You can’t really be surprised, can you? Who has a bigger mythos about the ideal Christmas than people who've never participated? Christmas is like this big crazy part of social consciousness that I have no part of, and no idea what it’s actually like – that is unless Norman Rockwell paintings, Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown, and The Santa Clause are accurate representations of the holiday, at which point I’ve got it covered.
In any event, introducing my boyfriend to Jewish holidays, traditions, and foods – or forcibly hoisting them upon him, as the case may be –means that I have to participate in his holidays, too. Namely, football Sundays and Christmas. My first Christmas with his family, I made a chickpea and roasted vegetable salad with olive oil and lemon dressing.
Before you laugh, it actually was delicious and everyone did eat it. But yes, it did look just a little out of place along side the honey baked ham and deviled eggs.
This year, I opted for more family friendly, less out there vegetarian foods. In addition to what has apparently become my signature holiday dish, the oven roasted Brussels Sprouts that are requested time and again (I thought a signature dish was supposed to be a casserole or a pie! Who’s known for their sprouts?!), I made one of my boyfriend’s favored dishes when it comes to my cooking. My (Secret!) Mac & Cheese.
There are two secrets when it comes to this dish. The first is its secretly low fat...okay, lower fat. It’s probably the lowest fat that mac & cheese can be. But the second secret blows the first out of the water; this is an adapted Paula Deen recipe. That’s right – a low fat adaptation of the first lady of buttery Southern cooking herself. But since you absolutely can't tell that this mac & cheese is low fat or gluten free, these are the kinds of secrets you can keep to yourself while making the kind of dish you love to share.
Of course, low fat adaptations aside, mac & cheese is still a dish comprised of cheese and milk and thus still kinda heavy. And, while it just wouldn’t be Christmas with out a pie (so says my Christmas education via Norman Rockwell), I thought it best to keep dessert as light as possible while still being memorable.
I made the pie recipe on the fly, and spent a lot of my day obsessing about how it would turn out. (I'm a rather nervous baker.) Inspired by a craving for this amazing raspberry tart I enjoyed in my gluten eating days - (from the best Chinese vegetarian restaurant, Peking Gourmet, that is before it got torn down in the name of Cedar Road progress), I grabbed up frozen berries, chocolate, and pecan pieces and set to work. But in trying to recreate it, I discovered the tart had a secret of its own: the layer of melted chocolate between the berries and crust in Peking’s tart served the double purpose of not only being delicious and chocolatey, but also protecting the pie crust from almost certain sogginess that the pie frozen berries would’ve caused. This pie turned out fantastically and is further proof you can adapt almost anything to great gluten-free fare.
I had a frozen Whole Foods gluten-free pie crust left in the freezer from Thanksgiving (how great is it that they come two to a pack?) which made my pie baking – or rather, not baking – even easier. If you don’t have a gluten free pie crust, you can use a pie mix like I did when I made my amaretto apple pie or, if you’re particularly daring, making one from scratch.
So while it might not have been Charlie Brown and Sally or Tim Allen in a fat suit, but I’m coming to really enjoy Christmas. And holidays or not, these are recipes make for a great meal to share with those you love.
(Secret!) Mac & Cheese
1 16oz bag of Tinkyada penne or fusilli pasta (or favored bag of pasta)
1 cup of skim milk
1/2 cup of reduced fat sour cream
2 cups of low fat cheese (Trader Joe's has a great light cheese blend, but 2% sharp cheddar Kraft will absolutely do the job)
3 tablespoons smart balance / earth balance or regular butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta to just this side of done and drain but do not run water over it. Place pasta in a large bowl (or just back in the pot) and quickly mix in the cheese and butter. They will melt as they combine with the hot pasta.
In a separate bowl, beat two eggs and combine them with the milk, sour cream, and spices. Add the milk mixture to the pasta and stir thoroughly. (It's important to do this separately fro
m the pasta or else the eggs will curdle and you'll end up with scrambled eggs and pasta.)
Pour the mac & cheese into an 8 x 8 casserole pan (or a larger pan for a thinner dish) and bake at 350 for about an hour, or until the top gets crispy.
If you have a little extra cheese on hand, sprinkle it over the top after 45 minutes.
(No Bake) Berry Chocolate Pie
1 large bag of frozen mixed berries - or 1 -2 bags of preferred frozen berry
scant 1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 of a lemon
2 squares of Bakers' semisweet chocolate
2 tablespoon of water
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1/2 cup of pecans pieces
1 gluten free pie crust, baked and ready to go
(the whole foods pie crust bakes for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees and worked great)
The night before, place frozen berries in a strainer - and place the strainer in a larger bowl - to thaw them in the refrigerator (that is, please don't leave them out overnight).
On pie day - and your pie crust has already been baked and is ready for filling! - melt the two squares of chocolate in the microwave. First, for 45 seconds, giving it a stir, and then again until melted (about 25 more seconds). Stir the chocolate until its completely smooth and the spoon it on to the pie crust. With the back of your spoon, sweep the melted chocolate evenly over the bottom and about half way up the side of the pie. Place the chocolate covered crust in the the refrigerator for about 30 minutes, or until the chocolate is no longer wet and cooled.
When you're ready to assemble the pie, gently give your berries a final little push in the strainer, so as to remove any lingering juice from them without crushing them, and spoon them into your pie crust. --- Do not throw the berry juice away! Set it aside for the time being, please! --- Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the berries and give it all a gentle stir in the pie crust. Set aside.
In a pot on the stove, combine the berry juice, water, the sugar, and the cornstarch, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Let simmer for 3-5 minutes, letting the mixture thicken.
Pour the liquid over the pie. Dot with pecan pieces and refrigerate - uncovered - for at least an hour.
*Note: If your pie seems to full of liquid, its really easy to spoon some of the extra juices out and you wont be disturbing the taste at all, promise.