By this time in the holiday whirlwind, no doubt you’re tired. Beyond weary, frazzled, fatigued. You’re chronically exhausted. It’s been one long to-do list since the last forkful of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, and the showstoppers still loom large on that countdown.
Christmas Eve dinner. Christmas morning brunch. Christmas Day dinner. Santa sliding down 3.7 billion chimneys during his annual rounds is elementary compared to the strength it sometimes takes to muster as we approach the holiday finish line.
A solution to the great holiday food marathon that comes close to wilting my robust cuisine spirit is a concept that, regrettably, has taken me years to perfect: keep it simple. Sublimely simple. Dishes that require the least amount of kitchen time but still pack an impressive punch make my short list for holiday entertaining. Recipes within recipes— the ones that require five-step vinaigrettes or croutons from homemade bread or pans of candied pecans in order to complete the dish—are eschewed. I save those for dinner parties after I’ve recovered from holiday overload, sometime in March or April.
Instead, my Christmas menus include dishes that are like friends I greet once a year, picking up where we left off. Comfortable foods to make and eat. Christmas Eve dinner is a rich and elegant oyster stew that I serve with thinly sliced garlic toasts. Christmas morning brunch includes savory basil cheese strata that, once everything is measured and the crusts are cut from the challah, I can make with my eyes closed. Christmas Day dinner are individual Rock Cornish game hens glazed to a picture-perfect mahogany and presented resting on creamy white china, fresh thyme peeking out from under their demure bottoms, moist stuffing tumbling from tiny cavities.
Each year I take a couple of new sides I deem as worthy accompaniments to the Christmas dinner centerpiece for a spin. Never am I (or my guests) disappointed, which is a good thing. By the time this meal rolls around, I’m in no mood for an uncooperative dish.
The Dean & DeLuca Cookbook by David Rosengarten is a constant companion in my kitchen. Not only is it a dependable workhorse, the thick volume is also a creative resource for nightly dinners or company’s-coming inspiration. Here is a soul-satisfying side dish for Christmas dinner that is simple—and guaranteed to impress.
Celery Root Gratin
4 pounds celery root, peeled and -coarsely chopped
3 pounds russet potatoes, (preferably Idaho), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1 stick, (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 teaspoon saffron
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 ½ cups Gruyère, coarsely grated
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400°
Place the celery root and the potatoes in separate large saucepans with enough salted water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until soft. Strain both the celery and the potatoes and set aside. In a heavy saucepan bring the cream to a boil over moderately high heat, and add the butter, saffron and garlic. Reduce the heat to moderately low, and cook about 5 minutes, or until the cream mixture is bright yellow.
Purée the celery root in a food processor, gradually adding the cream
mixture. Set aside. Place the potatoes in a bowl and mash until you have a
rough texture. Add the celery root mixture to the potatoes, and add 1 cup
of the Gruyère. Mix together with a wooden spoon and season generously with
salt and pepper.
Butter a 13-inch by 9-inch ovenproof dish (about 10-cup capacity). If you prefer to serve individual portions, you could use instead eight #4-size ramekins (each one has a 1 ¼ cup capacity). Place the celery root-potato mixture in the large, ovenproof dish or in the individual ramekins.
Sprinkle the top with the parsley and the remaining Gruyère. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes, or until the casserole is heated through and the top is golden brown.
-Kimberly Winter Stern
Overland Park, Kan.-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern writes travel, food, lifestyle and design. Also known as the gregarious and cuisine-informed Kim Dishes, listeners tune in weekly for her on-the-road segments on “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen,” a popular Kansas City radio food show. Prolific in eating, writing and discovering, this foodie satisfies an innate desire to sample the world’s gastronomic rainbow by meeting food artisans and trendsetters, gaining insight into the culinary points-of-view of everyone from cheese makers, chocolatiers and chefs who set their city’s locavore pace to farmers who are passionate producers. Stern is a sought-after writer, with work appearing in Better Homes and Gardens, Unity, KANSAS! Magazine, 435 South magazine, KC Homes & Gardens, Generation Boom, Shawnee Magazine, KC Magazine, KC Home Design, KC Business and Midwest CEO. Stern is a national blogger for the Dean & DeLuca Gourmet Food Blog where she cooks, styles, shoots and writes about life and cooking … and loves to lick the bowl clean. This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.