Good morning and a happy Christmas to you all. At the risk of sounding like a broken record every single December, once again I’m here to remind you that Christmas didn’t end at sunset last night.
This isn’t the day to rip down the Christmas tree and race out to return those weird presents from yesterday.
It’s the second day of Christmastide, the feast of St. Stephen. It’s also commonly known as Boxing Day throughout the British Commonwealth, the day that servants and tradesmen have traditionally been presented with a gift and given the day to spend with their families.
So don’t throw out your decorations just yet: Today and the 10 that follow it are perfect for intimate holiday entertaining. It gives us a chance to spend time with the people we love instead of the people we feel we ought to love.
Best of all, it’s a great way to get those holiday leftovers out of the house before we begin that inevitable new year’s resolution to lose weight.
Never mind if your neighbors shake their heads at you and tell you you’re trying to milk a dead cow. Just smile, say happy Christmas, and invite them over for a little holiday repast. They won’t say no.
If you entertain at all, you should always have some or all of these on hand for unexpected drop-in company. If not, a quick trip to your closest grocer will get you up to speed:
• Raw whole pecans or walnuts for toasting and serving warm.
• Fresh seasonal fruits, such as apples, oranges, and pears, which are great with cheese and honeycomb and for giving a festive lift to salads.
• An assortment of brine-cured olives.
• Tubs or cans of store-bought nuts — premium mixed nuts, cashews, or cocktail peanuts.
• An assortment of hard and semi-hard cheeses such as cheddar, Edom, Gouda, Gruyere, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Romano.
• An assortment of soft cheeses such as chevre, Boursin, mascarpone, and plain old cream cheese.
• Bottled sauces and condiments, including barbecue sauce, chutney, pepper jelly, spicy-sweet jams, Asian sweet-hot sauce, and prepared mustards.
With those on hand, here are a few nice little things that really don’t need a recipe to put together:
• Orange, Olive, and Red Onion Salad: Peel and slice the oranges and put them on a platter, slice a red onion thin, separate it into rings, and scatter them over the orange to taste. Pit and slice brine- or oil-cured black olives and scatter them over the oranges and onion, again to suit your taste, then scatter with chopped fresh mint and drizzle with red wine vinegar and good olive oil. Grind a little pepper over the top.
• Peel, slice, and toss a selection of ripe but firm fruit in lemon juice, then arrange around a selection of cheeses, walnuts and pecans, and perhaps a whole hunk of honeycomb.
• Stem, core, and slice sweet bell peppers into strips and offer them with barbecue sauce for dipping.
• Cut leftover ham and cured sausages (hard salami, mortadella, smoked kielbasa) into cubes and offer with chunks of cheese, sliced fruit, and a variety of mustards.
• Waldorf Salad: You don’t need a recipe for this. Just mix diced apple, diced celery and roughly broken English walnut halves together in proportions that suit your own taste, and dress them with mayonnaise spiked with a little lemon juice. If you like, add halved and seeded red or green grapes.
Here are a few very nice hot main dishes, two of which take advantage of leftovers. I’ve also included a nice dish that’s made easy to put together from scratch, just in case your family feasted a little too enthusiastically and your leftover stash is spare.
If you’d rather make something that isn’t based on leftovers (or your family has already gobbled it all up), meatballs are a great hot appetizer or buffet main dish and can be varied by simmering them in just about any sauce you can think of, from this one, based on the classic French beef stew, to barbecue, marinara, or a Southeast-Asian-style spicy-sweet sauce. If you’re using this as a main dish, it’ll serve about 6-8 over buttered noodles. Makes about 48-50 small cocktail meatballs, serving 10-12.
For the meatballs:
• 2 thick slices firm, home-style bread
• Whole milk
• 1½ pounds ground beef chuck
• ¼ cup finely minced yellow onion
• 1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic, finely minced
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley, optional
• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
• Olive or vegetable oil
For the sauce:
• 2 slices extra-thick-cut bacon, diced
• 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped fine
• 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped fine
• 2 cloves garlic, mashed, peeled, and minced
• 2 ounces brown (crimini or baby bella) mushrooms, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
• ¼ cup flour
• 3 cups French Burgundy or Pinot Noir
• 2 cups beef broth
• 1 rounded tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 tablespoon fresh or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 400 F. Put bread in mixing bowl and drizzle enough milk over to saturate. Let soak for 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding milk. Crumble bread into bowl. Crumble in beef, onion, garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
2. Rub a large rimmed sheet pan with oil. Moisten your hands with water and form the meat into 1-inch balls, laying them on the prepared pan as you go, leaving about ½-inch between them. When all the meatballs have been shaped and placed on the pan, put them in the center of the oven and bake until they’re nicely browned, about 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, make sauce: put bacon in heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until browned and fat is rendered. Add onion and sauté until softened, but not coloring, about 2 minutes. Add carrot and sauté 2 minutes more. Add chopped mushrooms and sauté until beginning to color, then add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about half a minute.
3. Sprinkle flour into pan and stir until smooth. Slowly stir in wine and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Add broth, bring to simmer, and cook, stirring, until thickened. Stir in tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring back to simmer, and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add meatballs, bring back to boil, and adjust heat to slowest possible simmer. Simmer until sauce is thick and meatballs are deeply infused with flavor, about 1 hour. Remove and discard bay leaf. Can be made ahead: cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days. Reheat gently over medium-low heat. Serve from chafing dish or slow-cooker set to “keep warm.”
This kind of dish used to be popular in England and in our country, especially here in the South, and at one time was standard fare for Boxing Day. Don’t think India or Southeast Asia: This is an old-fashioned dish made with a pre-mixed curry powder — something that doesn’t even exist in those places. It’s a lovely and elegant way to use up leftover roast poultry and takes only minutes to put together. Serves about 8.
• ½ cup Madeira or dry sherry
• ½ cup raisins, golden raisins, or currants
• 2 medium onions, peeled and diced
• 2 medium tart apples, cored and diced
• 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (to taste)
• 1-3 rounded tablespoons Madras curry powder (to taste)
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 2 cups whole milk
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 4 cups diced cooked turkey
• 2 tablespoons minced flat leaf parsley
• 8 cups cooked white rice
1. Pour wine over raisins and let soak 30 minutes. Put onion, apple, and butter in large, deep skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté, tossing and stirring, until golden, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and sprinkle in curry powder and stir until smooth and fragrant, about 1 minute. Sprinkle in flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring constantly, until bubbly and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
2. Slowly whisk in milk and let it come to a boil, stirring constantly, and simmer until thickened. Stir in cream and let it come back to a simmer. Drain raisins, reserving wine, and add them to sauce. Bring back to a simmer, reduce heat, and simmer gently until quite thick, 5-8 minutes.
3. Stir in wine and simmer 2-3 minutes. Fold in meat and season lightly with salt. Simmer until sauce is bubbly and meat his hot through, about 5 minutes.
4. Taste and adjust salt and curry, simmer half a minute longer, and then transfer to warm platter or chafing dish. Sprinkle with parsley if liked and serve with hot white rice.
Ham (or Ham and Turkey) Tetrazzini
A great way to dress up ham or turkey leftovers (or both) is this classic casserole that is based on the celebrated pasta dish named for legendary soprano Luisa Tetrazzini. This is my own version from my last book, “Ham: A Savor the South Cookbook” (UNC Press/2017). Serves 6.
• 3 cups chicken broth and 1 herb bundle (1 bay leaf tied with 2 sprigs each of parsley and thyme)
• 1 cup water
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 8 ounces small, fresh white or brown mushrooms, brushed clean and sliced
• 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 1 cup whole milk or light cream
• Salt and whole white pepper in a mill
• Whole nutmeg in a grater
• 8 ounces (half a 1-pound box) spaghetti
• 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
• ¼ cup dry sherry
• 3 cups diced, cooked ham, or 1 cup ham and 2 cups cooked turkey
• ½ cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
• ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• 1 cup dry breadcrumbs
1. Bring chicken broth, 1 cup water, and herb bundle to simmer in heavy-bottomed sauce pan over medium heat. Simmer until reduced to 2 cups and turn off heat. Remove and discard herb bundle. Meanwhile, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 F. Rub a 9x13-inch casserole dish with butter and bring 4 quarts water to a boil over medium-high heat.
2. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in large, deep skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until beginning to color. Sprinkle flour over mushrooms and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually whisk in broth and milk. Bring to simmer, stirring, and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Simmer until thickened and flour loses raw, pasty taste, about 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat.
3. When water is boiling, stir in handful of salt and spaghetti. Cook until almost al dente. Drain and put in prepared casserole. Fold egg yolks, sherry, ham (or ham and turkey), almonds and cheese into sauce and pour over pasta. Gently toss to mix and level top with spatula.
4. Melt remaining butter in skillet over low heat. Turn off heat and add breadcrumbs. Toss until butter is evenly absorbed and sprinkle buttered crumbs over top of casserole. Bake until lightly browned, about 30 minutes, and serve hot.