CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I personally adore recipes that do double duty, especially in the time-crunch bustle of the busy holiday season. As the to-do lists grow longer and longer and the days literally get shorter, who has time to cook? You do. Check out these dazzling recipes that work overtime and use just a few simple ingredients.
For a tasty twist on a traditional side dish, trim a head of fresh broccoli into spears. Steam it and top with a subtle or spicy chipotle cheese sauce. Pop it under the broiler and you'll be serving a culinary masterpiece that didn't make you sweat. Do the work ahead of time and heat the dish on your terms. Your guests will be pleasantly surprised by the smoky kick of the chipotle, and you don't have to let them in on your "it's so easy" secret.
Better yet, employ your food processor and pulse the broccoli, stems and all, into coarse florets. Blend it with the cheesy chipotle magic and bake until bubbling. This version makes a delicious dip for a festive starter. Again, you can prepare it in advance and it's ready when your party guests arrive. Serve with crostini that you can quickly toast from the baguettes in your freezer.
Baked potatoes are an easy yet unexpected finger food. Roast tiny whole potatoes and serve them with classic toppings. These darlings disappear quickly, so be sure to reserve some to make a bonus Spanish tortilla.
A favorite tapas dish from its namesake country, the tortilla is not the familiar flatbread, but a savory potato omelet. Though the traditional preparation is slightly tedious, you can make it with your reserved baked potatoes for huge time savings. Serve it in garnished wedges for brunch or in tiny squares for tapas.
If guests drop in and you're not at all prepared to feed them, break out a can of black beans and your secret stash of crunchy tortilla cups. Add some spice to the beans and some cubes of ripe avocado (note: keep on hand at all times) and you have crunchy party goodness in minutes. This black bean salad doubles on its own as a delicious and satisfying lunch dish, so you'll never go hungry, even when time is really tight.
Happy holidays, everyone! Happy cooking!
Chipotle Cheddar Broccoli Gratin
Broccoli goes uptown with this luscious sauce. For a fabulous dip, coarsely chop the trimmed broccoli (the food processor makes quick work of this) and stir it into the hot cheese sauce. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and heat until bubbling. Serve with crostini (a baguette from Charleston Bread is a freezer staple -- stock up for crostini, soup-dipping or sandwiches). Makes 8 servings.
1 large head broccoli (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into spears
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk (skim works great)
1 1/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1 teaspoon (or more if you love spicy) minced canned chipotle chilies in adobo (see note)
STEAM broccoli spears until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Arrange them in a buttered shallow 1 1/2 quart baking dish and season with salt.
MELT the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the milk and stir constantly until thickened and bubbling. Remove from the heat and whisk in 1 cup of the cheddar and the chipotle. Add salt, to taste, and more chipotle, if desired.
POUR the cheese sauce over the broccoli. Sprinkle top with remaining 1/4 cup cheese.
BROIL about 8 inches from the heat for 5 minutes until the gratin is bubbling and brown in spots.
To make the dip:
CHOP the raw broccoli and stir into the hot cheese sauce. Transfer to baking dish and bake at 350° for 20 minutes, until heated through, then top it with remaining 1/4 cup cheese, slide under the broiler for a minute or two to brown the top.
Note: Chipotle chilies in adobo are smoked jalapeños, available in the ethnic section of most grocery stores.
Baby Baked Potatoes
These tiny potatoes are an exciting finger food. Top as desired -- bits of crunchy bacon would definitely work. Bacon from Sandy Creek Farms is locally raised and cured and is exceptionally delicious. Makes 8 servings.
1 1/2 pounds tiny tan-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and pricked once
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
Toppings: bacon, fresh lemon zest and wedges, sour cream, snipped fresh chives