Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Roasted pork, sweet potatoes for a cozy Christmas dinner at home

Addie Broyles
Austin 360
This stuffed pork loin is from "Epic 30-Minute Roasts" by Maja Zver and Jernej Zver.

When my oldest son was little, I spent the first few holiday seasons adjusting to this new stage of adulthood. It's one thing to experience Thanksgiving and Christmas as a daughter, usually traveling home to be with my parents and sister to celebrate the holidays as we'd always done together when I was still a child and young adult.

But becoming a parent meant creating that feeling of coziness — or hygge, as the Danes call it — on my own. Julian, now 13, doesn't remember those early days of hanging a diminutive stocking for him and setting up our first little tree, a potted rosemary bush trimmed into the shape of a tree that we affectionately named Rose Marie.

My first Christmas tree in Austin was a small rosemary bush cut into the shape of a Christmas tree. I still associate the winter holidays with the smell of rosemary.

He was too young to try my first attempt at a Christmas feast, porchetta and Yorkshire puddings, which his dad and I enjoyed, if I remember correctly, while he was sleeping in his crib. By the time he was joining us at the table, I'd had a few years to practice getting all the elements right: Christmas music playing over the TV — these were the pre-streaming days when we relied on cable's music stations — with spiced cider simmering on the stove while I prepped some kind of roast to put in the oven.

These small holiday dinners with just the three of us were so tender. We didn't have much money for presents. Our duplex was so small and our social circle so small that we couldn't host a big dinner even if we wanted. Like many young couples, we were stumbling our way through countless firsts on a wink and a credit card.

We hadn't yet had our youngest son, and we were still a few years away from deciding to raise them in separate homes, but looking back, I see the roots of beautiful winter rituals that carry on today in both of our homes. 

The boys go back and forth between our houses every few days, and we don't fight over the holidays. If my ex-husband wants to have them on Christmas Day, I'm happy to let them go to his house, where I know he'll have a fire in the fireplace, a chicken in the oven, mashed potatoes on the stove and candles warming every room of the house.

Whenever the kids and I have our Christmas celebration, I make sure we're restocked on candy canes — they usually eat the first batch by the time we get to the end of the month — and I have some nice apple juice and cinnamon sticks to make that cider. I pull out my mom's three-ring binder of family recipes to look up (again) how to make her breakfast casserole for Christmas morning. I usually treat myself to a holiday shop at Central Market to pick up a nice cut of meat, some fancy cheeses and maybe a bottle of bubbly.

For Christmas many years ago, my mom made a three-ring binder of family recipes that includes several holiday classics, such as a sausage-filled breakfast casserole and this cherry delight.

I still don't host large holiday dinners, so this year's cozy Christmas dinner at home won't be much different from those early ones. When I stop to think about how much has changed in the past 13 years, I'm grateful for how my little co-parented family has banded together over the past 9 months to make sure the kids feel as much stability as we can give them. These rituals are soothing for adults, too. 

Aromatic Stuffed Pork Loin Roast

There is nothing more glamorous than an aromatic, stuffed pork loin roast, also known as porchetta. This magnificent piece of roasted meat deserves the center position on your dinner table because it truly is a showstopper. Tender, juicy roasted pork with crispy, golden-brown skin and a sweet, herby stuffing make this the perfect main dish for all kinds of autumn and winter celebrations and holidays. Now you can make it in 30 minutes by choosing the right, smaller cut of meat and by roasting it at a high temperature. Feel free to use a center pork loin cut or suckling pig loin cut; however, make sure that the meat isn’t thicker than 1 inch when it’s butterflied and laid out. If it’s thicker, pound it with a rolling pin to the thinner measurement before spreading over the stuffing, to ensure the proper roasting time.

— Maja Zver and Jernej Zver

For the pork: 

1 cup mixed fresh herbs, such as sage, rosemary, thyme and parsley

1/2 cup dried apricots or cranberries

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon panko breadcrumbs

1 1/2 to 2 pounds boneless blade-end pork loin roast, butterflied

1 tablespoon olive oil

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven, then heat it to 480 degrees.

For the pork, in a blender or food processor, combine the herbs, apricots, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and the panko. Pulse until the mixture is crumbly and combined, about 30 seconds. Set aside the mixture.

Place the butterflied pork loin on a baking sheet. Season it with salt and pepper on both sides. Spread the stuffing over one side of the pork. Roll the meat lengthwise. Using kitchen string, tie the pork tightly, with the strings 1 inch apart. Drizzle the pork all over with the oil.

Spread the filling on top of the pork and then roll tightly to create this stuffed roast.
Tie up the pork with kitchen twine before roasting.

Roast the stuffed meat on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 135 degrees. Remove the stuffed pork loin from the oven. Let the meat rest for a few minutes, then slice it, and serve it warm with the green bean salad, rutabaga and gravy. If you prefer your pork well-done, cut it in slices after the meat has rested, then sear it in a nonstick pan with a bit of oil until it’s golden brown.

— From "Epic 30-Minute Roasts" by Maja Zver and Jernej Zver (Page Street Publishing, $22.99)

Christmas ‘Cheese’ Ball

Oh, the Christmas cheese ball. A dreaded holiday tradition for some. A surprisingly beloved tradition for so many more, including my 13-year-old, who recently said that the pecan-coated cheese ball that my mom makes every Christmas "changed his life." That sounds like hyperbole from a cream cheese-loving teen, but maybe you, too, feel so connected to this sculptural dip. This vegan version from "Vegan Christmas: Plant-Based Recipes For the Festive Season" by Audrey Fitzjohn (Smith Street, $14.95) includes instructions for making homemade cashew cheese, which is good no matter how you serve it. Feel free to replace it with room temperature cream cheese or chevre, which you can mix with thyme and then coat in pecans and cranberries.

— Addie Broyles

Even if you don't eat cheese, you can still make a cheese ball. This version comes from "Vegan Christmas."

1 cup raw cashew nuts, soaked for 4 hours and drained

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

2 teaspoons white miso

Pinch of salt

6 thyme sprigs, leaves picked, plus extra to serve

1/2 cup pecans

3/4 cup dried cranberries

Place the cashews, nutritional yeast, coconut oil, miso and a pinch of salt in a food processor and process to a smooth paste. Add the thyme leaves, season with salt, then mix briefly to incorporate.

Place the "cheese" on a sheet of muslin (cheesecloth) and use your hands to shape it into a round ball. Tie the top with kitchen string, then place it in a round-based bowl. Set aside in the fridge overnight.

Crush the pecans and mix them with the cranberries. Unwrap the "cheese" and roll it in the pecan-cranberry mixture, ensuring it is fully coated. Decorate with extra thyme leaves and serve with crackers. Serves 8.

— From "Vegan Christmas: Plant-Based Recipes For the Festive Season" by Audrey Fitzjohn (Smith Street, $14.95) 

Sea Salt and Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Texas Pecan Butter

Sweet potatoes aren't just for Thanksgiving. Fragrant rosemary smells as much like Christmas to me as pine needles, which puts this recipe from the Texas Pecan Board and chef Melissa Guerra solidly in the Christmas camp. Even the most novice cooks can make these simply roasted sweet potatoes, and the pecan butter served on top also could go with soft, fluffy yeast rolls or on a warm bowl of oatmeal.

— Addie Broyles

This sweet potato is topped with pecan butter.

For the pecan butter:

4 ounces butter, unsalted, softened

1/4 cup chopped Texas pecans

For the sweet potatoes:

6 to 8 medium-size sweet potatoes

Vegetable oil (about 1 teaspoon per sweet potato)

Flaked sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon per sweet potato)

1 to 2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves removed and minced

To make the pecan butter, place the softened butter in a glass pie plate. Pour over the chopped pecans, and fold together until the pecans are distributed evenly throughout the butter. Using a rubber spatula, gather the butter together. Transfer the butter to a piece of waxed paper and form the parcel into a log shape. Chill the butter in the refrigerator until ready for use.

To prepare the sweet potatoes, heat your oven to 400 degrees and line a baking tray with parchment paper. 

Prepare the sweet potatoes by scrubbing the skin lightly under running water. Pat dry. Brush the sweet potatoes with vegetable oil and then sprinkle over the salt and rosemary to form a crust on the skin. Do not wrap in foil. Bake the sweet potatoes for one hour until they are easily pierced with a fork.

Serve the sweet potatoes hot from the oven, split down the middle with a dollop of the pecan butter. Serves 6 to 8.

— Texas Pecan Board

Mini Herbed Meatloaves

In addition to proper seasoning, a good panade — simply a mixture of milk and dried bread (usually stale bread or breadcrumbs) — is the key to good meatloaf. The wet bread mixture helps thicken the meatloaf mixture while keeping the meat tender and moist during the baking period. We prefer dried herbs in sausages, meatloaf, meatballs and the like — the flavor is punchier and seasons the meat more consistently throughout. 

A couple of tips to save your meatloaf before it's too late: Crack your eggs into a separate bowl before adding them to the meat mixture. By that point in the process, you've put a lot of your ingredients (including meat, which doesn't come cheap) into a single mixing bowl. This is not the moment you want to discover you've got a bad egg and have to toss everything and start again. If you're trying to get a jump on dinner, you can form these meatloaves the night or morning before you plan to eat them. Just cover the shaped loaves loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you're a little over an hour from eating time. Make sure you allow time to fully heat your oven before baking the loaves. Serve with the side of your choice, such as wax beans, mashed potatoes or honey-glazed carrots. 

— Mike Cioffi

This mini meatloaf is from "The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook."

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/2 cup whole milk

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 large eggs

1/2 pound ground pork

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (80% lean)

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup tomato ketchup

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, then season with the salt, pepper, thyme, oregano and rosemary. Reduce the heat down to medium-low, and give everything a stir. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally to keep the onion from browning, until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for at least 5 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk, panko, cooled onion (set the oily skillet aside; you’ll need it again), and eggs and stir together. The mixture will be the texture of loose cornbread batter — this is your panade.

To the milk-panko mixture, add the pork and beef and combine using your hands or a wooden spoon. Add the Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and mustard, and continue mixing, working along the sides of the bowl to fold the meat over itself and back into the mixture, until thoroughly combined. The mixture will be loose and wet but will hold its shape in the bowl.

Reheat the skillet over high heat. When a droplet of water sizzles and disappears, it’s hot enough for cooking. Pat a large pinch (about 1 tablespoon) of the meatloaf mixture into a small patty (this is a mini tester patty) and lay it in the pan, cooking until brown and crusty, 1 or 2 minutes per side. Taste the meatloaf for seasoning, adding more salt as needed.

Line a rimmed baking sheet or a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil.

Divide the meat into 6 equal portions (about a heaping 3/4 cup each). Using damp hands, pat each portion into an oval about 2 inches thick and 4 inches wide, pressing down gently on the top to make the shape of a small slightly deflated football. Lay the meatloaf on the foil-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining meat until you have 6 small loaves, spacing them evenly across the pan. (If you find yourself with a bit of extra meat, make one more loaf.)

Slide the baking sheet into the fridge and chill, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes, or overnight. (You want the meat to be cold when it goes into the oven so that it retains more of its moisture.)

While the meatloaves are chilling, position the rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the pan with the loaves from the fridge and slide it directly into the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate 180 degrees and cook until the loaves bounce back to a gentle touch and have become a russet brown on top and deeper brown around the bases (where the loaves will have given off some fat), about 25 minutes. Remove the loaves from the oven and let them cool on their baking sheet. (The meatloaf will continue to cook a bit as it sits; don’t be tempted to continue cooking in the oven.) Let rest 10 to 15 minutes on the baking sheet so the loaves can firm up a bit before serving. Serves 6.

— From "The Phoenicia Diner Cookbook: Dishes and Dispatches From the Catskill Mountains" by Mike Cioffi, Chris Bradley and Sara B. Franklin (Clarkson Potter, $32.50)

Stuffed Butternut Squash

This vegetarian main from Michael Symon's latest book, "Fix It With Food: More Than 125 Recipes to Address Autoimmune Issues and Inflammation: A Cookbook" (Clarkson Potter, $30), requires turning on the oven for an hour, which is a cozy proposition on a chilly December night. It's also a good plant-based option for a holiday meal, particularly if you have any autoimmune issues and are avoiding meat, dairy, gluten and added sugars.

— Addie Broyles

This stuffed butternut squash recipe is from Michael Symon's new book, "Fix It With Food."

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1/2 small butternut squash, seeded

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup cooked quinoa

6 Swiss chard leaves, stemmed and sliced (about 3 cups)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pine nuts on a sheet pan and cook until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Place the squash half cut-side up on a foil-lined sheet pan. Coat the exposed flesh with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast until golden brown, about 45 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until the squash is easily pierced with a knife, about 20 minutes more.

Meanwhile, set a large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat to shimmering, then add the onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook until the onion softens, about 2 minutes. Add the cooked quinoa and Swiss chard and cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with another pinch of salt and a twist of black pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley.

Mound the greens onto the squash, drizzle with olive oil and serve. Serves 1.

— From "Fix It with Food: More Than 125 Recipes to Address Autoimmune Issues and Inflammation: A Cookbook" by Michael Symon and Douglas Trattner (Clarkson Potter, $30)

Baked Spinach-Artichoke Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Everyone’s favorite party dip gets a main-course makeover! We have layers of tang thanks to the grilled artichokes and lemon zest, mingling with creamy cashew cheese, crunchy breadcrumbs and perfectly cooked pasta. 

— Megan Sadd

This baked spinach artichoke mac 'n' cheese is from "Vegan Yum" by Megan Sadd.

2 tablespoons salt

2 cups elbows (can use brown rice or other gluten-free option)

1 (14-ounce) jar grilled marinated artichoke hearts

1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 cloves garlic, divided

1/4 teaspoon lemon zest

1/8 plus 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 1/3 cups water

1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked for 6 hours or boiled for 10 minutes

3 tablespoons tapioca flour

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 cup shredded vegan Parmesan, divided

1/3 cup regular or gluten-free breadcrumbs

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Add 2 tablespoons of salt to a medium pot of water. Bring to a boil and cook the pasta for 1 minute less than package instructions.

Drain and chop the artichoke hearts. Use a clean kitchen towel to squeeze the excess water from the spinach.

In a medium pan, heat the olive oil. Mince 1 clove of garlic and add it to the pan. Cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant, then add the spinach, artichoke hearts and lemon zest. Season with 1/8 teaspoon of salt and the red pepper flakes. Sauté for 2 minutes, until the artichokes begin to brown. Remove from the heat.

Put a saucepan over medium-high heat. While it heats, combine the water, cashews, remaining 3 cloves of garlic, flour, yeast, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, white pepper and lemon juice in a high-speed blender. Blend for 2 minutes, until smooth. Transfer the cashew mixture to the hot pan. Begin stirring right away, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan to prevent sticking. When it gets lumpy, stir faster. Continue stirring until the lumps are gone and then add the cooked pasta, spinach-artichoke mixture and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan. Mix well.

Transfer the pasta to an oiled 9-inch-by-9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan over the top. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until bubbling and crisp, then serve. Serves 4 to 6.

— From "Vegan Yum: The Secrets to Mastering Plant-Based Cooking" by Megan Sadd (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)

Spiced Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

I’ve made a lot of pineapple cakes in my day, and I have finally found the perfect balance of lightly spiced pineapple and soft fluffy cake that is still sturdy enough to soak up all the delicious caramelized juices. I like to slice a fresh pineapple for this cake so I can make thin slices that get meltingly tender during the short baking time.

— Yossy Arefi

This pineapple upside-down cake from "Snacking Cakes" by Yossy Arefi is spiced with cinnamon and a little black pepper.

For the topping:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

A few grinds of black pepper

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon whiskey or rum (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract

1 1/2 cups thinly sliced pineapple, in 2-inch pieces

For the cake:

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1/2 cup neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Position a rack in the center of your oven and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or coat an 8-inch square pan with nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a square of parchment paper.

Make the topping: Add the butter, brown sugar, bay leaf, cinnamon, pepper and salt to a medium skillet. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and emulsified. Stir in the whiskey (if using) and vanilla bean paste or extract. Add the pineapple and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for about 5 more minutes, turning the pineapple over in the sauce occasionally until it releases its juices and the juices thicken slightly.

Remove the bay leaf and carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Use a fork to arrange the pineapple pieces in a single layer.

To make the cake, in a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar and eggs until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. Add the sour cream, oil, vanilla and salt. Whisk until smooth and emulsified.

Add the flour, baking powder and baking soda to the bowl and whisk until well-combined and smooth. The batter will be thick.

Very gently spoon the batter over the pineapple in the prepared pan and smooth the top. Some of the caramel may come up over the sides of the batter. Tuck any pineapple slices that try to sneak up the sides back down into the pan.

Bake the cake until puffed and golden, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then very carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate. If any pineapple sticks to the pan, just place it right back on top of the cake. No one will know except you. Peel off the parchment paper and serve. (This cake is best the day it’s made, but you can store the cake, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for another day or two.)

— From "Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings: A Baking Book" by Yossy Arefi (Clarkson Potter, $24)