What to cook for New Year’s Eve

What to cook for New Year’s Eve

We are armed with new cookbooks, courtesy of S. Claus, which helps to take the shade off an otherwise dirge of a week.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve drops with a thunk after the big day of presents, eating, visiting and generally having a good time.

No one can really take work seriously this week, unless you work in a retail job, in which case this week promises the unpleasantly serious business of returns, complaints and clean-up after the frantic shopping of the week before, followed by looking forward to the inevitable staff cuts once the last of the clearance sales are finished.

Nothing sounds good to cook or eat this week except takeout or just snacking, but the new serious book of ramen recipes we have is going to get a workout starting in a week or so.

The immediate problem is what to cook for New Year’s Eve. No one at my house will have any truck with pork and kraut, so that is never a possibility. I can’t even get anyone to try my quite mild-tasting Swedish version, which I’ll share with you today.

We didn’t cook a big Christmas Eve feast but opted for Chinese takeout. The prime ribs of past years haven’t emerged from the memories of those who have passed sufficiently to allow their return just yet.

We considered a beef Wellington for the New Year dinner because we are determined to get that harder-than-it-looks dish perfect and can only justify the expense once a year. That one is a distinct possibility.

One of the grocery stores I duck into regularly has had a giant pile of lamb leg roasts which has gone undisturbed by purchases for more than a week, each priced at $70 or more. I didn’t think they would sell, both because of the cost and because so few people will attempt such a thing, it seems.

Many area butcher shops gave up on lamb years ago because of zero demand, and that’s really a shame. The lamb I saw was on the heavy side also, meaning it is more mutton than actual lamb.

A whole lamb leg should weigh 8 pounds at the most — beyond that, we should use the word sheep. If all those reasons weren’t enough to rule it out, I’m only feeding four people, one of them a vegetarian. Leg of lamb would be a terrible waste of food.

Sauerkraut, as my family always made it and as I suspect yours does also, is usually a pork shoulder roast nestled into few bags of fermented cabbage and baked for hours. The result is a stinky house and dinner with enough puckering sourness to give everyone a bellyache in time for the rose parade next morning.

This version incorporates smoked pork and some fresh cabbage to tone the whole thing down and is cooked for a relatively short period. I promise less stink and fewer bubble guts. One caution: never buy kraut in cans, always glass jars or plastic bags. The stuff from a can tastes like metal.

SWEDISH SAUERKRAUT

1 pound smoked pork jowl
or a picnic ham, cut into
a big dice

1 pound pork shoulder, cut
into chunks

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 yellow onions, thinly
sliced

1 medium head green cabbage,
cored and shredded

2 quarts sauerkraut, rinsed
in cold water and
drained

1 granny smith apple, cored
and chopped

2 cups dry white wine

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon caraway seeds,
toasted

1 teaspoon pepper

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot (enameled cast iron is perfect) and add the oil and then all the pork, cooking until browned and beginning to sear. Remove the pork and set aside, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Add the onions to the pot and cook until softened. Add the green cabbage and return the pork to the pot, cooking until the cabbage has collapsed. Add the sauerkraut, apple, brown sugar, wine, caraway seeds and pepper and simmer carefully for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.