The end-of-year holidays can be a source of stress for many people.
Feeling the need to decorate the perfect table with Grandma’s china and cook the ideal filet mignon with pommes Anna and baby carrots for your extended family can be overwhelming to say the least. Add to that shopping for gifts, fighting the crowds, navigating traffic, and potentially inclement weather, and you have a recipe for disappointment.
Glossy magazines attempt to teach you, in a few short paragraphs, how to execute all of their wonderful holiday ideas, illustrated by visually stunning images. I thought this column should be a switch from that approach.
It took me all day to produce the food in these photographs, but I think most people have so much stuff going on for the holidays that attempting to manage a meal like this without professional help is a fool’s errand.
While I appreciate pulling out all of the stops, I have a different holiday tradition.
Entertaining is not my thing. I mean, I enjoy seeing family and friends in a festive mood, but I usually follow one of two patterns: stay in the kitchen and cook all day (Thanksgiving) or put together several dishes that can be made ahead and just hang out (Christmas).
My regular Christmas routine usually starts on Thanksgiving Day. I break down the turkey and freeze all of the dark meat that no one in my family eats. I make a turkey stock of the carcass and a brand new mirepoix (onions, celery and carrots). After simmering a few hours, I drain the stock, cool it, skim the fat and reserve, then freeze the broth. I also freeze some of the gravy.
In the days leading up to Christmas, I will pull these ingredients from the freezer and set about to make a big pot of turkey gumbo, with the reserved stock, meat and gravy, to which I add trinity (onions, celery and bell peppers), okra and turkey kielbasa. That gumbo will be slowly heated on Christmas morning to sustain us most of the day. If someone is hungry, they get a scoop of rice from the rice steamer, a few ladles of gumbo and a dollop of potato salad. No big meal; just laid-back noshing, as “A Christmas Story” plays for the umpteenth time.
For dinner, we prefer an equally low-key approach consisting of nibbles and bites while sitting on the sofa. I like to make Lit’l Smokies in Bourbon Barbecue Sauce (Jim Beam, onions and Sweet Baby Ray’s) in the crock pot, cheese dip (Velveeta and Ro-tel) and tortilla chips, deviled eggs, assorted cheeses and olives. And if we are at my mother’s house in south Louisiana, we will have mini-muffelettas from Capdebos catering company that we warm in the oven. She always gets those for me.
Christmas to me is about family, no-fuss comfort food and watching TV in pajamas. And presents. Definitely in that order.