Home cooking isn’t what it used to be – and that’s not a bad thing. Today, home cooks are often more like chefs. They have access to a world of rare ingredients, wherever they live, thanks to the Internet, and they can equip their kitchen with professional-grade equipment that allows them to turn out perfectly cooked meals.
Renowned chef Tim Love, owner of The Lonesome Dove and The Love Shack restaurants in Texas, knows a thing or two about entertaining crowds with delicious meals. He offers these tips for fun and festive holiday parties centered on gourmet foods from your own kitchen.
* Keep it simple. Don’t smother food in pre-made sauce to create artificial flavor. Use ingredients that accentuate the natural, vibrant flavors of the food. A well-cooked steak is one of the signs of a great chef and it’s one of the simplest recipes out there. Instead of marinating a steak in a sauce, just rub it with olive oil, salt and pepper and a little lemon juice.
* Get guests involved. Don’t isolate yourself in the kitchen. Enlist friends to help cook the meal so that you can all enjoy each other’s company while doing something fun. Before guests arrive, organize the ingredients that you’ll be cooking with. With your refrigerator arranged to make the ingredients easy to find, guests will easily be able to grab what’s needed and act as your sous chef.
* Go local. Skip the supermarkets and take advantage of regional resources. If your region hosts farmers markets through the season, take advantage of the produce offered. Otherwise, container gardening in your home for items like herbs can add extra flavor to your dishes. You can also go to local butchers, fishmongers and bakeries to get flavorful, regional ingredients.
* Use the right equipment for the job. During preparation for a big holiday meal, the kitchen can get hectic. If you regularly act as host, it makes sense to have kitchen appliances that can accommodate the extra activity. A French-door refrigerator can give you lots of extra space, and LG’s double oven range gives you extra large capacity in two ovens, allowing you the convenience of being able to cook in the oven at two different temperatures. A lot of holiday meals involve large items, and the top oven is 6 inches high – the tallest in the industry – which makes it easy to cook everything from rack of lamb to a Bundt cake. Try assigning tasks for guests who want to help: Bakers can prep items for the top oven and cooks can get the turkey ready for the bottom oven.
* Clean up as you cook. There’s no getting around the process, so use your time wisely by cleaning up in stages. Start cleaning up while the water is boiling, the food is baking or the turkey is defrosting. Tidying up in small doses will allow you to enjoy your meal and your company more, knowing that a messy kitchen isn’t waiting for you when you’re done.
With Love’s tips in mind, you can hone your cooking and entertaining skills – perhaps to the point where you might consider competing in a cooking contest. The talents of some of the country’s top home chefs were on display at the second annual “Taste of Something Better” recipe contest and cooking competition, hosted by LG Electronics. Chef Love and culinary television personality Ted Allen judged the three contest finalists. The winner, Brett Youmans of Reading, Pa., captured the judges’ imaginations with a recipe for Orange Scented Lamb Skewers atop Watercress and Roasted Fig Salad with Baked Goat Cheese. Youmans represented the United States in LG’s global cooking competition.
His recipe, filled with the rich flavors and textures of cooler months, might just be the ideal centerpiece for your gourmet holiday gathering. If it can wow the celebrity chef judges, imagine the sensation it will create among your guests.
Orange Scented Lamb Skewers atop Watercress and Roasted Fig Salad with Baked Goat Cheese
Prep time: 40 minutes
Marinate time: 15 minutes
Refrigerate time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 to 40 minutes total
Ingredients for the lamb:
6 rosemary branches, about 8 inches long
3 blood oranges
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium shallots, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2.5 pounds lamb sirloin, cut into 1 to 1/2-inch pieces, each piece weighing about 2 ounces
Ingredients for the figs:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon raw honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 fresh black Mission figs, halved lengthwise
Ingredients for the baked goat cheese:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 cup shelled, roasted and lightly salted pistachios, finely chopped
1 large log fresh goat cheese (10 to 12 ounces)
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Ingredients for the salad:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
9 ounces fresh watercress, about 12 cups loosely packed, tough stems removed
Additional salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. To make the skewers, strip off the rosemary leaves from the branches, leaving the top two inches and set the branches aside. Finely chop enough of the stripped leaves to measure 1 tablespoon and set aside.
2. Finely grate enough zest from one of the oranges to measure 2 teaspoons. Slice the same orange (reserving the other two for the salad) and squeeze the juice into a large bowl. Add the orange zest, the tablespoon of chopped rosemary, the garlic, minced shallots and olive oil. Whisk to combine. Add the cubed lamb and toss. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes — or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator, tossing often to distribute the marinade.
3. To prepare the figs, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the olive oil, honey, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the figs and toss to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up, and roast until softened, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool.
4. To make the cheese rounds, reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet that measures at least 10 inches wide by 15 inches long with parchment paper. Place the flour in one bowl, beaten egg in another bowl and the chopped pistachios mixed with the panko breadcrumbs, salt and pepper in a separate bowl. Slice the goat cheese into 12 equal rounds and slightly flatten each into a disk. Dip each disk in flour, then the egg. Transfer to the bowl of pistachios and breadcrumbs. Turn to completely coat and place on prepared baking sheet. Refrigerate for 10 minutes. Drizzle with the olive oil and bake until golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet. When cool, use a spatula to carefully loosen the rounds, transfer to wire racks and cool completely.
5. To prepare the lamb skewers, cut the leafless end of the rosemary branches at an angle to make threading the meat onto it easier. Thread three or four cubes of the marinated lamb on each branch. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Brush a 12-inch or larger nonstick grill pan with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, grill the skewers about three minutes per side for medium-rare. Rotate often with tongs to obtain nice color and evenly distribute heat. Transfer to a warmed platter, cover loosely with foil and set aside while preparing the salad.
6. For the salad, cut the ends off the remaining two oranges. Following the curve of the fruit, remove peel, pith and outer membranes. Cut between the membranes to remove whole sections of orange. Squeeze the juice from the membranes into a large bowl. Add the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Add the watercress and toss to coat. Add orange sections and figs. Toss again.
7. To serve, divide salad between six dinner plates, being careful to evenly distribute the figs and orange sections, about 2 cups per serving. Place one skewer atop salad and garnish with two goat cheese rounds.
All-natural, certified organic lamb is preferred. The lamb cubes should be of even size and spacing on skewers for even cooking and it may be necessary to use a metal skewer to pierce the meat prior to threading on the rosemary twig.
Substitute Canyadria or Kadota figs if necessary, depending on availability.
The cheese should be very cold or slightly frozen to facilitate slicing.