11 unbeatable Christmas recipes, whether you’re cooking for two or 20
Senior food and wine editor Susan Jung offers some ideas, and tips, for home cooks hosting parties and dinners over the holidays
With the holiday season fast approaching, fans of home cooking will be finalising their menus for the festive season. We thought we’d give you some food for thought with a selection of Christmas recipes.
When it comes to holiday cooking, many people automatically think of turkey. That’s great for when you want to feed a crowd, but if it’s just a small group - or a romantic dinner for two - you need something that won’t leave you eating leftovers for days. Chicken is one option but for the holidays, you want something a bit special. I like small birds, such as poussins or Cornish hens.
While the Norman Rockwell version of a holiday celebration is gathering with a large group of friends and family for a feast, many people prefer something more intimate. Drinking fine wine and starting with caviar or foie gras might not be possible when you’re feeding 20, but a smaller celebration means you can be more extravagant. Guinea fowl has a firmer texture than chicken and the meat tastes sweeter. You can buy them frozen from City’super.
Serving roast turkey is a good way to feed the holiday crowd: the bird looks impressive on the buffet table and is cheaper than other types of meat. But it’s awful when it’s overcooked: the white meat becomes dry and stringy. United States government guidelines say turkey should be cooked to 73 degrees Celsius, which is still overcooked to our tastes. I remove it from the oven at 64 degrees; as the turkey rests, the temperature rises to about 70 degrees, which yields moist white meat and just-done dark meat. See my recipe for roast turkey, which includes brining the bird - and the sooner you start, the better, preferably today!
When I was training to be a pastry chef at hotels in San Francisco and New York, the winter holiday season started very early for us. Our first task was to mix batch after batch of gingerbread.
After making one enormous gingerbread house to be displayed in the hotel lobby, we’d make smaller ones for VIP guests and gingerbread men and women to serve on the Christmas buffet. Making gingerbread at home is a fun project that children may enjoy.
Holiday cocktail parties are good events at which to reconnect with friends (and, if we’re honest, to pay off the social debts we’ve been feeling guilty about all year). They don’t have to be extravagant affairs: serve some sparkling wine (although champagne is better, if you can still afford it) and lay out an array of sweet and savoury nibbles. See my recipes for gougeres, grilled Vietnamese chicken wings, fresh spring rolls, and easy chocolate truffles. If you’re too busy to cook a lot of dishes, round out the display with fresh oysters on the half shell and smoked salmon on Melba toast.
Although winters in Hong Kong are fairly mild - we don’t have to wade through waist-high snow drifts, thank goodness, or worry about slipping on icy streets - the lack of indoor heating can make it seem a lot colder than it is. With warming winter drinks, we can take refuge from the bitter elements outside.
Finally, here is some advice for occasional cooks who are putting on a holiday spread.
Preparing dishes you’ve never tried out before can be risky - if it doesn’t come off, you have a tableful of disappointed diners, and you cannot simply order up a roast turkey with all the trimmings from Food by Fone or Cuisine Courier on Christmas Day (or any other day, for that matter). On the other hand, if you hit the jackpot with a fantastically delicious dish, you’ve just made a lot of people happy.
If you’re cooking a casual weekday meal for family, it’s worth experimenting - it alleviates the tedium of making the same thing time and time again and if it turns out well, you’ve added to your culinary repertoire. When it comes to experimenting for holiday meals, though, it is wise to tread carefully. Traditional dishes (although “traditional” can be a highly personal concept) are popular during the holidays.
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