Happy Holiday’s! We’re not generally big on traditions in our house, but every year around this time, a few traditions tend to stick around. For Hanukkah, Andrew and I always do the eight days of candle lighting, and to be cute I always give him some chocolate gelt each night. Then on December 1, I take this old Starbucks Advent calendar with metal bulbs, fill them with Chocolate and get Andrew a miniature Christmas Tree. Each day he gets to open a bulb filled with his favorite chocolate, and then throughout the month decorate the tree! It’s a fun tradition I started early when we met since he never grew up celebrating Christmas.
Since his family is Jewish and my family lives in Canada, if we do travel for the holiday’s it’s always to Canada – Calgary to be specific. We don’t go every year since we always end up sick from the cold. This year we’ll stay home, and one of the traditions we also started several years ago is to Fondue on Christmas Eve. I always feel like Christmas Eve can be a long night – basically sitting around waiting for Christmas! So, I thought: “why not fondue?” It’ takes several hours, and you get to sit at the table, enjoy the meal and some wine, and of course great company! We’ve also done this several years for New Years Eve, but the past couple years we’ve always gone away on January 1st, so no need to stay up for Midnight 😉
We always start with cheese fondue with cooked cubes of ham, boiled baby potatoes and of course bread! Lots and lots and lots of bread. I’ve made homemade cheese fondue before and it is delicious, but this is one place I generally use the box! Next we move on to a butter/oil combination fondue with fresh veggies, marinated chicken and steak (we only use Filet Mignon)! I use half butter for the flavor and half oil for the higher smoke point, load it up with lots of whole peeled garlic and sliced shallots to amp up the flavor. I usually let the garlic and shallots sit in the oil for several hours before heating it to let the flavors intensify. By the time we’re done fonduing we’re normally too full for the chocolate fondue, but we’ll eat it at some point!
Christmas morning has it’s own set of traditions my family has had since I can remember (and was old enough to drink, which happily where I’m from is only 18). The morning starts with fresh coffee and Baylies! I call it a “dressed” coffee! We all go to the tree together and start by opening our stockings and “Santa” gifts. The dogs usually get new beds which we hope they will lay on, but of course they insist on sitting on our laps. Growing up the rule was always one present at a time, alternating from youngest to oldest. We drink coffee, listen to Christmas music and take our time enjoying the morning. When you’re coffee’d out, we switch to Mimosa’s, with champagne (or Costco Prosecco for $6.99 a bottle hint hint) and orange juice, and that normally carries us through opening presents. As with a lot of households, Christmas morning is a boozy one!
When the presents are opened and everyone has a nice holiday buzz, we move to the kitchen and start preparing brunch. Que the next cocktail switch: Bloody Mary’s/Ceasars for my mom and I, and Screwdrivers for Andrew. Why not move to the hard stuff? Christmas Brunch is almost always the same, and has been since as long as I can remember. It starts with chilled fruit cocktail from the can. I know what your thinking – you’re a fabulous chef, your mom is a great cook, your step-dad was a great cook, why fruit cocktail from the can? I have no idea! I assume because in Canada fruit is hard to get in the winter (and really expensive, last year we paid $8 for 1lb of grapes for a charcuterie). Anyway, cold canned fruit cocktail – it’s disgusting, but we’ve always done it, and it’s become a fun tradition to continue as we get older. We also always had something my grandfathers family brought as a tradition, which is traditional Irish potato bread. It’s simple: potatoes, flour and salt. That’s literally it. You boil the crap out of the potatoes, drain and let them cool. Then you add loads of flour and some salt, burn the s**t out of your hands (that’s part of the tradition), and kneed it into a dough. It’s then rolled out and cut into pieces, and dry fried. Normally you make huge batches of it early in December and enjoy it with breakfast throughout the month since it freezes really well. I can remember years ago when I still lived in Canada, we had a “potato bread party” and my grandparents and others came over and we made like 50lbs of it! It was so much fun. When it’s time to serve, the potato bread gets fried in a pan with a little oil. You can eat it plain like I normally do, as my grandfather taught me, with butter like my step dad did, with ketchup like my mom does (I go half plain, half ketchup), or to shake things up – with Peanut Butter like my aunt Pauline does! However you eat it, it’s remarkably good for only having three ingredients!
The last Christmas Brunch tradition is Eggs Benedict. In Canada, shockingly, Canadian Bacon is not called Canadian Bacon, it’s called Back Bacon, and you can get a version that has cornmeal on the outside – why? I don’t know, but it’s delicious. I’ve not found it here in the US, so we have to use the plain Canadian Bacon when we’re here, but we always serve toasted English muffins topped with Canadian Bacon, poached eggs (scrambled for Andrew and no egg for my brother) and top with Béarnaise Sauce instead of Hollandaise Sauce. I think the Béarnaise has better flavor. After breakfast and a morning of drinking, a nap is in order!
Finally to Christmas dinner where the only tradition we have is – to not go traditional! Almost never growing up (or since I’ve been cooking) do I serve Turkey for Christmas. I like to shake it up and serve something you wouldn’t expect – this year with our friends Carl and Greg coming, I’m going to make a stunning Beef Wellington – stay tuned for the recipe!
I hope you enjoyed hearing about some of our traditions, please comment below or on Facebook and tell us about yours! Happy Holidays!
– Chef Matt