Tuesday, January 6, 2009

hog heaven

Most people dream of winning the lottery. My dream is to win a porchetta, like my friend Martha. Although a million bucks stuffed inside the pig would be a nice bonus.

If I were ever-so-lucky to hit the porcine jackpot, I'd do exactly what Martha did: have all my friends over for a day-long feast, preferably New Year's Day. Because when you've got that much pork on your hands, you have to spread the wealth around. And because there's no better way to kick off 2009 than with a plate full of tender, succulent roasted meat. And mac and cheese and roasted beet salad and bourbon balls and a glass of pomegranate punch.

As the party got more and more crowded the food (and booze) kept coming. I wanted to relay the entire menu here, but every time I turned around, another another bowl of salad, or box of candy, or wedge of cheese appeared on the table. There is something to be said about starting off the new year surrounded by so much bounty and so many happy people--old friends reuniting, friends-of-friends meeting for the first time, and little kids darting in and out of the room. It was quite a lovely scene and hopefully a sign of more good things to come.

Pomegranate and cranberry bellinis
Mid-way through the party, this punchbowl was practically drained. I definitely drank my share, but surprisingly, I didn't fall down on the floor. The great thing about this big-batch bellini (other than its prettiness) is that it's incredibly light and drinkable. The recipe comes from Giada De Laurentiis via O magazine. Martha says she made a few adjustments, mainly adding a bag of fresh cranberries to the simple syrup, then straining them out after the berries popped. To make the oh-so-retro ice ring, Martha froze water in a bundt pan. She recommends scattering fruit or flowers or something in the ice ring prior to freezing for a fancier effect, adding that the ring also also keeps the ice from melting too quickly. Very smart!
(Serves about 8 to 12 people)

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 bag fresh cranberries
1 cup ice
1 1/4 cups pomegranate juice, chilled
1 cup cranberry juice, chilled
1 (750 ml) bottle Prosecco, chilled
2 limes thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh mint
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Make the simple syrup by combining the water, sugar, and cranberries in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved and the cranberries have popped. Take pan off heat and allow syrup to cool. Strain the syrup through a mesh sieve to remove the cranberries and reserve the syrup. You can throw away the berries.

Place ice (or your ice mold) in a 6- to 8-cup capacity punch bowl. Add the cranberry syrup, pomegranate juice, and cranberry juice. Stir well. Slowly pour in the Prosecco. Garnish with lime slices, mint sprigs, and pomegranate seeds, and serve. As an alternative to serving in a punch bowl, make Bellini mixture in a 6- to 8-cup pitcher. Divide pomegranate seeds between 12 champagne flutes, add 1 slice of lime and 1 sprig of mint to each glass, and pour Bellini mixture into each.

Bourbon balls
My contribution to the spread. These highly boozy confections are a typical treat around the holidays in the South, particularly in Charleston. And there's no better authority on low country food than the Lee brothers, Matt and Ted Lee. I used their recipe from Men's Vogue, but made a few tweaks, mainly upping the bourbon and nixing the cayenne pepper. I'm sure the spice is a delicious addition but I wanted a more traditional flavor: chocolate, vanilla, with a hint of cinnamon and lots of heat from the bourbon.
(Makes about 30 balls)

1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. ground mace
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons sorghum syrup (or cane syrup, molasses, or honey)
10 oz. vanilla wafers (about 60)
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

In a large bowl, sift 1 cup confectioners' sugar and the cocoa, cayenne, mace, cinnamon, and salt together. In a small bowl, whisk the bourbon and sorghum syrup until well blended. Stir the bourbon syrup into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until the mixture is a dark, glossy paste. In a food processor, pulse the vanilla wafers to fine crumbs, about ten 5-second pulses. Mix the crumbs with the pecans. Stir the pecan and cookie mixture into the cocoa mixture until it becomes consistently doughy and workable, about 2 minutes.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls between your palms. Roll each ball in the remaining confectioners' sugar and place on a sheet of waxed paper. Refrigerate in a container with a tight-fitting lid, with a sheet of waxed paper between each layer of bourbon balls, not more than 4 days.


Unknown said...

You make it all sound so glam!!!!

Thanks for the bourbon balls and everything else...

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun New Years. Think I could handle a bourbon ball? They sound great.

Okay, this is completely incongruous. Did you read today's NYT article on cooking squirrel? Don't you trap them anyway? This could be just the thing if (God forbid) you lose your jobs. No kidding, if properly cooked,would you eat one?

Daniel said...


What's the proper way to cook a squirrel? Kabobs? Deep fried? En papillote?

The main who came to fix our ceiling this week says that our "upstairs neighbor" sounds more like a possum than a squirrel. Possums,of course, have a rich culinary tradition in times of Depression.

Lisa said...

Which leads me to ask: what's really worse living above you, possums or squirrels? Possums have those creepy rat-like tails, but squirrels are so...squirrely.

Back to the topic at hand: Judy, I think you could handle a bourbon ball. Dan, the teetotaler, ate a few and seemed to like them.

And Martha, it was glam. Thanks for the invite.

Anonymous said...

The squirrels were braised.

Vanessa said...

My friend's brother found some buckshot in his "beef" jerky recently.

Lisa said...

Vanessa, that is truly horrifying.

Maggie said...

Wow, that porchetta looks incredible.

Anonymous said...

I've actually eaten squirrel. To some of you this probably won't surprise. Missouri and all that. My brother used to shoot quite a few of the little guys, when he was bored, I guess, and did something or other with their hides. Gifts for girlfriends? Once he cooked squirrel for dinner. That it was truly awful probably speaks more to my family's total failure in the kitchen than to the actual quality or taste of Mr. S's tiny little morsels of meat.

Lisa said...

Carkeys67, that is quite an interesting tale. I'd love to see you and Jo sporting coonskin caps one of these days. Squirrels: bad eating, but quite fashionable.


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