Change It Up For Christmas


When it comes to Christmas dinner, I like to mix it up. There are so many different culinary traditions around the winter holidays, that I have no problem at all trying something new each year. If you were to forego turkey, gravy and green bean casserole on Thanksgiving, you might have a revolt on your hands. Ditch hamburgers, hot dogs and iced cold watermelon next 4th of July and be prepared for fireworks! But for me, there are no hard and fast rules about what should be on the dinner table December 25th. On Thanksgiving Day, families gather to share the holiday meal and give thanks. Some share their time with others and dish up turkey and all the trimmings to those less fortunate, or invite folks without family to visit on the third Thursday of November. But at Christmas, the celebrations can go in a number of different directions. For some, Christmas Eve is when the party happens. Whether it’s an Italian “Feast of the 7 Fishes”, a Swedish Smörgåsbord or a platter of steaming Mexican tamales, families and friends gather to feast well before Santa arrives. For others, Christmas dinner is a repeat of Thanksgiving, with perhaps a twist for dessert that swaps out pumpkin pie for something chocolaty.


In Japan, since the 1970s, millions call a bucket of the Colonel’s finger-lickin’-good fried chicken their holiday feast. Nothing says Christmas like KFC! I know many people who spend Christmas Day at the movie theater. Their dinner might be hot, buttered popcorn and Junior Mints! When I was growing up, the big meal would be served at 1:00pm and consist of either turkey or roast beef with all the usual sides. Once I moved to the South from New England, I never traveled to be with family over the Christmas holidays. Too much risk of being stuck in a snowstorm. As the years went by, my mom went from offering a huge Thanksgiving re-do to spaghetti and meatballs. Equally delicious, but so much easier!


A Christmas favorite that I have repeated more than any other in my home is “Three Day Duck”. Whole duck marinated for three days in Asian and fruit flavors, then roasted or rotisseried until the meat is succulent and the skin is crisp. I have served grilled quail, baked stuffed flounder, fresh ham, goose, oysters and shrimp and even an assortment of homemade ravioli as Christmas dinner. One year, we had breakfast for dinner and finished the evening with APPLE PIE CINNAMON ROLLS. So much fun and delicious, too! If bacon and eggs are a little too far out for this year, start slow by trying out some new sides. WILD RICE and CIDER CRANBERRY PILAF is a festive change from mashed potatoes and pairs well with many entrees.


BROCCOLI CAULIFLOWER and BRUSSELS SPROUTS GRATIN take three basic crucifers to decadent levels. Perfect for the holiday table!

On my favorite Christmas of all time, the one when my daughter was born, all I managed for dinner was a glass of water and a bowl of chicken broth. But after 22 hours in labor, it was the most satisfying Christmas dinner I have ever had. Try something new this holiday season. It could be the start of a whole new tradition!


APPLE PIE CINNAMON ROLLS

Makes 12 rolls

For the Dough:

1 package yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)

½ cup lukewarm water

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup scalded milk (Heat milk in a saucepan until bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Cool until lukewarm before using.)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted (5 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon)

1 egg

2 teaspoons salt

4 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour)

Filling:

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (divided)

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

½ cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

Glaze:

¼ cup cream cheese, softened

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, add yeast and 2 teaspoons of the sugar to the lukewarm water and let it sit until it dissolves and blooms, 5-10 minutes.

Using either a stand mixer or hand held electric beaters, combine scalded milk, melted butter, egg, remaining sugar and salt on low speed.

Add half of the flour and mix until smooth.

Add yeast mixture and continue to mix on low.

Slowly add the remaining flour, incorporating with a wooden spoon if hand held beaters are over-burdened. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead by hand for 5 minutes or if your stand mixer has a dough hook, increase speed to medium and knead for 5 minutes.

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside on countertop or warm place. Let dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

While dough is rising, make the filling. Heat 4 Tablespoons of butter and all the granulated sugar in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the apples. Sauté until apples give off liquid; turn up heat to medium high and cook until apples are slightly caramelized. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When dough has risen, remove cover and, using your knuckles, press dough down to deflate.

Remove dough from the bowl and, on a well-floured surface, roll out into a 16 x 24 inch rectangle.

Using a pastry brush, spread the remaining 2 Tablespoons of melted butter almost out to the edges, but not quite. Leave a ¼ to ½ inch border around the edges.

Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the butter.

Spread the apple mixture over the brown sugar as evenly as you can.

Roll the dough into a log, lengthwise, moving slowly from left to right and back again, so the log is 24 inches.

Using a sharp knife (serrated is best), gently cut 2 inch slices with a sawing motion. Try not to push too hard to avoid pinching the dough. This will give you 12 cinnamon rolls.

Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with parchment and butter the parchment (or spray with cooking spray). Place the cinnamon rolls, cut side up, close together in the pan, but not touching each other. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 ½ to 2 hours. (It's at this point, after the rolls have risen, where you could put the pan in the refrigerator overnight and bake in the morning. Allow rolls to come to room temp for at least 30 minutes to an hour before baking.)

While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 375°. Bake for 20-25 minutes, being careful not to overbake.

While the rolls are baking, make the glaze. Mix cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt together with an electric mixer on medium speed until fully combined and set aside.

When rolls come out of the oven, spread glaze over top and serve.

WILD RICE and CIDER-CRANBERRY PILAF

Serves 6 – 8

3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 small cinnamon stick

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups wild rice blend

½ cup fresh apple cider

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup dried cranberries

2 onions, chopped (about 2 cups)

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

4 scallions, chopped

In a saucepan over medium heat, drizzle 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Add cinnamon stick and half of the chopped garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice blend and toss to coat with the olive oil. Add cider and 2 ½ cups of water. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low, cover, and cook until rice is tender, 15-17 minutes, adding dried cranberries during the last 10 minutes of cooking.


Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown and tender, 18-20 minutes. Add remaining chopped garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Stir in vinegar and parsley. Remove from heat.


Add onion mixture and chopped scallions to rice and toss to combine. Remove cinnamon stick. Serve.

BROCCOLI CAULIFLOWER and BRUSSELS SPROUTS GRATIN

Serves 8

1 lb. cauliflower florets

8 oz. broccoli florets

8 oz. brussels sprouts, quartered

1 large yellow onion, chopped (2 cups)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup butter (half a stick)

¼ cup all purpose flour

½ cup heavy cream (room temp or slightly warmed)

1 cup whole milk (room temp or slightly warmed)

4 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

4 oz. gouda cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)

Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs

2 Tablespoons butter

Preheat oven to 350°


Chop your veggies.


Half fill a large bowl with ice water.


Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts until broccoli turns vibrant green and all three veggies are al dente (just slightly softened), about 5 minutes. When the desired tenderness is reached, scoop the veggies out of the boiling water and plunge into the ice water to halt the cooking process. If you prefer very soft vegetables, either cook a little longer or skip the ice bath altogether.


Place the veggies in a casserole dish and set aside.


Make your cheese sauce. In a saucepan over medium heat, drizzle 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and caramelize the chopped onions, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender. Turn burner to medium-low and add ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) butter to saucepan. When butter is melted, slowly add the flower to the butter and onions, whisking as you go. Once your roux has formed a paste, slowly add the milk and cream (not cold!), whisking continuously until sauce thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in half of the shredded gruyere cheese and half of the shredded gouda until melted.


Pour the sauce over the veggies and top with the remaining shredded cheese.


In a small skillet, melt 2 Tablespoons of butter and add breadcrumbs. Stir constantly while toasting, then sprinkle over casserole.


Bake in 350° oven for 20-25 minutes.


The Southern Yankee Kitchen