Help me plan a low-stress family holiday feast...or two
November 29, 2017 7:50 AM   Subscribe

My family has been going through some challenging times, and ended up doing nothing for Thanksgiving just because nobody had energy to make anything happen. I want special food in the Christmas/New Year period. Help me think about how to make it happen.

We are two parents and four children aged 23 to 10. I am trying to figure out a way to have special, enjoyable food on or around the upcoming holidays without committing to more work than any of us is able to do right now. We also have varying sleep schedules (some of which are related to legit health issues), so committing to a time when we can all sit down to a family meal around a table is a setup for failure.

One option I've been exploring is catering cheese and/or charcuterie trays from a local fancy food market. For many of us, who love bread, crackers, and cheese-type things, this would be delicious and special as well as being something that people can nosh on when their appetites and sleep schedules allow. For at least one of us, however, these would be big trays of things they don't eat.

Other things some of us love include Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Chinese food. A big sushi tray would be a hit as well. But we don't want to just order takeout, because these members of our family get this kind of food multiple times a week.

Even fancy cold cuts would not be great because we also eat a lot of sandwiches.

In addition to these kinds of things that could be catered, I'm interested in ideas about things that could be easily tossed in the oven or (possibly) deep-fried. We got a deep fryer for Xmas last year, and while we haven't used it much, found that it really elevated crappy things like frozen mozzarella sticks and breaded shrimp.

Things like soft pretzels with interesting dips would also work. Or excellent spreads for good bread.

So: other ideas for deli-style or other catering options as well as commercially-available things that are a cut above. Are there such things are gourmet frozen appetizers? Do you know of a really great place to mail-order something special that just needs to be baked or fried?

We don't have a lot of great options around here, but we do have access to Whole Foods as well as our one really terrific gourmet food place. Other local catering options locally tend toward the swiss-steak genre of foods. I am more than willing to do some mail-order: I'm thinking of flying in some New York bagels and/or breads from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor, for instance. And we just this month got a Costco!

I'm not looking for a whole catered main-dish/side-dishes/desserts kind of meal. But don't hesitate to mention a main dish if you know of one you especially love.

So: catered, or interesting frozen-type food available commercially. Mail-order OK, but I'm looking for something more interesting that Harry & David's or the like. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, appetizers, desserts, and "other" are all welcome.
posted by Orlop to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've had extremely good luck with Goldbely.

Their shops are from all over the country, and are really varied and interesting. The items generally individually packaged, so you can assemble as many or as few as you need. If you order something that needs to be cooked, the directions are *really* simple. (It's more like reheating than cooking-cooking, IME.)

We have loved everything we've ordered. Salt Lick BBQ from Texas, Harbor House crab cakes from Baltimore, and Primanti Bros sandwiches from Pittsburgh were our faves so far. (In fact, my husband went to school in Pittsburgh and said that the mail order sammies were just as good as the "real" thing.) And friends and fam have raved over our gifts of Russ & Daughters NY bagels and lox.

It would be So Fun to get an assortment of food from all over the country and mix and match for X days. Only 2 people around? Crab cakes and pastrami? Hell yes.

Or... theme days! Texas Tuesday? Sandwich Saturday?

I'm sorry you all are having a rough time, but hope you can find some fun food to cheer you up!
posted by functionequalsform at 8:15 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: functionequalsform's suggestion is great. If I may suggest something similiar, Tastes of Chicago has Chicago-centric foods like deep dish pizza and Italian Beef (which my mother often orders and keeps warm in a crock pot for eating throughout the day).

Also, check out your new Costco for appetizers. Our family tradition is a big appetizer nosh all evening on Christmas eve and we've enjoyed Costco's frozen mini quiches and spanokopita, as well as their prepared dips, roll-up sandwiches, and great cheese selection. Go take a look around the Costco and see what whets your appetite!
posted by sarajane at 8:35 AM on November 29, 2017

Did you know that Honeybaked Ham ships entire meals? Their sides aren't enormous, but you could get a ham and a few sides and augment from local grocery freezer/deli options. Nothing like a giant ham for ongoing grazing, too.

Costco can provide all kinds of great frozen appetizers, dips, cheeses, baked goods, and snacks. They have an array of ready-to-heat family entrees or proteins (like a pound-ish of BBQ or carnitas) that you could use for slider or taco bars (or get/make empanada dough and use them for filling - you could fry them), and really good frozen pizzas. They also have good salads and prepared fruit options. You might go do a reconnaissance trip just to see what your store has before you commit to mail-ordering something you could get there. I think my single favorite Costco item is their frozen eggplant parmigiana, but it comes and goes and seems to be gone during holiday seasons that require extra freezer space for seasonal items.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:37 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't as nibble-y as you were thinking, but mentioning this as a data point: Friends of mine got a full Thanksgiving turkey dinner from Fresh Direct, and it was really well done - and easy! Everything was already cooked, they only had to heat it. It all came in a package with a step-by-step list that walked you through "at 2 hours before you eat, put [A] in the oven. 30 minutes later, add [B]. Another 15 minutes after that, turn up the heat to [blah] and add [C]...." They said it was really easy to follow along, and all the food came out great. They paid a set per-person charge for the package and Fresh Direct selected some sides and sent them along with the turkey as part of the package. Fresh Direct has a selection of Christmas and New Year's dinners here.

Their full "meal" section is here - the "kabobs" section may be fun on another night, get a few different kinds of kabobs and everyone can eat whatever one they want with a simple salad for everyone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 AM on November 29, 2017

Get a really good beef roast - the filet - from a butcher. It's really easy to cook if you have a meat thermometer. Get a fantastic Virginia ham. You can get really good cold or frozen mashed potatoes and vegetables to warm up. Put together a big salad from the salad bar. Try some different sides, salads, crudites. Get a really good assortment of pickles and olives, mustards, horseradish sauce. Fantastic sourdough bread.

A lot of grocery stores have lobster, if not, Harbor Fish can ship some. Serve with butter, garlic bread and a giant salad.
posted by theora55 at 8:47 AM on November 29, 2017

Best answer: In my family and I think most of rural Scandinavia, the tradition is to have a "Christmas lunch" every day of the holidays (except Christmas Eve where we have a roast or two). The "lunch" is the only meal of the day because people wake up at all different times and make themselves something to eat when they do. The "lunch" is served at about 4 PM, and it's a buffet-style thing, this is the true folksy origin of the smorgasbord, but it's much simpler and more homey. You can get most of the food from IKEA! Basically, we go for a family walk when everyone is awake, then we get home and take stuff out of the fridge. If anyone gets hungry later, they can take it.
There will traditionally be pickled herring, shrimps and salmon, eggs, meatballs, different types of charcuterie, roast leftovers*, some form of meat and potato hash, lots of condiments and pickled vegs to go with the meat, and cheese. But no one is offended if something non-traditional is brought out of the freezer, like mini-springrolls for the deep-fryer, lasagna or a casserole, and also, no one is offended if something is "missing", it's all about having a good, relaxed time together, with no pressure. Rye bread and crisp bread are the mainstays, as they keep well, while wheat bread will turn stale over the holiday and be turned into toast.

*One year, when were too exhausted after a lot of grief and hard work, we found that a local store would provide a cooked roast of our choice(any bird or pork or beef), including all the sides, on Christmas Eve. Maybe something similar is available for you? It's not as good as home made, but for us that year, it was great This year we are going to do everything from scratch, but in the years in between we have still ordered an extra roast bird alongside our own, so we could have the leftovers for our smorgasbord.
posted by mumimor at 8:56 AM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hancock Lobster Co. lobster mac and cheese is really tasty (they have a gluten free version as well).

It is not inexpensive, but things from La Tienda are delicious. For example, Cured Meats of Spain sampler. Add some crusty bread or crackers, some olives, and some Manchego or other cheese, and you have a great tapas style spread.
posted by gudrun at 9:00 AM on November 29, 2017

Also, if you have access to Trader Joe's, their frozen appetizers are really good and really cheap.
posted by functionequalsform at 9:02 AM on November 29, 2017

Best answer: Oh, coming back to add that Williams Sonoma peppermint bark really is worth the money.
posted by gudrun at 9:09 AM on November 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, these are great suggestions. We're looking forward to our Costco recon trip. and I love the "Christmas lunch" idea--it's exactly the kind of thing I was thinking of.
posted by Orlop at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2017

Response by poster: Also, if you have access to Trader Joe's, their frozen appetizers are really good and really cheap.

Now that we have a Costco, this is our next dream.
posted by Orlop at 5:47 PM on November 29, 2017

In line with the Christmas lunch mentioned above, I like the idea of making a big pot of stew or chili and a big pot of rice in the rice cooker and letting people serve themselves.

If you want something "fancy" but easy you could also consider doing a prime rib roast. It's nothing more than popping a roast in the oven and taking it out a couple of hours later. I do one every Christmas, as I have no interest or intention in spending the day in the kitchen while everyone else relaxes. I don't do any sort of red wine reduction or other fancy sauce. Roast, jarred horseradish, and bagged salad with maybe a fancier dressing than normal. Easy, healthy, lovely.
posted by vignettist at 10:46 PM on November 29, 2017

Having panettone or coffee cake around sounds like a capital idea--whoever is up and about can brew a pot of coffee and share a slice. Have some special hot chocolate and popcorn handy for anyone who's ready to watch a holiday movie together. Costco should have some potstickers--those are easy to prepare and lend themselves to communal eating. [If you do make it to Trader Joe's, their gyoza are amazing.] I would definitely get a whole ham, and slice off of it as needed. Quiche is also a good thing to eat any time of the day, and it keeps well; several places do mail-order quiche and pot pies.
posted by Jane Austen at 10:53 PM on November 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

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