12 Days of Christmas: Day 5. Dinner
An unexpected and unrefined ode to my mother, my culture and our tradition...
With all the decorating we’ve been doing, I’m starving! Let’s talk food!
I think that Christmas food is so personal to each family, it’s a combination of culture and tradition. Every year my mother would go all out (as far as the grocery bill would stretch) to give us the most memorable holidays. We didn’t have money growing up so what we lacked in presents, we made up for in treasured moments. Due to health issues, my mom isn’t able to cook anymore, therefore, it is up to my sisters and I to conserve the holiday traditions she started.
Here’s a little bit about me to better understand how my family and I celebrate Christmas: I’m Dominican American, one of eight siblings which makes me part of a big family and I was raised Catholic. Hispanics generally celebrate on Christmas Eve or Noche buena as we say in Spanish. To learn more on why we celebrate on the eve rather than on Christmas Day, you can read this. While not every single one of my family members is over every Christmas, but like every Hispanic gathering, there is always too many people to have a proper sit down dinner, so we do buffet style.
Every year for the main entree, I usually make ham and order rotisserie chicken from the same Dominican restaurant, El Rey II, in Brooklyn, NY. Their chicken is never dry and the skin is always flavorful and seasoned to perfection. However, growing up it could have either been ham, pernil and sometimes turkey. I’m not a big fan of turkey and since my family is indifferent to it, I don’t bother with it. This is what I mean about Christmas food being influenced by culture and tradition, some people would gasp at the thought of no turkey on Christmas.
Continuing with the ham, I make jamon a la piña or ham and pineapple. Ham is the easiest thing to make which is probably why it’s my fave, LOL. It’s simply the ham adorned with pineapple wheels and maraschino cherries pinned down with cloves. I also make a brown sugar glaze to drizzle over it before popping it into the oven for a few hours. Every so often, I go back and baste the ham with the glaze to ensure it stays moist. When the ham is done, it’ll have a nice little crisp on the outside, moist on the inside and the fruits will be extra juice. It’s so freakin’ easy! You can see a similar the recipe here...Spanish & English.
And even though I never cook my own rotisserie chicken, here’s a good recipe I found.
On to side dishes. Question...is a casserole a side dish, entree or a complete meal? I don’t know! What I do know is that the pastelon de platano maduro I make every year is banging 😜! In English, it’s ripe plantain casserole. This is a dish my mom made often (more so with potatoes) and because I was an extremely picky eater (I’m still picky but not as much, I’m growing up!), this was my favorite because it’s basically ripe or sweet plantain, ground beef and cheese. Heaven! With no pesky vegetables getting in the way, ha! I make my pastelon from memory but you can follow this very similar recipe here.
My mom usually made the moro de guandules (rice and peas) but now one of my older sisters makes it because I can barely cook white rice let alone rice and peas. You can use this yummy looking recipe here. Fun trivia: Dominicans call it moro de guandules, Puerto Ricans call it arroz con gandules. No one knows which term is correct and you can always expect an argument as silly as one between a Mets and a Yankee fan.
Potato salad! So many variations. My mom usually made hers with beets. Another fun fact: I was such a picky eater that my mom would make special variations of her dishes just for me. For example, I didnt like moro de guandules (yikes, still don’t) so she would make me arroz blanco con habichuelas guisadas (white rice and stewed beans). I didn’t like potatoe salad with beats or carrots or onions (still kinda don’t, LOL) so she would make me a little custom salad on the side. I was basically eating potatoes with eggs and mayo, haha!
There wasn’t a particular desert that my mom made for Christmas. She would make little things to snack on such as pastelitos (aka empanadas). For a special treat though she made a pineapple fruit skewer centerpiece. It was a multi-purpose item as it was both decorative and edible! Real talk though, as a kid I really thought my mom had invented this! Haha! Not because she ever said she did but because I just found it so creative! As an adult though, I realized that it was actually a thing. Umm, hello Edible Arrangements! Ignorance is bliss, LOL. Honestly, I’ve never made one for the holidays but I do have very fond memories of it. First 2020 New Year resolution: make a pineapple fruit skewer next time I host people in my home!
My husband and I are obsessed with the pecan pie from BJs! We look for it at the beginning of every fall season like mad people. Our favorite way to eat it is warmed in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream. Recently though, my bestie warmed it up on the stove in a pan and...OH! MY! GOD! It created the most delicious toasted crust! I couldn’t have imagined the a desert so good could be taken to the next level. I will definitely be warming it on the stove top during the holidays.
Side bar: I am a little embarrassed to have professed my love for this pie. I read the only two reviews on the BJs website and the reviewers hated it. I saw another post about how BJs changed the pie because it was so bad. My husband and I must not know a bad pie from a good one, LOL.
Over the years we’ve had additions and modifications to our Christmas menu because like everything else in life, traditions evolve. Some of my favorite additions are flan, sweet potato casserole, baked mac’n cheese, coquito (it’s kinda like eggnog but its coconut cream based instead, my little sister makes the best coquito and sells them for the holidays. If you’re in the NYC area, you can message her directly here.) Speaking of modifications, my mom made ponche de oro which is closer to eggnog because of its egg base. All these new additions and modifications are made by my sisters. They inherited the cooking gene and I ain't mad at that!
I LOVE entertaining for Christmas. I love to have my house full of the people I love. Hear their laughter. Listen to them sing out of tune but in chorus to the loud music (we have more of a Christmas party than a dinner). Eating all the food. Drinking all the drinks and doing all the shots. I love that chaos. And even though my mother cannot participate during the holidays, I can feel her essence in every bit of the celebration. It brings joy to my heart.
What are your Christmas traditions?
xoxo, This Stepford Wife