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My first time cooking Xmas dinner, ideas appreciated!

Hey everyone,

I've gotten so much amazing advice from this board, I thought I'd reach out again. It's my first time cooking Xmas dinner on my own, since my mother unfortunately could not make the trip to my new home. Normally, I've left all the executive decisions up to her and earned my meal ticket as her sous-chef of sorts. Now, the weight is on my shoulders and I could use some ideas for what to cook. I'm going to be cooking for about four people, and have a great kitchen to cook in. So, what do you guys cook at home? Oh, and no one coming for dinner eats pork or red meat, so unfortunately Christmas ham is out!


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  1. I'm trying to decide myself. These are what I've been thinking of:

    Standing rib roast
    Mashed potatoes
    Green beans

    Baked ham
    Sweet potatoes (mashed)
    English peas
    Good mustard and maybe some maple syrup

    With either menu include a relish tray with celery and carrot sticks, green and black olives, and some radishes.

    Both menus are easy to prepare but tend to wow the guests. The only thing you need to be careful of is the carving of the meat. If you're unsure about carving, do it in the kitchen out of sight and serve it sliced on a platter.

    1. Holiday meals are fraught with tradition that vary from family to family and region to region. Some people do tamales, some people do lasagna, some people do standing rib roast, but that doesn't mean that any of those would be right for you. What kinds of foods does your family like or expect?

      1. I'm serving ;
        Horseradish encrusted beef tenderloin
        green beans almondine
        butternut squash w sage hazelnut pesto
        mashed potatoes
        homemade french bread and

        Lime mousse pie for dessert.
        Merry Christmas!

        1. Euonymous has tradition down pat. No question, make those recipes happen and your guests will be happy.

          As an alternative:

          Mole poblano (perhaps with leftover Thanksgiving turkey?)
          Tamales (1 per person will do)
          various appropriate fixins: guacamole,hand rolled tortillas, whatever remaining garden chilis you have made into salsa, some kind of salad

          Various chacouterie: salamis, procuttio, etc, cheeses, and homemade bread
          pasta w/rabbit & veal ragu (you may need a ham hock other source of fat, but a basic pasta sauce with those meats is extremely tasty) (or a lasagne)
          roast [whatever] that can be cooking in the oven while everything else hangs out uncooked or on the stovetop.

          Good luck!

          13 Replies
          1. re: lex clibanus

            Do you have a good mole recipe? That sounds amazing.

            1. re: SouthToTheLeft

              Well, sorta. Diana Kennedy's recipes are a pretty solid blueprint (naturally,a few family tweaks over the years have occurred...) Couldn't find the exact basic recipe online, but this looks reasonably close, minus the french bread:


              I hope it works for you! (and yes, it may look intimidating. This is how my family started using all those excellent t-day leftovers in a more productive, not-in-July way. But it's worth it!


              Good luck!

              1. re: lex clibanus

                I made turkey mole enchiladas and used the mole in a jar. I thinned it with chicken broth and some tomato sauce because it was a little to "nutty" tasting. It was great--everyone cleaned their plates.

            2. re: lex clibanus

              Euonymous has tradition down pat. No question, make those recipes happen and your guests will be happy.
              As I noted, everyone's tradition is different. If I served that menu everyone would be bored out of their minds and I'd lose all foodie cred. Roast meat/potatoes/out-of-season green beans/peas -- I know it's traditional WASP Christmas fare, but certainly not for everyone.

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                Agreed, Ruth. Two years ago at Thanksgiving, our younger daughter and her brand new husband were with us. HE wanted the traditional T'giving meal. *I* was bored out of MY mind. When we do it at all, it's an old Sunset menu for a SW menu. Turkey done on indirect with lime juice and oregano, Anaheim chiles stuffed with chorizo, jack, mushrooms,etc., grated sweet potatoes cooked in butter and tequila. He was happy but it ain't happenin' again on my watch :)

                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                  Bored out of their minds? Seriously? Why can't someone who enjoys the unusual, the exotic, and the adventurous also sometimes appreciate the homey, the simple, and the traditional?

                  It isn't necessary that every meal push boundaries or expand culinary horizons. IMO there's something wrong with a cook who can't take pride in a perfectly-roasted prime rib (or chicken or turkey or goose or pork crown). And there is no mercy in my heart for guests who turn their noses up at such a dish because it's "boring." That's nothing but snobbery, pure and simple.

                  I like good food of all kinds. A meal full of unusual ingredients, innovative preparations, and complex layers of flavor is a thing of joy and beauty. But tomorrow I'll proudly serve roast meat alongside potatoes and vegetables, some of which may even be out of season. Anybody who wants to take my foodie credentials on that account can have them.

                    1. re: alanbarnes

                      Good for you, I hope you and your dining companions enjoyed your meal. But I was just taking issue with the idea that "everyone" would be happy with that menu. People are different, traditions are different.

                      Okay, I was overstating, and boring is the wrong word to describe that menu -- generic might be better: no individuality, no seasonality, nothing distinctive about it at all. I'm happy to serve a perfectly roasted piece of meat (although my budget would never stretch to prime rib), I'm happy to serve all of the dishes individually (except for the out-of-season green beans, which don't -- IMHO -- belong on the table in December), but roast beef, mashed potatoes and green beans sound like something you'd be served in every diner, every buffet, heck every hospital, in America. It just doesn't sound particularly appetizing to me, no matter how expertly prepared.

                    2. re: Ruth Lafler

                      No one has ever left the table hungry or unhappy when I make those meals. They're pretty much a once a year deal, so we enjoy them when we get them. I'm baking a ham tonight, which will be served with cole slaw instead of peas (does that make it better?)

                      Trying to decide what the heck I'm going to do with the rest of the huge frickin' ham.

                      Alanbarnes, are you hungry?

                      1. re: Euonymous

                        Always. Who was it that said "eternity is two people and a ham"?

                          1. re: Gio

                            She has so many great food and drink quips. My favorite:

                            I like to have a martini
                            Two at the very most
                            After three I'm under the table
                            After four I'm under the host

                    3. re: lex clibanus

                      I did a fancy Mexican Christmas a few years back and started with these crepes. They were a huge hit. (substituted creminis for shiitakes.)


                    4. If no one eats pork or red meat, you are left with fish or fowl. I'm doing roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, cornbread dressing with sausage, apples, and cranberries, lemon green beans, roasted broccoli and cauliflower, turkey gravy, rolls, and pear/apple crumble for dessert. You could do turkey or you could have cornish hens. I don't know your level of cooking experience, but the one thing I learned from having melt downs on big holidays was to plan ahead and don't make several really complicated recipes. I stick with the basics and try to do one dish each year that's different. I also try and prep as many things ahead of time as possible.

                      If I'm going to have a big meal with a new dish being served, I try it out a couple of weeks ahead of time to see how it's going to turn out. More often than not, I end up tweaking the recipe some. The main thing to remember is to have a good time and enjoy your guests and enjot providing a good meal for your guests.

                      1. Can you get a capon? They are a lovely alternate white meat. You could do a rice side dish and maybe a gratin veg. I like Ina Garten's gratin recipes for entertaining.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Berheenia

                          Game birds are also nice when you want something simple, yet special for Christmas:
                          Guinea Hen
                          Red Cabbage
                          Spaetzle with bacon, mushrooms and chives
                          Your favorite multilayer European torte

                        2. We do a traditional italian Christmas eve, so I don't get into the meats very often for the holiday (other than sausage, potatoes and chicken legs). My husband and I were going to do Christmas day just the two of us before we headed to his family on Sunday and I was planning

                          Tuscan roasted pork loin - (made it for my birthday this year and it was awesome, just a pork roast, with lots of garlic, rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram, roasted slow, and then a pan sauce made).
                          Mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes
                          Kale salad (raw kale, carmelized onions, goat cheese)
                          roasted mushrooms with butter and garllic.

                          Other ideas I've had include a beef tenderloin with blue cheese sauce or made a pancetta stuffed pork tenderloin a few years ago that I think about often.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: mickeygee

                            I'm making Arista too, Tuscan roast pork, using a recipe from Mary Ann Esposito's " Celebrations Italian Style."

                            To the OP: In the past I've made Christmas roast goose from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. It's such a celebratory meal. All the sides one would likely make to go with roast turkey would be fine for goose. Good Luck to you...!

                            1. re: Gio

                              Gio, could you paraphrase that recipe? Pretty please? Couldn't find that recipe on her web-site and my local library doesn't have the book. I'm feeling like a pathetic elf this year and have hardly given X-mas dinner, or Christmas eve a thought....but that dish sounds inspiring.

                              1. re: clamscasino

                                Hi Clams... I apologize for not seeing your request before this...So, actually I'm making Pork Loin with Rosemary and Wine. It's basically a Tuscan pork roast. It's on pg. 148 of Celebrations and she has it listed as a Christmas dinner course.
                                Here 'tis:

                                5 T fresh rosemary leaves
                                2 garlic cloves peeled
                                2 1/2 lbs boneless pork loin roast, tied
                                1 onion sliced in wedges
                                1 green bell pepper, seeded, chunked
                                1/2 cup dry red wine
                                a splash of lemon juice
                                1/2 cup dried tomatoes in olive oil
                                Mince rosemary and garlic together. Roll the meat in that mince coating all the meat then sprinkle with salt. (I intend to include freshly grated black pepper as well). Heat oil in a Dutch oven then brown the meat. Add the chopped onion and bell pepper and cook till onion is soft. Add half the wine on high heat and reduce most of it. Cover pot, cook for about 45 minutes. Add the rest of the wine, and continue cooking with pan covered for an additional 15 min. Lemon juice and tomatoes go in next and all is cooked for another 30 minutes, covered, till meat is fork tender. Take out the meat and let it rest for 20 minutes. Slice, return to pot, reheat on low... then serve with hot juices drizzled over.

                                1. re: Gio

                                  I wonder if you could do that with cornish game hen ...

                                  1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                                    You can use the hens. But, I would roast in the oven rather than braise on stove top. Here's how I'd do it:

                                    Rub a bit of EVOO all over hens. Incease amounts and smear the rosemary, garlic, salt & pepper over the hens also inside the cavity. Use the rest of ingredients to make a sauce. The following recipe is a good guidline for the cooking time & temp., and for a pan sauce. Merry Christmas!


                                  2. re: Gio

                                    Thanks so much Gio! Sounds like a winner.

                                2. re: Gio

                                  I love "Celebrations Italian Style". That's where the pancetta stuffed pork loin recipe came from, and I love the roasted potatoes with sun dried tomatoes - easy and good!

                                1. re: lulou23

                                  I've done lobster tails on the grill. Remove the underside of the shell with shears, drizzle some butter over and a seasoning if you wish. Place shell side down (exposed meat side up) on the grill. Depending on the size, no more than 8 minutes and they're done.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    I've done them that way in foil trays, with a small slit down the meat side. Insert garlic slices, top with lemon slices and thyme. Grill until the large end of the meat pulls away from the shell. So yummy with garlic butter!

                                    Hmmm, now that my whole lobster purist Mainer is away for a few months, I may have to do that again for myself!

                                    1. re: tracylee

                                      The first time I did this was a Valentine's Day when Bob was traveling. He was traveling about 85% of the time that year. So my special dinner was a little filet mignon and the lobster tail. Sweet :)

                                      1. re: c oliver


                                        My SO is playing in the band on a cruise line for 5 months. He had less than a week's notice right after we went grocery shopping. With my "special" diet, I cleaned out the fridge and freezer and gave his stuff to my folks and the neighbors across the street.

                                        I warned him that things would be rearranged for my convenience by the time he gets back! He'd been doing most of the housework for the last few years.

                                        1. re: c oliver

                                          That sounds amazing. Unfortunately, one of my guests will be a fairly strict vegan so anything that you can tell was recently living might be too difficult/lecture inducing.

                                          1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                                            Vegan??? Well, that eliminates practically everything everyone has recommended. Back to square one.

                                            1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                                              In that case, here's a site with all sorts of Vegan recipes... this is just the casserole page:


                                              1. re: Gio

                                                why wasn't this mentioned at the outset?? no red meat or pork does not equal "Vegan." need all the dishes be vegan? or only some??

                                                maybe a polenta with eggplant and tomato ragu. some minestrone or other soup; broccoli limone, garlic bread (earth balance), and some sorbet with a vegan cookie?

                                                mushroom wellington
                                                veggie pot pie (use alternate milk/cream substitute)
                                                shepherd's pie with tvp or tofu

                                    2. For a "first" Christmas dinner I'd opt for a rolled turkey breast. Just be careful not to over-cook it. I generally cover them for half the cooking time and uncover for the finishing period but you can certainly make your own decisions with respect to that aspect. "Cover" can be a covered roasting pan, a layer of aluminum foil or (my favorite) a piece of cheese cloth soaked in chicken stock and, as cooking progresses, basting juices.
                                      Some form of starch would be essential. A rice pilaf, if your sous chef experience makes you feel comfortable with that, of a potato gratin if you want to keep it simple.
                                      Broccoli, not universally popular but a quick and easy veggie to prepare to the tender/crisp stage, steamed in a chicken or beef stock along with some minced garlic and a couple of broken crisp strips of bacon make a nice side. Alternatively, fresh green beans with chopped garlic and bacon bits or a spinach salad with bacon and sliced mushrooms might work out for your dining pleasure. Dinner rolls, fresh butter, apple sauce and/or cranberry sauce and perhaps a nice layered gelatin salad (two layers of fruit gelatin (e.g. Jello) with a layer of whipped cream cheese or sour cream between them) and served cut into squares makes an attractive presentation and a delightfully cool addition to the meal.
                                      None of these are complicated, all are tasty and satisfying and offer an opportunity for success with your first Christmas dinner.
                                      Good luck .... you're on your own for dessert - but I love a nice custard with caramel sauce and good coffee.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: todao

                                        My biggest piece of advice--which may be coming too late--is don't knock yourself out doing everything by hand and too much food and too complicated a menu. Smoked salmon is a great starter and very good. There are traditional pies from great bakeries or pie shops. The main thing is to not be harried and worried because that's not fun for anyone and people really can't appreciate when we knock ourselves out. If you're feeling under pressure at this point, either delegate, eliminate or simplify. Hope all goes well.

                                        1. re: escondido123

                                          "The main thing is to not be harried and worried because that's not fun for anyone and people really can't appreciate when we knock ourselves out. If you're feeling under pressure at this point, either delegate, eliminate or simplify. Hope all goes well." +1
                                          If it ain't fun it ain't worth it.

                                      2. If you have some money, a great idea to me is a seafood cookout. My friend's family does this every Christmas and everyone wants to go to their house. Lobster, shrimp, clams, scallops, oysters etc. Roasted red potatoes and grilled veggies and pecan or key lime pie. I live in Florida, so I realize this may not be ideal for all climates, unless you have an indoor grill. Or you could broil.

                                        1. I make Romanian cabbage rolls (sarmale) but substitute ground chicken in place of the pork for non-pork eaters. It's actually a really good substitute texture and flavor wise. Traditionally, it would be served with a sort of polenta type dish known as mamaliga, but since I'm the only one that likes it (even though I'm NOT the Romanian in the family - go figure), I make mashed potatoes instead. Sour cream goes on top of the sarmale on your plate. For an app, I make salata de icre which is a spread made out of carp roe, similar to the Greek taramosalata. Serve with a freshly baked baguette or French bread. For desert, apple strudel. Uf...I feel stuffed just thinking about it all.

                                          1. i'm sure you will do wonderfully no matter which way you go, but here are a few thoughts...

                                            Roast Chicken - easy and always appreciated
                                            Chard and Potato Gratin
                                            Roast Veggies (brussel sprouts and onions)
                                            Simple Salad or a Bisque

                                            Chicken Pot Pie
                                            Grilled Veg
                                            Molten Chocolate Cakes

                                            Crusty Bread
                                            Stuffed Mushrooms
                                            Hearts of Palm and Artichoke Antipasto Salad
                                            Apple or Plum Crostata with Vanilla Gelato

                                            Bangers and Mash
                                            Yorkshire Pudding
                                            English Peas
                                            Carrot Soup
                                            Sticky Toffee Pudding

                                            1. Wish the OP would check back in with us. After the vegan comment, we've been waiting and wondering :)