Wednesday, December 29, 2010

O hearty night(s)...

The holiday season is winding down. I was fortunate enough to attend several swell gatherings in honor of the yuletide. Many cocktails were drunk, many people were drunk, many dishes were drunk with butter, cream and all things good and tasty. The only party I hosted was for my daughter's preschool friends, so the menu was a little scaled back. However, although my child is not of varied pallet, I know other kids eat like mini-foodies, so I took some risks with the preparation of my macaroni and cheese muffins and holiday punch. Instead of a roux with butter and flour, I subbed sweet potatoes and butter/ olive oil. I spooned in a tablespoon of corn starch as an additional thickener when I added the milk. Success! It worked like a charm, and my cheesy sauce was amazing! Some of the kids didn't care for my choice of noodle (egg), so next time, I will use elbow or shells or something that mimes Annie's and friends. I had enough leftover sauce to make some adult tasty delights as well (although not for this party): twice baked potatoes, added some veggies one night for a put-me-in-a-dairy-coma-but-in-a-good-way soup, and for some of my own adult pasta action with cauliflower and swiss chard.

The punch was a kid-friendly (read: no booze or soda) spin on a holiday spirit I crave as soon as I pop the top on some fizzy cranberry juice. I could drink liters and liters, and with no alcohol and no soda, I just might make up another batch to keep in my fridge through the New Year when Trader Joe's stops carrying the cranberry sparkle I adore.

Happy New Year to you all!


1 lb of pasta, cooked according to type and preference (I used egg noodles but I recommend something with some curves to keep the sauce interested in sticking around)
Olive oil swish to keep things from drying out

For the sauce:

2 medium sweet potatoes (about 5 oz each), cooked and mashed
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons cornstarch (depending on how thick you like your sauce)
Liter of milk (I used non fat because that's what I had)
24 oz of sharp cheddar cheese, grated (orange preferably, to hide the sweet potatoes and to look like that boxed stuff)
1 block of neufachatel cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Grinds of pepper, to taste and if desired
Grated Parmesan, if desired

Start this sauce like a bechamel. Using a saucepan on medium-high, add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the sweet potato mash. Smush around and let brown slightly, similar to a flour and butter roux. When the potato has absorbed the olive oil/ butter mixture and looks very thick and like orange flour paste, add milk, reserving a tablespoon or two. With the reserved milk, whisk some cornstarch. Start with just 1 tablespoon; you can always add more if needed. Whisk into sweet potato roux and milk, careful to really incorporate the mixture. There will be sweet potato strands since it's a fibrous vegetable, but these should just look some extra specks of orange. If you need to thicken more, add a touch more cornstarch. Remember, the sauce will also thicken with the addition of the cheese. Using a large spoon, stir in the neufchatel cheese. When all melted and incorporated, add grated cheddar cheese. Keep mixing and folding cheese in. Add the salt and nutmeg, adjusting to taste (I like a little more salt than 1 tsp but you may like just that tsp).

In a bowl, dish out the pasta. Ladle in heaps of the cheese sauce until it's well coated. I had some cheese left over, but that was part of my intention as I love it so. You can serve as is, with black pepper and some grated Parmesan, or do as I did for my child's party: I spooned the mixture into cupcake tins, and heated it up prior to the party at 375 F to start (10 min) then turned down to 350 F for about 20 min, or until bubbly and crispy on top.

If this was for more an adventurous tummy rather than a pre-k shindig, I would probs change up the cheeses (in lieu of all Cheddar, mix it up with Parmesan, Goat if you like, Camembert, other stinky wonderfullness), and maybe add a crunchy topping of breadcrumbs and butter or friend onions or even sauteed apples with rosemary.

The punch is a to-taste concoction I am sure I sampled somewhere, then recreated on memory and whim.
For kid's punch, I used:
1 lemon-flavored sparkling water liter
1 cranberry sparkling juice liter
1 can of pineapple juice (you know, the ones from Dole in the juice aisle)
1 carton of orange juice
I made pineapple ice cubes with cranberries floating in the cubes to keep chilled.
For adults, I would sub the sparkling water and add either champagne, crisp but sweet sparking wine or ginger beer/ ale. Also, a splash of pomegranate grenadine would be very "holiday" indeed.

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