Christmas Eve is less than one week away and “Costco” is written on my to-do list for today.
I am so excited.
Since we buy our Thanksgiving turkey fresh (and we have an itty bitty fridge), I had to wait until just a few days before the holiday to buy the bird. My “quick run” to Costco on the Monday before Thanksgiving was a nightmare. There.Were.People.(and.carts.)EVERYWHERE!
The kids and I did our regular Costco run last week for monthly groceries and while I thought Christmas being two weeks away would help keep some of the craziness at bay, I was wrong. The madness had already begun.
THAT is why I am less than thrilled with today’s errand.
On the other hand, I’m beyond excited for the menu this trip is contributing to. The entire holiday season leads up to these two climatic days of flavor (and belt) busting treats. That’s why for the next few days, I’m sharing our menu’s, my method of attack and some recipes for you to try when you feel like trying something new.
Growing up, Christmas Eve dinner was very laissez faire. My mom would fry up shrimp and we basically ate whenever and whatever we wanted, for as long as we wanted. No bedtimes and all the hot cocoa you could drink. It was her way of making the work involved with back-to-back holiday dinners slightly less intensive.
Our Christmas Eve church service is at 5pm (and there’s a Happy Birthday Jesus cake immediately following), so having a laid back type of dinner fits in well with our family’s current season. It’s one tradition that I enjoyed growing up and if it goes well this year, my kids will grow up enjoying it too.
There are two main requirements of Christmas Eve dinner. First, it must be real food. I’m done with the fake stuff. No matter how easy it is to pre-heat to 400 degrees and bake little spinach quiches for 12-15 minutes, that’s not what I want for my family. I’m willing to put forth effort for their health.
The second requirement is this: the less work the better. Contradictory to my “willing to put forth effort” statement above? Perhaps, but it’s true. I’m certainly willing to spend the time in the kitchen if necessary; however, if it’s not necessary, then let’s not do it.
- Oven-Baked Chicken Wings (Jerk-Marinated and Hot Varieties)
- Cheese and Cracker Tray
- Dill Dip in a Rosemary Olive Oil Bread Bowl (recipe below!)
- Fresh Fruit and Veggie Tray with Honey Yogurt Dip
- Coconut Fried Shrimp with Spicy Orange Dipping Sauce
- Hearty Minestrone Soup
- Hot Cocoa and Spiced Apple Cider
- To get crispy wings in the oven, put them on a cooling rack (sprayed first with non-stick cooking spray), on top of a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, flip and bake for another 20-30 minutes.
- “Variety” doesn’t mean “a lot.” Two to three different cheeses (blue from the fridge, soft boursin found on clearance this week and Kerrygold cheddar also on clearance) and two types of crackers (plain and simple flavor, like sea salt and pepper) are plenty enough. Garnish with grapes if there’s a good deal, otherwise try persimmon sliced thinly (think apricot meets apple) or even apples.
- Make your own mayonnaise for the dill dip to cut out the hydrogenated oils and use fresh herbs for a fuller flavor. Leftover herbs can be chopped and put in ice cube trays, filled with just a bit of water. When frozen, pop them out and store in a freezer bag. When you’re needing fresh herbs again, thaw cubes in a fine mesh sieve.
- Save serious dough and use homemade yogurt for the fruits and vegetable dip.
- Double the batch of minestrone soup and freeze half before dinner begins. Plan on having soup later on in the month and enjoy having the work already done!
- Make a batch of homemade instant hot cocoa the day before to speed up the single-serve process.
You may notice a third, more subliminal theme running here called “make-ahead.” Starting dinner at 6:30pm – at the earliest – with a hungry crowd is never a good idea. Fortunately much of the busy grunt work can be done earlier in the day, and even the day before.
assemble cheese and crackers (delegate)
fill bread bowls with dip
assemble fruit and veggie tray (delegate)
add kale and beans to soup
Earlier in the Day:
prepare dill dip, yogurt dip and spicy orange dip
add all soup ingredients to slow cooker (turn on before leaving house)
prepare shrimp through coconut coating (recipe calls for 30 minutes in the fridge before frying anyway)
cut bowl out of bread and cut bread into pieces
Total Work Time: 1 hour
The Day Before:
thaw shrimp and devein
chop fresh fruits and vegetables for trays
chop vegetables for soup
Total Work Time: 2 – 2 1/2 hours (start to finish, chopping and deveining during rise time)
Six Days Before:
Buy ingredients at Costco
Having a detailed plan for the menu really helps to keep my stress level down. I’m able to go through each recipe, write down exactly what’s needed and avoid any last-minute trips to the store. If I enlist help from the troops, the to-do’s can be done in a fraction of the estimated time above.
Now for the main attraction – Rosemary Olive Oil Bread.
My original intention for this bread was not to serve it on Christmas Eve. I merely needed bread for sandwiches and this sounded good. It apparently goes well with peanut butter because we’re two sandwiches later and no one has complained.
Slather a large piece with some quality butter and you’ll see why. This is a savory bread, not sweet, and oh how your taste buds will delight!
Update: Six months later this rosemary olive oil bread recipe is the most requested. We use it on grilled sandwiches, tomato basil soup and it’s the easiest way to dress up spaghetti night. Give it a try – you won’t be disappointed!
- 1½ cups warm water (105-110 degrees)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 3½ - 4 cups bread flour
- 2¼ tsp yeast
- 3 Tbsp dried ground rosemary (or fresh if possible)
- one egg for brushing the crust (optional)
- Combine yeast and warm water in a bowl and allow yeast to bloom (you should see beer-like foamy bubbles), about 5-10 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients and knead for 10 minutes on medium using a mixer, or until dough is smooth and elastic if kneading by hand. (Feel free to add more flour to your kneading surface if necessary.)
- Cover with a towel and allow dough to rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, 1 to ½ hours.
- Pour onto a lightly floured surface and flatten to about 2 inches tall. Separate dough into two equal parts. Working with one section of the dough, gently punch the dough down and out, then folding the dough underneath itself. You will feel and hear air bubble pop. Repeat 3-4 times and tuck ends underneath so that the top is smooth. Place the dough, smooth side up, into a large loaf pan that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Cover with a towel and allow to rise for 40-45 minutes. Repeat with the remaining section of dough. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Once dough has finished the second rise, take a serrated knife and quickly and lightly slash each loaf one along the top. The cut should be shallow, just enough to aid in the rise while baking.
- (optional) Mix the egg with a little bit of water and lightly brush each loaf using a designated brush (or your fingers).
- Bake loaves for 25-30 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- When done, allow loaves to cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.
Baking bread in the summer? Don’t want to, or can’t use an oven? Try baking bread in a slow cooker instead! It comes out delicious and extra soft – perfect for sandwiches.