Monday, December 13, 2010

Kernels of Gratitude

I've catered a few employee appreciation parties this year, more than last year or the year before. Hosting at home can be intimate, sometimes more so than a party held at the office or in a restaurant. A special way to thank staff, who like most in the working arena are using more brain power, multi-tasking and working longer hours. The home is an expression of ourselves and offers cozy, non-commercial ambiance.

Decorations tend to express our style and often holiday decor is a collection of special pieces and ornaments collected throughout the years, some passed down from our parents and grandparents. Stepping out of the familiar office atmosphere and into the employers home to share the spirit of the season is definitely a wonderful way to express appreciation and gratitude. What a beautiful way to thank the very people who work hard for the company they represent!

This year I'm spreading kernels of gratitude. Every time I think about something for which I'm grateful, I'm going to toss a popcorn kernel ... in Santa's direction! While my clients are thanking their staff, it's a reminder for me to thank them for their business. And a big thank you as well to my blog readers and followers. I'm grateful for you all!

For every holiday party this year, I design a menu that is festive, comforting and with a touch of elegance. Here are a few recipes for holiday-oriented, crowd-pleasing, unique side dishes that have received rave reviews. Hopefully they will be the perfect addition to your holiday menus.

Carrot and Leek Gratin

A delicious side dish that's so versatile it can be served with beef, lamb, pork or chicken! And while five tablespoons of horseradish may seem excessive, trust me, it isn't. The horseradish gives this dish a wonderful zesty flavor.
Helpful to know: Carrot and Leek Gratin can be assembled the morning of the day you wish to serve it. Refrigerate and bring to room temperature before baking.
Canola cooking spray for baking dish
2 tablespoons butter
4 cups (about 6 medium) carrots, shredded
2 cups (about 4-5 medium) leeks (white part only), sliced
5 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon salt
A few grindings of fresh black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. In a large skillet over moderate heat, melt butter and saut√© carrots and leeks until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in horseradish, salt and pepper; transfer mixture to the baking dish.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup milk
2 eggs, room temperature
In a medium bowl, whisk together cream, milk and eggs; pour over carrot/leek mixture and lightly stir to evenly distribute. Bake gratin uncovered for 30 minutes.
While carrots and leeks are baking …
⅓ cup breadcrumbs
½ cup white cheddar cheese, shredded
In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs and cheese, set aside.
About 30 minutes later …
Remove carrots and leeks from oven and evenly distribute the breadcrumb/cheese mixture on top. Bake uncovered for an additional 25 minutes. Serve immediately. Yield: 6-8 servings.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
If you’re not familiar with white minced onion, (think bagel topping, cracker topping, onion bread) it is onion that has been dried. It has a distinct altogether onion flavor for which I think make these potatoes so memorable.
Tidbits for perfection: Peeling potatoes is a matter of preference. If potatoes seem like they need to be creamier, add some of the reserved potato water. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the creamy part. Simply Organic offers an array of organic spices, white minced onion is part of their line and is available from Whole Foods Market and most health oriented grocery stores nationwide.
Potatoes …
5 pounds potatoes, quartered, reserve some potato water
1 teaspoon salt
Fill a large pot with water, add salt, and bring water to a boil, add potatoes, allow water to return to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium and cook potatoes until fork tender, about 20-30 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Mash potatoes with electric beater or in a stand mixer until almost creamy.
The creamy part
One 8-ounce package light cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons white minced onion
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
In a medium bowl, beat until well-blended cream cheese, sour cream, butter, minced onion, salt and pepper. Add the cream cheese mixture to the potatoes and beat (being careful not over beat) until ingredients are blended. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve immediately. Yield: 12 servings.