This is the second of a two post series on alternative holiday dinners, where I share two ways to celebrate without cooking a big, traditional dinner. For Part 1, click here.
When it was time to plan for Christmas, I considered ordering catering from Earth Fare again. But when I checked their menu, it was exactly the same as the Thanksgiving menu. I suppose that there is a lot of overlap between Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, and I guess that is what I do not like about holiday meals: they can be kind of boring. I had already ruled out ordering from other stores because most of their meals were intended for 10-12 people, were too expensive, or just looked kind of gross.
Some friends had mentioned that they only do appetizers and desserts for Christmas, and we really liked that idea. I think most people can agree that the sides are the best part of any holiday meal, and they generally are less time-consuming to prepare than the main course, so we decided to give it a try. The verdict? This will probably be how we do big holiday meals from now on.
On the menu for the evening were Turkey and Stuffing Meatballs served with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce, Pesto Pizza Rolls, Smoky Parmesan Roasted Cauliflower, cheese & crackers, and crudités (yes, 4/5 of those recipes are from Budget Bytes – all are amazing). It was more than enough for me, my husband, and 2 small children. We were able to have a several leftovers meals in the days following, so this spread could probably serve 6 or so people easily. I wanted a variety of foods including veggies and something that I knew the kids would eat. They love crudités and cheese and crackers, and that is mostly what they ate. We put those out first so the girls could start munching while everything else finished cooking. They also really enjoyed the cranberry sauce.
We started prepping food a day or two ahead of Christmas. I made the cranberry sauce first. I had never attempted to make cranberry sauce from scratch before this, but I am happy to report that it was quick and easy and kept well in the fridge. Next up were the mashed potatoes. I am glad that I cooked these the night before because they were the most labor intensive item on the menu. I highly recommend this time-saving tip for peeling potatoes, by the way. I’ve peeled potatoes this way a few times now and it always works well for me.
On Christmas Day, my husband mixed and shaped the meatballs in about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I mixed the pizza dough in my stand mixer. I used a spoon to combine the ingredients and then let the mixer do the work of kneading for me (about 6 minutes around level 4 with the dough hook, in case you are wondering). Once that was done, I took the dough out, oiled the bowl, then returned the dough to the bowl to let it rise for a couple of hours. I also cut up the cauliflower and combined the seasonings in a separate small bowl, and sliced up and plated the veggies for the crudités.
All in all I think that was about an hour of work. Once it was done we went over to our neighbors’ house to hang out for a couple of hours before coming home to finish up cooking. We turned the oven on right away, and I tossed the cauliflower with its seasonings and assembled the pizza rolls while it preheated (the pizza dough stretched and rolled up very easily!). Overall, it was still very low stress and the food was better than most holiday meals I’ve had.
For dessert, we had an array of Christmas cookies – gingerbread, chocolate spritz, sugar cookies, and snickerdoodles – that we had been baking for the last few days.
I know that this approach will not work for everyone, but it definitely helped make our Christmas dinner feel more festive and joyous. Really that is how a holiday should feel – more joyful than stressful. If cooking up a big “traditional” meal with all the fixings does not bring you joy, then maybe you would be better suited to an alternative meal.