Cook­ing for our near­est and dear­est

A hol­i­day pork to pre­pare ahead

The Taos News - - IN THE KITCHEN -

AH, DE­CEM­BER: the time of year many of us ea­gerly an­tic­i­pate big hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions. But re­ally, it’s more than the big hol­i­days. So many op­por­tu­ni­ties arise to con­nect with friends and fam­ily for get-to­geth­ers, gath­er­ings and spe­cial meals. It is a great time to just be with our near­est and dear­est.

As a cook, I al­ways aspire to cre­ate ex­pres­sions of love through food. My goal dur­ing the hol­i­days is not to make some­thing fast, but to make some­thing unique even though it may take more time. And a cold and blus­tery day in De­cem­ber of­ten pro­vides an oc­ca­sion to stay in and try some of those harder to achieve recipes, to al­low my imag­i­na­tion full reign.

But the day I’m hav­ing peo­ple over is not al­ways the day

I want to in­dulge my ex­per­i­ments in the kitchen. As you may know from pre­vi­ous columns, I love to plan meals that will please my guests while also al­low­ing me to visit with them.

To do this, I look for an im­pres­sive en­tree that I can pre­pare ahead: some­thing I can com­bine with a cou­ple of el­e­gant but easy side dishes and cre­ate a mem­o­rable meal that tells my com­pan­ions how im­por­tant they are to me.

Dur­ing the hol­i­day cook­ing sea­son, in­cor­po­rat­ing the right fla­vors into a main course is im­por­tant. Herbs like sage and rose­mary, fruits like dried figs and ap­ples, sa­vories like onions and gar­lic, are the tastes and smells that re­ally say “hol­i­day” to me. And the good news is that many dif­fer­ent meats can work well with these sweet and sa­vory ac­cents.

My go-to main course usu­ally in­volves pork. I love the beau­ti­ful way it in­cor­po­rates a va­ri­ety of fla­vor themes, and its cook­ing times are rel­a­tively pre­dictable. Pork ten­der­loin, for ex­am­ple, is one of my fa­vorite cuts as it is ten­der and cooks quickly. But it is usu­ally a bit more costly than other cuts of pork.

I have found that a 2-pound pork loin, with the right han­dling, can eas­ily stand in for the ten­der­loin. And if you have a larger crowd, you can dou­ble or triple the recipe with­out sac­ri­fic­ing con­ve­nience.

The se­cret is in the prepa­ra­tion. Slice open the loin length­wise, leav­ing it in­tact at the end, and lay it flat. Then with a sharp knife, cut slits on the long sides of the pork, creat­ing a thin­ner sur­face.

Ar­range a mix­ture of ap­ples, apri­cots, figs, onions and herbs along the length of the pork and tie it up into a ten­der­loin-sized roast. Tuck a few sprigs of rose­mary and thyme un­der the kitchen twine.

When pre­par­ing it in ad­vance, wrap the roast in a sheet of parch­ment, then wrap again in foil. Place in the re­frig­er­a­tor for up to 2 days. Bring to room tem­per­a­ture the day of your gath­er­ing, un­wrap, and place in a bak­ing pan. No need to put any­thing in the oven un­til after every­one ar­rives.

A per­fect sea­sonal ac­com­pa­ni­ment to t he pork is but­ter­nut squash. Vivid color, ver­sa­til­ity and avail­abil­ity make it an ap­peal­ing side.

You can peel and cut into cubes ear­lier in the day or even the day be­fore, then toss with olive oil, gar­lic and herbs an hour or so be­fore cook­ing. Roast the squash on a bak­ing sheet at the same time as the pork — they will be done to­gether.

Al­low the pork to rest for a few min­utes on a board to dis­trib­ute the juices. That way, if the squash isn’t brown enough, you can re­turn it to the oven.

An­other of my fa­vorites is as­para­gus, which is el­e­gant and al­ways seems to be avail­able. Like the but­ter­nut squash, the fla­vor and color of the as­para­gus will en­hance the whole meal.

Cook it on the grill for a slightly charred, smoky essence. Or if your grill is put away for the win­ter, place the as­para­gus on its own bak­ing sheet, driz­zle it with olive oil, and roast for the last 15 min­utes in the oven along­side the but­ter­nut squash and the pork. You can also make it ahead; it tastes just as good at room tem­per­a­ture. The day of the din­ner, set the ta­ble with your most fes­tive din­ner­ware and ta­ble linens. Place an as­sort­ment of can­dles around the house. A bowl of good mixed nuts or olives is enough of an ap­pe­tizer un­less some­body wants to bring one. (If your other guests in­sist on bring­ing some­thing, you could also as­sign dessert.) Start with a glass of New Mex­ico’s own Gruet sparkling wine, and you have a fes­tive evening in the mak­ing.

En­joy your guests while the meal roasts in the oven. Then when ev­ery­thing is cooked, slip away to fill the plat­ters, slice the pork, and serve to every­one’s de­light. And while you make it look ef­fort­less, your un­der­tak­ing will speak vol­umes about how much you care.

Happy hol­i­days!

Set the ta­ble with your most fes­tive din­ner­ware and ta­ble linens. Place can­dles around the house and put on the mu­sic. You have a fes­tive evening in the mak­ing.

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