My favorite Christmas dishes
A personal history of holiday cooking
Since the time I got married in 1998, I've made Christmas dinner for my family (husband and kids, my parents, and my brothers) every year except one. What I like to do is make dishes that have a sense of tradition to them, but not the standard roast turkey or ham.
Here are some of the things I've made over the years that my family liked the most. Maybe you'll want to consider a couple for your holiday table.
Real cooking comes but once a year
Most of the time, I'm a lazy cook. I like food, but you won't see me making a lot of dishes that involve mincing onions, peeling potatoes, or sifting flour. I usually stick to things that you can take out of the package, sprinkle a little seasoning on, and put straight into the oven (or sauté on the stove).
Christmas is the one time that I take on recipes that require serious work. It's a nice style of cooking to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.
Good old tradtional American stuff
I've tried a couple of main courses that were very traditional-feeling all American foods, made from scratch, with great results.
The first Christmas I made a pot roast. As I said, I am usually the lazy cook, so this was my first time ever trying to make a pot roast. I did the Barbecued Pot Roast recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. It got rave reviews from the family.
A lot of people do pot roasts as a Christmas Eve tradition.
The next year I tried another homestyle favorite that I had never made before -- chicken and dumplings. Also from Good Housekeeping Illustrated, and it was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten, I'm swooning just remembering it.
Chicken and dumplings is a traditional Christmas dish in Germany.
The year I went Dickens
Another Christmas dinner I tried was a traditional English Dickens theme. I don't think I did that great on the roast goose, but the wassail punch was fabulous.
We would have no interest in the real original wassail punch, which was warmed beer or another alcoholic beverage with spices added. Ours was fruit juices with spices and spiked only with ginger ale, served hot with apple slices floating in it.
There are lots of different wassail punch recipes around and they can be suited to your tastes in terms of the exact choices of juices, fruits, spices, and absence or presence of liquor.
I didn't end up making the apple fritters, but I did make fruited chicken and latkes. Both were marvelous. Latkes are one of my favorite, favorite things.
Try the fruited chicken recipe from kosherdelight.com:
And there are recipes for latkes all around. This one from AllRecipes is about the same as the one I used.
Leg of lamb
Lamb is more strongly associated with Passover and Easter, but it's also popular as a Christmas meal, of course. I did one like this African-style recipe.
One recent Christmas, some other family members joined in the fun and contributed dishes. I was only responsible for the main entrée, which was an absolutely delicious Cranberry Pork Roast. I got the recipe from the Cook & Tell cookbook by Karyl Bannister.
Cranberries reach their readiness for harvest in autumn and are strongly associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
Another favorite year was when I did a Louisiana theme for our Christmas dinner. The main dish was a crab and shrimp gumbo that came out absolutely delicious. The recipe calls for lump crab meat, but my supermarket didn't have any so I had to buy a crab and pull it apart myself to get the meat. But It was worth it!
I did an improvised vegetable dish on the side, and for dessert, a luscious sour cream pound cake with a pecan filling. My mom said it was some of the best cake she had ever eaten.
For the breakfast, I didn't go with the Louisiana theme, choosing instead to make an Amish Breakfast Casserole. I love breakfast casseroles.
My greatest hit -- the Amish dinner
One afternoon, my boys and I were actually doing something that a good homeschooling family is supposed to do -- reading historical fiction together. It was a story about an Amish boy. The book mentioned apple dumplings, which we had not heard of before. We searched online to see what they were and immediately decided that Christmas dinner that year would go with an Amish theme. It turned out to be everyone's favorite out of my history of Christmas dinners.
The Amish are not shy about eating sinfully rich food, all home made, of course. Butter and sugar abound. It's their only vice.
The most memorable dishes of the day were:
- A potato and cheese dish similar to this one,
- Chicken with onions from the Quilt Country cookbook,
- Best of all, the apple dumplings. They are absolutely awesome. The recipe calls for mace, which I couldn't find in any of the grocery stores here in the 'hood, but I did everything else by the book. They melt in your mouth.
And I finally did Mexican!
Living in Los Angeles, where there is so much great Mexican food, I was intimidated by the idea of making a Mexican Christmas dinner. But last year, as my son was starting to learn Spanish and study Mexican history, I took the plunge and decided to make tamales for Christmas.
Boy, am I glad I finally got over my fear! It took three days to get the tamales done, but they were delicious. I also made elotes, which are my absolute favorite street food. My husband grilled the corn, and I made the dressing. They were amazingly good!
And don't forget the cookies!
We always have cookies on hand. Our standard varieties are:
- The Nestle's Tollhouse recipe with red and green M&Ms taking the place of the chocolate chips.
- Oatmeal raisin (JG's favorite)
- The urban legend Neiman-Marcus cookies (the first recipe on the Snopes page is the one we use). This one is BT's favorite; they're really delicious.
Themes I'd like to try in the future
I'm thinking about other meals to try. One of these days I would like to do a Chinese meal, citing the Jewish-American "tradition" of eating Chinese food at Christmas.
And in case you're wondering, I'm not planning to do a soul food theme. Ever. I am surrounded at home, at work, and at church, by people who specialize in soul food cooking. Remember, I'm the lazy cook. If I tried to make smothered short ribs, collard greens, or real macaroni and cheese, it would be my first time making any of them. And my dinner guests are accustomed to eating those dishes from cooks with decades of experience. Even if I had spectacular success with them, the best I could achieve would be a dinner that reminds everyone of the last church potluck.