New Year’s Eve 2010 dinner

Our first harvest of beets and carrots!

Our second annual New Year’s Eve dinner and dance party turned out to be delicious and fun. It stared with a bit of work, as planned, cleaning the garden as best as possible and harvesting things we wanted to use or needed to be picked. I grabbed some of the ‘Early Wonder’ beets, which have proven to be some of my favorites. The roots are strong and healthy, a beautiful deep burgundy color with an impressively sweet-earthy flavor. The greens have been superb, and I have even used the stems as “dippers,” like celery. Our first bunch of  ‘Baby Babette’ carrots looks so pretty next to the beets!

The giant broccoli-less broccoli (don’t know why, but only one out of four plants set a head this year…) didn’t get a photo but was a huge pile of tasty leaves and stems. The tender stem, peeled and sliced, along with some leaves and a few carrot tops turned into a creamy, bone warming soup that made us feel healthy with every bite. Here’s how I made it:

Broccoli leaf and carrot top soup, with cheese crouton and a glass of Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier.

Broccoli Leaf soup

1 qt. chicken stock (thawed, from the freezer)
1 large bunch of broccoli leaves and peeled stem, about 4 cups chopped
Leaves from one small bunch of carrots
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small potato, peeled
1 tsp butter or olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)

Melt the butter or add oil to a large soup pot and saute onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent. Add the potatoes and cook for a few minutes until they start to soften and brown a bit. Add greens and cook, stirring occasionally, until wilted and bright green. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a cup of broth, cover, and simmer until potatoes and stems are tender. Blend (in batches if needed) and strain back into soup pot. Add the rest of the broth and simmer until reduced and slightly thicker. Taste for seasoning and adjust, remove from heat and add optional cream. Serve with croutons. I toasted a slice of baguette and melted some cheese on top.

Celeriac, Gala apples, and Rio grapefruit with garden chives, extra virgin olive oil, a touch of cider vinegar and grapefruit juice, finished with Hawaiian lava salt.I discovered the wine, Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier 09, during last spring’s Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival, and I fell in love. It’s priced around $11 and widely available in Austin. I had already started enjoying it as an aperitif while prepping dinner, and then it was the perfect foil for the soup, which was slightly bitter from the greens but had a nice creaminess too. The aromatic and fruity wine, with its clean citrus and tart apple flavors, was just right, and it carried perfectly to the next course, a palate-cleansing winter salad with Gala apples, celeriac, and Rio grapefruit, based on a recipe from Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, the one that has my review blurb on the back cover 🙂

Peeling the celery root, or celeriac.

Celeriac, aka celery root, is what I call an underutilized beauty, as unattractive on the outside as it is delicious on the inside. Wash it well and peel it carefully, exposing the creamy flesh.  (see below). Slice it thinly with a mandolin if serving raw for a crunchy effect, similar to jicama but less juicy. If you wish to cook it, boil it with skin on until fork tender, then peel and slice. The celery flavor comes through better when cooked, and its starches release making it soft and creamy. It’s awesome mixed in mashed potatoes, or in a root vegetable gratin like I made for Thanksgiving and then pared down for New Year’s. It’s easy: thin slice root vegetables of your choice (parsnip, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celeriac, turnip, rutabaga…), mix with heavy cream and chicken stock to coat, season with salt and pepper, and a dash of nutmeg if you like. Place in gratin dish, cover and bake until almost done. Uncover, top with shredded cheese (Gruyere or Emmental are perfect) and finish in the oven until bubbly and golden.

The main course was conceived around my Christmas present, a two-tiered electric steamer that Willy gave me. I use the electric steamer a lot, and I love that I can use it during the summer without heating up the kitchen. This one, compared to my old Goodwill find, is like the Cadillac of steamers.  Because the picture on the brochure had it filled with lobster tails, that’s what we did.

Two tiered “cadillac of steamers” in action. Bottm shelf: lobster tails. Upper shelf: baby carrots.

I butterflied them and steamed them for 10 minutes. I brushed them with some grapefruit butter (melted butter, grapefruit pulp, salt & pepper) and finished them in the broiler while I sauteed the beet greens and warmed up the plates. Willy opened the next bottle, one of my Top 10 of 2010: Elk Cove Pinot Gris 09. As it turns out I am not the only one who loves this wine, so does the Wine Spectator, with a score of 90 points. Go figure. Find this wine and buy it before the vintage is gone, and while you’re at it, buy a bottle for me. It retails around $20, but it’s absolutely spectacular, alone or with food, and well worth it.

Lobster tail with grapefruit butter, sauteed beet greens, sliced Early Wonder beets, baby carrots, and celeriac potato gratin. Happy New Year!

After the feast we started dancing in the kitchen with the dogs wondering what was wrong us, especially Rosie, who had managed to grab and eat a whole baguette while we were having a cocktail with our neighbors across the street and was totally sacked out on her bed. We opened some Cava rose at midnight, listened to George Harrison sing “Ding Dong” and proceeded to dance silly until the Cava was gone. We even did Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” That’s what I call a successful New Year’s Eve, and all I spent was around $40.

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