Needed now: a festive, not-too-fancy holiday menu

December 20, 1992|By Pat Dailey | Pat Dailey,Chicago Tribune

The holiday season offers many scenarios for entertaining, from casual tree-trimming parties to formal dinners. But giving formal dinners often is avoided by those who doubt their cooking skills.

The following menu is festive but not so elaborate as to be imposing. A main course of turkey breast is stylish yet easy and economical.

Like the side dishes, it is prepared and served with simple Italian ingredients.

Dessert highlights the meal. Individual chocolate cakes harbor a sweet little secret -- a soft center that spills out when they are cut or bitten into.

It's a dessert that can be found in trend-setting restaurants, but even with the extra step for the filling, the cakes are fairly easy to make.

Turkey breast with onion and sage compote

Yield: 8 servings.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 35 to 40 minutes


1 whole turkey breast, 5 to 6 pounds

1/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup fresh sage, chopped

2 cloves garlic, pressed

3/4 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper


1/4 cup olive oil

2 large onions, cut in thin wedges

2 red bell peppers, cut in strips

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

1/3 cup fresh sage, chopped

salt, freshly ground pepper

1. For turkey, heat oven to 450 degrees. Remove the bone from the whole breast, leaving the skin on the two halves intact. Alternately, buy two turkey breast halves.

2. Combine the oil, garlic, sage, salt and pepper in a small dish. Carefully make a pocket between the skin and meat of each breast.

Spread sage mixture underneath skin.

1% 3. Encase the two halves in a sin

gle large aluminum foil packet, sealing the package airtight.

Place in a shallow roasting pan. Bake for 20 minutes; carefully open the foil to expose the meat.

Continue baking until the internal temperature of the meat is 160 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

4. While the meat is cooking, prepare the compote. Heat the oil in a large skillet.

Add the onions and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often until they begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers and reduce to medium heat.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and brown, 15 minutes.

Stir in the vinegar, honey, sage, salt and pepper; cook 2 to 3 minutes longer.

5. To serve, carve the turkey into thin slices.

Spread the compote over a serving platter and arrange the turkey slices over it.

Roasted zucchini with pancetta

Yield: 8 servings.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

4 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced

2 teaspoons olive oil

salt, crushed red pepper flakes to taste

2 pounds zucchini, diced

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Cook pancetta, olive oil, salt and pepper flakes in a large, oven-proof skillet. Add zucchini and vinegar, toss well and remove from the heat.

2. Transfer to the oven and bake just until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.

Chocolate lava cakes

Yield: 8 servings.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Chilling time: Several hours

Cooking time: 30 minutes

These individual chocolate cakes have a soft center of chocolate fudge that erupts in a rich, dark puddle from the warm cakes. They're best served just out of the oven.


3 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

6 tablespoons whipping cream

1 tablespoon light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla


8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1/4 cup hot coffee or water

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

3 large eggs, separated

cocoa powder for the tops

ice cream or custard sauce for serving

1. For the filling, line a plastic ice cube tray with a large piece of plastic wrap. With your fingers, gently poke the plastic down into eight of the cubes so they are fully lined with plastic.

2. Melt the chocolate with the cream and corn syrup; whisk until smooth. Add the vanilla; set aside to cool until tepid. Fill the eight lined ice cubes with the chocolate; freeze at least 4 hours or cover and freeze up to a month.

3. For the cakes, place rack in center of oven and heat to 425 degrees. Generously butter eight 4-ounce souffle dishes or ramekins. Place them on a jellyroll pan.

4. Melt the chocolate with the coffee. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes; stir in vanilla.

5. Cream the butter and 1/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks, 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stop the mixer and stir in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour and salt with a spatula.

6. Beat the egg whites with a clean mixer until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing )) well after each addition. Continue beating until thick and glossy. Thoroughly mix 1/4 of the beaten whites into chocolate batter; gently fold in the rest.

7. Fill each prepared souffle dish about halfway full with the chocolate batter. Gently bury a frozen chocolate cube into the center of each; add remaining batter, filling cups almost to the top.

8. Bake until cakes are puffy and set, 18 to 20 minutes. Gently loosen from the sides of the dishes and invert onto serving plates. Sift cocoa over the top and serve with ice cream or custard sauce as desired.

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