Whether you are planning a buffet or a sit-down dinner, baked ham is a great choice for your main course. I have created many a baked ham recipe over the years, but this is my go-to recipe. It touches all of the bases--an easy recipe for a sweet, sticky, and fruity glaze with a little savory kick to balance the salty meat. Always start with a bone-in ham. When I bought a ham for my mom recently, she told me NOT to bring back one of the pre-sliced ones because they are too salty for her. She's right--in order to compensate for the juices lost from pre-slicing, most companies pump the meat with "sodium solution" a.k.a. salt water. If you can't find pineapple preserves, use peach or apricot.
For a guy who has created hundreds (if not thousands...it's true!) recipes over the years, it is difficult to choose my favorite recipes. But, this roast pork, which I created for the folks at Driscoll's Berries, is up at the top of the list. It is absolutely perfect for the holidays. The roast can be wrapped in the pancetta a day ahead and roasted just before dinner, and the pan deglazed with the premade sweet and savory sauce. Blackberries are not a traditional holiday ingredient, but they are in season in California and you will find plump, sweet purple berries in your market this week. They add an element of surprise to the classic holiday roast.
Readers who know me as a purist may be surprised to see my version of the famous gut-buster, cassoulet. This bean and meat casserole from southwestern France is brimming with flavor (thanks to loads of fatty pork and duck confit), but it also takes a good amount of time to make. In my catering days, I made mountains of cassoulet, and at the request of clients, learned how to reduce its heft while keeping every drop of flavor. My chicken version has become one of my most reliable dishes for a holiday buffet--all you need is a green salad and some crusty bread, and you are in business. For a completely French Christmas menu with an outstanding Francophile dessert, serve the bûche de Noël. I haven't quite decided on my holiday menu yet, but the more I write about this combination, the better it sounds.
I was raised in the suburbs of Oakland, California. Growing up, the East Bay had a bit of an inferiority complex, especially when it came to comparisons with the gourmet Mecca across the bay, San Francisco. Even though we had a working farm across the street from my high school that grew such seasonal delicacies as strawberries and asparagus, the farm-to-table movement was a given then, and the luster of Fisherman's Wharf's restaurants made us feel like hicks. (Shucks, all we have is fresh artichokes and peas, and they have Steak Diane!) Now when I go home to Oakland, the dining scene is so vital that I hardly venture into "The City" (the local's nickname for San Francisco--it is NEVER called "Frisco") at all.
One of my first stops when I go home is the Merritt Bakery, right on Lake Merritt, the body of water that is surrounded by Oakland proper. It is basically an old-school bakery featuring miles of glass display cases filled with towering pastries with thick swirls of whipped topping. But the equally retro restaurant section is the compelling reason for my visit. I had many a post-movie hamburger here on high school dates, back when I could down the french fries and an accompanying vanilla shake without guilt. Now, I replace these with an equally sinful indulgence--waffles with fried chicken. Here's my version from Breakfast Comforts.
My brain is working overtime trying to find something positive in the cold weather that we have had on the east coast this winter. About the only thing I can come up with is that the chilling temperatures are the perfect excuse for braising meaty stews for supper. Lamb shanks are a cut that clearly illustrates why meat on the bone is so prized by serious cooks. The bones give up their gelatin to lend a wonderful texture to the sauce, and the meat is the personification of succulence. One of the reasons I love it is because (outside of the lamb shanks, which require a trip to the store), I can pull it off with ingredients that I have in the house--canned tomatoes, olives, vino, and other Mediterranean staples. It's what I am making for dinner tonight. (photo by Ben Fink)
OK, Andrea (and the other countless friends who have declared this the best macaroni and cheese ever), here is the answer to your request. The only way it could be better is if it didn't have any calories. The recipe based on one from Comfort Foods, a book that I loved writing. If you are wondering what the chunky brown thing is in the photo, it is a sauteed mushroom--a good addition to the dish if you happen to have them around.