Make my Christmas dinner a success!
November 25, 2007 12:29 AM   Subscribe

[first time holiday dinner filter] It's my first holiday FEAST. And I must impress FUTURE INLAWS. Give me your tried-and-true "omfg where on EARTH did you get this recipe" holiday recipes - traditional is okay, but I'd prefer the off-kilter.

So I was just... uh... informed: this year is the first year I'm having a really big holiday feast at my house. Like, huge. Yes, I've done holiday dinners for two, but this one will be my first BIG big one.

I should mention that future inlaws will be present - as well as my own. Yikes. So you can tell that I need all the help I can get.

I usually do the whole traditional thing, because I normally cook for people that are into that. HOWEVER, this year I really want to do something phenomenal. So...what are some recipes that will seriously make everyone fall in love with my cooking? I want kooky holiday meal recipes, as well as the "i know you said kooky but it's seriously so good you won't even care" recipes. HELP!
posted by damnjezebel to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 98 users marked this as a favorite
Make cheese cookies! Serve them before dinner, while people are wandering around trying to remember how to behave.

[I posted this elsewhere:]

--- Mom's Cheese Cookies ---

1/2 lb butter
6 oz extra sharp cheddar, grated finely
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated finely
1/4 tsp salt
cayenne pepper to taste (I usually use two or three big "pinches" -- you may want to play around with the amount)
2 cups all-purpose flour
fresh pecan halves (not roasted)

Preheat oven to 350F

With your hands, mix everything except the flour and pecans together in a big bowl until well blended.
Gradually mix in the flour to form the dough. It should be firm and smooth. If it's sticky, add a little more flour.
Roll the dough between your palms to form round balls a bit larger in diameter than a quarter. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch apart. Press a pecan half into the center of each ball.
Bake them about 20 minutes, until slightly browned (but still a bit soft).

You can make these ahead in batches, too. They'll keep up to about two weeks in a tightly sealed tin or tupperware. Mom used to put them up in tins in layers, with a paper towel in between.
posted by trip and a half at 12:44 AM on November 25, 2007 [9 favorites]

Persimmon Pudding with Hard Sauce ("What is this tall, black thing," they will ask. Then they will grovel.)

Roasted Pear Trifle (I made this with all pears, about 2/3 cup brandy in lieu of sherry, and storebought spice cake mix cupcakes sliced into biscuits instead of ladyfingers.) Most trifles are huge crowd pleasers and good for huge crowds.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:48 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Emeril's Cuban Roast Suckling Pig with Black Bean Dressing can be impressive to serve, is tres tasty, and feeds 12-15 people. Not such a good idea as a main course for those restricting themselves from pork consumption.

For them, you make extra special green bean casserole, and warm some olive oil to serve with cheese pita wedges.
posted by paulsc at 2:12 AM on November 25, 2007

Not exactly kooky but have you tried a 5 or 3 bird roast. If they've never had it before it should go down well. You can even buy it pre-prepared if you're not up for all the de-boning and stuffing yourself.
posted by missmagenta at 4:08 AM on November 25, 2007

I know macaroni and cheese isn't inherently kooky, but you could always mix something into it. I have the best mac and cheese recipe ever ... so easy and super rich and good!

(I can't claim credit for this recipe ... it came from the NY Times)

Creamy Macaroni and Cheese
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup cottage cheese (not lowfat)
2 cups milk (not skim)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound elbow pasta, uncooked.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use 1 tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan.

2. In a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. Reserve 1/4 cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan, cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

3. Uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
posted by mccxxiii at 5:05 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just made this turkey for Thanksgiving and EVERYONE is still asking me about it. Honestly, it rocked!
posted by keep it tight at 5:38 AM on November 25, 2007

I have won over many with this recipe for Brie in Puffed Pastry with Honey-Walnut Sauce. In fact, I now know of two friends who I made it for, who subsequently made it for their future in-laws and now continue to make it every year for on Christmas. It is to die for. Depending on how many you are, you might want to make two wedges (one sheet of pastry is enough for two wedges).

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 4-ounce wedge Brie (doesn't need to be high-end)
1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

½ cup butter (1 stick)
6 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. minced garlic
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley (I sometimes skip this)

Preheat oven to 400. Roll out pastry sheet on lightly floured surface to form 12-inch square. Cut diagonally through sheet to form 2 triangles. Place 1 Brie wedge in center of each triangle, with tip of cheese wedge facing toward 90-degree angle of triangle. Pull up and fold puff pastry loosely to enclose cheese. Pinch edges of pastry gently to press. Press with fork to seal seams completely (VERY IMPORTANT). Transfer pastry-wrapped Brie to baking sheet, seam side up. Brush Pastry with egg glaze. (Can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Bake Brie until pastry is golden, about 18 minutes (this totally depends on the oven, etc.-- mine takes a little longer)

Meanwhile, combine butter, honey and garlic in small saucepan over low heat. Stir until butter melts. Add walnuts and parsley. Pour over Brie (or put on plate and put Brie on top.)

Serve with baguette slices.
posted by picklebird at 5:56 AM on November 25, 2007 [10 favorites]

Another idea. How kooky do you want? How about a Moroccan feast? I just threw a party for 40 (!) for dinner (!!) and went Moroccan because I couldd do a lot of it ahead of time and the longer it cooks, the better!

My menu:
mixed olives
baked brie (see above)-- no, not moroccan, but irresistible
spanakopita (we use my bf's mother's recipe, but this one looks very similar)
Moroccan Slow-Cooked Lamb (doubled)-- this was the big hit. I used more expensive leg of lamb, but I had done it before with lamb shoulder which was delicious too.
Moroccan Chickpea Stew (for the vegetarians at the party)
Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemons (start making the lemons now!)
Couscous with chopped mint and almonds
Cucumber and tomato salad (improvise whatever you want here, e.g., black olives, red onion, feta, mint, etc.)

Other vegetables that are traditionally Moroccan (but I didn't make them):
Spiced Carrots

To round it out, you could serve moroccan mint tea afterwards, and I'd go with a nice shiraz or pinot noir during the dinner.

I also made my own saffron ice cream for dessert (YUM!).
posted by picklebird at 6:13 AM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

"I should mention that future inlaws will be present - as well as my own. Yikes."

So is that you husbands parents and your boy friends parents? Yikes is right! Just have some pizza and cold beer delivered and get a good helmet.
Otherwise Osso Bucco for six isn't difficult and very tasty.
posted by sgobbare at 6:29 AM on November 25, 2007

But Osso Bucco for twelve is insane! My apologies. That Moroccan Feast looks pretty good. Or go Italian with Veal Parmesan, Braised Finocchio and from scratch Canellini Beans finished off with a crunchy green salad. It can mostly be made ahead of time so it should come off without a hitch. And did I mention chianti? Lots of chianti.
posted by sgobbare at 6:41 AM on November 25, 2007

Chocolate chess pie, such as this recipe or this one (a "Pet" milk is evaporated milk). They don't mention the crust, but you should learn to make your own (as opposed to store bought).
posted by anaelith at 6:42 AM on November 25, 2007

I don't know if it qualifies as kooky, but every Christmas my mother makes this yule log cake with chocolate wafers - it's easy, prepared ahead of time, and very popular with the family. I should note, though, that we make ours in the fridge instead of the freezer as described in that link. It takes longer, but the resulting texture can't be beat.
posted by emmastory at 6:46 AM on November 25, 2007

I don't have a recipe for you but I'd like to suggest that if at all possible, you try out your dinner in stages in the weeks leading up to The Big Night. Make the appetizers one night, make the main course some Sunday afternoon, and so on. Take notes. You don't want to be trying out a recipe for the first time when the stakes are high. This way you'll know how much time each one takes, what you might be able to make ahead, how to stagger each dish in your oven, what is great and what doesn't work at all. This will also make you more relaxed and together on the night of the dinner. Producing such a great spread while maintaining your cool will make the whole thing even more impressive.
posted by Kangaroo at 7:14 AM on November 25, 2007

This is a variation on the spiced carrots recipe that picklebird posted above, but... it's so good, and it's always been a hit at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners whenever I bust it out.

Taïm Restaurant (NYC) Spicy Moroccan Carrot Salad

Double or triple this recipe if you're cooking for a crowd... they will seriously hoover this up. And make it a day ahead.
posted by enrevanche at 7:26 AM on November 25, 2007

pork tenderloin glazed with a mix of apple butter, dijon mustard, and white wine is easy and elegant, and holiday-appropriate. and they're small enough that you can make a couple of test roasts before the big day without a lot of waste.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:30 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you've got an ice cream maker you can make some clever ice creams. I made egg nog frozen custard last week and it went over really well. I'm making Guiness ice cream this week, but you can always go cranberry walnut (with maple?) or any other traditional flavors with a modern twist. I also make a kick-ass apple and cranberry pie, which isn't so different, but slicing the apples paper-thin changes the texture enough to get lots of 'ooh's and 'aah's.

Also, I shouldn't have been reading this thread out loud, since I've now got to make picklebird's brie dish for my wife.
posted by monkeymadness at 7:35 AM on November 25, 2007

This mushroom cappuccino was a nice success at our family dinner last year. It was fun to see the confusion when they thought I was serving coffee right before dinner. Don't skip the fresh nutmeg, it adds a lot to the 'cappuccino look'.
posted by Ms. Next at 8:10 AM on November 25, 2007

Ask your fiance to get at least one of his mother's or grandmother's recipe for something. Stuffing is usually a good choice, if you do Turkey on Christmas as well as Thanksgiving, since most families are very fond of theirs, and the fact that Thanksgiving has just passed gives a good opening to ask about it.

Serve it with the note that while you're sure it's not as good as hers, you wanted to honour their family traditions in your feast.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 AM on November 25, 2007

Cooking for 12 is non-trivial. Better to have less fussy food prepared well, than fussy food that's cold, burnt, or otherwise not right. Choose things you can prepare ahead, like the cheese cookies. It's hard to go wrong with the classics, like a perfect roast beef, then add Yorkshire puddings, and serve with a nice horseradish sauce.

I got compliments at Thanksgiving for starting with curried squash soup, and serving cranberry ice in the middle of dinner. Rachel Ray did warmed, spiced olives, which looked great, and I planned to do them, but ran out of time in the kitchen.

Any vegetarians? Jacquilynne sent me a recipe for a mushroom lasagne that was a smash hit for a party last year (thanks again, J); I added a layer of butternut squash to good effect. Email's in my profile.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on November 25, 2007

If you do decide to make the mac and cheese, make it extra special by adding mashed roasted butternut squash.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:30 AM on November 25, 2007

Find a local teenager of the kind who would do babysitting and hire them to help serve and clean up.
posted by conrad53 at 10:44 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

i make this melty cheese thing that KILLS at dinner parties. i've posted this recipe on here before, but it's such a good app, i think it's worthy of a revival.

core, and cut some APPLES and PEARS into slim wedges (for 20 people, maybe 3 or 4 of each fruit). sprinkle with brown sugar, dot with butter. cover and bake until halfway soft and caramelly. the temperature doesn't reallt matter- so if you're baking something else too, just throw em in there and keep an eye on them.

brush A WHEEL OF BRIE or camenbert (maybe a 9" round sounds right for your needs) with a bit of olive oil. put it in the oven with the softened apples & pears (i centre it among them in the same pan, personally) and bake until it's soft and collapsing. if your oven is super hot, shield the brie with tinfoil so it doesn't burn.

while the brie bakes, throw some frozen unsweetened BLUEBERRIES and a wee bit of water into a pan on medium heat. stir occasionally until it makes a sauce. (for a 9-inch cheese wheel, maybe 1 cup of berries and a tablespoon of water). the berries will leak water when they defrost, so don't add too much water off the bat.

carefully centre the melty brie on a plate. arrange the warm apples&pears around it. pour hot blueberry sauce on top of the cheese. serve with crackers and lots of knives. people FREAK out over this. and it's easy (i'm a very lazy cook). melty rich cheese and sweet fruit together is basically the best thing i've ever made at a party. have a good feast!
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:53 AM on November 25, 2007 [6 favorites]

Artichoke Cheesy Casserole

2 package frozen artichoke hearts
4 oz cream cheese
1/3 c softened butter
1/8 c chopped chives
1/4 tsp salt and pepper
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c Parmesan cheese

Cook artichoke hearts until barely tender in a buttered baking dish. Blend cream cheese, butter, chives, cream, salt and pepper. Spread mixture over artichokes. Sprinkle parmesan cheese liberally on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30minutes, until brown.
posted by logic vs love at 11:00 AM on November 25, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't know how much call you'll have for appetizers or if you've got that planned already, but gravlax is easy and really impressive. Bonus if anyone will be around for breakfast the next day, as it's just as good as smoked salmon on bagels.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:18 AM on November 25, 2007

People rave about this recipe all the time. If you make it anywhere outside of the South East, you should call it polenta souffle in front of your in-laws, until they've eaten it.

Cheese Grits Casserole

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound Hot italian sausage, casings removed.
1/2 pound Sweet italian sausage, casings removed.

Add the above ingredients to a frying pan, and cook on medium heat until there's no pink left in the sausage. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350.

1 cup grits (I prefer arrowhead mills yellow grits)
4 cups water
1/2 stick butter

Boil the water, add the grits, stir and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and let it burp and bubble for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the butter and stir until it is fully melted and integrated. Cover and set aside.

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 6 oz Jiffy corn muffin mix
2 teaspoons Spike seasoning (check the health food stores)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red peppers
1/2 cup Chipotle Cheddar cheese, shredded

Beat the eggs thoroughly in a large bowl. Add the milk, beat some more, and then mix in the dry ingredients. Mix until there are no lumps. Then add the cooked grits and the cheese and stir well.

1/2 cup Chipotle Cheddar cheese, shredded
3/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
3/4 teaspoon Paprika

Now, assembly.
Cover the bottom of a 9x12 baking pan with the cooked sausage. (pyrex/corning is better than metal here). Then pour in the grits mixture. smooth it out evenly. Cover with the cheese. Shake some paprika over the top.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour (until it's firm in the middle). Take out and let cool for at least 10 minutes.

It's easier than it sounds, extremely tasty (and unusual in most circles), appeals to many generations of taste buds, and you can make it a day ahead and reheat it if you want. Which makes it perfect holiday food.
posted by toxic at 11:21 AM on November 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

Apple dumplings. They're like apple pie, but have tastier crust and spiced syrup on top. If you use big apples, a serving is about 1/2 dumpling, and one batch should serve 12.

6 apples
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 cups butter
1/2 cup milk
3/2 cup sugar
3/2 cup water
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
Extra Sugar, Butter, Cinnamon, and Nutmeg

1) Peel & core apples.
2) Mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix until you have coarse crumbs. Then add the milk, and mix just until it's dough. Don't overmix.
3) Spread flour on the table. Roll the dough out until it is about 12 by 18 inches. Cut the dough into six equal pieces.
4) Stand an apple with the hole vertical in the middle of a piece of dough. Put a little butter on the dough around it, and put about a teaspoon of butter in the hole. Pour some sugar and cinnamon on top. Wrap the dough around the apple entirely.
5) Put the apples in a baking pan, at least 1-2 inches deep, and space the apples out so they're not touching, an inch apart if possible.
6) Put them in the oven at a temperature of 375 degrees for 35 min.
7) While the apples bake, combine the sugar, water, nutmeg, and cinnamon and boil to make syrup. Optionally, add 2 tsp butter.
8) When apples are done, pour the syrup over them.
9) Serve half-dumplings warm with vanilla ice cream and a couple spoonfuls of syrup poured back over the top.
posted by lorimt at 11:39 AM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Since you'll be putting all your effort into things that are involved, here's one that isn't. Bread. No-knead bread. I'm starting a batch tonite, and by all accounts, it rocks.
posted by deCadmus at 12:12 PM on November 25, 2007

The two things that I make almost every holiday at least once are a sweet potato souffle with a pecan/brown sugar crust and a butternut squash soup. I serve the souffle with dinner though it could be a dessert. People moan when they eat this. Here's one recipe I found online that looks very similar. I use canned sweet potatoes without the syrup since that's how my mama makes it.

The butternut squash soup is a "Joy of Cooking" recipe with ginger and leeks. Making fresh croutons to float on top of the soup is really a must -- it takes the soup from merely incredible to standing ovation. Mmmm... can't wait to make that soup for my own in-laws this season.
posted by amanda at 12:37 PM on November 25, 2007

My family always has prime rib for Christmas, and as meat main courses go, a well-salted prime rib is moanworthy.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:56 PM on November 25, 2007

I posted this in the "Good recipes with fewest ingredients" thread, but I think it's appropriate here, too. I find it's always well-received, and it's dead easy:

Ruth Reichl's Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Bacon: Trim 2 lbs of Brussels sprouts. Dice 4 thick cut slices of bacon. Toss all this with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 20 minutes in a single layer on a shallow pan in a preheated 400 degree F oven. The sprouts should be dark and crispy.

I'm normally a Brussels sprout hater, but even I will make and eat these with gusto.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:31 PM on November 25, 2007

Cheaters' Peanut Brittle

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2 cups dry unsalted roasted peanuts
1 teaspoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Generously grease a large baking sheet with butter, set aside. Combine sugar and corn syrup in 2 quart glass measuring cup. Put this in the microwave, and cook on high for 4 minutes.

Stir in peanuts with a wooden spoon. Cook another 4 minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla and cayenne. Cook another 2:30. Add baking soda and stir until mixture is foamy and light.

Pour onto prepared baking sheet. Spread quickly to the edges using the back of the spoon. As it cools further, stretch it to a thin sheet using your hands.

When it cools completely, break it into pieces.
posted by toxic at 2:10 PM on November 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check out food blogs for tips on cooking for crowds (esp. if you're a novice!) Just remember, the best kind of food is made with love! Go with something you know you can master, so the end result will all the more impressive and you'll spend less time stressing in the kitchen!

The Amateur Gourmet
Serious Eats
Orangette (my favorite and the best place to find excellent dessert recipes!!)
posted by LiveToEat at 7:49 PM on November 25, 2007

This thread tastes awesome.

I want kooky holiday meal recipes, as well as the "i know you said kooky but it's seriously so good you won't even care" recipes.

Methinks Grandma's "Cider Ice" should fit the bill nicely. Its sort of a sorbet, but the idea behind it is that its a palette cleanser that should be used between tasting the different dishes in order to bring out the unique flavor of each. Its abundantly simple to make, and I've been wowing crowds with it annually for the past few years. Enjoy...

2 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups apple cider or apple juice (cider is preferable)
2 cups ginger ale

Pour lemon juice over sugar in a large bowl.

Add 2 cups apple cider / juice
Add 2 cups ginger ale

Stir well, put bowl in freezer. When partially frozen, take out and beat into a slush, then pour into individual cups (you should use small glasses if possible - its exceedingly sweet so small portions are suitable).

Put all the cups in the freezer and fully freeze them. Serve straight from the freezer, with teaspoons.

Bask in your glory.

(serves 12)
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:09 AM on November 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

Mexican Chicken Soup. I make this for Friday night shabbat dinner and it just knocks people's socks off. It's served over rice and fresh avocados to temper the spiciness - eating it is a serious experience.

Also, I don't go by these proportions, instead preferring to double almost everything except the amount of chicken.

Mexican Chicken Soup
* 3 lbs chicken parts
* 2 quarts water
* 1 can chicken broth
* 2 Bay leaves
* 1 onion, quartered and un-peeled
* 1 head garlic, halved, unpeeled
* 1 tomato, halved
* 1½ tsp. Salt
* 1 dried pasilla chili (long skinny dark brown)
* 1 dried chipotle chili
* 2 cups fresh spinach, washed, stemmed, and shredded
* ½ cup green onion
* 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
* 3 new potatoes (little red cooking potatoes), quartered with skin still on.
* 2 small ripe avocados
* Mexican rice

1. Place chicken in pot with water, broth, bay leaves, onion, garlic, tomato, salt.
2. Bring to boil. Skim off and discard scum.
3. Reduce heat and simmer 1 hour.
4. Remove chicken pieces to plate and let cool.
5. Using a slotted spoon, remove onion, garlic and discard.

1. Toss pasilla chilies in hot skillet until soft. Allow to cool.
2. Grind in spice grinder
3. Add ground chili to soup broth, as well as potatoes and whole chipotle.
4. Allow to simmer 25 minutes.

More Chicken
1. While everything else is simmering, bone chicken and dice.
2. After 25 minutes, add chicken, spinach, green onion and cilantro to soup.
3. Cover pot and allow to simmer.

Mexican Yellow Rice
* 2 cups water
* 1 cup long grain rice
* pinch of salt
* 1 tsp. Powdered turmeric (watch for stains)

1. Bring water to boil. Add rice, salt, and turmeric. Return to boil and then return to the lowest setting at which things are still boiling.
2. Cover pot and cook 30 minutes. DO NOT REMOVE LID.
3. After 30 minutes, turn off heat and move to a different burner. Let rice sit 10 more minutes.
4. Fluff rice with fork and serve.
posted by awenner at 4:58 PM on November 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

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