A photograph I posted recently on Instagram of an early Christmas celebration (I tend to rather extend any celebration I can) led to several messages regarding Christmas / Holiday menu ideas. As I said in the original post, the only thing I love more than planning my own holiday meals is helping other people plan theirs. I gathered all of the questions that came in and have come up with a menu and few winning pot luck ideas for you. Most of these are things I have made, with great success! So have fun, good luck and happy cooking! May the force be with you.
The Big Family Gathering:
The important thing when hosting a big family gathering is to plan out a timeline of what needs to happen when and to make make sure you have enough oven space. I can’t stress this enough – good restaurants don’t just accidentally turn out great food. It takes a lot of planning, training, coordinating and organizing. You don’t have to hire a brigade of line cooks, but it is worth taking pen to paper and sketching out your plan.
6am Turkey out of refrigerator
9am Make cranberry sauce. Make spinach Madeline.
11am Prep turkey and turkey stuffing, preheat oven
12pm Turkey in oven
1pm Mix bread stuffing, set aside. Baste Turkey
1:30 Baste turkey
2pm Prep stovetop veggies. Baste Turkey
2:30 Baste turkey.
4pm Turkey out. Rest 30 min.
4pm Stuffing & Spinach Madeline in oven. Make stovetop veggies.
4:30 Pour wine. Have people sit down. Carve Turkey.
4:45 Stuffing out of oven.
If you can’t handle that kind of stress – and it really is okay if you can not. It is a LOT to manage. You can also do a managed pot luck where you ask each person to bring a specific course. But you open yourself up to disappointment here. You have to accept the trade off. No cooking = good. No stuffing = bad.
In the event you are still up to the challenge, here is a fool proof menu for you:
Roasted turkey + stuffing
Zesty cranberry jam
Sauteed Winter Vegetables
You already know that the truth about turkey is that it is a pain to cook and the breast meat is dry but nothing really beats it for WOW factor. Especially for Americans. The secret is that there is no secret. Just a few steps to make it less scary and less dry: Take the turkey out of the refrigerator several hours before cooking. Baste it while cooking. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature. Let it sit for 30 minutes before carving. And give up your oven to the bird beast for the hours it takes to cook. If you have to go down this road, Jamie has a great recipe for a traditional turkey + stuffing combo.
And the zesty cranberry jam I mention up top is your traditional cranberry sauce and is a Martha staple. Don’t turn your nose up at Martha. She knows what she is doing.
Spinach Madeline is a southern staple. You’ll love it. Velveeta and all!
Broccoli Salad – My stepmom’s brother used to make this for family gatherings and I genuinely couldn’t get enough of it. I hadn’t had it for years until the amazing Dani Tucker brought a similar version to a Creating For Good dinner meeting recently. This is a great group dinner salad because it can be made in advance and sit for ages without wilting. Also doesn’t depend on out of season produce. Can also be eaten as a side, as I have it on the menu above.
- 1 head raw broccoli
- 1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon
- 1/2 cup roasted cashews
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Wash broccoli and pat dry. Chop off bottom 2 inches or so of stems and cut head into really small florets. The smaller the better. Place in a large bowl; add bacon, cashews, raisins and red onion. In a separate small bowl for the dressing, combine mayonnaise, sugar and cider vinegar; stir until smooth. Toss broccoli mixture with dressing. Let set at least 10 minutes before serving. Can sit for over an hour and still be great!
Winter vegetable saute makes a pretty counteroffer to the creamy spinach and brown stuffings. And you can be flexible on what veggies you throw in. Plus it doesn’t need the oven! Bonus!
Just the turkey:
Is everyone else taking care of the sides and you just have the main course to handle? Go out on a limb and try this amazing Mark Bittman recipe. I’ll be serving this at Christmas again if I can lock my mother-in-law out of the kitchen for long enough to hack up that bird.
And here is another turkey recipe…breast only by Donna Hay. Brilliant. Who needs legs anyway?
No. More. Turkey.
If you can’t take one more holiday with Turkey I don’t blame you. I also can’t recommend braised short ribs enough. I swear by Alfred Portale’s recipe from his Gotham cookbook. If you don’t have the cookbook try this one from Epicurious – it looks nearly identical. It takes some time to start it off but then you just bake it in the oven for hours and let the incredible aroma take over. Serve with an amazing Bordeaux for a perfect wine pairing. (A favorite of mine is Château Gruaud-Larose. It’s sort of expensive but not crazy and it’s delicious. Decant it for an hour before dinner)
I am a huge fan of Beef Wellington. I have been unsuccessful in convincing my mother-in-law to let me make this for Christmas dinner but a girl can dream. In the meantime, go forth…spread your turkey wings and grab for the puff pastry! (Serve this with Paris Mash too!)
And maybe a mini turkey? A roasted chicken?
For the Veggie Lovers:
Obviously you don’t have to be a vegetarian to prefer to skip the red meat at family meals but it sure helps. When you’ve got a table of carrot crunchers here are two options to make them feel loved and appreciated. And also things that are so good even the reddest of meat eaters will want to try them as well.
Beautiful and surprisingly simple mushroom purses from BBC Food.
The One Hit Wonder:
Someone has invited you over and you are responsible for a single dish. You gotta win this one. No second chances here. Here are a few of my very, very favorite single-dishes. All things I’ve made, made again, and made again.
Thomas Keller’s savoury bread pudding….oooooohmggggggg.
Thomas Keller’s savoury bread pudding is the bees knees. Fair warning: This has to bake for 90 minutes so don’t tackle this if you only have one oven and that is full.
Of course what started all of this was my discussion of Beef Bourginon Pie. It’s not exactly a side dish but I can not begin to tell you how much you will love knowing how to make this. And how often you will be called upon to do so.
Saving the best for last:
Desserts have to be made well in advance and should be sitting on the side just waiting for their moment in the spotlight. Here are three of my favorite options:
Leave it to the Queen of desserts, Joy the Baker, to come up with a lovely and delicious gourmet Reese’s cup for the kiddies.
Baking your own bread never ceases to amaze people. Like so many things in life it feels incredibly intimidating in theory but it is actually quite simple, it just takes practice. A good and easy one that works with all sorts of food is Irish Soda Bread. Try this recipe by the oh, so amazing Mimi Thorsson:
- Makes 1 loaf
- Total time to make: 55 minutes
- 225 g/ 1 3/4 cupswhole wheat (wholemeal) flour
- 225 g/ 1 3/4 cups all-purpose (plain) flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- 50 g/ 3 tablespoons/ mixed seeds, such as sesame, pumpkin, or sunflower, or golden flax seeds (linseeds) (optional)
- 25 g/ 2 tablespoons butter, softened (optional)
- 1 egg
- 375–400 ml/ 1 2/3 cups buttermilk or soured milk
- Preheat the oven 180C/ 350F
- Mix dry together and then rub in butter and add wet all in one, knead as little as possible. Sprinkle with seeds or oats on top and slit with a serrated knife down the middle. Just like a cake get it into the tin and in the oven ASAP
- Bake at 180C/ 350F for 45 mins.
- Stick in a pin in the middle and if it comes out clean, it’s done.
- Cool on rack before serving.