December 14, 2016 11:03:19 AM
For the past 10 years I find myself fretting and fussing around this time. As I write, it's the Monday before the Freeze Family Christmas, and I need to nail down the menu for our grand once-yearly gathering. It's not a huge number, 13 at the table, but I try to work as best I can with everyone's likes and dislikes. I try and do this while still holding true to my style of cooking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
There are many of you who would steadfastly hold on to the rule of ultimate hostesses: Don't worry about it; just cook what you do best. But, it hurts to work so hard and see the sauteed Brussels sprouts lying forlorn on the side of the plate. I spend hours pouring over recipes making sure that we don't serve seafood (alleged allergy), or cooked spinach (only like it raw), or put cheese noticeably in any dish (won't eat it).
I've come up with the perfect meat for everyone: tenderloin. I found them on sale, untrimmed in Macon for $8.99/pound and bought two. I trimmed one and cut it into individual steaks, which are now vacuum-sealed in the freezer, and the other piece is still cryo-sealed from the store and waiting to be trimmed. I simply season it well with pureed tarragon and olive oil, sear it and then roast it for about 25 minutes in a 500-degree oven. Piece of cake. But, what about the side dishes?
Last year I bravely served turnip greens au gratin, and I'll be darned if it wasn't a hit. I think anything with that much cream and garlic in it tastes good. It does have cheese in it, but "she" won't know because it's incorporated in the sauce. I'll also make scalloped potatoes, which don't use cheese. Or, for simplicity, maybe just some good mashed potatoes which keep well in a crockpot set on low. Everyone loves butter beans, and I buy a whole sleeve of them every year from Mr. Mayo Ellis at the farmers' market and vacuum seal them in small portions. So, we'll have delicious fresh butter beans. For color, I will roast some cherry tomatoes in the oven and put them around the meat. No one will eat them, and that's OK. I can use them a few days later tossed with pasta, olive oil, garlic and some fresh gulf shrimp.
I wasn't going to make dessert as we never seem to get to it, but I have a hankering for some bread pudding, perhaps the recipe for Eggnog Bread Pudding I saw on The Runaway Spoon. The kids leave Terry and me late in the afternoon and head to Starkville for Part Two of Freeze Family Christmas, and I can send them packed with bread pudding and leftover tenderloin for sandwiches later that night.
Well, I guess I'm set. Thank you for allowing me this space to get my thoughts and menu straight. I wish you all a very merry Christmas -- and remember, whatever you cook, if it comes from the heart, it will be appreciated.
TURNIP GREENS AU GRATIN
3 cups heavy cream
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 pound packaged chopped turnip greens
4 slices thick bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups cream, whole milk or a mix
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 pounds Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
The casserole can be served immediately or kept in a warm oven for half an hour.