Simple meal ideas allow more holiday togetherness

December 23, 2022

This year I plan to follow the advice Christopher Kimble offered in the latest edition of Milk Street Magazine – “Keep it simple.” After all the effort spent on shopping, wrapping and mailing gifts, then menu planning, table setting and wine pairing for the holiday dinner, it makes sense to give yourself a break when it comes to actually cooking the meal. Anything you can do in advance or with minimal fuss is best.

If you plan to roast a turkey, consider simply putting the bird in the oven until it’s done. Yes, there are lots of techniques that may deliver a more succulent or more interesting result, such as brining, basting or deep frying, but the investment of time and energy takes away chances for relaxing and visiting with family and friends. And, if there are only two of you, replace the turkey with a roast chicken, as in the photo.

If you plan to serve ham, consider purchasing the packaged spiral-sliced type. These are easier to bring to the table than those that require slicing after heating, giving you the chance to prepare an interesting side dish (or not). It also relieves you of the tedious chore of arranging those pineapple slices and maraschino cherries as a decorative layer on top of the ham.

Surprisingly simple yet elegant options include lobster tails (usually on sale at holiday time) or scallops. The latter take only a few minutes in a skillet stovetop, leaving you time to prepare your side dishes before you start cooking them. Make sure you aggressively dry the scallops to ensure you get that perfect sear, and don’t overcook the tender flesh, to avoid a rubbery texture.

One way to simplify the planning step is to look into the variety of “family meals” offered for takeout by several local restaurants and delivery from mail-order suppliers such as Omaha Steaks, Harry & David, and Mackenzie. These meals give you the option of choosing turkey, beef, lamb or pork along with side dishes that range from the basic stuffing to elaborate scalloped potatoes. The only preparation will be reheating the dishes.

I have become a fan of the prepared offerings at Fresh Market, as well as neighborhood grocery stores. You can dress them up, too. Just scatter snipped chives and a pat of butter on the tray of Bob Evans mashed potatoes. Create your own version of the popular seafood mac and cheese by stirring lump crab meat into a steaming tray of Stouffer’s creamy macaroni and cheese.

To be considerate of those who may follow a vegan diet, online purveyor Goldbelly offers a collection of five vegetable-based dishes accompanied by gravy and apple crisp, so there will be ample choices for everyone at the table. Since there will only be two of us, many of the offerings are too generous, so if we buy a prepared dish, I’ll divide it and freeze some for another meal.

Desserts almost seem like an afterthought at the end of a large meal, but most would be disappointed without something sweet. Here again, your local bakery is a good choice for that special holiday treat. Make sure to check websites, as some items require a preorder in advance of the desired pickup date.

I’ve included recipes for the roast chicken in the photo, lemony seared scallops and a favorite side dish of mine, roasted Brussels sprouts. Merry Christmas!

Roast Chicken

1 whole chicken
1 thinly sliced lemon
1 sliced garlic clove
2 whole garlic cloves
1 quartered onion
3 thyme sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
1 T olive oil
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. Loosen the skin on the breast of the chicken, and slide in slices of lemon and garlic. Put the ends of the lemon, whole garlic and herbs sprigs in the cavity of the chicken. Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil; sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Place in a low-sided roasting pan and cook until juices run clear, about 45 minutes.

Seared Scallops

1 lb scallops
1 T butter
salt & pepper, to taste
2 T butter
2 minced garlic cloves
juice of 1 lemon
1 T chopped flat parsley

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops and thoroughly pat dry; set aside. Melt 1 T butter in a skillet over medium high. Sprinkle scallops with salt and pepper, and place in the skillet in a single layer. Cook for 2 minutes before flipping them over and cooking until golden, another 2 minutes. Transfer to a platter and cover loosely with foil or pan lid to keep warm. Melt 2 T butter in the skillet, add garlic and cook over medium until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice and cook until heated through. Serve the scallops drizzled with lemon sauce and sprinkled with parsley. Yield: 4 servings.

Brussels Sprouts

1 lb Brussels sprouts
3 sliced garlic cloves
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
3 T olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Rinse and dry the Brussels sprouts. Trim the stem ends; cut in halves or quarters, depending on size. Place sprouts in a baking pan. Toss the garlic slices in the pan, sprinkle with Parmesan, salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil over sprouts and toss to coat. Roast until crisp and caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with grated Parmesan. Yield: 4 servings.

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