One day, it will be your turn to host the holiday meal. Maybe you'll be excited to add your own spin on family tradition, or maybe there will be a sense of melancholy – or a bit of both.
Hosting a family meal carries with it the weight of memories of meals past, of the people who once joined you at the table and of the milestones that are whizzing by each year. It's about much more than just having some people over for dinner, which is what makes it so stressful. This is not the time to serve raw squash and a burnt turkey. If you mess it up, you will be hearing about it for years to come.
Whether it is your first holiday banquet or your 50th, it's not easy to balance the time pressures of a busy season along with the expectations of family and friends. Turkey dinner is a lot of work and pressure, so our challenge this week was to create a holiday meal that is both simple enough that it can be created without losing all sense of sanity, yet complex enough to be remembered fondly.
Whenever I cook a large meal, I struggle with getting all the dishes on the table at the same time at the same hot temperature. Only recently, I realized that my mother, Lucy, often makes dishes the day before and reheats them for the big dinner. Side dishes such as mashed potatoes and green beans don't need to be freshly made to be delicious. You can also take shortcuts such as using precut squash or buying dessert or the cranberry sauce, though we do ask you, politely, to please make your own gravy.
Lucy's turkey trick is to cook it spatchcocked or flattened (what we lovingly refer to as roadkill turkey). It's not hard to do on your own with some courage and a pair of sharp kitchen shears, but most butchers will do it for you. A flattened turkey cooks faster and more evenly than your classic bird and is also easier to carve for nervous first-timers.
This year, the second night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas, which will make Chrismukkah dinner even more festive for our blended family.
- Flattened (spatchcocked) turkey with pan gravy
- Make-ahead mashed potatoes
- Garlic green beans
- Roasted butternut squash with Brazil nuts and dates
Countdown to Christmas dinner
Two days before
- Make the mashed potatoes (save the egg whites in the fridge for the pavlova).
- Make the cranberry sauce.
One day before
- Cook the green beans, but don’t add garlic and butter.
- Roast squash with nuts and dates, but leave the finishing ingredients until serving.
- Bake pavlova, but don’t add topping.
- Set the table.
The big day
Four hours before serving:
- Finish meringue with eggnog cream topping.
Two hours before serving:
- Place turkey in the oven; later, while it roasts, remove some of the fat for gravy.
- Make gravy.
- Reheat all vegetables, adding the garlic and butter to the green beans and the finishing ingredients to the squash. Reheat according to instructions in each recipe.
One hour before:
- Lay out smoked salmon appetizer.
- Sit down for 20 minutes to relax.