Holiday Menu Planning Is Still All About Flexibility

BY JeanMarie Brownson TIMEDecember 6, 2022 PRINT

Flexibility. One of a cook’s most important skills. That especially rings true during this post-pandemic holiday season. At a moment’s notice, the guest list might shrink or expand. Given that fact, this might not be the year to cook a huge Christmas roast. Instead, we opt for individual cuts of meat and poultry so it’s easy to customize to a specific number of guests.

Same for starters and side dishes; I chose recipes that can easily be doubled. Soup, for example, can expand fairly easily. Select dishes that make tasty leftovers—either to enjoy ourselves or to send home with guests.

Smoked pork chops have several advantages over roast ham—they heat faster and are individually portioned. Look for 3/4- to 1-inch thick bone-in smoked chops in large supermarkets or order kassler rippchen, German-style smoked chops, from a local butcher or specialty grocer. Online, New Braunfels Smokehouse sells hickory-smoked chops and Nueske’s sells applewood-smoked chops. Plan on one or two chops per serving.

Fully cooked, the smoked chops need only brief heating in a modest oven to prevent dryness. A Dijon mustard smear adds brininess, while a slightly sweet liquid added to the roasting pan balances the chop’s smoke. Briefly boil the pan juices after the chops are warm for an “au jus” to moisten the chops just before serving.

The wild rice and red cabbage dish that follows doubles easily for a larger crowd. The addition of warm cooked basmati, brown, or white rice makes a nice textural combination with the nutty wild rice. Cook the wild rice ahead of time and reheat before assembling with the vegetables and dressing.

Start the Christmas meal with a potful of store-bought butternut squash soup, purchasing extra just in case. Jazz up the soup bowl with garlicky croutons, a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkle of chopped fresh cilantro. Serve a bright green vegetable, such as blanched broccoli florets, to add color to the plate.

Smoked Pork Chops With Glazed Apricots

Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 1 cup (6 ounces) dried apricot halves
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 10 whole cloves, optional
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 6 smoked thick-cut bone-in pork chops, about 3 pounds total
  • 2 cups unfiltered apple cider
  • Thinly sliced green onion tops

Put apricots, wine, and cloves in a small saucepan. Heat to simmer. Remove from heat and let stand up to several hours.

Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Smear mustard lightly over pork chops and place in a single-layer, shallow baking pan. Add cider and apricot mixture to pan. Bake until chops are very hot, about 20 minutes.

Arrange chops and apricots on a warm serving platter; tent with foil to keep warm. Scoop out and discard the cloves in the pan juices. Boil pan juices over medium-high heat until reduced by half. Spoon over chops. Serve garnished with sliced green onions.

Warm Wild Rice and Red Cabbage Salad

Makes 6 servings

Note: You can use pouches of cooked white or brown rice here. Add them warm to the mixture

For the Wild Rice:

  • 2/3 cup (4 ounces) wild rice
  • 2 teaspoons chicken or vegetable bouillon base

For the Dressing:

  • 5 tablespoons walnut oil or olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • Finely grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground black pepper

For the Red Cabbage Salad:

  • 2 cups cooked rice, such as basmati, white, or brown rice, warmed
  • 1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) shredded red cabbage
  • 1 rib celery, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced pitted Kalamata olives
  • 1/2 cup diced pitted dates (or dried cranberries)

To Garnish:

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro or a combination
  • 1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted, optional

Put wild rice, bouillon base, and 2 1/2 cups water into a small saucepan. Heat to boil. Reduce heat to low; cover the pan and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until rice tastes tender, 50 to 60 minutes. Do not drain. (Wild rice can be made up to 2 days in advance; refrigerate covered. Reheat before using.)

For the dressing, mix oils, lemon rind and juice, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well. (Dressing can be made up to two days in advance; refrigerate covered. Use at room temperature.)

Put warm basmati rice, cabbage, celery, corn, bell pepper, olives, and dates in a large heatproof bowl. Mix well. Stir in hot, cooked wild rice and dressing. Mix well. Serve warm garnished with parsley and almonds.

JeanMarie Brownson is a James Beard Award-winning author and the recipient of the IACP Cookbook Award for her latest cookbook, “Dinner at Home.” JeanMarie, a chef and authority on home cooking, Mexican cooking and specialty food, is one of the founding partners of Frontera Foods. She co-authored three cookbooks with chef Rick Bayless, including “Mexico: One Plate at a Time.” JeanMarie has enjoyed developing recipes and writing about food, travel and dining for more than four decades. ©2022 JeanMarie Brownson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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