‘Tis the season

Friday, Dec 21, 2012 3:18 pm

Illustration by Owen Tindle, Color by Benjamin Steckel

Do yourself a favor: Squeeze in this traditional holiday casserole recipe full of regret–and creamy Velveeta cheesebefore you are forced by New Year’s resolutions to tame your calories and cholesterol……..

By Alex Marie Lombino

While searching for a way to start this essay, I’ve been preoccupied with the never-ending process of turning my apartment into Santa’s Boom-Boom Room. My favorite new item? A color-changing LED angel nightlight. Also on my mind is the credit card bill lingering from last year’s purchases, which I should make a swift payment on before accruing more damage on this year’s goodies.

I designated an entire line of credit last year to purchasing holiday-related items in an attempt to diffuse the anxiety I normally experience while spending money, and I intend to carry on the tradition this year. Why this somehow makes a difference, why allocating these costs to one shiny blue card for future payment has quelled my stress is hard to say. I suppose you might equate it to sweeping something under a rug. But, then,  I do that literally, as in literally sweeping dust bunnies and wayward pine needles under my living room  rug to create the illusion of a clean floor. Thinking about that gives me anxiety, too. Why does this seem an acceptable solution, knowing that every evening as I’m relaxing on my couch enjoying a thought-provoking episode of Dr. Drew and a seasonally appropriate snifter of Dr. McGillicuddy, there will be covert grime lurking underfoot?

But let’s move on to the fleeting nature of holiday cheer, which inevitably gives way to the guilt that comes with exorbitant spending and incessantly munching treats so butter-laden that your skin begins to glisten like the bottoms of little cherubs. January resolutions are made as a result. Once the sugar coma wears off, you give yourself a good look in the mirror and wonder when your chin had developed a chin. You ask yourself how long you’ve been wearing yoga pants.

Ah, Velveeta! You make the holiday!

However, I am not a resolutions sort of girl. This isn’t the first time my chin has doubled. I know that a few kickboxing videos and a conscious effort not to cover everything I eat in dairy is probably sufficient remedy for my waistline. While it’s still December, why not bask unabashedly in the environmentally damning glow of tree lights that line our streets and enjoy dreams of giant salty pretzels dipped in chocolate and coated with bits of candy cane? These are things to be celebrated.

So while the air is still crisp and I can live in oversized wool cardigans that I probably stole from my Dad, my most prized and highly caloric holiday dishes will also stay in vogue. Among my favorite treats is my Uncle Chris’s Brussels sprout casserole. Educated at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, my uncle is a successful executive chef working on Cape Cod. He does, however, have a penchant for using low-brow ingredients. Among some of his secrets: the use of a popular children’s cereal as a coating for fried seafood. I therefore was not surprised when he revealed that the secret to his delicious Brussels sprout casserole, often trotted out at Christmas, is a healthy dose of Velveeta and Stove Top stuffing. If you’re feeling particularly demented, I would suggest throwing in some bits of bacon. In sharing this with you, I hope you’ll take advantage of your holiday and indulge to your stomach’s content. Regret be damned! There’s plenty of time to lament after New Year’s Day.

Cheesy-Baked Brussels

 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved and blanched

1 large Spanish onion

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper(or a lot more, if you are anything like me)

1 package Stove Top stuffing (your favorite flavor is fine)

16 oz. Velveeta, melted, OR Cheddar and Gruyere Sauce (recipe below)

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 (degrees) F. Wash, halve and blanch Brussels sprouts and place in a large casserole dish. Dice onion and sauté in olive oil (or butter—may as well), then introduce to Brussels sprouts. Melt Velveeta (or prepare cheddar and gruyere sauce) in microwave, pour over vegetables and mix. Add a third of your stuffing, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper and mix once again. If you’d like a little more mush, feel free to add more stuffing. Sprinkle the top with a bit more stuffing for crunch. Bake covered for 20 minutes. Remove cover and bake for another 10 minutes. For a little extra crunch, slide it under the broiler at high heat until browned to your liking. Remove from oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, and indulge.

Cheddar and Gruyere Sauce

8 oz cheddar cheese, shredded

8 oz gruyere cheese, shredded

6 tbsp unsalted butter

1/3 cup flour

24 oz (3 cups) whole milk, warm or at room temperature

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp paprika

2 tsp cayenne pepper

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a heavy-bottom pan at medium heat. Mix in flour, stirring constantly, and cook for 10-12 minutes to create a roux. Remove from heat and slowly add milk, whisking constantly. Once the milk is thoroughly combined, return to heat, continue stirring and bring to a boil. Once mixture has come to a boil, lower heat and continue to cook until mixture thickens. Turn off heat and begin adding the cheese gradually. Mix in cinnamon, paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.

Alex Marie Lombino is a recent graduate of the Cambridge School of Culinary Art’s pastry program and the associate editor of New Paris Press. You can read more of her recipes at on her Bowl of Sour Cherries blog.

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