An easy, comfortable holiday dinner for friends
Greg Van Boven and his partner David pull out all the stops for their annual holiday dinner for friends. Sharing responsibilities--Greg is the baker, David is the cook--keeps the prep doable. Portion sizes are kept small so the dinner progresses at an easy, comfortable pace.
Corn Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Aioli 
Polenta Cakes with Prosciutto and Butternut Squash Puree 
Asparagus Soup 
Saumon Confit (Salmon with Tomato Confit) 
Mrs. Robert E. Lee's Roman Punch 
Lemon-Marinated Turkey 
Hearts of Palm Vinaigrette 
Seckel Pear Tart 
Snowflake Sugar Cookies 
Corn Crab Cakes with Jalapeño Aioli
These crab cakes don't have a lot of ingredients-they really showcase the delicate crab flavor. If you are fortunate enough to have access to fresh crab and you have the time to prepare it, it's worth the effort. However there are good sources for canned crab-the local fish market is best place to purchase. Jumbo lump, or lump crab is generally the highest grade.
• 2/3 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
• 1 teaspoon dry mustard
• 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/4 cup chopped green onion
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1/3 cup mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
• 1 pound lump good quality crabmeat
• 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, thawed
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons cooking oil
• 1 recipe Jalapeño Aioli
Combine breadcrumbs, mustard, seafood seasoning, pepper, and green onion in medium bowl. Add egg, mayonnaise, and Worcestershire sauce; mix well. Fold in crabmeat and corn. Using moistened hands, shape rounded tablespoon of mixture into about 1-inch patties. Place 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet; heat over medium heat. Add half the patties and cook 8 minutes or until golden, turning once. Transfer crab cakes to ovenproof serving platter or cookie sheet. Keep warm in 300° F oven. Repeat with remaining patties, butter, and oil. Serve warm with Jalapeño Aioli. Makes 30 crab cakes.
In food processor combine 2/3 cup mayonnaise; 1 tablespoon lime juice; 1 to 2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped; 1/2 teaspoon salt; and 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper or ground black pepper. Cover; blend until almost smooth. Transfer to bowl; cover and chill up to 24 hours.
Polenta Cakes with Prosciutto and Butternut Squash Puree
This recipe features the "Three P's" of Italy: polenta, Parmesan, and prosciutto. Polenta is simply corn grits; we like Bob's Red Mill Organic variety (bobsredmill.com). Parmigiano-Reggiano is the premier Parmesan; it is aged at least 2 years, giving the cheese a granular texture and nutty taste that melts in your mouth. Prosciutto is best purchased at an Italian or specialty market; look for a good marbling of fat and have it cut paper-thin.
• 6 cups water
• 2 cups medium-grind polenta
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
• 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• 3 tablespoons snipped fresh cilantro
• 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
• 1/2 cup Butternut Squash Puree
• Fresh snipped sage (optional)
Line 13 x 9 x 2 baking pan with plastic wrap; set aside. In large saucepan bring 4 cups of water to boiling. In medium bowl combine remaining water, polenta, salt, and pepper. Slowly add polenta mixture to boiling water, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture returns to boiling; reduce heat to low. Cook and stir with wooden spoon 10 to 15 minutes until mixture is very thick. Stir in cheese and cilantro.
Pour hot mixture into prepared baking pan; spread into even layer; cool. Cover; chill 4 hours.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease a large baking sheet; set aside. Carefully lift polenta from pan. Using 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inch round cookie cutter, cut circles from polenta, transferring to prepared baking sheet. Bake polenta 25 to 30 minutes until edges are lightly brown and crisp.
Top polenta cakes with prosciutto and butternut squash puree. Sprinkle with sage. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes about 5 dozen.
Butternut Squash Puree:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut a small butternut squash in half lengthwise; remove seeds. Place halves on baking sheet; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Bake squash, cut sides down, 45 to 60 minutes or until flesh is tender. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from shells; transfer flesh to bowl of food processor. Add 2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces and 2 tablespoons heavy cream. Cover and process, scraping down sides of bowl to smooth puree, adding additional cream as necessary. Puree may be made one day ahead and chilled; serve at room temperature. Reserve remaining puree for another use.
When purchasing asparagus, look for bright green stalks and tightly closed tips with a hint of purple. To trim asparagus, simply bend the stalk-the woody end will snap right off.
• 6 cups water
• 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 medium-size onion, diced
• 3 cups chicken broth
• 1 medium-size potato, peeled and diced
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
• 1/8 teaspoon white or black pepper
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
Cut tips from asparagus. Set aside. Chop remaining stalks into 12-inch pieces. Melt butter in 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add onion; cook 3 minutes. Add asparagus stalks and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add broth, potatoes, salt, dill, and pepper. Bring to boil.
Reduce heat to medium-high and cook 10 to 12 minutes uncovered, until potatoes are very tender. Meanwhile, place asparagus tips in small amount boiling water; cook 3 to 4 minutes until crisp tender.
Remove soup from heat and purée until smooth. Stir in heavy cream. Serve warm or chilled, garnished with asparagus tips. Makes 8 appetizer servings.
Saumon Confit (Salmon with Tomato Confit)
For this fish course, it's best to visit a reputable fish market or gourmet grocery and have the fish cut for you. You'll want uniform pieces, preferably center cut.
This recipe also makes an excellent main course; simply purchase fillets that are 5 to 6 ounces each. The cooking time will remain the same.
For a festive holiday meal, alternate the red and green accompaniments between guests when you serve the appetizer
• 4 cups grape tomatoes
• 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots (4 medium shallots)
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 8 (3-ounce) fresh or frozen salmon fillets
Preheat oven to 400°F. Prepare Cilantro-Pesto Vinaigrette; set aside.
For Tomato Confit, in 3-quart baking dish combine tomatoes, shallots, garlic, oregano, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, about 25 minutes or until tomatoes begin to split. Set aside.
For salmon, sprinkle salmon with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In 12-inch oven-safe skillet heat remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Cook salmon, skin side up, 3 to 4 minutes or until golden. Turn salmon. Place skillet in oven; bake 8 to 10 minutes or until salmon flakes when tested with fork.
To serve, place salmon fillets on individual plates. Drizzle 4 servings with Cilantro-Pesto Vinaigrette; spoon Tomato Confit alongside four remaining fillets. Alternately, drizzle vinaigrette over all fillets; accompany each with Tomato Confit. Makes 8 servings.
In blender combine 3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons finely shredded Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds, 1 clove garlic, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Cover; blend until finely chopped. Scrape down sides and blend until smooth, scraping sides again as needed.
Mrs. Robert E. Lee's Roman Punch
For an intermezzo, Greg Van Boven serves this heritage recipe from The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking and Housekeeping Book, by Anne Carter Zimmer, Mrs. Lee's great-granddaughter. Traditionally, the punch is served frozen when used as a palate cleanser. This charming journal of mid-19th-century family life is available at http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-250.html  (Recipe: Copyright ©1997 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.)
Black rum is also known as dark rum; look for a deep amber color.
•Juice of 5 or 6 lemons
• 3 cups sugar
• 1 cup (8 ounces) currant jelly
• 2 quarts minus 1/2 cup water
• 1 cup brandy
• 2/3 cup black rum
• About 5-6 tablespoons or bags of green (or black) tea
Heat about half the water with sugar and jelly, stirring to dissolve. Make tea with the rest. Combine the two mixtures. Cool, add lemon juice, brandy, and rum. Ripen overnight at room temperature, then freeze if you like. Makes about a gallon.
Shop early, shop organic. Organically raised, free-range turkeys have a rich, meaty flavor and stay juicy when cooked. Speak to your butcher about ordering a fresh turkey; we like the heritage breed Bourbon Red.
• 1 8- to 10-pound fresh or frozen turkey
• 1 brining bag or extra-large plastic bag
• 2 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves (about 1-1/4 ounces.)
• 1-1/3 cups orange juice
• 1/2 cup lemon juice
• 10 cloves garlic, halved
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 2 teaspoons ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 2/3 cup olive oil
• Nonstick cooking spray
• Peppered Onion Gravy (optional)
Thaw turkey, if frozen. Using tip of sharp knife, prick turkey in several spots. Place turkey in brining bag set in very large bowl. Set aside.
In large food processor combine cilantro, orange juice, lemon juice, garlic, salt, cumin, and black pepper. Cover; process until almost smooth. With processor running, slowly add oil in thin stream. Pour cilantro sauce over turkey; marinate in refrigerator at least 8 hours or up to 24 hours, turning occasionally*. Coat shallow roasting pan and roasting rack with cooking spray.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Remove turkey from marinade; discard marinade. Place turkey, breast side up, on rack in prepared roasting pan. Insert oven-going meat thermometer into center of inside thigh muscle without touching fat or bone. Tent turkey with foil. Roast 2-1/4 hours. Cut band of skin between drumsticks so thighs will cook evenly. Continue roasting 30 to 45 minutes more or until thermometer registers 180 degrees F, juices run clear, and turkey is no longer pink. Cover with foil to prevent over-browning, if necessary. Let stand, covered, 15 minutes before slicing. Pass Peppered Onion Gravy. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
Peppered Onion Gravy:
In medium saucepan cook 1 large onion, chopped, in 1/4 cup olive oil until tender. Stir in 3 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground pepper until smooth. Add two 14-ounce cans reduced sodium chicken broth. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 1 minute more. Season to taste with salt. Makes 3 cups.
Turkey Breast Option:
Use two 3 to 3-1/2 pound fresh or frozen (thawed) bone-in turkey breast halves and 1/2 recipe marinade. Use tip of sharp knife to prick turkey breast in several spots. Place skin side down in very large self-sealing plastic bag set in baking dish. Marinate as above. Coat shallow roasting pan and roasting rack with nonstick cooking spray. Roast, skin side up, uncovered, in 400°F oven 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Roast turkey 1 to 1-1/2 hours longer or until thermometer registers 170 degrees F. If necessary, cover with foil to prevent overbrowning. Let stand, covered, 15 minutes before slicing. Makes 10 to 12 servings.
*Tip: Because turkey is not totally submersed in marinade, it is important to turn the turkey.
Hearts of Palm Vinaigrette
We do not have an image of this finished recipe to show you, but it is a fairly simple and refreshing after-dinner salad.
shopping tip :
Most of us will purchase canned hearts of palm, since fresh can be difficult to find. For fresh flavor, remove the hearts of palm from the can and store the stalks in their liquid in the refrigerator prior to using.
Serve small portions of this after-dinner salad. The slightly acidic dressing helps clear the palate.
• 4 green onions, sliced
• 1/4 cup snipped fresh cilantro
• 1 (14-ounce) can hearts of palm, drained and sliced
• 1 head Boston lettuce, thinly sliced
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tablespoons Thai peanut sauce
• 1 tablespoon orange juice
• 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
• 1 teaspoon soy sauce
• 1 clove garlic, minced
In large mixing bowl, combine green onions and cilantro. Add hearts of palm and Boston lettuce; toss to combine.
For dressing, in screw-top jar combine olive oil, peanut sauce, orange juice, ginger, soy sauce, and garlic. Cover; shake well. Just before serving, add dressing to salad and toss to coat. Makes 8 servings.
Seckel Pear Tart
shopping tip :
Diminutive Seckel pears (introduced in Pennsylvania in the 17th century) have a sweet, spicy taste. They have firm flesh and hold their shape, which makes them a good baking pear.
Mace has intense nutmeg overtones (it is derived from the outer membrane of nutmeg) and marries beautifully with pears for an unforgettable holiday dessert. This tart is literally easier than pie because you simply fold over the crust.
• 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1-1/2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 teaspoon ground mace
• 1/3 cup shortening
• 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
• 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted and finely chopped
• 8 Seckel pears or 4 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (about 4 cups)
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
• 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
• 1/2 teaspoon ground mace
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 egg white
• 1 tablespoon water
• Spiced Whipped Cream
Line large baking sheet with foil; set aside. For crust: In medium bowl, stir together the 1 1/4 cups flour, the 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon peel, the salt, and the 1/4 teaspoon mace. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until pieces are pea-size. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon ice water over part of flour mixture; gently toss with fork. Push moistened dough to side of bowl. Repeat moistening flour mixture, using 1 tablespoon of remaining ice water at a time, until all flour mixture is moistened. Form dough into ball. On lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten dough. Roll dough from center to edge into circle about 13 inches in diameter. Transfer dough circle to prepared baking sheet.
Preheat oven to 375°F. For filling, spread almonds on dough circle to within 2 inches of edge. Place pears in large bowl. In small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, 4 teaspoons flour, 2 teaspoons lemon peel, and 1/2 teaspoon mace. Toss half of sugar mixture with pears. Mound pear mixture on top of almond-covered dough. Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture over pear mixture. Dot with butter.
Fold dough edge up and over pears, pleating dough gently as needed. In small bowl, combine egg white and 1 tablespoon water; beat with fork. Brush mixture onto top and side of dough. Sprinkle with additional sugar.
Bake about 45 minutes or until filling is bubbly, pears are tender, and pastry is golden. If necessary to prevent overbrowning, cover edge with foil for last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. Cool on baking sheet for 30 minutes. Serve warm. Serve with Spiced Whipped Cream. Makes 8 servings.
Spiced Whipped Cream:
In chilled small bowl, combine 1/2 cup whipping cream, 1 tablespoon sugar, and dash ground mace. Beat with chilled beaters of an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form (tips curl).
Snowflake Sugar Cookies
Most people overlook this small detail: Check your baking powder for an expiration date before making these cookies. Replace if it has gone beyond its "use by" date.
• 2/3 cup butter, softened
• 3/4 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 egg
• 1 tablespoon milk
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel (optional)
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• Powdered Sugar Glaze
In large mixing bowl beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, and salt. Beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat in egg, milk, vanilla extract, and lemon peel until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour. Divide dough in half. If necessary, cover and chill dough about 30 minutes or until easy to handle.
On lightly floured surface, roll half the dough at a time to 1/8 inch thick. Using 2 1/2- to 3-inch cookie cutter, cut into desired shapes. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in a 375°F oven 5 to 7 minutes or until edges are firm and bottoms are very lightly browned. Transfer to wire rack and let cool. Frost with Powdered Sugar Glaze. Makes 36 cookies.
Powdered Sugar Glaze:
Combine 6 cups sifted powdered sugar and 1/3 cup milk in mixing bowl. Stir in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make mixture of glazing consistency.