Thursday, April 9, 2009
On Sunday, JR’s family and my family will gather at our house to celebrate Easter. Or, to be more forthright, to celebrate food and family, meaning no disrespect whatsoever to Christiandom. Though I suppose it is a bit pagan to worship Food, is it not? Not that I do, mind you. I'm just saying that if someone did worship Food, that might seem like a false god to some.
Our house is a bit too small for the gathering – despite this, we have, on a rainy Easter in the past, tried to jam everyone into it. This effort resulted in 20 adults sitting atop one another in a dining space that resembled a trolley car at rush hour (“oh, sorry about the elbow in your spleen” “yeah, no problem, sorry about poking your eye.”), with the small children safe from possible trampling outside the dining room; sitting on the sofa, stairs, and floor. Having had this not-so-pleasant experience, and being unable to rely upon an al fresco dinner on the lawn being that this is early spring in New England, we now try our darndest to tidy up my studio - I can assure you, this is no small task as I am a messy human - and assemble a dining area sufficient for 15 to 20 people. As with all of our family events, there is plenty of food, for everyone brings a dish, and no Easter is complete without 2 legs of lamb and one massive ham, hedging our lamb bets on the leg that JR, his brother, and nephews spare us. The other 16 of us deserve lamb, too, darn it.
And I suppose that if there were only one lamb leg available, and that one lamb leg was decimated by 4 men, we could just as easily fill up on side dishes, for there will certainly be plenty. This carrot casserole is a favorite of JR's family, and has been passed down for at least as many generations as have existed since the invention of American cheese. I am not joking. The original recipe calls for American cheese. It is a big hit at both Thanksgiving and Easter, though it is not exactly a low-calorie vegetable side dish option, but, hey, we’re talking holidays here. Put on your fat pants and get the job done. Especially if you don't have to pack yourselves into a dining space that reminds you of eating inside an overstuffed grocery bag. Picture yourself. You are very tiny. So is your family. The bag is green and claims that it was once a plastic bottle. You get the idea.
Carrot Casserole, modified slightly from the original American cheese version, though with an option to include that deli-counter favorite if you so desire:
12 carrots (approximately 2 pounds), peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard and 1/4 teaspoon celery salt - from the original recipe)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese or 1/2 pound American cheese torn into smaller bits. As mentioned, this dish is old school - but not too old school - and if the call for American cheese doesn’t make that abundantly clear, nothing – no, nothing - will.
1 stick butter
2 cups panko (Japanese style) breadcrumbs (no, these were not in the original recipe either, I know you are curious. Feel free to make breadcrumbs from white bread if you so desire, or use plain breadcrumbs, though you will be missing out on the delectable crunch panko provides.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
The first step is to boil the carrots to a softened state. We – and by “we” I mean JR’s niece, for my assistance typically consists of a poor attempt at peeling carrot skins - usually make this dish the morning of Thanksgiving in an already crowded kitchen space, so the carrots are peeled, trimmed, cut, and then thrown into the pot in which they will boil. We then fill the pot with enough water to cover the carrots by 1 inch. We – and now you – bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the water is at a boil, cook the carrots until softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the carrots from the heat, drain, and set aside.
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter and cook the onion until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the salt, freshly ground pepper, and curry powder, and stir to combine. Stir in the flour, cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, until flour is combined with the onion mixture and cooked such that you no longer see the powder known as raw flour. Add the milk and stir until the mixture is smooth and begins to thicken slightly, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and stir in the cheese until cheese has just melted.
In a large sauté pan, melt the remaining stick of unsalted butter, then add the panko breadcrumbs and stir to coat well with the melted butter. Once coated with buttery goodness, remove from the heat.
Place the carrots in a large casserole and top with the milk mixture. Then cover with the buttery breadcrumbs, spreading them out over all of the carrots below. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the breadcrumb topping is golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve with a whole slew of other vegetables destined for a festa – dressed up in a cheese sauce as many of them will be.
Serves 6 to 8, except when served with eight other sides, in which case, it will serve 10 to 12 as a smaller, yet still fattening, nibble.
Dinner tonight: Who can even know?! Today is the first day of The Masters, and JR is having his annual Masters party even as I type. This means that shortly after this post goes up, I will be enjoying an adult beverage on what has turned out to be one of the best days of the New England spring so far, listening to friends' golf stories and seeing how goes the day for Tiger, Phil, and Greg Norman, though JR has pinned his hopes on Geoff Ogilvy. It is most likely that we will eat snacks for dinner, or perhaps a take-out pizza, and I hope you will forgive me, but I have no cost-saving dinner plans to share with you today. Just the thought of a cold drink, warm sunshine, and salty snack foods. Mmmmmm.