Sunday, December 22, 2013

For my Christmas Procrastinators...Links, Gift Ideas, and a Side Dish Recipe

Well, I'm afraid I may be on the naughty list again, despite my best intentions. Christmas is in two days (we're big Christmas eve lovers), and I haven't finished my shopping, planning my contributions to the meal, or my grading that is due tomorrow night. Clearly, I am not the goddess of all things professional and domestic that I am in my rich fantasy life.

Gift Ideas:
  • I'm going to start with a crazy gift suggestion (read: fantasy cook's gift) from Sur La Table. The QOOQ is a tablet for cooks, preloaded with videos, lessons, and recipes. It's splatter proof. I haven't laid hands on one, but it looks AMAZING. If Sur La Table would like to send me one to review for my tens of readers, I'm all for it. ; )
  • If you are a new cook or have an aspiring cook to shop for, I suggest the Betty Crocker Cookbook. The recipes are simple and a good starting place. For example, I made five batches of pumpkin bread from various recipes (several from Pinterest). A few were good, a couple were like bricks, and none were stellar. It finally dawned on me to go back to basics. I used the basic quick bread recipe, added some additional spice, and voila! Perfect pumpkin bread. You can take these recipes and add your own flavors/spins, but it's a great reference book. It has handy tables for metric conversion and interior temperatures of meats at various levels of doneness. There's a reason our mothers and aunties frequently give this one as a bridal shower gift.
  • I love, love, love my immersion blender. You can get a less expensive, basic version that looks like these, or there are larger boxed sets that come with a mixer attachment and a little blender base. I use mine the most for soups (you can just stick it down in the pot and not dirty your whole blender or food processor) and sauces. I love the blender attachment for pesto and herbed salad dressing. 
  • Silicon baking mats are a must for the home cook. You can make cookies on them, roast meat, whatever you want without destroying all your cookie sheets. (Maybe you're less destructive bakers and roasters than I am.)

  • Booze. My favorite, favorite thing for the holidays is Smirnoff Cinnamon-Sugar Twist Vodka. Splashed in coffee is my favorite way to drink it. It's very smooth and flavorful, and it doesn't taste like alcohol much at all. 

  • A recipe for linzer torte from Smitten Kitchen. This is a versatile dessert that looks fancy! 
  • The ladies of Big Girls, Small Kitchen have an excellent-looking recipe for Butternut Squash Latkes. YUM!
  • This Spiced Hot Cocoa recipe with ancho chili powder and homemade cinnamon marshmallows looks fab. You could even add a splash of bourbon or Cinnamon Twist Vodka for Santa's.
  • These White Chocolate Cranberry Cinnamon Rolls look festive and delicious for Christmas morning. 
  • If you want to impress everyone, try this super-easy, fool-proof recipe for cheese souffle. Read the cute story about the French newlywed who stumbled upon a simplified souffle method. I've tried this one, and it came out beautifully. It's even better with a little cheddar or some bacon bits mixed in. 
Decadent Asparagus Casserole. 
One of the staples of our holiday table is Asparagus Casserole. My mother has made it for years, and it's wonderful. I snapped some shots of her making it at Thanksgiving. It's a fairly simple dish: layers of white sauce, cheddar cheese, asparagus, and sliced boiled eggs. However, if you make creamy white sauce, medium-boil the eggs, and get some good asparagus, it's worth every single calorie.
Mom likes her eggs good and boiled, but I think this would be even more decadent with a soft to medium boil on the eggs.
The key ingredient to this dish is really the white sauce. A good white sauce is rich and creamy, only slightly salty, and doesn't have a floury taste or mouth feel.
For this recipe, begin by cleaning the asparagus (about two bundles worth), getting rid of any woody bits. Chop it into relatively uniform, bite-size sticks. Either blanch or lightly saute with garlic, salt, and pepper. Boil your eggs (6-8 should be more than enough). Let cool and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices.

For the white sauce, combine butter and flour in a pot to make a roux. Let the roux cook a bit on a low-ish heat. You want the flour taste to cook out, but you don't want to really brown or burn it or you'll have to begin again. Add milk to the roux, a bit at a time, whisking all the time to get a thick sauce. Add a few tablespoons of cream and salt and pepper (black and white) to taste. I like to add just a sprinkle of garlic salt to mine. No too much so the garlic doesn't overwhelm the sauce.

Start with a layer of white sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Add a layer of eggs, evenly spaced. Add half of the chopped asparagus and a thin layer of grated cheddar cheese (we usually grate one standard-sized block from the store and use it all). Do this again and end with another layer of white sauce.

Bake at 325 degrees until the asparagus is almost cooked, about 25 minutes. Towards the end, add another sprinkle of cheese on top to melt. This dish is excellent made the day before and heated just before the meal. I will ask my mom for her white sauce recipe this weekend, but until then, this one will work. Use the variation for thick sauce.

Have wonderful happy holidays!!