On Christmas morning,
She and the dog were up before dawn.
He ran in darkness so dense
The pines, the frozen oaks and the black air
Were all one.
Only the stars, like tinsel,
Glittered in the clear, icy sky.
She heard the dog’s heavy breath,
Heard his big paws crunch
Through the frost-brittle leaves.
Then, as her gaze tried to penetrate
The deep pre-morning,
Like reading a book printed on black paper,
Suddenly she saw his eyes--
Two golden circles radiating in the lightless world--
Then the stars seemed to fall like silver rain,
And she thought of the Christ Child’s crown of light,
Remembered his mother’s corona,
Warming the winter with a golden glow.
The week before Christmas, those last few days of Advent, can be the busiest of the whole year. And sadly for many of us, these days are often filled with hurry and stress, with last-minute shopping, gift wrapping and cooking along with all our other daily responsibilities. What a blessing it would be to slow down and treasure all the aromas, sounds, flavors and colors of Christmas that still animate all our childhood memories.
This year we are planning a quiet Christmas Eve with a simple meal that will retain the familiar tastes, smells and cozy moments of Christmas without the last-minute stress. I will still use my lace tablecloth, my best china, silver and crystal. The lights on our tree will glitter in the darkness, and the gifts will be wrapped with golden ribbons. Candles will light my nativity scene, and I will personally eat the last little chocolate hidden in my Advent calendar. But the traditional Christmas meal that I will be sharing with my husband and close friends will all be prepared in advance, ready to be warmed up and presented on that special night.
As our guests arrive, the scent of spiced apple cider warming on the stove will greet them, and the finest cheeses we can find on Oahu will be laid out on my best green marble platter, along with Panforte, baked weeks in advance. Christmas carols will be playing, and the table will glow with soft candlelight. Wreath-shaped Spritz Christmas Butter Cookies, decorated with sparkling sprinkles of red and green sugar, will share the two-tiered server with Toasted Oat Shortbread, waiting on the buffet with Gosby House Gingerbread and Lemon Curd, sending the aroma of warm ginger throughout the house. It is with true Christmas joy that I share this year’s international Christmas Eve menu with you. All of the items come from old recipes I have saved over the years and made many times during the Christmas Season for my loved ones.
Cheese Platter with Panforte, Dried Apricots and Wheatmeal Crackers
Warm Spiced Cider
Old Fashioned Roast Pork with Onion Sauce
Danish Red Christmas Cabbage
Gosby House Gingerbread with Lemon Curd
Spritz Christmas Butter Cookie Wreaths
Toasted Oat Shortbread
Coffee and Hot Chocolate
For the cheese platter, I recommend a variety of hard and soft cheeses with contrasting mild and intense flavors. A good selection might include Brie, Jarlsberg, Leyden with Cumin, Irish Cheddar and a strong, soft French cheese such as Fourme D’Ambert. Another favorite is Manchego, a flavorful Spanish hard cheese that is often served with quince paste, (membrillo in Spanish.) This delightful pairing would make a festive addition to your Christmas Eve cheese platter. I like Carr’s Wheatmeal Crackers, sold in good grocery stores, to serve with cheese.
If you are not familiar with Panforte, you can read all about it and find the recipe in my December 2020 blog on this website. Panforte is a dense cake of ancient Mediterranean origin comprised of dried fruits, nuts and honey. It is wonderful with cheese, but just as good as a dessert. Panforte can be made well in advance and stored in the refrigerator or a cool cupboard.
You can also find the recipes for the desserts in this Christmas Eve menu on this website. Gosby House Gingerbread is included in our “A California Tea” menu, and the recipe for Lemon Curd is available in our “Tea Menu Basics” chapter. Spritz Butter Wreaths, popular throughout Scandinavia and Germany, have always been my family’s favorite Christmas cookies. Look for them in our “A Christmas Tea” in the December section of “A Calendar of Tea Parties.” Toasted Oat Shortbread is the newest version of my co-author Kathleen’s classic shortbread. She calls them Better Oat Bars and shows you how to make them in her June 2021 blog right here on this website. I didn’t think traditional Scottish Shortbread cookies could get any better, but these, which include toasted oats and almonds, are truly divine. The Cookies, Gingerbread, and even the Lemon Curd can all be made a few days or weeks before Christmas and frozen.
I am happy to provide the recipes for the main dishes of this old-fashioned Christmas dinner. Feel free to add even more festive flair, color and aroma to this menu by offering some traditional home-made relishes, such as Cranberry Ginger Sauce (my November 2016 blog) to accompany the Pork and perhaps Home-Made Apple Butter (my November 2020 blog) to be served with the Gingerbread along with the Lemon Curd. Both of these very flavorful condiments can be made a few days early, like the Pork, Cabbage and Potatoes, and kept in the refrigerator in glass jars. If small children are present at this traditional Christmas Eve meal, they might like the Apple Butter, spooned over vanilla ice cream along with their Christmas Cookies. And don’t forget to leave a few Spritz and Toasted Oat Shortbread Cookies out for Santa along with a warm mug of Spiced Cider. He will have a big night ahead of him! And a very Merry Christmas to you and all your family and loved ones!
Old-Fashioned Roast Pork with Onion Sauce
This tender, juicy and aromatic Pork Roast gets its perfection through a fragrant spice rub of fresh herbs, seeds and spices, slow roasting at low temperature, the addition of onions and apple cider to form its own sauce, and a night in the refrigerator to mellow all the flavors. Start making this roast, which will be the star of your menu, the day before Christmas Eve. An hour before dinner, you will thinly slice the cold meat and reheat it in its simmering sauce as you prepare the Onion Sauce.
As you will see, there are many steps and several hours in the two-day process of making this Pork Roast, but all the steps are easy to follow, and may produce the best Pork Roast you have ever eaten. The entire hearty menu is designed to enjoy leisurely with loved ones on a cold winter night. There is a harmony of colors, flavors and textures that echoes throughout the meal. The taste of sharp cheddar in the Tomorrow’s Potatoes will hearken back to the cheese tray, and the Panforte served with the cheeses will foretell the winter fruit notes in the pork and the cabbage, both linked with the subtle inclusion of red apples, connected again with the hot spiced cider served to the guests on their arrival and echoing once more in the spicy gingerbread as your meal comes to an end on this Christmas Eve.
- 1 boneless pork shoulder roast (Boston butt,) about 6 pounds
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, roughly chopped
- 2 large red onions, cut into 1-inch wedges
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup apple cider
- ¼ cup apple jelly
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
Makes: 8 servings
Special equipment: heavy deep-sided (3-inch) roasting pan, sharp knife for trimming the meat, kitchen string, meat skewer, large baking dish, sharp carving knife or electric meat carving knife, medium saucepan, medium sized bowl, small bowl, 2-cup liquid measuring cup, plastic wrap, aluminum foil.
Preheat oven to 300° F
- As you pre-heat the oven, adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Prepare the meat by trimming the outer fat from the pork, leaving a 1/8-inch layer. Tie the trimmed roast tightly into a uniform shape with three pieces of kitchen string, one piece tied down the length and two pieces holding the sides in place. Prepare the spice rub by thoroughly mixing the prepared garlic, pepper, salt, rosemary, sage and fennel seeds in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture over the roast on all sides.
- Transfer the seasoned meat to the roasting pan and cook for 3 hours. Cut the red onions into wedges and toss them in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Scatter the onion wedges around the partially cooked meat in the roasting pan and continue roasting for an additional 3 ½ to 4 hours, until the meat is extremely tender, and a skewer inserted into the center of the meat meets no resistance. (While the meat cooks, check the pan juices every hour to make sure they have not evaporated. If necessary, add 2 cups of water to the pan and stir the browned bits into the water.)
- Remove the roast from the oven and transfer it to a large baking dish. Place the roasted onions into a medium sized bowl and pour the pan drippings into a liquid measuring cup, adding enough water to measure 1 ½ cups. Allow the meat, onions and juices to cool for 30 minutes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
- One hour or more before serving time, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 300 F. Cut the cold pork into ¼-inch slices and overlap them in the large baking dish. Remove the onions and meat drippings from the refrigerator. Scrape off and discard the fat from the top of the meat drippings. Place the onions and the remaining meat drippings into a medium sized saucepan. Add the cider, apple jelly and cider vinegar to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer.
- Spoon ½ cup of the simmering sauce over the pork slices and cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and heat until very hot, 30-40 minutes. As the pork re-heats, continue simmering and reducing the sauce until dark and thickened, 10-15 minutes. (Re-heat the sauce as needed just before serving time.) To serve the pork, either pour the Onion Sauce over the meat in the baking dish or place the Onion Sauce in a gravy boat and serve it separately at the table.
- 2 pounds of red or purple cabbage, shredded
- 2 apples, (such as Pink Lady or Gala,) peeled, cored and shredded
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup red current juice (or apple, grape or pomegranate juice)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
Special equipment: Large Dutch oven or stock pot, paring knife, hand-held grater or food processor with shredding attachment, wooden spoon, large glass jars or bowls for storage
- Shred the cabbage, peel, core and shred the apples, and place them in a large pot with all the other ingredients, mixing well. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer the cabbage for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon.
- Cool the cabbage and transfer it to clean jars or bowls with lids and refrigerate up to two weeks. Reheat before serving.
I found this recipe for luscious savory potatoes years ago in Sunset magazine and have been making it every year since for one or another of the big fall and winter holidays. It has the same warm, fluffy comfort food quality of mashed potatoes but does not have to be made at the last minute. The flavor is also enhanced with sharp cheddar cheese, and the entire dish can be prepared a day early, hence the name, Tomorrow’s Potatoes, placed in a casserole dish and warmed up just before Christmas Eve dinner.
- 2 pounds russet potatoes (4-6 medium to large potatoes)
- 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 6 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 ½ cups sour cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Paprika (for and extra zip of flavor, use Spanish smoked paprika)
- Butter for the casserole dish
Special equipment: 3-4-quart saucepan or Dutch oven with lid, cheese grater, large mixing bowl, rubber spatula, 2-quart casserole dish
- Scrub the potatoes and place them whole in the pan. Add water to cover the potatoes by 2 inches. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and boil the potatoes gently until they are tender when pierced, about 45 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Peel and coarsely shred the potatoes.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the shredded potatoes, shredded cheese, sliced onions and sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole dish and transfer the potato mixture into the dish, smoothing the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- About 2 hours before serving time, remove the potato mixture from the refrigerator and let stand for about 1 hour to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350 F, and bake the casserole, uncovered until hot throughout and golden brown on top, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with paprika or smoked paprika and serve immediately. (Note that the Pork Roast will also need to be re-heated an hour before serving time at a slightly lower temperature. If you only have one oven, you can reheat the potatoes two hours before serving time and quickly re-warm them in the microwave if necessary.)