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The festive holiday table calls for a once-a-year splurge that throws both calorie-count and cost out the window.

For many Americans, that will mean tucking into a standing rib roast elevated by its traditional companion, Yorkshire pudding. Fattening? Yes. Ludicrously expensive? Of course. But worth every decadent bite.

And, if you're gifted in the kitchen like meat guru Bruce Aidells of Healdsburg, you could also add a porcini-spinach stuffing, then gild the lily with a toasted peppercorn and whiskey sauce.

"Whiskey sauce is my play on steak au poivre (pepper steak)," he said. "But I use Irish whiskey and red wine (instead of Cognac). It's definitely a rich sauce. It's not a dieter's meal."

This year, Aidells published "The Great Meat Cookbook," a comprehensive guide to buying and cooking all kinds of meat, from bison to spareribs. The hefty tome boasts an impressive, 15-pound standing rib roast on its cover, a kingly feast fit for 8 to 12 guests.

With the price of beef soaring to $15 a pound or higher, Aidells estimates that that size roast would now run about $225.

"The price of beef is up 20 or 30 percent," he said. "We've had two years of massive drought."

Since the meal requires a sizable investment of time and money, Aidells also offered a few tips to make sure your holiday roast comes out flavorful, rosy-pink and perfectly cooked.

First, he advised, buy the best slab of beef you can afford. That's actually a bit more complicated than it sounds.

For the uninitiated, the standing rib roast is a cut of beef from the rib, one of eight primal cuts of beef. It is located between the chuck (shoulder) and the short loin, and comprises ribs 6 through 12 along the back of the animal.

The best cut comes from the "small end," or ribs 9 through 12, which are located toward the rear of the animal. As you proceed toward the shoulder, the "large end" rib roast (ribs 6 through 9) includes more fat and is less desirable.

"As you proceed toward the head, you have other muscle groups," Aidells explained. "So you're seeing pockets of fat in the prime rib."

To make matters more complicated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture grades beef according to its fat marbling. The main choices for consumers are Prime (2 to 3 percent of all graded beef), Choice (three levels: moderate, modest and small marbling) and Select (about 40 percent of all graded beef).

"If you can afford it, Prime is special," he said. "If you go with Choice, look for the best marbling."

If you're still confused, then find a good butcher who can help you navigate through the jargon.

"I like Big John's Market, which is our go-to place .<TH>.<TH>. and Whole Foods is also a good place," Aidells said. "Costco sells the seven-bone roast, and because they buy so much, they tend to buy at the highest level."

Another alternative is to order a rib roast from Golden Gate Meats of Santa Rosa, which supplies local restaurants but takes special orders.

If you're cooking a bone-in roast, expect to buy about one pound per person, Aidells said. That way you'll have a little extra in case unexpected guests show up, or for a midnight snack.

Now that you've ordered the beef, it's time to think seriously about a reliable thermometer.

"You can't cook meat without one," Aidells said. "People use the finger method with steaks (pushing the meat with a finger and judging doneness by its resistance) but you don't have that method for roasts."

Aidells suggests buying a cabled cooking thermometer with a timer as well as an instant-read thermometer, such as the Thermopen from Thermoworks of Utah.

"I use the alarm thermometer to let me know when to check seriously," he said. "Then I test it all over (with the Thermopen)."

Aidells advises taking the roast out when it registers 10 to 15 degrees lower than your desired temperature, because the meat's residual heat will make it come up 10 degrees or so.

"If you cook it at a really low temperature, it will only come up 5 degrees," he said. "It depends on how hot that meat is."

To ensure more even cooking, Aidells takes his roast out of the refrigerator about four hours early, allowing it to warm from 38 to 50 degrees. Just be aware that it will take less time to cook.

The following recipes are from Bruce Aidells' "Great Meat Cookbook."

"Yorkshire pudding and popovers are essentially the same; I prefer individual Yorkshire puddings (i.e., popovers) because the presentation is more dramatic," Aidells writes. "These airy puddings can be tricky. If you want perfection every time, use only whole milk (not low-fat). Also, you must whisk the batter by hand, because an electric mixer will overbeat the batter and it will not puff and rise. Use heavy pottery custard cups, large-hole cast-iron muffin pans, or popover pans.

Scallion and Parmesan Yorkshire Puddings

Makes 12 servings

11 tablespoons butter, melted, or ? cup plus

3 tablespoons melted beef fat (see notes below)

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

8 large eggs

2 2/3 cups whole milk

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

? teaspoon salt

? cup finely chopped scallions, white and light green parts

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the lower third.

Brush 12 custard cups or large muffin or popover molds (?-cup capacity) with 3 tablespoons of the butter. Dust each cup or mold with some of the cheese and shake out any excess to use in the batter. Set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then beat in the milk until well blended. In another bowl, combine the flour and salt. Using a fork or pastry blender, stir the remaining ? cup butter into the flour. Gradually add the flour and butter mixture to the egg mixture, blending well with a whisk (no electric mixer); a few lumps are okay. Whisk in the remaining cheese and the scallions. Fill each cup with ? to 2/3 cup of the batter.

Bake until the puddings are brown and puffy and give off a wonderful cheesy aroma, 55 to 60 minutes. Remove the puddings and serve at once.

Cook's notes: If you want to use beef fat in the recipe, trim and save the fat from the roast, or get the butcher to supply some extra trimmed fat. Cut into ?-inch dice (you will need about 1? ) and spread in a small ovenproof skillet. Roast at 350 degrees until the fat has rendered and only little bits of solid fat remain, about 20 minutes. Strain and reserve the melted fat. This should yield about ? cup melted fat.

"This is an excellent recipe for grass-fed beef, because the stuffing adds rich flavor to the lean meat," Aidells writes.

Standing Rib Roast with Porcini-Spinach Stuffing, Toasted Peppercorn and Whiskey Sauce and Horseradish Cream

Makes 8 servings, with plenty of leftovers

1 4-bone standing rib-eye roast (about 8 pounds), chine bone removed and fat trimmed to ? inch

Porcini-Spinach Stuffing (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1? tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil

Toasted Peppercorn and Whiskey Sauce (recipe follows)

Horseradish Cream (recipe follows)

Allow the roast to stand at room temperature for 4 hours.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a rack in the lower third of the oven.

Using a long sharp knife, cut the roast between the bones and the meat so that the rack of ribs is almost severed from the meat, leaving about ? inch of the meat attached to the bones. Place the roast on a flat surface so that you are looking down into the crevices between the bones and meat. Spread the stuffing into each crevice, using a rubber spatula to pack it in. Tie the bones back in place with a couple of loops of butcher's twine to keep the stuffing inside.

Combine the garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, fennel seeds, and oil in a small bowl. Generously rub the mixture over the top and sides of the roast and bones. Place a large V-shape roasting rack in a roasting pan and nestle the roast on the rack so that the bones are sticking straight up. Wrap the bone tips in aluminum foil to prevent burning.

If you have a cable-type digital continuous-read thermometer, insert it into the center of the roast and set it for 110 to 115 degrees for rare or 120 to 125 degrees or medium-rare. Roast for 20 minutes, then turn down the oven to 350 degrees. If you are not using a continuous-read thermometer, begin monitoring the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer after 45 minutes, checking the temperature every 15 minutes. When the roast is done (usually 1? to 2 hours), set aside, covered loosely with aluminum foil, to rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 45 minutes before carving and serving. The final temperature will rise 10 to 15 degrees. While the roast is resting, finish the Toasted Peppercorn and Whiskey Sauce.

To carve and serve, remove the twine from the roast. Place the roast on a cutting board so that the bones are vertical. Sever the strip of meat attached to the bones and spoon the stuffing into a serving bowl. Set the bones aside, and turn the roast so the bone side lies flat. Cut the roast into ?- to ?-inch-thick slices and arrange in an overlapping row on a serving platter. Slice between the bones to separate them and add to the platter. Pour any carving juices into the sauce. Serve with the sauce and the Horseradish Cream on the side.

Alternative Cuts: Ask your butcher for a New York strip with the bones attached. A rack of pork or veal would also work. Adjust roasting times and temperatures appropriately: Pork roasts take 45 minutes to 1 hour to reach an internal temperature of 135 to 140 degrees. Veal roasts take about 45 minutes to reach an internal temperature of 125 to 135 degrees (medium-rare to medium).

Cook's Notes: If you want to make this meal really special, purchase a well-marbled Wagyu standing rib roast, which is best cooked to medium-rare or even medium. At the opposite end of the marbling spectrum is a grass-fed beef or bison rib roast. After 20 minutes, turn the oven down to 275 degrees and allow extra time for cooking. Serve rare to medium-rare, so that it does not dry out.

Porcini-Spinach Stuffing

Makes about 3 cups

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 cup boiling water

2 mild Italian sausages, homemade or store-bought, removed from the casings

? cup chopped shallots

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

2 cups ?-inch bread cubes, roughly cut from day-old coarse bread (don't use store-bought dried bread cubes)

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 cup cooked spinach, squeezed dry and chopped (frozen is ok)

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the porcini in a small bowl and cover with the boiling water. Soak for at least 45 minutes, or up to several hours, until soft.

Remove the porcini from the liquid with a slotted spoon. Chop and set aside. Strain the soaking liquid, leaving behind any grit in the bottom of the bowl, and reserve.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausages and cook for about 5 minutes, breaking the meat apart with a fork as it browns. Add the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables are tender.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the bread cubes, rosemary, spinach, and egg and mix well. Moisten with ? cup of the reserved mushroom liquid. The stuffing should be slightly moist, but not wet. (Save any leftover mushroom liquid for the Toasted Peppercorn and Whiskey Sauce.) Season to taste with salt and pepper and refrigerate until cool. (The stuffing is best made a day ahead and refrigerated, but don't stuff the meat ahead, as spoilage can easily occur.) Stuff the roast as directed above and continue with the recipe.

Toasted Peppercorn and Whiskey Sauce

Makes 3 to 4 cups

1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns

1 tablespoon olive oil

? cup finely chopped shallots

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 cup Irish whiskey or scotch

3 cups dry red wine

4 cups homemade beef stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

Reserved mushroom soaking liquid from stuffing

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 cup heavy cream

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, or more to taste


Scatter the cracked peppercorns in a small heavy skillet and toast over medium heat until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from the heat and pour in ? cup of the whiskey, then return to the heat and cook until the alcohol is burned off . Add the red wine, bring to a boil, and boil until reduced to about 1 cup, 7 to 10 minutes. Add 3 cups of the stock and the mushroom soaking liquid and boil until reduced to about 3 cups. Whisk together the mustard and cream and whisk into the sauce. Continue to boil until the sauce becomes syrupy, 10 to 15 minutes. Cover and set aside.

While the roast is resting, pour off all the fat from the roasting pan, leaving the juices in the pan. Place the pan over two burners on medium heat, add the remaining ? cup whiskey and 1 cup stock, and bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the roasting pan. Strain the pan liquid into the sauce and cook until the sauce develops a rich, meaty flavor and is just turning syrupy again, about 5 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons of the toasted peppercorns and the rosemary, then add more peppercorns and/or rosemary and salt to taste. Serve the sauce at once.

Horseradish Cream

Makes 2? cups

1? cups sour cream

? cup prepared horseradish, drained

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion greens

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the sour cream, horseradish, lemon juice, scallions, and parsley in a small bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. (You can make the cream up to several hours ahead.)

You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com

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