The Seasonal Chef

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By Janeen Sarlin

Most folks have probably got dinner planned already, but for those who might still be in the process or casting about for ideas or inspiration, here’s a fitting dinner menu for a small, festive, Christmas or New Year’s gathering.

Pour chilled sparkling rosé or champagne into flute glasses and add a few pomegranate seeds for added twinkle. Offer plump cooked shrimp with a spicy cocktail sauce, roasted cashews and almonds, and a slice of paté from your favorite gourmet shop for hors d’oeuvres.

Start the dinner with “a partridge in a pear tree” salad of arugula, pears and chevre. Follow with “three French hens”— (actually two) roast Rock Cornish game hens—with side dishes of purée of carrot and parsnip, and steamed haricots verts. Finish with “maids a-milking” mocha pots de crème and espresso.

Bon appétit, merry Christmas and happy and healthy New Year!

Arugula, Roasted Pears
and Chevre

(Serves 4 to 6)2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted2 or 3 firm Bosc pears, halved lengthwise and coredSea salt and freshly ground black pepper4 to 6 cups baby arugula1 tablespoon sherry or balsamic vinegar2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil4 to 6 ounces fresh goat cheese, softened1/4 cup honey (preferably tupelo, orange blossom, or sweet clover)About 1/4 cup sundried cranberries for garnishAbout 1/4 cup toasted hazelnutsTo prepare:

Preheat the oven to 400. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.

To roast the pears, arrange pear halves cut side down on the buttered sheet. Brush the tops with remaining melted butter. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until just tender to the point of a knife, 20 to 25 minutes.

To dress the greens, place the arugula in a large bowl. Drizzle with the vinegar and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.

To serve, divide the greens among 4 to 6 individual serving plates.

Place a warm roasted pear, cut side up, on the arugula. Add a spoonful of goat cheese on each pear.

Drizzle with honey and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Sprinkle with cranberries and/or toasted nuts and serve at once.

Orange Glazed
Cornish Game Hens

(Serves 4)1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (chives, parsley, and thyme)3 shallots, mincedGrated zest and juice of 1 orange1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperatureCoarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper2 Cornish game hens—about 1½ pounds each—spatchcocked (see below)1/4 cup dry sherry or vermouth1 cup chicken stockTo prepare:

Preheat the oven to 450.

To spatchcock a Cornish game hen, place the bird on a clean cutting board, breast side down. Using poultry shears, make a lengthwise cut on both sides of the backbone from neck to tail. Remove the backbone and save it for stock. Open the bird like a book. (To see a video of spatchcocking, or butterflying, visit http://leisureguy.wordpress.com/2006/07/23/how-to-spatchcock-a-chicken/)

Place the bird on a baking sheet, top it with a second baking sheet, weight it down with a brick or several large heavy cans, and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

In a small bowl, combine the herbs, shallots, orange zest, and butter. Season with salt and pepper and blend.

Loosen the skins of the hens without tearing by running your fingers between the skin and the flesh of the breast.

Place a little of the herb butter under the skin of each bird and spread evenly. Season the hens with salt and pepper, and then rub the skin with the remaining herb butter.

Place the hens skin side up in a large roasting pan.

Roast until the birds are golden brown and the juices run clear, about 30 minutes. Transfer the hens to a large warm platter and tent loosely with the aluminum foil to keep them warm.

Place the roasting pan on the range top over medium heat. Deglaze the pan with vermouth.

Add the chicken stock and orange juice and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Cook until reduced and slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Taste and correct the seasonings, spoon the sauce over the hens, and serve at once.

Mocha Pots de Crème*

(Serves 8)1½ cups whole milk1½ cups heavy cream1/2 cup espresso roast coffee beans, lightly crushed3 tablespoons sugarOne 3-inch cinnamon stick5 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate, 70% cocoa or higher, chopped4 large egg yolks2 large eggs1/2 cup heavy cream for whipping, sweetened to tasteSplash pure vanilla extractTo prepare:

Preheat the oven to 350. Position the rack in the center of the oven.

Place eight 6-ounce ramekins on a roasting pan or use a large 2-quart soufflé dish.

In a large heavy saucepan over moderate heat, add the milk, cream, coffee beans, sugar, cinnamon stick and chocolate.

Stir to blend and gently cook until the chocolate is melted, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently but make sure the mixture does not boil. Remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together until blended. Using a fine-meshed sieve set over a large measuring pitcher, pour the steeped hot milk mixture, discard the cinnamon stick and coffee beans.

Then, with the beaters moving, slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs; blend but do not over-whip.

Pour the custard mixture into the ramekins or soufflé dish. Pour hot water into the pan to measure about two-thirds of the way up the sides. Loosely cover the pan with foil and bake until the centers are just set.

Shake each ramekin gently to check if the custard jiggles, usually takes about 40 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack, cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate at least 6 hours or up to three days.

Just before serving, whip the cream with vanilla and add sugar to taste. Place a dollop in the center of each ramekin, or on top of each serving from a soufflé dish, and serve.

*Adapted from Diane Morgan’s “The Christmas Table,” Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2008.

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