Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas 2013: Calamari Salad

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No real story here. This is a standby side for our holidays and a rather typical salad for an Italian Christmas or New Years Eve. It made its return as the seafood accompaniment to the meat-wrapped meat entree I prepared.

My father’s version is good, but it’s not quite as balanced as the version served at Asti Caffe and Trattoria in Syracuse, which this salad is patterned after. Continue reading Christmas 2013: Calamari Salad


Christmas 2013: Orzotto With Pancetta and Peas

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I don’t care what she did. I don’t care what she snorted. I love Nigella Lawson.

She could have drowned puppies. She could make weekly visits to daycare centers to kick babies.

I don’t care. She is wonderful. The only thing she has done wrong, as far as I’m concerned, is marry Charles Saatchi.

No Christmas meal in an Italian home should be without a pasta dish, but I was looking for something out of the alfredo/marinara realm. Enter Nigella and her orzo recipe, which may be the most copied recipe from her 2012 cookbook Nigellissima. I happened to find it at Williams-Sonoma.

Continue reading Christmas 2013: Orzotto With Pancetta and Peas

Christmas 2013: Shallot and Red Wine Sauce

So, here’s the thing with my Christmas roast: it didn’t produce enough drippings to construct a gravy. All it really did was make a bunch of grease to burn on to the pan.

I was confident that roast would be moist, rendering a gravy or sauce unnecessary. But, people like something that they can ladle over roast beef. It’s habit and who am I to interrupt such a practice? Not wanting a traditional thick beef gravy and with a bunch of shallots in the house, I thought I would look for something else. Enter Gordon Ramsay’s shallot and red wine sauce.

Shallot and Red Wine Sauce
By Gordon Ramsay via BBC GoodFood (adapted and measures converted from metric)

  • 8 oz. shallots, sliced
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
  • sprig rosemary
  • 5 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 13 oz. red wine
  • 13 oz. beef stock or brown chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Heat oil in a medium saucepan until it shimmers. Add the shallots and cook until lightly browned and soft, 3 minutes. Season with ground black pepper and add the garlic and rosemary. Cook 3 more minutes, stirring to prevent the shallots from burning.

Add the vinegar and cook until it has a syrup consistency. Add the wine and reduce by two-thirds.

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until reduced by two-thirds. Remove the garlic and rosemary, add a pinch of salt to taste and whisk in the butter.

Christmas 2013: Bacon-Wrapped Sirloin Roast

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In past years, Christmas dinner has been a celebration of pork. I went with a pancetta-wrapped pork loin our first year hosting the holiday and a porchetta last year. This year, sticking with the theme of meat wrapped in meat, I thought we would go back to beef.

Originally, I was going to make this beef tenderloin recipe that I found at CHOW.com. (Side note: I heard from a few people saying that they made this for Christmas after seeing that I posted it to my Pinterest wall. Everyone gave it a thumbs up.) I tapped out on the tenderloin, as feeding 12 people on a $13 per pound cut of tenderloin was way out of budget. I thought about the lateral move to a rib roast, but it would have been for everyone else’s benefit. I don’t really like prime rib.

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So, we dropped a rung and went with the sirloin tip roast, which actually is not part of the sirloin. From Saveur:

This cut, also called the knuckle, comes from the part of the hindquarter of the steer closest to the tender sirloin, but it actually extends into the round, of which it is a part. Thus, sirloin tips are the tenderest of the round cuts; in fact, butchers often label them sirloin.

If you are from the Greater Syracuse area, you probably know of Nichols Supermarket in the village of Liverpool. The family-owned store has a full-service butcher in the back of the store, one of the things that helps it stand apart from the big markets like Wegmans and Tops. On the Saturday before Christmas, with a crowd around the butcher’s window, I was able to get a 4 lb. roast custom cut in about 10 minutes. While the roast was being prepped, I was able to sneak over to the deli to get a pound of uncured slab bacon sliced.

Ohhhhhhh, bacon. Continue reading Christmas 2013: Bacon-Wrapped Sirloin Roast

Ranking the Winter 2013 Beers (Updated 12/28)

It has snowed at least once in Syracuse, so as far as I’m concerned we can talk about winter beers. As I did in the fall, I will drink as many of the winter and Christmas beers as possible as a service to you, the reader. As long as I can get my grubby hands on them, they will be consumed.

It’s a tough job, but someone must take it on head first.

  1. Anchor Christmas Ale: Perfect. Great body, not too fruity, not too malty, not too hoppy, not too…the only thing it is too much of is good. Worth every dollar.
  2. Southern Tier 2XMAS Ale: Right off the bat, the orange peel and fig provide a happy holiday greeting. A great beer with a nice spice and medium body. (8.0% ABV)
  3. Founders Breakfast Stout: Like liquid cement. A big heavy stout with a lot of awesome oat and coffee flavors. So good, but you can only have one before being crippled. It’s brewed October to March, so I am counting it as a winter varietal. (8.3% ABV)
  4. 21st Amendment Fireside Chat ale: An exceptional winter beer. There’s a lot of spice, but it’s subtle. Full-bodied and smooth, not unlike myself. (7.9% ABV)
  5. Boulder Beer Never Summer Ale: A big, bold red ale that balances its hops with a clean finish. I really liked this offering and may go back for more. (6.5% ABV)
  6. Shiner Holiday Cheer: Not sure what I was expecting, but the peachy finish was a nice surprise. A malty, dark beer with pecan notes and balanced flavor. Call me biased towards Shiner beers, but I like this a lot. (5.4% ABV)
  7. Great Lakes Brewing Company Blackout Stout: An exceptional imperial stout with a big coffee flavor. Toasty, high ABV and full-bodied, it’s the type of beer that warms you up without weighing you down greatly. (9.0% ABV)
  8. Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale: Warming, like a blanket. Instead of fleece, the honey and ginger is backed by a high alcohol content and a toasty malt flavor. Typically I would run children over in cold blood if they got in between me and the GLBC Christmas. Not this year. It is good, but the 2011 and 2012 editions were much better. (7.5% ABV)
  9. Leinenkugel Snowdrift Vanilla Porter: I’m probably underrating this beer. I’ve had it the past couple of years and it just gets better each time out. On draught, it has a great coffee/vanilla flavor with a lighter body than you would expect from a porter. (6.0% ABV)
  10. Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout: A solid effort for 2013. I didn’t think much of last year’s effort, but it rebounded. A very smooth high octane imperial stout with a chocolatey, almost toasty flavor. (10.0% ABV)
  11. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale: So much better than 2012. Strong hop flavor but otherwise smooth and full bodied. (6.8% ABV)
  12. Harpoon Winter Warmer ale: It’s like drinking beer made with all of the spices in our baking cabinet. Nutmeg and cinnamon are prominent. A heavy beer that is enjoyable but in small doses. (5.9% ABV)
  13. Brooklyn Brewery Winter Ale: Brooklyn’s ale takes a different approach. They make a Scottish ale without a lot of spice. Very malty and toasty, they let the grains do the heavy lifting. (6.1% ABV)
  14. Samuel Adams Winter Lager: Smooth, but not a lot of flavor. It went down very easy…too easy, actually. (5.6% ABV)
  15. Ommegang Adoration: As The Sister said upon tasting it, “There’s a lot of flavors going on here.” Nothing seemed to complement one another. Mace, cardamom, coriander…everything felt like it was fighting for attention. I wished I did like this one. (10% ABV)
  16. Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale: Hoppy, spicy, but not too much of either. It was like a heavy pale ale. (7.0% ABV)
  17. Laguintas Brown Shugga Ale: Really hoppy, but not that bad. It was interesting, because there was an understated sweetness that rang through the hops. (9.99% ABV)
  18. Rogue Yellow Snow IPA: Spicy, hoppy. I didn’t really enjoy it. Just a really big bitter IPA.
  19. Blue Moon Mountain Abbey Ale: This used to be my favorite winter beer. They tinkered sooooooo much with the recipe that it’s a disappointment. (5.6% ABV)
  20. Samuel Adams White Christmas: It was like a spicier Blue Moon. No imagination. No body. Bo-ring. (5.8% ABV)
  21. Ithaca Brewing Company Cold Front: I’m always disappointed with IBC beers. I want to like them…I really do. This tastes about as bad as the Victory offering one slot below. It’s supposed to be a strong Belgian dark, but ends up tasting like a spicy, malty mess. (7.2% ABV)
  22. Victory Brewing Company Winter Cheers: Strong spicy flavor. A lot of hops in this winter wheat ale, but not a lot of bitterness. I just didn’t enjoy it. (6.7% ABV)
  23. Troegs Mad Elf Ale: I’ve enjoyed this in the past on draught and in the bottle. For some reason, this year’s version did not agree with me. The Sister liked it but I was so disappointed. (11.0% ABV)

The next time I go shopping, I’ll pick up: Full Sail Wassail, Breckenridge Christmas Ale, Abita Christmas Ale

Fondly missing: Pete’s Wicked Winter Ale

Grocery List: December 29, 2013

photo(NOTE: I’m all out of grocery list paper. I finally exhausted the last of the Raven Lunatic pad that my friend Shawn gave to me. If you know of anywhere to find, witty or vulgar notepads, let me know.)

Santa was good to me this year, as he tends to be. This year brought pots and pans.

Yes, I’m very excited about pots and pans.

I acquired a haul of Calphalon Unison sear and slide pans. This is Calphalon’s high-end non-stick pans endorsed by celebrity chef Michael Symon. The pans cook food evenly and release it without effort. It went right to work on Christmas morning in preparing the side dishes for dinner. More on the main course and sides later this week. In all, I received:

  • An 8 qt. covered stockpot
  • 2 qt. and 4 qt. covered saucepans
  • 8- and 10-inch skillets
  • A 6 qt. covered Dutch oven

The skillets were part of a holiday time special that I saw at the big names in kitchen gear (Williams-Sonoma, Macy’s, and Crate & Barrel, where The Wife shopped). The rest were acquired at a neat little gem in Waterloo, N.Y. Chef’s Outlet is actually owned by Calphalon, though doesn’t carry the brand’s flag on its store like its other shops. The acquisition was part-choice, part-need. After 11 1/2 glorious years of wedded bliss, our pans are beginning to fall apart. Teflon is scraping from the bottom of our Farberware Millenium pans, exposing metal bases. Chipped Teflon is bad enough, but add in rust and you have a not so great meal.

Continue reading Grocery List: December 29, 2013

Christmas Movies That Don’t Suck: White Christmas

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Christmas 2013, I’m offering a list of the only Christmas movies worth watching. I recognize that there are some movies that you may like (Elf) and I don’t (Elf). That’s just the way it is. Check out last year’s Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck.

Tell me there is a more perfect Christmas movie than White Christmas. Try. There’s one that is even remotely in the conversation — It’s A Wonderful Life — but was it shot in VistaVision?

I think not.

Did it have an Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby and the underratedly attractive Rosemary Clooney? Nope. How about half the dancing cast from West Side Story?

It’s a Wonderful Life will have it’s day here, but don’t look me in the face and tell me that it’s better than White Christmas. Not when you get Bing in drag:

The story is total schmaltz and has been remade so many times that I don’t know who did it first, best or worst. It’s the music, dancing, and the final number:

Christmas Movies That Don’t Suck: It’s A Wonderful Life

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Christmas 2013, I’m offering a list of the only Christmas movies worth watching. I recognize that there are some movies that you may like (Elf) and I don’t (Elf). That’s just the way it is. Check out last year’s Christmas Songs That Don’t Suck.

My mother forced The Sister and I watch a lot of black-and-white movies when we were children. As a result, we developed a sibling rejection of all movies made before 1970 (with the exception of Pride of the Yankees, because WPIX showed it every time the Yankees were rained out).

Naturally, The Wife embraces all things ancient and counts It’s A Wonderful Life among her favorite movies. It’s timeless, cliched, hokey and a lot of other adjectives. But, it’s Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reid. And it’s Frank Capra, who made a career of selling redemption stories. Personally, I think his Mr. Smith Goes To Washington is a superior movie, but this is Christmas.

Unlike The Wife, I’m not a fervent fan of the movie. We will watch if it is on, but it comes in behind tomorrow’s entry on this list as the preferred Christmas movie at Al Dente HQ.

There is an alleged local connection to the movie. Seneca Falls, a town 45 minutes to the west of HQ, is rumored to be Bedford Falls. Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu, makes an annual appearance there each year for the town’s commemoration of the movie and many of the events take place at the Hotel Clarence (named for the angel). During the festival weekend, mail sent from the U.S. Post Office in town is postmarked as coming from Bedford Falls, N.Y. The George Bailey Award is given out to a local that embodies the spirit of its namesake and the area in front of the local bank is renamed Bailey Park for the weekend. It’s quite a thing.

The architecture of the town (apparently) resembles the fictional Bedford Falls, and festival organizers offer the following explanation:

Seneca Falls’ claim begins with geography. It’s hard to dispute that Capra set Bedford Falls in New York State. Rochester, Buffalo, and Elmira are mentioned in the script and referenced as being relatively close. All three are an easy drive from Seneca Falls. And, a reference to Cornell University in Ithaca, just 40 miles south, was taken out of the script by the studio’s rights clearance lawyers.

Two towns north of New York City — Bedford and Bedford Hills — lay their claim, but the pro-Seneca Falls rebuffs this:

There’s something else against the Bedfords being Capra’s inspiration. Both of these towns are just 45 miles from New York City. Even in 1945 train and automobile travel times, neither Bedford nor Bedford Hills resembled the remote spot that has Jimmy Stewart’s character feeling hopelessly isolated from the world. (A check with the local historian and townspeople revealed no evidence or local legend of Capra visiting the area or any knowledge of the towns’ connection with the movie.)

So, there you go.

Recently, there has been a tussle between Paramount studios and an enterprising screenwriter planning a sequel. The studio, either sensing a stinker or widespread public backlash, is refusing to allow the new project to proceed on copyright grounds. It’s nice to see Big Hollywood make the right choice. If they could have only done something about the Grown Ups franchise. Or any Adam Sandler movie after Happy Gilmore, really. Digressing…