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

Addie Broyles
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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.

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.

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 nine 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

• 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.

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

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

• 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

Stuffed Butternut Squash

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)

Spiced Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

• 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)

Addie Broyles writes about food for the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas. She can be reached at abroyles@statesman.com, or follow her on Twitter at @broylesa