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An Elegant, Easy Christmas Dinner

Christmas can be such a stressful time—so much to do and so many details to attend to.

Most of us work hard to make this day perfect for our family. We fret about choosing the right gifts, about cookies that aren’t overly brown on the bottom, about getting the tree up so it’s not lopsided. Putting Christmas dinner on the table can create anxiety as well.

Since I love cooking, it has always been important to me to serve an elegant, delicious meal on Christmas. Yet, it’s also a day I prefer spending with my family. I don’t want to slave the day away over a hot stove.

Over the years, I’ve developed a menu that is elegant yet with some prep work the day before is a snap to put on the table. It includes a standing rib roast—its presentation sets the stage for an incredible meal—and there’s nothing more striking for dessert than an English trifle. Although it requires several steps, the trifle is prepared a day ahead, minimizing stress on Christmas Day.

The following are tried-and-true recipes that I’ve found make an easy, yet classy Christmas Dinner.

Uncle Eddie’s Standing Prime Rib Roast A 4-pound roast will serve 8

I got this recipe from my Uncle Eddie. He worked at the first Steele’s on Oak Street. He eventually moved to Denver and opened his own butcher shop, Ed’s Cherry Crest Meats, which was located on the corner of University and Orchard in southeast Denver. For any readers who patronize Tony’s Meats in Denver, Tony learned the meat business under Uncle Eddie’s tutelage. This recipe is super simple and when you make it as Uncle Eddie suggested, prime rib comes out medium-rare, juicy, and perfect every time. I like serving it with creamy horseradish.

1 standing rib roast, any size Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste

To eat dinner at 7:00 p.m., start at 3:00 p.m. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly salt and pepper the roast and place in a large roasting pan, rib side up. Put roast in the oven and cook uncovered at 400 degrees F for 1 hour. Turn the oven off after 1 hour. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR. Leave roast in the oven, and it will continue cooking. About 45 minutes before serving, turn the oven to 325 degrees F and cook another 45 minutes.

Uncle Eddie warns that the secret to this preparation is NOT OPENING THE OVEN DOOR. Current food safety regulations warn the oven temperature should never fall below 140 degrees F during the time the oven is turned off. Back in Uncle Eddie’s day they didn’t have safety regulations. After making this recipe for several decades, I finally did it. I opened the oven. If you do this (which you shouldn’t), turn the oven back on to 400 degrees F until it reaches that temperature (my oven rings when it reaches the desired temperature) and then turned the oven off again.

NOTE: This recipe is designed for high-altitude cooking.

Tips on shopping for prime rib: Bone-in prime ribs are the most flavorful. I purchase ½ pounds of prime rib for every serving. If serving 8 people, get a 4-pound roast. I never purchase a Prime-graded standing rib roast, as the Choice grade has enough marbling to ensure a tasty, juicy roast.

To carve a prime rib: Remove any string from the roast. If you have cooked a bone-in roast, place it on a cutting board on its side so that the bones are on your left-hand side. Using one hand, steady the roast with a fork. Cut a serving slice from the roast by slicing

horizontally across the meat toward the bones. Then remove the slice from the roast by cutting downward parallel to the bones. Slices are normally ½-inch thick. Transfer slice to serving platter. You can serve the rib bones with the meat if your guests are so inclined. I prefer to save them and any leftover meat to make Vegetable Beef Soup.

Red and Green Christmas Salad Serves 4

I made this salad for the first time last year. It was a big hit with my family. The pomegranate red and kiwi green colors have a festive flair, and pomegranates are excellent this time of year. To save time on Christmas Day, I opened the pomegranate the day before following the directions below and stored the seeds in a covered plastic container in the refrigerator overnight.

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 4 tablespoons olive oil

In a small bowl, place balsamic vinegar. Whisk and slowly add olive oil, continuing to whish until emulsified. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the salad:

1 head red leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-size pieces 4 kiwis, peeled and cut into 6 wedges ½ cup pomegranate seeds 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted 4 tablespoons Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled.

Cover 4 salad plates with leaf lettuce. In the middle of the salad plates, arrange kiwi wedges in a circular pattern. Sprinkle each salad with pomegranate seeds, pine nuts, and Gorgonzola cheese. Drizzle dressing over salad. Do not toss. Serve immediately.

Tips on shopping for pomegranates: If you’ve never purchased a pomegranate, choose one that is firm to the touch and feels heavy for its size. Shop with your ears. To determine ripeness, tap the fruit. If it makes a metallic sound, it is ripe. Fruit that is overripe will have cracks in its skin. Do not buy bruised, shriveled, dull or overly hard pomegranates. Plan to buy this fruit ahead as pomegranates become juicier and have more flavor over time.

Tips on storing pomegranates: This fruit will keep at room temperature 2 to 3 weeks or up to 1 month in the refrigerator.

To open a pomegranate: Cut off the crown and scoop out some of the white core with a spoon. With a knife, cut the outer rind, dividing the fruit into quarters. Place your thumb down the center of the core and pull the four sections apart. Remove the white pith and discard. Turn the skin of the pomegranate inside out and pop the seeds out. To remove any remaining white pith from the seeds, place the quartered sections into a bowl of cold water. The pith will float to the top, and the seeds will sink to the bottom.

To toast nuts: Place them on a baking sheet in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch closely as nuts turn from golden brown to black very quickly. I personally prefer to toast nuts by sautéing them in a small skillet that has been lightly coated with butter. If you are using this method, stir frequently over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes.

Smashed New Red Potatoes Serves 8

I love making this dish for Christmas dinner. I don’t peel the potatoes, which cuts down preparation time. New potatoes are young potatoes that haven’t had time to convert sugar completely into starch. Their season is late winter through mid-summer. Smashed potatoes should be chunky, not whipped or creamy.

1 whole garlic head, roasted Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste 1 tablespoon olive oil 3 pounds new red potatoes, scrubbed, cut in half, skins left on Dash salt 4 tablespoons butter ½ cup half-and-half 2 ounces blue cheese Roasted garlic cloves 1 package (1/2-ounce) fresh chives, thinly sliced Salt to taste Large grind black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut 1/3-inch off the top end of garlic head, exposing cloves. Place garlic on a 6-inch square piece of aluminum foil, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap garlic with foil and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. When garlic is roasted, remove cloves from the head and set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, place potatoes and salt with just enough water to cover. Bring potatoes to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. To test potatoes for doneness, pierce with a fork. Potatoes should be soft when ready to smash. Drain potatoes and return to the saucepan. Add butter, half-and-half, blue cheese, and garlic to potatoes. With a potato masher, smash, with skins on, until potatoes are chunky and ingredients are thoroughly blended. Season with chives, salt, and pepper and mix thoroughly. Serve immediately. 

Fresh Green Beans with Herbs Serves 6

To save time on Christmas Day, trim and clean beans the day before. Washing beans before storing them in plastic helps them stay fresh and crisp. Chop celery and onion the day before, place in separate, covered plastic containers, and refrigerate until ready to use. For maximum flavor, I prefer to mince the parsley and sliver the basil just before using. Using jarred minced garlic also saves time and doesn’t compromise flavor with this dish.

1 pound fresh green beans 4 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup white onion, chopped ¼ cup celery, finely chopped ¼ cup fresh parsley, minced ¼ cup fresh basil, slivered 1 teaspoon minced garlic ½ teaspoon salt

Trim and clean beans. Fill a large kettle half full with water and bring to a boil over a high heat. Add beans and cook until tender but not limp, about 5 to 6 minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice water. When beans are tender, immediately immerse in ice water to retard cooking and set color. Cool beans, drain thoroughly, and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add parsley, basil, garlic, and salt and stir, cooking 3 more minutes. Add beans and toss to combine. Cook uncovered, until beans are heated through, stirring frequently. Serve immediately.

Cooking tip: To sliver basil, roll 3 to 4 leaves in a tight cylinder and cut into thin strips with cooking scissors.

Carol Ann’s Christmas Trifle Serves 10 to 12

The following is my version of the trifle, an English dessert that is made with either sponge cake or ladyfingers. The English usually douse it with sherry and then cover it with jam and custard. Traditionally, the trifle is topped with whipped cream and then garnished with fruit, nuts, or grated chocolate.

My favorite part of serving this dessert is that it can be made ahead of time and refrigerated overnight. You spend Christmas Day enjoying your family and then serve this absolutely delicious and very elegant dessert. My family thinks it is the perfect ending to Christmas dinner.

For the pears and syrup:

1 lemon 5 cups water ¾ cup sugar 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 5 ripe but firm pears, peeled, halved, and cored

Remove peel from lemon with a vegetable peeler and set aside. Squeeze juice from lemon into a small bowl. In a large saucepan, combine water, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and add pears. Simmer until pears are tender, turning occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a bowl. Boil pear liquid until reduced to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Strain the reduced syrup through a sieve and pour over pears. Cool to room temperature.

For the custard:

4½ cups whole milk 9 egg yolks 1 cup sugar 3 tablespoons cornstarch 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger

In a large saucepan, scald milk over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, combine egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk hot milk into the egg yolk mixture. Return the custard mixture to the same saucepan. Cook over a medium heat until custard boils and thickens, stirring constantly, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add ginger, mixing gently until thoroughly blended. Cover and refrigerate until custard is cold.

For the cake:

1 angel food cake 2 cans (16-ounces) prepared whole berry cranberry sauce 5 tablespoons pear syrup 5 tablespoons apricot brandy

Cut cake horizontally in half. Spread the cut sides with 1 cup cranberry sauce. Reassemble cake. Cut cake crosswise into ½-inch wide cranberry cake sandwiches. Arrange half of the sandwiches in a single layer cut-side up over the bottom of a 12-cup clear glass bowl. Spread cake sandwiches with 1/3 cup cranberry sauce.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer pears to a work surface. Cut pears into ½-inch pieces. Arrange 1/3 of pears over cranberry sauce. In a small bowl, place 5 tablespoons of pear syrup. Add brandy and stir to mix. Brush pears with ¼ cup of the brandy mixture. Spread with 1½ cups custard. Place the remaining cake sandwiches in a single layer over custard. Spread with 2/3 cup cranberry sauce. Top with the remaining pears. Brush pears with the remaining brandy mixture. Spread with the remaining custard. Smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate, chilling overnight.

For the garnish:

1 cup whipped cream 3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

Before serving, spread 1½ cups cranberry sauce over custard. Decorate with whipped cream and garnish with slivered almonds.

Shopping tip: You can buy crystallized ginger in the spice section of your supermarket. Crystallized ginger is ginger that has been cooked in sugar syrup and then coated with coarse sugar.

To toast nuts: Place them on a baking sheet in a 350 degrees F preheated oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Watch closely as nuts turn from golden brown to black very quickly. I personally prefer to toast nuts by sautéing them in a small skillet that has been lightly coated with butter. If you are using this method, stir frequently over medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown.

Carol Ann


Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at CarolAnn@CarolAnnKates.com and explore her website, www.CarolAnnKates.com.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates

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