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The Holiday Feast
Tis the Season to Pull Out All the Stops
By Kirk Leins


The Holiday Feast - Tis the Season to Pull Out All the Stops - By Kirk Leins

Are you feeling somewhat anxious lately? Do you find yourself cringing every time you pass a holiday display at the supermarket? Have your dreams been filled with visions of relatives complaining about overcooked food? If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, chances are you've been given the privilege of hosting this year's holiday family meal.

The reason for your apprehension is no real secret. You've probably never hosted an event like this before and have no idea where to start. All you can think about are some of the disastrous dinners you've attended and the resulting jokes made at the expense of the host. Kind of makes you wish you hadn't laughed, huh?

If this is the predicament you're in, step back and take a deep breath because help is on the way. I've created a menu that is not only spectacular but also completely manageable for the novice cook. If you happen to be an experienced chef, think of this article as your inspiration to do something different, as the natural tendency is to make the same dishes every year.

One of the leading causes of culinary repetition is the lack of choices in terms of appropriate holiday meals. We've just celebrated Thanksgiving so the tendency is to stay away from turkey. For those who keep Kosher, a holiday ham isn't going to work either. Duck, goose, and game meats aren't always easy to find, so they're off the list of possibilities. What else is left?

Before I answer that question, let me ask a few of my own. What if I told you there is a cut of meat so fantastic that some restaurants feature it as their sole entrée? And what if I told you that a perfect, and I mean perfect, preparation of said cut of meat is simply a matter of following a few instructions? But then I must also disclose the tradeoff - it's going to cost you a little money, maybe more than you've ever spent on one trip to the butcher. Would you do it? Would you pay a little more money to know that you were going to hit a holiday home run?

If you answered "yes", then you've come to the right place because I'm suggesting you make a standing rib roast, a.k.a. Prime Rib! If you're sensing my enthusiasm, then you're spot on because I LOVE prime rib during the holidays. Buttery meat with a deep, beefy flavor; crispy rib bones loaded with succulent sustenance; awesome accompaniments like horseradish and jus. What's not to love? Prime rib will make your guests feel like they just ate something really special.

Before we talk recipes, let's talk menu. For starters, you can't serve prime rib without serving the aforementioned horseradish and jus alongside, so I'll show you how to make a great jus. Secondly, there is no better vegetable side dish for prime rib than creamed spinach. I'll be sharing a version with you that rivals those found at a steak house.

At this point, the meal is decadent enough to warrant minimizing the richness of the starch component. In other words, serving either roasted or possibly baked potatoes with prime rib and creamed spinach would be both perfect and easy. But here's the problem. My foolproof method of making prime rib requires that you not open your oven, not even for a second, once the roast has been placed there. This means that unless you have a second oven (which some homes do), you're stuck with utilizing only your stovetop to make your potatoes.

That being said, I'm suggesting you go with either mashed potatoes or their sibling, "smashed" potatoes. Feel free to use your favorite recipe for either of these dishes. The only other component I'd serve with this meal is a green salad as a starter. There you have it; Prime Rib with Jus and Horseradish, Creamed Spinach, Mashed Potatoes and a Simple Green Salad. Your guests are going to love you!

Purchasing Your Prime Rib Roast
When shopping for your prime rib roast, you'll want to start by visiting a reputable butcher or market. Keep in mind that most places don't keep larger rib roasts in stock, so you 'll most likely have to order it ahead of time. Make sure you ask your butcher how long this process will take so that you won't find yourself roast-less on the big day.

Also, make sure you order a "Standing Rib Roast". "Standing" refers to the fact that the rib bones are attached to the roast, which is exactly what you want. As opposed to a "Rolled Roast", where the rib bones are removed, standing roasts bring extra flavor to the party. There's also the fun of removing all of that tasty meat from the ribs, which your guests will enjoy.

The first thing you have to decide is, how large of a roast will you need? A good rule of thumb is roughly 2 people per rib. In other words, if you have 10 eaters, you'll need to order a 5-rib roast. Not everyone will be eating a rib, so unless you're hosting some unusually big appetites, this formula should work just fine.

The next thing you'll need to decide is whether to go with a Prime or Choice cut. Personally, I think Choice works perfectly. The only difference between the two grades on a roast like this is the extra marbling of fat which comes with Prime. It's an awesome feature, but trust me when I say there's enough fat throughout a Choice cut to keep it moist and flavorful. Going with Choice will save you money and, unless you have a beef aficionado at the table, no one will know the difference.

Perfect Prime Rib

  • 1 Standing rib roast of either prime or choice quality (size will depend on number of guests)
  • Herbs d' Provence
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Allow the rib roast to come to room temperature. With a cut of meat this size, you must take it out of the refrigerator the moment you wake up in the morning. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the top of the roast with oil (including the bones), and season it all over with salt, pepper, and herbs d' Provence. Place the roast, rib side down, on a rack positioned inside of a roasting pan. Place the meat in your oven, and roast for one hour. At the end of the hour, turn off the heat but DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR.

When guests arrive, or whenever it's appropriate, turn the oven back on to 375 degrees. From the point you turn the oven back on, roast 35 minutes for rare, 40 minutes for medium-rare, 45 minutes for medium and 50 minutes for well. Note: the roast must sit in the unopened oven anywhere between 2 and 3 hours before turning the oven back on, so calculate your start time accordingly. Remove the roast from the pan, and place it on top of a sheet pan or a large platter. Allow it to rest for 15-20 minutes before serving.

While your roast is resting, let's make the Jus:

Start by removing any fat from the roasting pan using either a large spoon or turkey baster. Allow any meat juices or "stuck-on" bits to remain in the pan. Place the roasting pan over two burners of your stove top, and set them both to a medium-high heat. Add ½ cup dry red wine, and bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up any bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Once the wine has reduced by half, add 1 cup (or more) of a low-sodium beef stock, and bring to a simmer. You can also add any juices from the roast which have accumulated in the sheet pan while resting. Season with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and allow the mixture to reduce for about five minutes. Strain into a serving vessel and keep warm.

When your roast is ready for carving, start by slicing off one end just to the point where it hits the first bone. This will be your end cut. Then slice directly on the other side of the bone. This will be your first bone-in piece. Take off your second boneless cut and repeat this process until your roast is totally sliced. You will end up with a nearly equal portion of bone-in and boneless cuts.

While your roast is sitting inside of the oven (that's been turned off), it's a perfect time to begin preparing your creamed spinach. You can finish making it during the final roasting of the prime rib.

Creamed Spinach (serves 6)

  • 3 lbs (about 4 large bunches) spinach, wash and trimmed of heavy stems
  • 12 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp flour
  • 3/4 C milk
  • 8 to 10 slices of smoked bacon, chopped
  • 3 Shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 3/4 C heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a pot of salted, boiling water, blanche the spinach for 30 seconds. Drain in a colander under cool running water. Once cooled, use your hands to squeeze out as much water from the spinach as you can. Roughly chop the spinach, and set aside in a bowl.

Meanwhile, melt 8 Tbsp of butter in a saucepan over low heat. Add flour, and whisk continuously for two minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, then stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes until sauce is thick. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp of butter over medium heat and add bacon. Cook bacon until it browns. Add shallots, and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Reduce heat, and add spinach and reserved white sauce. Stir until the sauce fully incorporates with the spinach. Add cream, remaining butter, and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pot and keep warm.

There you have it, two great recipes that are perfect for any holiday celebration!

If anyone decides to make this for their holiday meal, I wouldn't mind an invitation. For the record, I'll take a bone-in piece cooked closer to rare than medium…extra horseradish on the side, please.

Happy Holidays!


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