I'm honored to be a guest at The Kitchn. I've gleaned so much useful information over the years from The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy: Chicago, and the rest of the sites, and from their friendly and intelligent community of followers. I could name many instances when, because of the sites, I've learned something useful or bought this or that to make my house more pleasant and organized. I'd even say that my life has become a little more enjoyable from the non-material things that I've absorbed from their ideas and feedback.
Like a good recipe, your sites have offered good steps, and I've been pleased with the results. But a good recipe or valuable information can range from being a tool to just get the job done, to something that is greatly anticipated and discussed over weeks of planning and hours of preparation, and enjoyed for days or even years after the few moments that it takes to use or consume it.
As my wife, Chelsea, and I get ready to welcome her brother Morgan from out of town in a few days, we are thinking about what we'll be cooking together during the holidays. We have a few tried-and-true recipes that we'll probably use, and we may create some new ones along the way. No matter what recipes we use, they will all have an unlisted ingredient: love. It may sound sappy, but if you season your dish with a little bit of love at any point during the process, you'll be sure to create something that fills both belly and soul.
As a chef, I've heard the phrase "you've got to add some love to it" a million times. It means that you've got to do something to take that dish from good to unforgettable. What are some of the ways that you can add love to your holiday dishes to take them to the next level?
The love you have for a family member could be the inspiration behind choosing which recipe to serve. Chelsea remembers her grandma's baked ham with peach glaze and wants to recreate it this holiday. A lot of the ingredients will be the same, and we'll probably put our own "gourmet" twist on it, but love is what's going to make it memorable for anyone who eats it.
My mom used to make a breakfast casserole for the family every Christmas morning. It was a simple dish of sliced bread that had been soaked in an egg batter overnight, combined with some vegetables and cheese, and baked the next morning. I know that if I combine those components, it will puff to magical heights just like my mom's did; if I add a little bit of that love that she would put into it, it will be just as enjoyable for my guests as it was for me as a kid.
Maybe love is an unexpected ingredient, like the black tea that Chelsea poured into our English Christmas pudding that has been curing in our refrigerator. My grandma has made many English puddings, and told Chelsea about this special step once. By tweaking a recipe based on someone's story, you can add a little bit of love that makes something taste even better.
In cooking and many other endeavors, love can be that extra bit of effort that you put into your work behind the scenes. Love could be the three pounds of chestnuts that you decided to roast and peel by hand when you know there has to be an easier way to get them into your recipe. Love could be a single winter-vegetable terrine that you make for your friend, the one vegetarian at the party. Sure, they could pick or choose a few vegetarian sides to make a meal, but you want them to have a main course, just like everyone else.
This holiday season, put some love into your recipes. I attended a Hanukkah party this past weekend in Chicago, and the hostess, Laura, whose family lives in New York, prepared her mom's sweet-and-sour beef brisket recipe for the occasion. The story behind altering the broth recipe a touch and her husband, Nathan, allegedly slicing the brisket incorrectly could have been a sour moment, but is really a sweet example of how love can make a meal. I can tell you that it was also nice to be on the receiving end of the love that went into that recipe and I will remember that brisket forever.
Love can tell a story or honor those people who are or have been important in your life. Best of all, love is the only ingredient in your recipes, besides maybe butter and bacon, that will stay with you and your guests long after you've finished your meal.
2 loaves sliced bread of your choice. Mom has used white, wheat and last year was gluten-free.
2 dozen cage-free whole eggs
1 quart organic half and half
2 quarts organic whole milk
Grated cheese of your choice
Chopped, sauteed vegetables of your choice: my mom always uses red peppers, mushrooms, onions and broccoli.
Fresh grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat oven to 350°F
Butter or spray a casserole dish (you know, the big glass one)
Beat together eggs, half and half and milk and season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper
Remove the crusts from the bread
Soak the bread in the batter thoroughly, about 20 minutes
Line the bottom and sides of the casserole dish with the soaked bread slices
Add a layer of the sauteed vegetables and grated cheese
Cover with bread slices and alternate with more vegetables and cheese and more bread
The top layer should be bread only
Press down on the casserole, pour over remaining batter and let it soak in--you may end up with excess batter
You can leave it in the refrigerator overnight and bake in the morning or put together and bake the same morning.
Say a prayer to your holiday deity
Bake for around 1 1/2 hours.
Add some tented foil over the top during baking if it is browning too heavily
Let rest before serving
Try it with ketchup
I like mine with some lightly dressed fresh lettuces
Say a prayer to your holiday deity
• See more 2009 Holiday Guest Posts here
(Images: Art of Pleasant House)