When it comes to big get-togethers, it's the main meat dish that
counts the most. That's what guests will rave about if it's great--and
groan about if it's not.
By Matthew Kadey, R.D.Turkey
In addition to giving you a tryptophan fix, lean turkey meat is a stellar source of the antioxidant selenium and vitamin B6, which may reduce heart-attack risk in women, according to scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health. To slash fat calories, lay off the skin.
Buy this: Generally, turkey that's frozen is just as good as fresh. Larger birds are a better value because they have a higher meat-to- bone ratio, says Peter Berley, an instructor at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City and author of The Flexitarian Table. Avoid turkey labeled "basted"--it contains extra water and seasonings that can ruin your recipe.
Chef's secret: Brining--soaking in salted water--draws water out of cells, which helps tenderize the meat and keep it lip-smacking moist. It requires a few days of prepping, but it will be worth it.
Perfect sidekicks: Mashed turnips, parsnips, and potatoes; sauteed kale; apple-cranberry crumble Uncork: Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2009
A staple of the notoriously healthy Greek diet, lamb is jam-packed with zinc and vitamin B12, a brain booster that may reduce those senior moments. And almost half the fat in lamb is made up of the ticker-friendly monounsaturated kind that helps shave down cholesterol numbers.
Buy this: One of the easiest cuts to work with is the leg. Any butcher worth his cleaver will debone and tie it for you if you'd like. Look for rosy pink, slightly firm-to-the-touch meat with moderate white marbling, which will keep the meat juicy and flavorful while cooking, says Michael Psilakis, author of How to Roast a Lamb and owner-chef of Kefi and Fish Tag restaurants in New York City.
Chef's secret: For a killer combo of a crispy browned surface and a drool-inducing juicy interior, sear all sides of the lamb in the oven on the broil setting or on the stove top in an oven-ready pan. Then roast at a lower temperature.
Perfect sidekicks: Roasted onions and root vegetables such as parsnips and carrots, cannellini bean salad, steamed asparagus, butternut squash soup Uncork: Beringer Third Century Pinot Noir 2007
A three-ounce serving has only about half a gram of saturated fat, so you can pig out without porking up. Plus, the 15 grams of hunger-quelling protein can help ward off cravings for a second helping of pie. And ham that you cook yourself is not nearly the salt tsunami that precooked is.
Buy this: The "picnic" ham (from the front leg of the pig) is a manageable eight to nine pounds compared with the mighty "rump" ham (from the back leg), which weighs in at about 18 to 20 pounds, says Alexandra Guarnaschelli, executive chef of Butter Restaurant in New York City and host of Alex's Day Off on the Food Network. Get one that's bone-in. It will cook more evenly, with better flavor and texture.
Chef's secret: Scoring, or cutting slits into the meat, allows the glaze to seep in. Peel the skin (rind) from the ham, then use a sharp knife to score the fat layer 1/4-inch deep in a crisscross pattern, creating diamond shapes. Apply the glaze or other seasonings. Place the ham on a rack inserted into a roasting pan so that it cooks on all sides and doesn't become soggy.
Perfect sidekicks: Mashed potatoes, buttered boiled carrots, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans sauteed with garlic, rice pilaf, coleslaw, pasta salad
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It's the holidays, so splurge on grass-fed beef. California State University researchers concluded that it offers a slew of benefits, including higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and E, and cancer-fighting compounds.
Buy this: The bones in a bone-in roast provide delicious flavor as well as a dramatic presentation. Ask your butcher to trim the excess fat, leaving a thin layer to baste the roast as it cooks, says Wolfgang Puck, chef-owner of WP24 in Los Angeles.
Chef's secret: For even cooking, let the meat come to room temperature, then roast it at a high temp before reducing the oven heat to finish.
Perfect sidekicks: Scalloped potatoes, spinach salad
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