By Emma Chow
For this day, the casserole dish is your friend.
A lovely ceramic baking dish that may languish in this warm time of the year, is a great opportunity to make something that only needs to be thrown into the oven before serving time, while you busy yourself with other activities like shelling prawns or barbecuing meat. This is also a great time to embrace the American tradition of “stuffing”.
Unlike the clumpy, greyish mush that you find on the inside of commercial roast chickens, stuffings are actually a side dish unto themselves and these days most chefs will recommend you cook stuffing in a separate dish to avoid cross contamination with the cavities of roasting birds. The internal cavity of your chicken, duck or turkey does not reach the same high temperatures as the rest of the meat, especially when stuffed.
If you’re focused on a centerpiece dish and want the sides to be simple to make, throw a few of these together for Christmas.
1. Rice Stuffing
Wild rice stuffing is pretty popular with our American counterparts, but the stuff is expensive, though tasty and beautiful looking. If you happen to have a bit of wild rice, or would prefer the beauty of the black and beige grains, then go ahead and replace a quarter to half of the jasmine rice with it. This is like a simple but flavourful rice pilaf, with a tasty mixture of vegetables, dried fruit and herbs. Can be made 3 days ahead.
2 cups jasmine rice or other long grain rice
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
3/4 almonds (or walnuts, pecans)
1/4 cup cranberries
bunch of parsley
1/2 bunch of celery
juice of half a lemon
1 litre of chicken stock
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
- Finely chop the onion and celery stalks.In a large pot, on medium heat, add a tablespoon of oil and saute the onion and celery until translucent and tender. Add one tablespoon of butter and the rice and saute for another 4 minutes.
- Add the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until the rice is tender.
- Meanwhile, pan toast the almonds and pumpkin seeds until crisp.
- Finely chop the parsley. Fold the parsley, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit through the rice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place mixture in presentation dish and allow to cool. Cover and keep in fridge until ready to serve.
- You can reheat this for serving, or just serve it cold. Pour lemon juice over and stir through just before serving.
2. Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Bacon
Don’t knock them, I love these tiny cabbages. My mother never cooked them when I was a child, so I know none of the horror stories. Cut them in half, toss with oil, season liberally with salt and pepper. Roast in hot oven until the edges are browning and the rest is bright green. I will eat a big bowl of these hot or cold. For every 500gms of brussel sprouts, I would have 3 rashers of bacon, diced and pan fried till crisp. Toss together and store until needed. Will keep for 2 days.
3. Sourdough and Leek Stuffing
The American tradition of these sorts of stuffing may not be well understood here, but think of it as a delicious baked casserole dish that is like a savoury bread and butter pudding with tasty bits of caramelised leek, chunks of spicy sausage, sweet apple and the crunch of nuts. Throw it together, saving the eggs and stock for just before you want to cook it. Can be made 2 days ahead.
300gms pork sausage
1/2 loaf of leftover sourdough bread
1/2 cup walnunts
2 cloves of garlic
1 large leek
1/4 bunch of celery
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves stripped from stalks
2 cloves of garlic
50 grams of butter, melted
650mls of chicken stock.
- Finely slice onion, celery and leek. Finely chop the garlic. Dice the apples. In a pan on medium heat, saute the onion, garlic, celery and leek in a tablespoon of butter until the onion is translucent and the celery is tender. Add diced apple and rosemary and cook for a further 5 minutes. Scrape into a large bowl and return the pan to heat
- Remove the casings from the pork sausages. In the same pan as previously, add a tablespoon of oil and gently fry the sausages and break them up with a wooden spoon until they are in small chunks. Once browned remove from the pan and add to the bowl with the vegetables.
- Chop the leftover bread into small cubes. Add the the large bowl and stir the mixture to combine. Add the melted butter and stir through. Cover the bowl cling film and keep in the fridge until ready to bake. Can be made up to 3 days ahead.
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Grease a ceramic baking dish or casserole dish. Pour the stuffing mixture into the dish.
- Whisk together the eggs and the stock and pour over the mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes and then remove the foil and bake for another 2o minutes until golden and crisp on top.
4. Roasted vegetable salad
The easiest of the cooked vegetable salads to achieve. Chunks of pumpkin that are starting to caramelise and blacken at the edges, roast zucchini, eggplant, squash and capsicum. There are so many dressings that can pair with these vegetables, such as a simple vinaigrette ( ), a splash of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or a favourite in a cafe I once worked at: the above vegetables plus pan fried green beans, topped with a simple sauce made with tinned tomato, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, topped with a drizzle of Greek Yogurt. Cut the vegetables into bite size chunks, toss in olive oil and a little seasoning and roast at 200 degrees Celcius until each is tender. Put it all in your serving dish. Make the dressing and keep it in a plastic container. Keep in fridge for up to 1 or 2 days before it is needed.
5. Potato Gratin
These humble pantry ingredients plus a little milk, cheese and cream, make for the most delicious potato dish that I happily make and eat Winter or Summer, hot or cold.
1 kg of waxy potatoes
1 cup of cream
1/2 cup of milk
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
about a tablespoon of chopped thyme leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
- In a small pot, heat the cream and milk with the garlic, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Allow to come to a simmer then leave for at least an hour to infuse.
- Meanwhile, peel and slice the potatoes as thinly as you can manage. Use a mandolin if you like. Don’t stress to much if slices aren’t even, just make sure none are thicker than 1cm at their fattest end.
- Use the butter to grease a ceramic or glass baking dish. Layer the potato slices over one another like tiles until you have used them all up. Pour over the flavoured cream and sprinkle over the grated parmesan. Chuck this into the fridge until you want to bake it.
- When you want to cook it, preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celcius. Bake for 20 minutes before removing and covering with foil, cooking for an additional 15-20 minutes.
6. Extra Corny Cornbread
For Americans, eating cornbread at Thanksgiving is a tradition. Cornbread is simply a baking soda risen quick bread made with cornmeal. I like to make it extra special with fresh corn stripped from the cob folded into the batter before baking.
1 1/2 cups cornmeal or fine polenta
1 1/2 cups of plain flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
20 grams butter, melted
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup of natural or Greek yogurt
2 ears of fresh corn (or a can of drained canned corn kernals)
- Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celcius. Grease 20cm x 20cm or equivalent baking dish or pan. Whisk together the first 5 ingredients in a large bowl
- Cut the corn kernals from the cob.
- In a seperate bowl, whisk together the butter, milk and yogurt. Crack in an egg one at a time and beat thoroughly to combine.
- Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Fold in corn kernals. Scrape batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the centre is cooked.
- Cool before removing from dish or cutting into serves.
7. Pasta salad
We all have a good pasta salad up our sleeve (my favourite is any that riffs on Tuna Nicoise). However, rookie mistake: putting the dressing/sauce on the night before. For a make ahead pasta salad, toss your cooked pasta, vegetables and other bits and pieces together and put in an airtight container or tightly wrap in a large bowl. Keep the dressing in a separate container and bring it with you to the event. Dress just before serving.