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Dubious Idea of the Month: Cold Christmas Buffets

Nothing says "Christmas in New England" as sitting down to two (2!) cold-foods buffets on the same day.

Just shoot me.

I offered to cook-heck, I was real close to the "begging/pleading" line, but my hostess is intent on her scheme of no cooking/minimal cleaning for breakfast and dinner. Breakfast I can handle; bagels for baby Jesus and panettone have been traditional in my family. Yes, some eggs would be nice, and nothin' says "Joyeaux Noel" like canadian bacon, but I can settle. It's the idea of a dinner of completely chilled or room temperature foods that makes me think at least my head should be allowed in the holiday oven.

I can bring anything I want that hews to her ideals. Last night I was thinking a pesto tart would be festive, today I just want to cry. Any ideas? Anyone want to stop by unexpectedly with a crock of summin' hot? hmmmm?


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  1. Is she having room temperature ham for the dinner buffet? How about a fruited couscous? I made one this morning from an old issue of Cooking Light. It contains dried cranberries (recipe called for cherries), raisins, and chopped dried apricots plumped in orange juice, sauteed scallions, and minced fresh parsley and cilantro (I skipped the two tablespoons of mint which in a warmer month I would have picked from the garden). 2 1/2 cups couscous, etc, serves 12. I'm going to reheat it in the microwave for tonight's dinner for company but it can be served at room temperature.
    Be brave. I can't understand how cold buffets are going to be less work. If people aren't going to cook a roast they should at least have a crock pot of hot meatballs.

    1. Are you an overnight guest or are you arriving for breakfast and staying for dinner? There has to be away around that very bad idea. If you are arrivng the day of you could bring something already prepared and just needs popping in the oven to heat through. That is just heating, you have done the cooking at home in advance so technically that would qualify. Maybe something like a lovely seafood lasagne with spinach noodles and a winy bechamel? You pop it in the fridge or back porch when you arrive and since she is not cooking the oven should be available to heat that up just before timne to eat.

      I think her intent is nice, no fuss no muss, everyone being relaxed. Good luck.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Candy

        We're staying over, unfortunately. I tried inviting them to our house, figuring that double cold buffets are a pretty good indicator that a host may feel overwhelmed, but got turned down flat. My son is threatening to slip out of the house for chinese food. I'm thinking about stashing a crockpot in our closet. The baby asked Santa to bring her frozen peas, so at least she'll be happy.

        I know there are tons of yummy foods possible, for sure, (and lots of great suggestions here!) but I just can't get past the idea that none of them will be hot.

      2. You could bring a warming tray with an extension cord so its easier to plug in somewhere. Then you could bring something that is very appealing when warmed. If you don't have a warming tray, you could bring a heating pad that would go under a platter. You could bring a hot drink..like hot spiced cider in a crock pot or electric urn. The fragrance of the spiced cider or wine can be very attractive. If you really want to make no work for the hostess, you could bring a small folding table and tablecloth in case your offering does not fit easily or plug in easily on the buffet table. This is in keeping with the "keep it easy and stress free for the hostess" theme.

        Just remember..when you are the host or hostess you can do it your way. As someone who usually hosts, I frequently feel that my guests (his relatives) do not appreciate how much work and expense I go through so they can have a holiday gathering. They arrive full of stories of the hikes and activities they have had that day and the day before.

        1. Nothing says Noel like hot cider, mulled wine. Would your host object to an offer of warmed spirits?

          1. Good at room temperature:
            Chile en nogada (what I am having...mmmm....)
            Spanish tortilla
            Cous cous/ quinoa salads
            Roasted beets
            Glazed roasted sweet potatoes
            All sorts of things. If it is done well it can be good, but when I first read the first thing that popped into my mind was the "cold cuts, store rolls sandwich bar...yuk"

            Another fun idea is a raclette grill. We have one and put it out at parties. It doesn't require any cooking/hassel for the chef, but it fun for people. It has a "griddle" on top and a spot of heating things up under a broiler. We have gotten so many comments about it.

            1. Cold green bean salad. Use fresh green beans and steam them while still retaining a bit of crispness. Mince some garlic, add some olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper. Best if you let the whole thing sit overnight. I don't know proportions--I just wing it. Most people seem to like it.

              Although I do like the idea of a nice quiche.

              I also remember a family friend bringing a jello mold that was really delicious (please do not excommunicate me from the Chowhound community for saying so). It involved cranberries and walnuts and red wine and was very tasty and festive. Will try to find a recipe...

              1. What about a platter with cheeses and different types of cured meats, like serrano ham and proscuitto? It would be a nice twist on the usual holiday cheese and sausage. You could add marinated olives. This is one of my favorite things to have at parties. Also, I saw a recipe somewhere for a savory cheesecake that had cheddar and bacon or something like that in it. I thought that would be good on a buffet, but don't know where the recipe was - maybe Diane William's "Perfect Party Food." I think the cold buffet could be good if it's not a bunch of store-bought stuff. Another idea - what about beef tenderloin sandwiches, cold, with different sauces (horseradish spread, fancy mustards, etc.)?

                1. I just made a great Leek and Camembert Tart that is perfect at room temperature. You can make ahead, refrigerate and bring to room temp when time to serve.

                  I can sympathize with you though. I would be so disappointed in a cold Christmas buffet.

                  1. Growing up, we always had a late cold dinner after a noontime turkey meal.

                    Around 7 o'clock, Mom would put out a huge bowl of her potato salad, cold sliced boiled ham, green salad, home-made parkerhouse rolls and butter(the only day of the year we had anything other than oleo) pickles, olives, peperoncini, cold sliced turkey, carrot sticks, and her lovely cloud-like Meyer lemon chiffon pie with lots of whipped cream. We kids liked this better than the turkey, even though Mom did a great job with it and all the trimmings.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: toodie jane

                      Sounds like a good meal. The thing is with this set of plans is that there will be no intervening hot meal: cold buffet for breakfast (I really am fine with this part-it's a miracle none of the children have been cooked in the chaos of past Xmas mornings), followed by a late afternoon/early evening cold buffet dinner. She is not currently allowing the idea of anything even *warmed.* Soooooo, cold ham and cold smoked turkey. Cold black bean and corn salad. Cold jello salad. No way will she let me pop rolls, or even biscuits!, into the oven, so some form of cold bread.

                      Sheesh, why not just open the tube of wonk'em rolls and eat the dough nicely chilled?

                      I like the idea of the cous cous from above, and I have already committed to my beloved husband that I will bring California rolls-heck, I may put them in his stocking a la the baby's peas. This morning, I am thinking that maybe I could get away with bringing a quiche for the morning, otherwise, my son is getting some pre-cooked bacon in his stocking. (We're all big fans of protein in the morning). I think quiche might set her off: it requires plates! and forks! and serving! What, she thinks we're going to hang bagels from our noses???

                      The big deal is really that festive dinner. Cold Cold Cold in winter time says "funeral" a lot more clearly than "Christmas."

                      1. re: BarefootandPregnant

                        Could the baby or your husband come down with the flu? Then you could stay home and have the breakfast and dinner you want and then to make up for it insist this person and family come to you next year. Or push for an early buffet lunch and go home adn throw a roast in the oven for a later dinner.

                      2. I had to laugh when you said "Christmas in New England!" My mother's been doing the cold cut buffet for Christmas dinner for forever. My sibs and I supplement it by bringing stuff in crockpots or heating up dishes when we get to her house. Also, this year, I'm in charge of buying the cold cuts, so I'm going to choose some different selections in addition to the usual roast beef, turkey and bologna.

                        She's 75 now and isn't about to change. One day, when I'm the one in charge of the Christmas gathering, I'll do it differently---If I have any energy left after getting ready for Christmas, that is!!!

                        1. You can't even warm up bread? Yikes! You could pretend it's Boxing Day and take turkey and cranberry sandwiches. On second thought, get on a plane, come to Bermuda and we'll give you an excellent hot Christmas dinner. We'll warm up baby's peas too :)

                          1. what's wrong with cold buffet? Smorgasbord is the traditional scandinavian christmas treat, no? Bring gravlax! :)

                            1. Just to be a grump here for a moment, although you may not like the idea of a cold buffet on Christmas (and who can blame you, really?) I suggest that you just go along with it no matter what you think. I host many groupy get-togethers and I've gotta say that when someone brings something that I'm not really prepared to serve (say, soup to a potluck dinner when I haven't planned on putting out bowls) it is just plain annoying. Of course I'd never let on that I was anything but thrilled to receive their contribution, but I would be secretly fuming as I had to make all sorts of last minute accommodation for that dish when I thought I'd had it all so nicely planned.

                              Just bring something cold and don't worry about it. Next year you beat them to the punch and invite to your house. And then you can do whatever you want.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Nyleve

                                not to dig too deep here, but if you're throwing a potluck, and someone brings soup, do you really have a right to be annoyed? It is, after all a potluck. Since when do people clear their offering ahead of time? Am I missing something here?

                                1. re: MaspethMaven

                                  Now, now - take it easy there. If I get annoyed, I always keep it my own little personal secret. I would never let the soup-bringer know I wasn't delighted with his/her dish. It's just that when you throw a potluck, you prepare for all sorts of possibilities - but not every single possibility. And if I were to miss a possibility, it would most likely be the possibility of soup. I supply plates, forks, knives, cups, glasses, etc. I don't always think to supply bowls and soup spoons. But then, maybe that's just me.

                                  My original point was that the person who was hosting the "cold buffet" had, in fact, made a specific request. This person was prepared to serve cold food, and whatever you might think of this yourself (and I happen to agree with the OP anyway), I believe you should honour that request if you accept the invitation. This is clearly a much more straightforward situation, even, than my unexpected soup scenario. Bring what you've been asked to bring. A host who has gone to the trouble of providing a venue for a celebratory meal ought not to be forced to cope with a guest who doesn't want to follow the rules.

                                2. re: Nyleve

                                  My office absorbed another and I opened my house to get everyone together and said just bring your favorite hors d'oeuvre. I'll have drinks and I'll see you all about 6:00 PM. So this is about 50 people. One walks in late with a big kettle of chili and announces very loudly "Look everybody I brought chili!" Luckily I had enough styrofoam bowls down in my laundry room and a box of plastic spoons. This was not intended to be dinner or supper. Just drinks and snacks. She left the dirty pot for me to clean and bring back to her. So yeah, I can understand hosts not liking to be surprised with something they had to scramble to serve.

                                    1. You are funny! But I would graciously go along with her program & have whatever hot meal you like the next day or later that day at home. The kids will probably be pretty amped up about gifts & not too concerned with hot or cold.

                                      Having overnight guests for Christmas is fairly stressful after all the planning & decorating & shopping & spending. I hope you will enjoy what is given and think how many are suffering without loved ones, or food at all.

                                      That said, if I just couldn't enjoy the situation as offered, I'd decline the invitation.

                                      1. I'm a little confused. I read this as the breakfast will be a cold buffet, the late supper as well. Doesn't this mean you will be having your Christmas Dinner mid day in between those two?