Something Different for Christmas Dinner?
November 16, 2016 5:42 AM   Subscribe

What kind of special, fancy, slightly fussy meals would you recommend I make for Christmas dinner? Details inside.

I have a tradition where I have my parents over for dinner on Christmas (just my parents; my brother's family does their own thing). None of us like turkey, and with just three people, a full roast of anything is just too much food. I've had success in the past with doing stuffed pork loin, duck breast, lamb chops, etc - a bit fancy, a bit fussy, and different than our usual.
The difficulty is that I can't make anything to sweet or heavy on the carbs, as my mom is diabetic, and I can't lean on heavy protein dishes any more either, as my dad is now restricted in how much protein he can have each day for health reasons. However, there are no food allergies to worry about, and we love all kinds of food and aren't afraid to try new things.
Please help me out!
posted by sandraregina to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My mom got tired of doing roasted dinners for Christmas every year for what must be 50 years now, and one year said "fuck it" and did lobsters, served with artichokes, sharing their drawn butter. It was fabulous.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:48 AM on November 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

My uncle used to prepare a whole fish (sea bass?) for the holidays and it was beautiful and delicious! Or if you want to try something different, how about paella?
posted by jraz at 5:54 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

As spouse to another diabetic, I can attest that main dishes which are protein-restricted tend to be carb-heavy. My suggestion would be to use a meat that is generally consumed in small quantities such as leg of lamb or filet mignon and surround it with a variety of interesting side dishes that are low-carb. One of my favorites, which is a staple at every holiday meal I prepare due to popular demand, is Carrot Puff.
posted by DrGail at 5:59 AM on November 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

We did Ina Garten's seafood gratin one year for Christmas and it was really delicious.
posted by Mouse Army at 6:15 AM on November 16, 2016

If you want small portions of meat, try individual Beef Wellingtons.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:30 AM on November 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I did braised lamb shanks one year and they were a huge hit. Pretty much fool proof.
posted by bondcliff at 6:32 AM on November 16, 2016

If you're wanting to limit both carbs and proteins then you want to go heavy on the vegetables? What about a tricolor vegetable terrine like this? It has some eggs, but I think might still make at least a beautiful and appropriate side dish? It's made with winter vegetables.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:43 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cornish hens were the Big Holiday Meal in our family.
posted by workerant at 6:44 AM on November 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was just snagging recipes off this list of sides for vegansgiving. There's a couple of gorgeous slaws on there that I'm trying to decide between, a carrot and wild rice dish that looks good, and mashed cauliflower which has been my preferred mash for years - and both parents can indulge freely.

What about, for a fancy fussy showoff dish, a Rancho Gordo cassoulet or shrimp and white beans?
posted by Lyn Never at 6:58 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

My parents gave up on a Christmas turkey years ago. They alternate between a seafood extravaganza (lobster, shrimp, scallops, whatever else my mom can find), served with plenty of butter and veggies, and a full Italian feast of lasagna (can be prepared ahead of time and baked day-of), bruschetta, caprese salad, etc. In most cases, it's a lot less work than a turkey, fits a variety of tastebuds and dietary needs, and is a nice alternative after having turkey just a month before.
posted by writermcwriterson at 7:16 AM on November 16, 2016

You may be interested in some recipes from the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition. This year I'm going to replace the pasta with spiralized veggies for a lower-carb version.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:25 AM on November 16, 2016

Seconding DarlingBri above, who said Beef Wellington. We used to do Cornish game hens (along with workerant). Tamales are traditional for Christmas Eve at home, so my mother sometimes does a turkey stuffed with tamales, which is totally different from our Thanksgiving-version turkey (and so good). For dessert there's trifle, which you sure don't see every day, but it's really easy to prepare.

In The Way to Cook, Julia Child has a duck preparation that I've always wanted to try (gets rid of the fat).

My mother also makes the Luxembourg salad in one of the Silver Palate cookbooks.

For an appetizer, you could make your own gravlax--extremely easy and delicious. Imagine a situation where everyone can have ("fress" :-) as much lox as they want as an appetizer. This is your situation if you make it.
posted by 8603 at 8:37 AM on November 16, 2016

crab boil!
posted by [tk] at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2016

We often have roast goose with apple dressing. A goose has a little more meat than a duck, but it might be too fatty for your dietary restrictions.
posted by sarajane at 9:29 AM on November 16, 2016

So, Jack Sprotein can have no(t much) protein, his wife can eat no(t much) carbs. You're probably best off accepting that each of them will have to eat around some of the menu items. It's either that, or serve sticks of butter straight up.

So protein for Mom, carbs for Dad.

I get that a whole large roast might be a lot, but how about looking for the smallest cut of roast beef you can find? Between the 2 or 3 of you, you should be able to take care of a small roast within a couple of meals: first the roast itself, then grind the leftover beef to make cottage pie. (Which, Dad can have the crust off the top, Mom can have the filling.)

On the side: good gravy made from scratch (NO CUBE), Yorkshire Pudding, roast potatoes, creamed turnip, *very lightly* glazed carrots. Preceded by a green salad in its pure form, with *just* lettuce leaves and vinaigrette.

Surely you and Dad can have dessert, even if Mom can only nibble at a corner? May I suggest upside-down pear gingerbread, with an abundance of yogurt sauce. (I imagine your Mom could eat a serving of yogurt sauce straight up, since it doesn't have to have a lot of sugar.)

Now how about this for the fussy effect: brandy snaps. They do contain sugar, but you can fill them with piped whipped cream. They look hella impressive. That's the only truly fussy thing on my suggested menu, and it is admittedly very roasty, but your main objection to roasts was scale so I hope I've addressed that.

You see, the fussiness isn't in the ingredients or recipes, but the fact that it's rooted in English cuisine. English cuisine is very difficult to get right, because it's so dependent on the skill of the cook; it's either sublime or woeful and there's no in between. There's no masking decay or inferior ingredients with rich sauces - the ingredients have to be top quality. There's a reason why good roast cooks are proud of their roasting skills.

If you like this menu, Memail me and I will send you the recipes.
posted by tel3path at 10:31 AM on November 16, 2016

Here's the link to Serious Eats' completely vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner; I think it would make a great Christmas dinner as well.
posted by Amy NM at 10:33 AM on November 16, 2016

Also - for individual dishes that either are or seem very fussily presented (tomato roses! shattered teacup parfait!), take a look at the Feeding Hannibal cookbook. It's written by the food stylist of the greatest cooking show of our time.

And the good news is that many of the recipes are very easy to prepare! They are often accompanied by plating illustrations that look very fancy indeed: duck egg shells with salsa inside, that sort of thing.
posted by tel3path at 10:39 AM on November 16, 2016

How about Ratatouille’s Ratatouille?

Smitten Kitchen's version

Thomas Keller's version
posted by peep at 11:26 AM on November 16, 2016

How about paella? Your mother can lean toward the meat/fish and your father can enjoy more of the super flavorful rice. Add a fancy salad (with pomegranate seeds!) and dinner is served. In my area, the seafood offerings in stores are particularly good around Christmas because a lot of people celebrate with the traditional Italian seafood meal.
posted by defreckled at 4:40 PM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

We do cheese fondue Christmas Eve every year and it's perfect-festive and communal and easy to customize the dippers for each person's diet.
posted by purenitrous at 6:27 PM on November 16, 2016

I was also going to suggest ratatouille - it's perfect for your needs! and delicious
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:44 PM on November 16, 2016

I do a prime rib roast, baked potatoes and a bagged salad for Christmas. It's a relatively no muss, no fuss meal. We don't do dessert but if we did we'd do something store-bought, like ice cream or cheesecake.
posted by vignettist at 6:55 PM on November 16, 2016

Green bean casserole à la Campbell's is not very good at all. Green bean casserole à la the 'Cooks' Illustrated' recipe is fussy, and delectable.

This was a novelty to me when I lived in the US -- meanwhile, I was surprised to see how many Commonwealth dishes were missing from holiday tables there. Perhaps something to dig through and see what appeals? Admittedly not too fancy, but good UK guides for holiday dinners will tell you to turn out a mushroom wellington, etc. Normal fare here: 'neeps and tatties' (mashed potatoes and rutabaga; not very exciting, but do your potatoes Joel Robuchon-style?). Plum pudding (with coins inside) and hard sauce. Parsnips and/or brussels sprouts. (And crackers -- the paper kind you pull apart for a toy and a joke and a silly hat, not the kind you eat.)
posted by kmennie at 7:56 PM on November 16, 2016

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