Winter 2018: Holiday Staples and New Twists on Midwestern Classics

I really love winter. It makes me kind of unpopular, because everyone else I know seems to hate it. This is baffling to me, because winter is when cooking goes buckwild. Everything is creamy and hearty and roasty and caramelized. Running the oven all day is not frowned upon, rather encouraged!

During the holidays, everyone’s specialty comes out to play. Mom’s mashed potatoes, Mary’s peanut brittle, Grandma’s beef tenderloin. My family is Catholic and HUGE, so we had absolute heaps of various Christmas foods. The stuff we found typical wasn’t necessarily standard holiday fare here, so we had to make it from scratch.

Pumpkin Purée
This is a fall staple for us. In the US, you’d usually buy a can of pumpkin, make your pie and call it day. I didn’t because I didn’t really care for wet, sad pie, but Cliff was aching for the stuff, so a friend and I bought some pumpkins to try and unlock their secrets.

Turns out their secrets aren’t very well kept. This is ludicrously easy and after researching how to make it, I figured out why I never particularly liked it: there’s no reason it has to be so wet. I started with this recipe from Everyday Annie, but then adapted it to a straight bake w/no added water for steaming. If you can’t abide browned edges, you might want to follow Annie’s instructions. Below is what I do.

About 5 cups/1.25 liters purée

2 Hokkaido pumpkins

Baking sheet
Food processor, blender or potato masher
Freezer containers

Note: Handling pumpkins with rubber gloves is a good idea. The flesh leaves a weird, tight residue on your hands that take several washes to get off. Ewww.

Preheat oven to 350° F/175° C.

Rinse the pumpkins; they can be a little dirty and the skin will be delicate after roasting. Slice pumpkins in half (latitudinally or longitudinally, whatever makes you happy), scoop out the seeds and strings, then cut each half into quarters. You should end up with eight triangles per pumpkin.

Place as many pieces as possible on the baking sheet, skin-side down. Roast (using convection if possible) for 40-60 minutes. They’re done when pieces are easily pierced with a fork. Set pumpkin aside to cool.

When cool, scrape the flesh into a big bowl. The skin is edible and it’s ok if a little gets in there, but your purée will be smoother if there’s no skin. Once you’ve got all of the flesh separated, time to purée!

  • If you’re mashing by hand, you might want to add a tablespoon or so of water. Mash to your heart’s content.
  • If you’re using a FoPro or blender, you’ll NEED a little water to keep the device from seizing. Keep a cup of water nearby and be prepared to add it by tablespoons as needed. Work in batches and process until smooth.

Once you’ve achieved your desired texture, that’s it. Pack the pumpkin into containers. If you’re refrigerating it, use within 3 days; pumpkin molds at the speed of sound. I recommend freezing, it thaws beautifully.

So what does one DO with all of this lovingly prepared orange glop? Well, I suggest a classic Pumpkin PiePumpkin Bread or Pumpkin Risotto.

Tuna Noodle Casserole
During the holidays, I like to make things that hang around for a couple of days, allowing me to do other stuff. This is a Midwestern staple and (usually) a can-opening extravaganza. This version is much scratchier, but not a ton more work. You can make the sauce ahead of time, then boil noodles and assemble within 20 minutes. The original recipe came from Chowhound, an excellent resource for cooking tips, techniques and ideas. I made a few adjustments for my own preferences.

1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 celery stalks, small dice
1 medium onion, small dice
1 small hot green chili, minced
2 t Old Bay Seasoning (here’s how to make your own)
3 T flour
1 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
3 c/750 mL milk
3 T sour cream
1 T wholegrain mustard (if Dijon’s your jam, use that)

1 lb/500 g package egg noodles (the thicker and rougher, the better; I like schwäbische Landnudeln)
2 cans tuna, drained and flaked (oil or water pack, doesn’t really matter)
1 c/225 g shredded cheddar cheese

Topping (optional)
2-3 T grated Parmesan cheese
1 T dried parsley
3-4 T french fried onions (Röstzwiebeln)

Heat oven to 350° F/175° C.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add oil and melt butter. When butter foams, add garlic, celery, onion and chili. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender. Combine seasoning, flour, salt and pepper, sprinkle over vegetable mixture and stir until vegetables are well coated. Keep stirring and cook until flour turns golden and starts smelling toasty. Whisk milk into saucepan in a slow stream, stopping to whisk out lumps as necessary. Bring sauce to a simmer (it should thicken), remove from heat and whisk in sour cream and mustard. Adjust seasonings as necessary and set aside to cool a little.

Cook noodles in salted water for half of package time and drain well, allowing noodles to cool somewhat. Add noodles, tuna and cheddar to large casserole dish (butter it if you want, but I don’t think this needs it). Pour in sauce and stir well, making sure tuna and cheddar are well distributed. If you’re doing the topping, combine the Parmesan, parsley and crunchy onions and sprinkle them over the top. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes.

Note: Oh, you fancy? If you don’t want sauce streaks baked on the sides of the casserole dish, use the pot you cooked the noodles in to combine the filling and sauce, then pour it all into the dish. Just make sure the pot has cooled enough to not melt the cheddar, which can cause an unpleasant oiliness.

Go check out Chowhound’s recipes for other classed-up comfort food or browse the Community boards for chat and questions about food.

Here are a few other unusual-in-Germany holiday recipes I’ve found and loved:

Brown Butter Cranberry Shortbread Bars: use a light hand with the sugar in the filling, you don’t want to lose all of the tartness.

Date Cake with Toffee Sauce: don’t deviate from the recipe, it’s divine.

Foolproof Roasted Potatoes: yeah, they call them hash browns, but I know what words mean and these aren’t those. Precision of language aside, make these potatoes with any flavor combo you want.

Homemade Green Bean Casserole: this is tons of work, but I’ve used the sauce as a cream of mushroom soup by tinkering with the proportions and the leftover shallot oil in anything and everything.

Sun-Dried Tomato, Leek and Brie Breakfast Strata: this is a lighter take on the bacon and sausage-laden versions my family always had for Christmas brunch. It’s great to make ahead, stash in the fridge and chuck in the oven when you have guests.

Have fun poking around on these sites and seeing where else they take you. Guten Appetit, schöne Feiertage und einen guten Rutsch, y’all!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.