Keep with your traditions when preparing Christmas dinner

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Every year sometime around the beginning of December, people start to wonder what to have for Christmas dinner. Everyone loves gathering for Christmas dinner. The traditional Christmas dinners consist of turkey, stuffing, ham, cranberry sauce, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, green beans or other veggies and an array of desserts.
There are many options, like even pizza, but while the food is important, it’s the people you are eating the food with that matter the most.

Christmas Eve dinner
Many of us will also be sharing Christmas Eve dinner with relatives and friends. This has become as traditional as a Christmas dinner. In our family, we traditionally start off the evening with a cup of oyster stew. It’s not really a stew, but my wife’s mother always made this oysters in broth dish every Christmas Eve for the entire family to enjoy. In addition, if I can find any smelt, we love to deep fry them and eat them up as fast as I can cook them.
Recently, I asked some of my friends what they ate on Christmas Eve, and you may be surprised by some of their answers:
“If we were going to my aunt’s house for Christmas Eve, we’d be doing the traditional Italian fish dinner, but since we’re going to my in-law’s, it will probably be chicken and vegetables along with some lasagna.”
“My mom would always make roast loin of pork with mashed potatoes and Bavarian red cabbage.”
“Being Jewish, I was raised on Chinese food on Christmas. Even in Israel, I searched out Chinese on Christmas Day.”
“A tradition that my Norwegian step-mom (via Minnesota) started that I have now adopted is fruit soup. It’s warm, sweet soup perfect for the super-cold Midwestern winter, which we don’t miss at all since moving here a few years ago.”
“Being of German ancestry, our Christmas Eve meal usually consists of fried smelt, stuffed clams, minestrone soup, typically made with kale or something similar, cavatelli with calamari and a variety of pastries.”
“For me growing up, it was the traditional Italian feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve. The menu usually included an antipasto, stuffed quahogs, stuffed squid with or without a sauce, linguine with either clam or red shrimp sauce, fried smelts and sardines with vegetables, a cod salad, eel in a hot red sauce and pan fried halibut, haddock or some other white fish. We had lots of wine and then espresso after the meal.”
One of my favorite meals on Christmas Eve is sliced pork tenderloin with roasted potatoes and a seafood dish or two.

Podi’s Oyster Stew
For a richer broth, substitute some cream for some of the milk.
1/2 pint canned oysters
1-1/2 qts. whole milk
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 stick (1/4 lb.) butter
Onion salt
Drain oysters, saving nectar. In a large pan, combine cold milk, oyster nectar, salt and pepper, onion salt and bring to a simmer. Do NOT boil. Add oysters and let simmer about 2-3 minutes. Place one pat of butter in each stew bowl; add stew and dash of hot sauce (optional). Makes 4 servings.

Sliced Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Sauce
For a delicious less than 30-minute meal, this sliced pork tenderloin with a sweet and tangy bourbon sauce can’t be beat. Serve with Roasted Potato Wedges with Olive Tapenade (see recipe).
For the sauce:
1/2 cup bourbon (or beef stock, if you prefer)
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsps. cider vinegar
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
For the tenderloin:
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground allspice
Salt to taste
1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
To prepare the sauce, combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce to medium heat. Cook mixture until reduced to about 1/2 cup, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
To prepare the pork, combine chili powder, cinnamon, allspice and salt in a bowl; blend well. Rub mixture evenly over the pork. Cut pork tenderloin crosswise into 12 slices.
Coat a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Heat pan over medium-high heat. Add the pork slices to the pan and cook for 4 minutes on each side, or until desired degree of doneness. Place three slices on each serving plate along with sauce. Makes 4 servings.

Roasted Potato Wedges with Olive Tapenade
Any ripe olive may be used in this recipe. Try the kalamata for a stronger, more robust flavor. Also, you may prefer to use a prepared olive tapenade instead of making your own. If so, delete the first five ingredients.
2 Tbsp. pitted ripe olives
1 Tbsp. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. capers
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 medium baking potatoes, each cut lengthwise into 8 wedges
Olive oil-flavored cooking spray
1 Tbsp. minced fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. minced fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine olives, pine nuts, water, capers and garlic in a food processor; process until smooth; set aside.
Place potato wedges in an 11-by-7 baking dish (or comparable). Coat with cooking spray; toss well. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and tender, stirring occasionally. Spoon olive mixture over potatoes; toss gently. Bake an additional 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and thyme.

Stewed Calamari with Tomatoes and Fennel
Frozen, cleaned squid is available in the freezer section of many grocery stores. The stewed calamari can be served over creamy grits or polenta or, if you prefer, over a short pasta, like penne, bowtie or fusilli pasta.
2 pounds cleaned calamari (squid)
4 Tbsps. olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tbsps. tomato paste
1/4 cup anise-flavored liquor
1 cup red wine
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup fennel fronds, chopped
Slice calamari tubes into rings and roughly chop tentacles. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add onions and fennel, stirring occasionally to coat with oil and sauté about 5-6 minutes. Sprinkle with salt. Add garlic cloves and tomato paste; stir well to combine. Cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring to blend.
Add the red wine, stir well, and increase heat to high. Boil until liquid is reduced by about half. Add the anise-flavored liquor and crushed tomatoes. Stir in the calamari and simmer for at least one hour. Calamari should be tender; if not, continue to simmer and check for tenderness every 15 minutes.
Once tender, add salt and pepper, if needed. Add chopped parsley and fennel fronds. Stir well to combine and serve. Makes 4-6 servings.

Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, email him at nharding@brunswickbeacon.com.