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Christmas Eve menu-my first time hosting!

I know most people are in thanksgiving mode right now, but we are all set for that menu and I'm already excitedly planning for Christmas Eve. :)

This will be my first xmas as a married woman, and because we are going to another home on Christmas day, I'll be hosting a Christmas Eve dinner for my parents and two grandmothers.

I'd like to make something that I know they will all love, so I'm thinking individual Shepherd's Pies (Alton Brown's recipe) for the main course with a light green salad, and for dessert a raspberry white chocolate almond trifle.

Should I open with a soup? I was considering lobster bisque or an easier celery root bisque (maybe with sauteed lobster on top?)

Also- the Alton Brown shepherd's pie recipe calls for ground lamb. Does anyone think I should use chunks of lamb shank instead?

I don't think I'll do more than 3 courses, because it will be very filling as it is. Maybe I can bake some bread and make an herb butter for the table...

I welcome any input fellow chowhounders have to share!

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  1. My go-to Christmas Eve meal is clam chowder, individual fresh dungeness crab louies, sourdough bread (toasted with cheese or just fresh pull apart with butter), wine of course. Dessert or a cheese plate with fruit, followed by an Irish coffee or port.

    1. Assuming everyone likes lamb (my mother and sister hate it) I think the lamb shank meat would be preferable. The only thing I see missing from your menu is crunch, all the dishes are "soft.".

      2 Replies
      1. re: escondido123

        Depending on people preferences, it might be better to go for a lighter soup. It still can be a vegetable puree with with less cream. Something like a carrot ginger soup or a pureed cauliflower soup. Because the shepherd's pies will be rich you don't want a heavy soup.

        1. re: Dcfoodblog

          I'm probably not doing a soup anymore, but I love carrot ginger soup and make it every fall. :)

      2. Lobster and lamb sound like competition to me. I'd go for your celery root soup with some croutons or roasted veggies as a garnish. And confirm that everyone eats lamb. It's a serious aversion for some folks.

        1 Reply
        1. re: katecm

          We always have a fondue on Christmas Eve...beef, shrimp & chicken - start with ceasar salad. I make 2 or 3 sauces & add some kind of mini-potato...and because we have a lot of desserts for Christmas dinner - I serve cookies ( many kinds) with coffee & a few selections of liquoir.

        2. I don't think chunks of lamb will work well, both in cooking and texture. Sheps pie should consist of a ground meat. As for soup, a non meat sounds good. Enjoy, you'll do well and have fun.

          1. You have a great opportunity to start a new family Xmas Eve tradition, as this is your first one with your "new" family.

            On the lamb question about chunks of meat. Absolutely not!. Shepherd's pie is made with minced lamb. Always. If you make it with chunks, it ain't shepherd's pie any more. It may be absolutely delicious and become your new family tradition, though.

            The celeriac soup (or celery root, as you call it) will be excellent as a starter. This is a good recipe and the little drizzle of pesto is a great touch. http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes...

            1. Thanks everyone! All of us definitely eat and love lamb. (We're Greek).

              escondido, you're right! Each course is soft...I was going to add thyme croutons to the soup and broil the mashed potatoes for some texture, but even still....will that be strange?

              I'm also considering a nice drink to go along with dessert but my parents and grandmothers are not big drinkers. I'll probably just get a bottle of pinot noir for...myself!

              1. #1 You need ground meat for a shepherd’s pie - otherwise you are making a stew topped with mashed potatoes.

                #2 Lobster bisque (higher end soup) does not go with shepherd’s pie (peasant food).

                #3 Both soup and the entree are highly cooked soft foods. I would drop the soup and serve a ‘fresh’ un processed green salad. Toss i pomegranates or cranberries for color and possibly add in lightly sautéed squash chunks.

                #4 Bread would be acceptable but I don’t count that as a course per se. I would add a side vegetable to the mix.

                3 Replies
                1. re: RetiredChef

                  Thanks, that really helps. I absolutely love squash. How about a butternut squash and caramelized onion tart to open the meal?

                  I didn't mean for the bread to be considered a course. Just thought it would be nice to have some freshly baked bread with cheeses on the table.

                  1. re: eviemichael

                    I like that idea - it keeps things a bit more rustic. You could also just switch your salad to a first course and add roasted butternut squash to that, and serve a green vegetable (sauteed haricots verts, roasted Brussels sprouts, etc.) along with the Shepherd's pies if you want a little less starch. As much as I like the idea of the tart, that plus bread plus the potato topping on your pies is going to make things a little carb-heavy.

                    1. re: biondanonima

                      You're right! Too heavy. How about a seafood first course? Otherwise a salad first course with a nice cheese and fresh bread on the table may be just right actually...

                2. I like the idea of the Shephard's Pie, it is simple, can be made ahead and it is comfort. I think you are starting a tradition and it sounds like you are preparing to have a nice evening. I make Beef Bourgignon for my Christmas Eve dinner with my husband's family and it has become a tradition. I choose it because of my hectic schedule this time of year and especially because it could be made ahead of time and is a one pot meal all to itself.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Ruthie789

                    Thank Ruthie. I am feeling very happy about starting new traditions with my husband.

                    The reason I chose Shephard's Pie is because I knew it was something everyone would really love and appreciate. I was leaning towards shellfish risotto, but that wouldn't have gone over as well.

                    Beef Bourgignon sounds delicious. :)

                  2. In the old days, Shepherd's Pie was made from the leftovers from a roast, they didn't start with raw ground lamb. I still think that is the best way to make it, so I chop/shred the meat. It is a totally different dish when you start with raw meat, so I say stick to your guns eviemichael.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: escondido123

                      Shanks need long, slow cooking to gelatinize all that collagen, so are not a good choice here.
                      If you want minced raw rather than ground lamb, use a loin cut.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          I misread the initial post and thought she was using already cooked meat. In that case, my comment would have made sense. But if you're going with raw, it does need to be minced. Sorry for my stupidity.

                          1. re: escondido123

                            Not stupid at all! You've been helpful. :)

                      1. i don't know that a creamy soup on top of shepherd's pie would be my choice. i'd something crunchy and assertive, like an endive salad with pomegranate seeds and spiced pecans.

                        1. If you have your heart set on Shepard's pie, ignore this suggestion but what about moussaka instead, since you're Greek. It would be a nice homage to your heritage, especially if you have kids. That would be less carb heavy and then you'd have the option of adding bread or a starch. You could start with a lighter version of avgolemmeno then.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: chowser

                            Moussaka and avgolemono for us though is something so familiar and everyday that it doesn't feel special enough for a holiday. Its a nice idea to stay rooted in our heritage for holidays but for some reason I just associate a lot of our family recipes for more casual or weeknight dinners.

                            I had my heart set on making a new recipe of beef wellington I recently found, but my dad refuses to eat beef medium rare. I also thought of making goose with port sauce, but again...not sure if it would please everyone.

                            Individual Shepherd's Pie is something I know would be a crowd-pleaser. Picturing each dish topped with a little sprig of rosemary makes me smile.

                            I still can't decide on a first course though...definitely won't do a soup. A salad with some texture is most likely the best option, as many have suggested.. Maybe butternut squash with bacon and arugula?

                            1. re: eviemichael

                              I hadn't thought of it being regular dinner food for you, but that makes sense. Beef wellington would work if you gave your dad the end cuts but I agree about individual shepherd's pie being fun. Plus, the inner Sandra Lee in me comes out and it would be fun to pipe mashed potatoes in designs. For a hearty salad, I like this roasted cauliflower and radicchio salad, as the base, then play w/ it depending on what I have. You can add roasted butternut squash to it. I've done it w/ roasted corn and the sweetness works well w/ the cauliflower.


                              1. re: chowser

                                I only eat avgolemono when I'm sick! :) But it was still a nice idea. :)

                                I didn't think about the end cuts for my dad. Hmmm...maybe I'll run that idea past them then.
                                Thanks for the salad recipe, it looks good!

                          2. Meat on Christmas Eve!? This is the one day of the year I act like an old-style Catholic and observe it as a day of fast and abstinence. "Abstinence" means no meat (although seafood is allowed), so I do a potato or a beet soup, followed by cheese pierogi, a green salad, a mushroom dish, a cabbage dish, some sort of fish, maybe rice, and a dessert ("Fast" also has a loose interpretation: one is supposed to limit oneself to one meal, although working people are allowed one or two small meals during the day). Leftovers are expected.

                            I'd go with the celery root bisque instead of the lobster: it would seem to better complement the pies.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: tardigrade

                              We often take communion on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas day. I think I'm passing on soup as a first course because it's too much soft food, but I'll make the celery root bisque another day because it's one of my favorite soups!

                              A cheese pierogi sounds so good right now....