HOME ON THE RANGE: My last will and testament

I’m sorry to say you are currently looking at the final installment of Home on the Range. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Thanks to you and the good folks at the Whidbey News Times, I’ve become a much better cook than I was nine months ago. These recently acquired culinary skills will be crucial at my new home in Oaxaca, Mexico, since the city isn’t exactly overrun with Thai or Indian restaurants, or even cafes that serve meatloaf. Yes, I’m moving to Mexico, a dream come true.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I want to — as a sort of grand finale — share with you my absolutely favorite Christmas dish: prime rib. Prime rib holds a special place in my heart and memory. My father used to take me to a supper club on Gull Lake in Minnesota called the Harbor Inn. It was a charming little place where waitresses with large hair and even larger earrings served twice-baked potatoes and stiff drinks, all in an atmosphere that hadn’t changed a stitch since the 1960s. Watching my father slice and dunk chunks of succulent prime rib was like watching a conductor wave his wand.

Last year, I cooked my first prime rib for a house full of Christmas guests. To my relief, it turned out wonderfully, an elegant if exceptionally meaty centerpiece. It’s said that the tenderest beef lies farthest from the hoof, and tender this roast was. Even the vegetarians had to give it a try.

Making a good prime rib isn’t difficult, but it does take preparation. Call the grocery store or butcher ahead of time to order your roast. Have the butcher remove the chine and feather bones, then return the roast to its original shape by tying the bones to the meat. Bones add flavor, but having them trimmed away will make carving very simple. A small end prime rib is always the best. Figure on about 1 pound per dinner guest.

Okay everyone, have a great holiday and please take good care. Adios!

Prime Rib

4-12 pound prime rib roast

salt and pepper

1 bunch of fresh rosemary, chopped

Remove the roast from the refrigerator at least two hours before cooking. Place it in a shallow roasting pan and liberally sprinkle the fatty top with salt and pepper and chopped rosemary. Pat in. To protect the oven from spattering fat, place a tent of aluminum foil loosely over the top of the meat.

Place the roast in an oven preheated to 500 degrees and cook for the times listed below.

NOTE: The times must be adhered to exactly. Set a timer, as a few minutes of overcooking will ruin the roast. When the cooking time ends, turn off the oven but do not open the door. Allow the roast to remain in the oven for at least 1 hour or until the oven is luke warm, which occurs in about 2 hours. The roast will be beautifully rare inside, while retaining a crunchy outside and also an internal temperature suitable for serving. The roasting time works out to about 15 minutes per rib or approximately 5 minutes per pound.

l For a 2-rib roast weighing 4 to 5 pounds, allow 25 to 30 minutes at 500 degrees.

l For a 3-rib roast weighing 8 to 9 pounds, allow 40 to 45 minutes at 500 degrees.

l For a 4-rib roast weighing 11 to 12 pounds, allow 55 to 60 minutes at 500 degrees.

To carve, cut the ties holding the bones in place and set them aside. Place the roast with the ribs down on a cutting board and cut into thick or thin slices. Serve with horseradish sauce.

Bleu Cheese Twice-Baked Potatoes

4 medium Idaho potatoes, scrubbed and patted dry

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 large cloves garlic, very finely minced

1/2-cup sour cream

2 ounces mild blue cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons snipped fresh chives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Paprika, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the potatoes all over with the tines of a fork, and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 1/4-hours. Melt the butter in a skillet, add the garlic, and cook over very low heat for 1 1/2-minutes; do not let it brown. Set it aside.

Remove the potatoes but leave the oven on. Allow the potatoes to cool slightly. Then cut a length-wise slit in the top of each potato and carefully remove the pulp, leaving the skin intact. Place the pulp in a mixing bowl, and set the skins aside.

Mash the potatoes with a fork. Add the garlic butter, sour cream, cheese, parsley, 1 tablespoon chives, and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly, and then carefully stuff the mixture back into the potato skins, mounding it slightly. Sprinkle the top lightly with paprika.

Arrange the potatoes on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons chives and serve immediately.

Note: If you’re serving these with the prime rib, prepare the potatoes ahead of time and bake the final 15 minutes after pulling the prime rib from the oven.

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