What is your number one rule for Christmas lunch?
I have to have my mom’s homemade cinnamon rolls over anything else. But I guess if I’d have to have one rule, it would be to make homemade eggnog. My brothers and I make it every year, the old-fashioned way — taking turns whisking it by hand. It’s so good I tend to forget how much whiskey is in it.
Do you do turkey or do you encourage people to think outside the box?
Our family does a bone-in prime rib roast with homemade horseradish sauce and a nice red wine sauce made from the drippings. Although turkey is traditional, I like to save all of that for Thanksgiving and mix things up a bit for Christmas. I encourage others to do the same.
You are known for your experimental take on food. What are some interesting ways to reinvent classic holiday meat or sides?
As for taking risks, we used to put oysters in the stuffing. I always loved it, but some other family members — not so much! So now instead, we do a side pan of scalloped oysters (which is basically a ton of oysters shucked with toasted Ritz crackers and parmesan cheese on top).
My favorite thing to do with my leftovers is make Thanksgiving sandwiches. I try to put everything I possibly can on a leftover yeast roll — you name it: turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce and gravy. It really makes for the perfect late night snack. And lastly, I like to put a little pinch of cayenne in my pumpkin pie.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed when cooking a meal with multiple sides for a large family gathering. What are some ways to reduce the stress?
Plan an activity for the rest of the family to keep them out of the kitchen, or at least something to distract them. I do my best cooking when I’m not distracted. Do as much knife work as you can the night before, and get your casseroles assembled. And if you’re making twice-baked mashed potatoes, assemble it a day or two ahead of time with bacon and cheese on top, and just throw it in the oven when you’re ready.
Always remember, when you’re roasting your meat, you should let the protein rest for at least 30-45 minutes covered with foil before serving. This will cause the juices to settle and keep your protein tender and juicy. (The resting time creates the perfect moment to bake those pre-made casseroles!)
Get as many of these done in advance as you can, and you’ll have the opportunity to throw that little extra shot of Baileys in your coffee and relax on Christmas morning.
What are the biggest misconceptions about cooking Christmas lunch? Which rules should be broken?
A big misconception is that cranberry sauce has to come out of a can. I always like to make it myself with cranberries, orange peels, bitters, a stick of cinnamon, a sprig of thyme, sugar, water and a little star anise. If you have leftover cranberry sauce, you can use it on pork, leftover turkey and chicken. One rule I always like to break is when a recipe calls for vanilla (think pies, cakes, desserts, etc.). I like to replace the vanilla with bitters to add a more of a warm spice.
What is your dream Christmas menu?
My mom’s cinnamon rolls all day, with some eggnog sprinkled throughout — You think I’m kidding ...