I’m not really a big holiday person in general, as I find many of the traditions associated with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years downright stressful. But when it comes to big meals, Crystin and I get to work. In addition to being a time to pull out all the stops, we’ve gotten pretty good at spreading out the prep for our holiday meals. I wanted to share the the dishes we made and how we managed to get them done without being too stressful. The different bits are all pretty basic on their own, but I think it’s a good example of how simple dishes and good planning can make a meal that looks fancier than it is come together in under an hour.
You’ll note we don’t really truck with the traditional, here. There’s only the two of us, so making a whole turkey is ridiculous. Instead, we tried to put together a menu that had some of our favorites, a little bit of adventure, and a set of items that would be easy to prepare as a whole.
I learned the fundamentals of cooking from my father, and, well, if you’ve ever enjoyed a meal with Mark Cox, you can attest to two things: the meal was delicious, and you were eating it very late at night. Time management was never really his strong suit, and because I learned everything from him, it wasn’t mine either for a long time. In the last few years, however, I’ve gotten much better at it. Here’s a selection of things that have made it easier for me. You’ll see these things in practice in the actual meal plans.
- Write your plan down!
- Make sure it’s got expected times in it, so you know if you’re piling too much on the last stretch before you serve things.
- If you don’t have the luxury of multiple ovens (I’m so jealous of you jerks that do), try and pick things that cook at the same temperature. If your main course is going to use the oven, defer to it, and consciously choose sides that will cook nicely with it.
- Do as much of your prep as possible at once. Do as much of it the day before as possible. Immersion circulators are awesome here.
- Try and choose a couple of courses that are going to be okay finishing and sitting there for a while, so everything isn’t done at once. One of the reason I love making fresh bread for meals like this is that it can be done hours ahead of time.
- Pot Roast
- Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
For holiday cooking, I really love to make use of the immersion circulator and cook things sous vide. I have a more measured view of low temperature cooking than its greatest enthusiasts, but I love the way it lets me move prep for big meals to the day before. And while the magical effects of sous vide are often dramatically overstated, there are some unique things you can do with it. One of those things is cook rough cuts of meat for a very long time without overcooking them. So that’s what I did!
I wanted to cover the roast with a dry rub, but didn’t have any. I more or less improvised the rub below, and it came together pretty well. I plan to put some more work into it in the future, and I’d be curious to hear if you have any suggestions on how to improve it. You could easily replace it with whatever your favorite rub is.
- 1 pot roast
- 3 sprigs of rosemary (we’ve got a small plant outside)
- 2 tbsp butter
- like a million cloves of garlic
- idk probably 1⁄2 cup of beef broth
- enough dry rub to generously cover your pot roast when you’re done
The Day Before
- Set the immersion circulator to 144° F
- Season the roast with garlic salt and pepper
- Sear the roast on all sides
- Put some oil in a pan. I use peanut oil for this. It’s cheap and has a high smoke point
- Get it really hot
- I use tongs to keep ahold of the roast while moving it from side to side
- I usually sear for 60 seconds a side.
- Remove the roast from the pan, and toss in the sprigs of rosemary and garlic
- You can let them fry very briefly, but that pan is real hot, so don’t dawdle
- Deglaze with butter & beef broth
- Toss in your beef broth. It’s going to steam like crazy. Turn your vent on high and open a window and/or take a sledge hammer to your smoke detector.
- Add the butter after the the broth cools down the pan a little
- Let it reduce a little
- Toss the roast and deglazing sauce in a bag, and put it in the water bath.
The Day Of
- Preheat oven to BLAZING HOT (450° F in this case)
- Prepare the dry rub
- Pull the bag out of the water bath, and then take the roast out of the immersion circulator. Reserving the cooking liquid - we’ll use it to make gravy later.
- Cover roast in rub on all sides
- Roast that sucker for 15 minutes to form a crust. I roasted the asparagus at the same time.
- A lot of fresh chopped oregano (like 3 tbsp?)
- 1 tbsp of smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp of thyme
- 1 tbsp of garlic salt
- 1 tbsp of lemon pepper
- 1 small lemon’s worth of lemon zest
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Nothing too special here in the potatoes, outside of getting a little frisky with some leftover mascarpone cheese that we had left over from Crystin’s baking. The gravy was amazing, though.
- 2 medium potatoes
- 2 tbsp butter (if I’d had my wits about me, I’d have prepared some garlic butter)
- 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
- A splash of milk
- Put a pot of water on to boil. Salt the hell out of it
- Wash & very large dice the potatoes. I leave the skin on, but you’re an adult. You do what you want.
- Boil for 10ish minutes, until tender
- Drain the water, return the potatoes to the pot
- Add the butter and cheese
- Mash the hell out of them.
- Keep mashing and add milk until you achieve your desired consistency. Usually doesn’t take much for me.
- Season with salt and pepper. If you want pristine looking mashed potatoes, use white pepper.
- In a pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter over low/med heat
- If you’ve already done the oven part of the roast, you can use drippings from that instead of butter.
- Add 2 tbsp of flour, and stir it together to make a roux
- After a couple of minutes, slowly add the reserved deglazing sauce from the roast
That’s it. All the actual work was done the day before making the deglazing sauce. And it’s amazing.
Roasted fresh vegetables with lemon and salt. How can you go wrong? The sprigs were roasted for 15 minutes at 450 while finishing the roast. Being able to tackle these at the same time was one of the small planned efficiencies that let a meal like this come together without too much trouble.
I love making bread. When I want to be sure it turns out well, I just use The Lahey Bread. It’s literally designed to be foolproof. It’s a brilliant addition to a holiday meal because it’s prepared the day before and can be baked early in the morning before the kitchen gets crazy. It’s also great to eat with guests if they’re over early. Or, if you’re a hermit, like we are, you can eat most of it yourself.
This post is starting to get a little long, so I’ll cover our Christmas Day dinner in another post. If any of the dishes above inspired you, I’d love to hear what you tried. There’s a lot of room for improvement, so go make something amazing this weekend! I’m still working on comments, so the best ways to get at me are still Mastodon, Twitter, or e-mail.