Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve Dinner: Endive Braised in Cider

So I didn’t mention in my Thanksgiving post that my sister-in-law (my partner’s brother’s wife) called me on Thanksgiving morning while we were en route to Florida to say that she wanted to host my partner’s family for Christmas Eve dinner (as had been floated the year before) and…would I mind cooking it? Mind you my sister-in-law is an excellent cook. Her parents are real foodies and consummate entertainers. Her dad has taken classes at the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, NY, and the way her husband has described staying with her parents for the weekend makes their home sound like a fine inn and always includes some discussion of some fabulous meal(s) they all had together. And Sarah herself has a discerning palate and knows what she likes and how to prepare it. But she is a type A perfectionist and puts more than a bit of pressure on herself when she goes into the kitchen. Plus she’s got two children under five who are constantly demanding her attention so I can see that putting out a dinner and getting the house together on top of all the other holiday expectations of having it all done by December 24th would not put her in a good place. And I’m a firm believer that we should all be “Happy in the Kitchen,” especially when preparing food for loved ones on special occasions! So I consented to make the dinner. Really part of the reason she asked me is because we spend a week with them at the beach together every summer where we (I) cook 3 meals and they (she) cook 3 meals. But seeing her stressing in the kitchen last summer, I offered to cook all of the dinners, which I would do with pleasure as long as they (she) would bring the ingredients for their (her) 3 meals.

Plus I honestly love planning menus for dinner parties! It’s the ISTJ in me I guess, but I love to make a plan and then execute it. I should share my Excel workbook that I use for holiday planning. I’ve got versions of them going back to 2004. They include a calendar with events and to do’s; shopping lists for what I want to buy and how much I’ve budgeted for gifts and other expenses; and of course, menus and shopping lists for dinners and parties I’ll be hosting. Last year’s Christmas dinner menu (which I also prepared at my partner’s father’s house but I’d offered to do that) featured Marcella Hazan’s pork loin braised in milk. Well my sister-in-law didn’t attend that dinner so I wanted to have that again but follow Molly Stevens’ cooking method from All About Braising which is embellished with herbs and garlic and is done as an oven braise of the pork rather than a stove top braise alla Marcella.

Because oven braising requires little attention I thought I’d do an entire meal of braised dishes. We had to have potatoes on the side and Molly says in the intro to “The Simplest Potato and Leek Braise” that it is a dish “I make when I want something luxurious but don’t want to do any real work.” And indeed that is an apt description because if you can peel a potato, wash some leeks, cut them both up and put them in a casserole with some butter, stock and thyme, you’re done with that recipe. In fact we added too much stock to the potatoes and cooked them uncovered longer than suggested to evaporate the liquid. But we ended up with the most delicious potatoes that were the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes and required NO EFFORT! Lastly, pork requires some kind of leafy green or cabbage. Last year was kale but I was leaning towards Molly’s oven braised cabbage or one of my favorite Brussell sprouts preparations. I finally settled on cider-braised endive which is done on the stovetop and has that apple and mustard combo that so perfectly complements pork.

We finished off dinner with a salad of roasted beets, shaved fennel, and arugula with the simplest lemon vinaigrette, and then the most delicious pies—apple galette and chocolate pecan—all of which my sister-in-law pulled off with aplomb! The chocolate pecan deserves special mention because the bittersweet chocolate was the perfect antidote to the usually sickeningly supersweet pecan pie which even this dessert lover can only have a sliver of. I think I’ll be making that myself at some future dinner party. In fact, I think I’ll be recreating the entire dinner for entertaining at home at some point in the next couple of months! What follows is the endive recipe from, which I gather is an Australian food website with an international focus and is quite worth exploring.

Cider Braised Endive with Mustard and Thyme


2 tbl unsalted butter [or olive oil]

6 medium Belgian endive halved lengthwise

Salt and ground black pepper

1 1/3 cups apple cider

2 tbl Dijon mustard

2 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves


1. Melt butter [or a combo of butter and olive oil] in a saute pan large enough to hold the endive in a single layer. [You might need two wide sauté pans at this stage, unless you’d rather cook the endive in stages.] When butter is hot, add endive, cut sides down. Cook, turning once, over medium heat until lightly browned, about 8 minutes total. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Turn endive cut sides down, and add cider to pan. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until endive is tender, about 15 minutes. Use slotted spoon to transfer endive to serving platter.

3. Raise heat to high, and simmer liquid in pan until it thickens and reduces to a syrupy consistency [which could take up to 8 minutes]. Remove from heat, and whisk in mustard and thyme. Adjust seasonings and drizzle over endive.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Time required: 20-25 minutes

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