Thursday, January 5, 2012

German-ish Christmas Eve

I've hosted a few holiday meals since I've had the kids, but until this point, they've mostly involved paper plates at service time, lots of extra sticks and leaves in a messy front yard, a microwave I've had no time to clean that mornings splatter out of, and a very pretty vase that I'd put on the table, but forgotten to get flowers for. And I remember these things, because I've had the same two relatives who were only too happy to come over, and point these details out to me. Happy holidays!

Okay, so I'm starting with a little bile, there, but truly, TRULY, I love to host dinners. And I really do own a plate service, and some serving platters! So I was really excited when our friends Nick and Ania, and their two handsome little fellas could come over for a Christmas Eve dinner. My girls are just old enough to let me get some stuff done, and my sweet husband is only too happy to vacuum for me. (Also, we raked the leaves this year! Woo!)

Nick has a Germanic tattoo on his arm, and Ania is Polish, so I guess those things came together in my head to give me the idea of having a generally Eastern European, completely inauthentic-themed meal. You know - cabbage, potatoes, meat, and a beer or two. That sort of thing.

I started the meal with something that has nothing to do with Eastern Europe, and everything to do with "festive": Brooke's artichoke spinach dip, with toasted pita points.

Then, the one-two punch: the humbly self-titled World's Greatest Cornbread. I wanted to serve some bread with the meal, and nothing gathers compliments like Old Faithful. Also, I have put a piece of this bread on the bottom of a chili bowl many times, so I thought it work well to go under the brisket, and sop up some beefy juices. You see a clear theme now, right? Farm-y, Fourth of July picnic-y, BBQ-y, German-y. Makes sense to me.

Now for the brisket. My success in getting this meal together (with two kids three and under, and a heavier work-week up until the day before) is three-parted: 1) use internet rankings to find new recipes, and combine them with old stand-by's, 2) start everything two or three days ahead of time, and 3) get the groceries delivered. This last part freed up some extra time for me (for doing stuff like ironing tablecloths, and watching more television), and reduced my stress quite a bit. So I went with what was on special on Peapod - brisket!

I had never made it off the grill and in the oven, but my arch-nemesis, Paula Deen, had a very highly rated "Texas Oven-Roasted Brisket" recipe on Easy, no-fail, and no mayo or stick of butter added (as is her wont). It was very simple, very tender and we could have fed at least four more people with the 5 to 6 pound brisket. It made lots of juice in the pan that wasn't greasy (I had trimmed off the fat before cooking), and went down over the cornbread. (I did cut the salt down, as some reviewers had recommended). Mmmm. Many thanks to the Smiling Silver Blob for that one. (So mean, but come on. That woman won't rest until we all have diabetes.)

For sides, I didn't want to go too far over to the picnic side of things with lots of mayo. I had to have some warm German potato salad, which I've never made at home. I stumbled on this recipe, and was able to prep everything but the dressing ahead of time. I stored the cooked potatoes and bacon in a ceramic dish, then just took them out and put them over the oven vent on the range top while the brisket cooked. The potatoes warmed through, and I just had to mix the dressing. I've never made dressing like this, but the taste was just what I wanted it to be. It's a keeper!

Lastly, I had to have the stewed red cabbage that I've had in German restaurants. I got lucky again, and Googled up this recipe. Again, it tasted exactly like what I had pictured in my mind, and as a bonus, it might be the easiest thing I've ever cooked in my life. It actually started a small marital rift when Nick said to his wife, "I like this cabbage a lot. I'm not crazy about cabbage, but I would eat THIS cabbage." Don't slight a Polish woman's cabbage.

As usual, I just kept tasting and adding seasoning to everything as I went, which I think is the biggest secret to dinner-party success: taste it before you put it in the serving plate (and I added a bit more sugar to the German potato salad). Everything worked together really well, and I got some new "old stand-by's" out of the deal. Also, all of this stuff re-heated beautifully for almost a week! (I really should have invited more people).

For dessert, we had served coffee with some home-made candy: I got this idea for white chocolate lollipops from Ina Garten (nothing catty to say about that lady, I just love her food), and I made Ritz-cracker cookies, which are peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, inside a Ritz sandwich, rolled in melted Hershey bars. Sadly, I didn't get a picture of the huge batches of candy I made, but ah well! Some things have to fall by the wayside. I'll post about the cookies later... I added a pinch of coarse salt to the top of each of the lollipops, and I think it really worked well with the sweetness of the white chocolate.

With the delivered groceries and the head-start, I was able to help the elder child construct a centerpiece that would bait any plump little German kids into an old witch's oven (if this old witch were into that). I made the squiggles, but she dazzled me with her path creating, shingling and paving ability! As you can (partially) see, we had a lovely street light feature, until the younger child decapitated and ate it...

Incidentally, we bought the Wilton pre-baked gingerbread house, and I was shocked (at demolition time) at how delicious and flaky the gingerbread was. I expected it to taste like plywood, since the function was similar - but it had lots of spice. Lots of sugar, sure... But there's a time and place for that! (And the time is Christmas).

Hope your holidays were as happy as ours were!


  1. Great article! You grasp and keep the reader's attention. Well done! Fr.