stock. Once this has been done to the bones it will allow you to put the meat in a rack in a roasting pan with the bones planted more or less straight up after having inserted your garlic slices. Rub the entire piece of meat with the seasonings including the bones.
We are going to begin the process of roasting this, again you always want to have your handy-dandy little pocket thermometer for meat. We will turn the oven to a very high 450 and we will put the prime rib in at 450 degrees for approximately 45 minutes to an hour so it sears and gets a nice beautiful dark caramelized color all around. Then we will drop the heat in the oven to 325 and continue to cook the prime rib slowly so it becomes even more tender. As we know you are going to want this somewhere around 140 to 145 degrees for medium rare and it can also be served hot or cold on a lovely platter. You can purchase excellent beef stock by the box or get bones – shank bones or rib bones – and then blast roast the meat at 450 after you rub them with butter and garlic and use these to make your beef stock from. But before you do that I would take chanterelle mushrooms that I have chopped or even morel mushrooms that I have chopped up sautéed in butter with salt and pepper and added to the beef stock and simmered so the flavor goes through it. Then we will add a cup or so of red wine to the stock and proceed to make a slurry of a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch with about 6 tablespoons of water to make it thicker and now you have a perfect gravy or au jus for dipping the meat in. It is very customary to serve a creamy horseradish sauce which can be purchased at the store but I happen to be much more fond of Dijon mustard when I am having my medium rare prime rib. Presentation is everything and to have a nice platter with the prime ribs standing up. With a sharp knife and a meat fork it’s very easy to cut and you can also take some wonderfully crusty French bread and mound it behind the prime rib. If you make a big enough prime rib you always will have leftovers which make for wonderful sandwiches that you can make the next day to dip into your au jus gravy on the little rounds of crusty bread after putting a little bit of the mustard on top and you can always gently warm the meat, in a covered bowl, pre-sliced, in your microwave but be careful not to overheat it as you still want it to be nice and pink.
At this time of year ham tends to be not only delicious but quite reasonable at 99 cents to a dollar fifty a pound and a nice big ham not only looks beautiful in terms of presentation but can also be served hot or cold on your buffet and people can slice it themselves. You can even choose a spiral cut. It is not only a beautiful and very tasty dish but there will be quite a bit left over for lunches, other meals like sautéed Virginia ham steaks, sandwiches, and many other uses as well. I also like to save the nice big bone with a lot of meat on it and instead of making a pea soup by putting the bone in the peas which I find to be very messy I will make a stock of the hambone and use that in a pea soup, but we are not going to talk about pea soup right now, we are going to talk about how to present a beautiful ham.
Based on the number of people you have, its good to purchase a half a ham or even a whole ham. The directions will be very clear on how to cook it because basically the ham is already cooked and what you’re doing is heating it up to a warmer temperature which can take quite a bit of time if it’s a large ham but make sure to read the directions and it will tell you exactly how long to have the ham in but again keep your handy-dandy little pockets thermometer for meat at the ready so you can check the internal temperature when it reaches 165 or thereabouts.
How I like to make ham is very simple and direct. Use a sharp chef’s knife to score the top and sides of the ham with lines that form diamonds and then take cloves and insert one into the middle of each of the diamonds. I am picky about how a clove looks so I make sure to take the biggest and the roundest available and while putting it in, if you happen to crush the top of it, I will usually pull that out. Use a little skewer to poke a little hole and then put another clove in that is in perfect condition. I like to put a nice Sherry and water and/or ham or turkey stock into the bottom of the pan to be able to baste the turkey. Many of the turkeys, especially the spiral-sliced ones come with a bag that you put water into to make a glaze. I find these glazes to be overly sweet and have a bitter aftertaste so I strongly recommend you make your own glaze which is very easy to do. Into a pot you will place two cubes of butter and melt them, then add a cup and a half of an excellent Madeira and about a cup of brown sugar and let this all blend together as you stir it with your whisk to get rid of any lumps and you now have a perfect glaze for your ham which you will put on approximately 20 minutes before you remove the ham. Any longer will cause the sugar to burn and create an unpleasant bitter taste and not a very attractive look but when you serve this with that sparkling glaze and the wonderful flavor of the cloves and the diamonds cut into the fat open up wider it is a beautiful presentation that your guests will love.
There are several ways that I make turkey and all of them are particularly delicious. I am going to suggest one for you to do for this holiday season. You may do this to begin with a whole turkey or a whole turkey breast and potentially if you have people that like dark meat you can also get legs and thighs and if you do not feel lazy you can actually take the entire turkey and cut it up in two parts so you will have all of the additional parts to make your turkey broth from including the tail, the backbone, the neck, and the giblets. Stuffing a turkey can be very cumbersome and also can cause the turkey to take many more hours to cook and even worse can create some very nasty little bugs to make you feel ill which is the last thing you want when you are making a feast for your friends. So the only part of the turkey I actually will stuff is the neck because it is exposed and does not slow down the process of cooking the turkey. Turkey should be cooked at approximately 350 degrees and when the dark meat is at 165 degrees (which you can tell using your handy-dandy meat thermometer) you now have a finished turkey. If you are doing a whole turkey you must remember that the back of your oven is hotter than the front of your oven, so if you want the dark meat to cook and the white meat to be tender and succulent every time, you take the turkey to baste or the parts or the breast but particularly the whole turkey you angle it so that the hind quarter with the legs and the thighs is at the back of the oven and the breast is at the front of the oven.
The basting sauce that we will make for this turkey in all of its various ways will include a cup of port wine, a few cups of turkey stock, a tablespoon of oven roasted garlic, one to perhaps two cubes of butter with approximately a tablespoon or so of poultry seasoning and the same amount of herbs de Provence along with salt and pepper. Once this mixture has been heated and the butter has melted, you use a nice brush (I prefer the new silicone brushes as opposed to the old-style bristle brushes which can shed fibers) and every half hour or so you completely baste your turkey from one end to the other. In approximately three and a half hours (but always use your meat thermometer to make sure your internal temperature is it 165) your turkey will be finished and delectable and goldenly brown all over. While this process has been going on, you can actually take your turkey parts that you have cut away from the turkey and be making broth (see below). Strain the broth then after you have removed the turkey from the roasting pan and put it on a platter, deglaze the pan with some warm water. Swish it around the bottom of the roasting pan so all of those wonderful golden bits come up and you can put all of that delicious flavor into your turkey stock. If you wish, you may now carve the turkey up into pieces and put it away for serving later. Take the carcass and put it into the pot with the turkey stock with more water and thus make even more turkey stock. But if you are intending to serve it immediately, I would suggest you take about a half pound of chopped up chanterelle mushrooms with salt and pepper sautéed into cubes of melted butter and add that to your turkey broth. Then take a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch and mix approximately 6 tablespoons of water with the cornstarch till it turns into a nice thin paste and mix it with a whip and then add it slowly to you’re boiling turkey broth with mushrooms and it will slowly start to thicken and you will now have a perfect gravy for your mashed potatoes, your turkey, and you’re stuffing. And one of the best pieces of stuffing you will get will be from the neck because you will have that wonderful crispy skin covering it. If you really want to be sneaky you can put it away as a chef’s treat and not serve it.
French Vanilla Whipped Cream
I will say it from the top – I do not really like to bake even though I can, but I do prefer to bake bread and certain cookies over pie. That is why I will always go to my bakery store and get some really nice pies. I like to serve, of course, apple pie and you need to have whipped cream and/or French vanilla ice cream, preferably from Trader Joe’s, available for it’s also very nice to have a variety. So I will include a pumpkin pie with whipped cream on the side and a Key lime pie. To add a little bit of difference and a nice color and flavor, using your whisk with a bowl set into a larger bowl filled with ice water you can pour in you’re whipping cream a tablespoon of vanilla with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and whip that cream till it becomes smooth and peaky and absolutely delicious. We do not want to buy Reddi-wip when it is so easy to make real whipped cream. If you have your Cuisinart blender you can also make it in there. But it will never be quite as smooth as if you do it with your whisk – plus if you don’t watch your time you will have made yourself a beautiful sweet butter instead! Quelle surprise! Now your pumpkin pie and your key lime pie are served cold but you do need to warm your apple pies in the oven at about 225 and when you see the juices start to bubble through the top slits very gently you know it has been heated perfectly.
And as Julia Child used to say Bon Appetit and Happy Holidays to you’re, your family and all your friends and a most happy new year!