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Making Merry: Holiday Dinner for Eight

For the cook, the holiday moment to savor is the one when you pull all the food from the oven. It's not just the timing or the conviviality that warms you, but a certain deep satisfaction that wells up when dinner is about to be served. The pork roast is carved and garnished, glistening, aromatic, and grand. Its bed of vegetables, their edges appealingly caramelized, provides a homey accompaniment. Dessert waits in a warm spot, creamy glazed pears set off by crisp cookies stamped into stars.

After you've finished setting the food in place, and the guests find their way to the table, step back and look around at the old friends and family you've brought together. Savor a bit of conversation, raise a glass, and enjoy the cheer.


Holiday dinner for eight

  • Roast pork loin with Dijon herb crust on a bed of roasted vegetables
  • Cranberry-prune jam
  • Glazed pears with cream
  • Sugar cookie stars

Roast Port Loin With Dijon Herb Crust on a Bed of Roasted Vegetables

PORK

1 center-cut pork loin with 8 rib chops (bones cracked by the butcher for easy carving later)
1 large clove garlic, very thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 sprigs fresh sage
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons flour
Extra chopped rosemary and sage (for garnish)

Set the oven at 450 degrees. Use a small, sharp knife to make tiny slits all over the meat and insert pieces of garlic in the slits.
Pull the rosemary and sage from their stems. Finely chop the herbs and transfer them to a bowl. With a fork, mash the mustard into the leaves, then add the oil, a few drops at a time. Blend in salt, pepper, and flour.

Place the pork, fat side up, in a roasting pan fitted with a rack. With the back of a spoon, spread the herb mixture all over the meat. Transfer the pork to the hot oven and roast it for 30 minutes.

Turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees and continue cooking the pork for 50 to 60 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork registers 155 degrees. (Pork is done at 160 degrees; the temperature will rise 5 degrees as the meat rests in a warm place.)

Vegetables

2 large parsnips, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3-inch pieces
4 large carrots, quartered lengthwise and cut into 3-inch pieces
2 large russet potatoes, cut into thick rounds
2 sweet potatoes, halved and cut into thick slices
1 rutabaga, halved and cut into thick slices
2 turnips, cut into thick wedges
Olive oil (for drizzling)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup chicken stock
In a roasting pan, combine the parsnips, carrots, regular and sweet potatoes, rutabaga, and turnips. Drizzle them with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the stock into the pan at the side.

Cover the pan with foil, shiny side down, and transfer the vegetables to the hot oven with the pork. Roast them for 1 hour.

Remove the foil and roast the vegetables uncovered for 30 minutes or until they are very tender.

For the meat: Remove the meat from the oven and let it sit in a warm place, loosely covered with foil, for 15 minutes.

Slice the loin into thick chops. On a large, warm platter, arrange the vegetables around the rim and set the slices of pork, overlapping, down the middle. Sprinkle with the extra rosemary and sage and serve at once with the cranberry-prune jam on the side.

Serves 8

Cranberry-Prune Jam

2 cups hot tea
2 cups pitted prunes, halved
1 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into 8 wedges
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon dried thyme

Brew the tea. Add the prunes and cranberries to the tea and let them sit until the tea is cool and the fruits are plump.

In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the oil. When it is hot, add the onion and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, or until the onion is singed brown. Add the salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper.

Turn down the heat and cover the pan. Cook the onion over very low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until it is translucent.

Remove the prunes and cranberries from the tea and add them to the onions. Add the vinegar, sugar, stock, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and continue cooking for 30 minutes, stirring often, or until the fruits have a jammy quality.

Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Serve at once or transfer to a plastic container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

Serves 8

Glazed Pears With Cream

Butter (for the dish)
8 ripe Bosc or Bartlett pears
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
About 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
Have on hand 2 baking dishes, each about 10 inches long, or any other dishes that will hold 16 pear halves, flat sides down. Butter the dishes generously only on the bottom.

Set the oven at 400 degrees. Peel the pears, halve them, core them, and set them, cut sides down, in the dishes. You can arrange them so they sit tightly, but they must lie flat.

Sprinkle the pears with the cream and sugar, coating each one lightly. Transfer the pears to the hot oven and bake them for 25 minutes or until they are tender.

Turn on the broiler. Slide the dishes under the broiler and cook them for 2 minutes. (Take care that the dishes are not so close to the heating element that they shatter.) Serve at once.

Serves 8

Sugar Cookie Stars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites, lightly beaten until frothy
3 cups flour
Extra flour (for the counter)
Extra sugar (for rolling)
Have on hand a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and a 2-inch star cutter.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and add the sugar, little by little, until the mixture is soft and light.

Add the egg whites gradually, then add the flour 1 cup at a time until the mixture forms a dough.

Turn it out onto a counter, knead it lightly with flour, then shape it into a round, flat cake. Wrap the dough in foil and refrigerate it for 1 hour.

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Sprinkle the counter with sugar and roll out the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness, sprinkling the dough with more sugar as you roll. Dip the star cutter in sugar and stamp out cookies, rerolling the scraps until you have 36. Arrange them on the parchment paper, sprinkle with sugar, and bake them for 16 minutes or until they begin to turn golden at the edges.

Cool the cookies on wire racks and store in an airtight tin.

Make 3 Dozen

By Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven from The Boston Globe

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