To the Meat of the Holiday Season

It's the Friday before a big long holiday weekend, and maybe you're still running around picking up guests or presents.

Or maybe you're just like me and haven't EVEN begun to put together a menu for the weekend. I'm shooting to get to the store this evening, with list in hand and inspiration in my pocket.

Since time is of the essence, and I've still got a bunch of work to do before the fun begins, the operative word is "simple" for preparing this weekend's festive supper.

So I'm thinking main dish as the star, veggies, etc. as the supporting cast. I want cooking time to be minimal or, at least, low maintenance enough so that I can sip on a glass of wine without worrying if something is burning.

Here's what I've got up my sleeve, representing various protein departments, and a possible meatless item as well, just in case I've got a vegetarian friend stopping by.

I haven't done it in a year or so, but to be honest, I'm craving a roast beast. There are only a few mouths to feed, so I'll forego a monstrous standing rib roast or thick porterhouse slab. Instead, I'm thinking a rump roast . . . a simple roast beef, if you will.

The rump is from the cow's behind. It's a tender and flavorful cut of meat and readily available at the butcher's counter. Nothing fancy here.

You can marinate ahead in wine, garlic cloves and black pepper corns or you can simply salt and pepper it really well, lather it up with olive oil and cook it at 500 degrees for 20 minutes, then bring it down to 300 until desired doneness.

You can throw whole shallots and potatoes in the roasting pan or you can prepare the accompaniments separately. Your call. This is possibly one of the easiest holiday meals of, requiring very little brainpower with high-yield carnivorous results.

Okay, so this is too Fred Flintstone for your tastes? What about something meaty but more stewy instead? I'm thinking braised lamb shanks, cooking slowly in a casserole pot on top of the stove or away from all the noise, inside the oven. Either way, you don't need to be constantly attending to the shanks and can enjoy the 90 minutes of down time while they're transforming into tender morsels.

For many, fish is a traditional part of Christmas feasts, resplendent with seven courses and well, an amazing amount of work. Should you feel obligated to the fish theme, consider roasting a whole fish instead - with less hassle and equally dramatic results. Red snapper is one of my favorites for this method, which simply involves stuffing the cavity with herbs and chopped leeks. Salt and pepper inside and out thoroughly (even to the point of over salting) and then finish with a good rub of olive oil. Place in a roasting pan at 350 and let it cook until the eyeball is a solid white pellet. You may turn on the second side after the first 15 minutes.

Rice, dotted with pomegranate seeds or chopped parsley and/or toasted cashews, makes a great side for this gorgeous main dish.

Under most circumstances, I would recommend a more complicated array of dishes for the meatless set, but remember, the theme here is simple. Lasagna, as we all know, is nice, but time consuming. Roasted squash filled with pilaf is lovely, but didn't we just have that at Thanksgiving? Risotto is always intriguing, but this year, I just don't feel like standing and stirring.

However, what do appeal to me are rice cakes, seasoned with a sassy Creole-style tomato sauce. Long-grain rice gets shaped with eggs, oat bran and the sauce and bake in the oven for less than 30 minutes. Below are the details.

That said, I'm off to the store. Have a delicious holiday weekend!

Creole Rice Cakes With Spicy Tomato Sauce
Adapted from "The Ethnic Vegetarian" by Angela Shelf Medearis

Ingredients:
Spicy Tomato Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 stick butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped (optional, I feel, especially during winter)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
24 ounces tomato puree
1/2 cup vegetable stock
a small handful of mushrooms, chopped

Rice Cakes
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 cup oat bran
1 cup spicy tomato sauce (see above)
1 teaspoon salt
parsley for garnish

Method:

Heat oil and butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, celery, bell pepper, zucchini and cook for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add oregano, cumin, salt sugar and nutmeg and stir to combine, cooking a few more minutes.

Stir in tomato sauce, vegetable stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove 1 cup of sauce and set aside to add to rice cake mixture, straining it of vegetables and returning them to the pan. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, until brown.

Prepare rice according to package directions. Cool completely. Preheat oven to 350.

Beat eggs in a large bowl until foamy. Add rice, oat bran, reserved tomato sauce and salt. Mix well.

Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with butter or shortening.

Evenly divide rice mixture among the cups, filling to the rim. Bake for 25 minutes, or until rice cakes are dry to the touch. Cool slightly and then loosen from cups. Place on plates, with a little more sauce and parsley garnish.

By kimodo |  December 23, 2005; 11:41 AM ET  | Category:  Entertaining
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