Switch up your holiday side dishes

Sunday, December 2, 2012

I recently had a conversation with a friend about au gratin potatoes and scalloped potatoes, but I have never used a recipe for them.

I just make them like mom always did.

So I went looking and found Jodi Thompson of Jackson had one in her myriad of emailed recipes. I like the variations the recipe lists and you can experiment with different cheeses, as well.

That got me thinking about all of the Christmas parties that will be coming up and many of you will be asked to bring a side dish to dinner parties or gatherings.

So today, I am sharing a few side dish recipes, as well as a fabulous dessert recipe as well. Enjoy!

Au Gratin Potatoes

To make scalloped potatoes, omit the cheese. A shallow casserole dish works best as it makes the casserole thinner and bakes more evenly and quicker. Metal casserole dishes bake the quickest, while heavy ceramic dishes take longest. When the potatoes are knife tender, they are done.

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

1 cup cream

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

Pinch nutmeg

2 to 2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese

7 to 8 cups of sliced starchy Russet potatoes, 1/8-inch thick

1/2 cup grated cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan. Make a white sauce with the milk and flour: Pour the milk into a heavy saucepan. Place the flour in a cup. Add just enough milk to make a paste. Gradually add more milk, stirring to thin the paste into a sauce-like consistency. Stir the flour and milk mixture into the milk with a whisk. Add the cream and heat, stirring with a whisk, until the sauce is thickened and starts to bubble. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Add the cheese while still hot and stir in. The cheese should melt and form a medium-thick cheese sauce. Keep the sauce hot while you prepare the potatoes. Peel and slice the potatoes to 1/8-inch thick. Use a mandolin or other cutting tool so that the potatoes are of uniform thickness. Place a layer of potatoes in the pan. Pour a portion of the hot cheese sauce over the potato layer. Repeat with additional layers until the potatoes and cheese sauce is used. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the casserole. Bake for 50 minutes or until the potatoes are tender but still firm when poked with a fork.

Note: Additional ingredients may be added in any combination, to change flavors and texture, such as 2 cloves garlic, minced; 1 large onion, diced; 1 bell pepper, finely diced; 1 small can diced green chilies; 1/2 pound bacon, crisply cooked and snipped into pieces; 1 1/2 cups ham cut into small cubes.

Honey Tossed Butternut Squash

Peel, seed and cube a butternut squash. The cubes should be fairly small, no larger than 1/2-inch, so that the squash will steam easily. Steam the squash in salted water as you would other garden vegetables. The squash will not take long to cook and you want the squash tender but not soft. Once cooked, drain any excess water. Put a pat of butter and a couple tablespoons of honey or brown sugar on the vegetables until the butter is melted and the cubes are coated. Serve immediately.

Peach Glazed Carrots

The humble carrot often times gets looked over, but these recipes might make you think twice. Each of them add a sweet glaze to the vegetable to make them irresistible for the children at your gathering.

2 cups sliced carrots

1/2 teaspoon salt

Water, enough to cover 3/4 inches in the bottom of the pan

2 to 3 tablespoons peach pineapple paradise jelly or other flavor of jelly

2 tablespoons butter

Cook the carrots in the salt and water until almost tender. Drain any excess water. Add the jelly and butter and stir over medium heat until the vegetables are tender and glazed with the jelly.

Citrus Honey Carrots

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup honey

2 (14.5-ounce) cans whole baby carrots, drained

1 teaspoon grated lime peel

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add honey, and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until sauce has thickened, stirring frequently. Add carrots and lime peel, and saute 1 to 2 minutes, or until heated through and well coated with sauce. Serve immediately.

Note: For extra zest, grate a bit of additional lime peel over the top just before serving.

Butternut Squash and Green Beans with Maple Syrup

The secret to this recipe, and many other vegetable recipes, is not to overcook the vegetables. You want the squash tender, but not too soft and mushy. The green beans may be kept a little al dente as well.

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

Salt and pepper

Vegetable oil

1 to 2 pounds fresh green beans

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1/3 cup maple syrup

Dash of allspice, optional

Place the squash cubes on a large baking pan. Drizzle one to two tablespoons of vegetable oil over the squash. Salt and pepper to taste. Bake the squash for 20 minutes or until nearly tender, turning once during cooking. While the squash is cooking steam the green beans until they turn color and start to become tender. Do not overcook the beans; they will continue to cook in the skillet. While the beans and the squash are cooking, melt the butter in a large, non-stick skillet. Place the slivered almonds in the butter and saute for several minutes. Place the squash and the beans in the skillet with the almonds. Pour the maple syrup over the vegetables and stir. Cook until the dish is hot and the vegetables are nearly tender, stirring often. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Sweet Potato Creme Brulee

Who doesn't love a dessert to end the meal? And this recipe will make for an unforgettable one. The next time you have friends over, try this wonderful dessert and get ready for rave reviews.

For the sweet potatoes:

2 large sweet potatoes, baked at 425 for one hour, or until soft, and completely cooled.

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup margarine or butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

For the custard:

2 cups whipping cream (sometimes labeled heavy cream, no substitutes)

1/2 cup white sugar

4 large egg yolks (save whites for a meringue on a Thanksgiving pie!)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

1/3 cup brown sugar

Place sweet potato filling ingredients into large mixing bowl and beat with electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Spread into bottom of 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish and set aside. Place all custard ingredients into medium heavy sauce pot and stir well. Place over medium low heat, whisking constantly, for five minutes, or until just warm. Will be very runny. Using a measuring cup, gently scoop and pour custard over sweet potatoes. Place 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish in center of larger baking dish and pour water into larger dish until it is about an inch deep. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or until knife inserted in center comes out almost clean. Carefully remove from oven and remove baking dish from water. Allow to cool by placing on a heavy dish towel or wire rack. Once cool, cover with foil and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

Before serving, remove from fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for half an hour. Sprinkle brown sugar over top and turn oven to low broil. Place dish on a baking sheet and put in oven, about 5 inches from broiler, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until sugar is mostly melted. Remove from oven and allow to sit for a few minutes before serving to allow sugar to harden.

Note: Not all sugar will melt but it will form a thin coat across the top of the dish.

Have a great week, and until next time, happy cooking.

Susan McClanahan is administrator at the Cape Girardeau Senior Center. Send recipes to her at news@semissourian.com or by mail at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701. Recipes published have not been kitchen-tested by Southeast Missourian staff.

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