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Customize your Christmas celebration

By Stacey Stein

Thoughts of Christmas may evoke images of a traditional sit-down dinner, a giant turkey serving as the centrepiece of the table. 

But there’s no reason you can’t break with tradition while still honouring the holiday, weaving traditional foods into a non-traditional Christmas meal.

“People get stuck on their traditions but it’s okay to switch things up and try something new,” says registered dietitian Shannon Crocker. “The most important thing is being together and celebrating.”

With that in mind, here are some ideas for customizing your Christmas festivities to suit your personal style and the crowd you’ll be hosting for the holiday.

The theme: A buffet-style Christmas dinner

Best suited for: A large group of people

The eats:

Mains: For a fun spin on a traditional roasted turkey, Crocker recommends making a stuffed turkey breast for your entrée – try this holiday-oriented recipe, which incorporates cranberries and pecans. Another option is stuffed lamb – featuring mozzarella cheese, sundried tomatoes and breadcrumbs, this recipe is sure to dial up the festive spirit and leave guests feeling sated. Remember to double – or even triple – these recipes if you’re hosting a very large group. To save time, Crocker recommends preparing the stuffing the day before.

Sides: A much-loved comfort food, potatoes are a traditional holiday side dish that you’ll probably want to include in your Christmas menu. One of the great attributes of the humble potato is its versatility. Get creative with potato-based side dishes like this rich and satisfying potato and cheese gratin, this sweet and savoury coconut and sweet potato mash or a crowd-pleasing side that combines mashed sweet potatoes with cheddar cheese.

Another side dish idea that works well for a large gathering is this green bean recipe. Walnuts and goat cheese lend the dish a complex flavour profile that belies the recipe’s simplicity.

Dessert: Christmas and candy canes go hand in hand, which is why you can’t go wrong with a dessert that highlights this festive confection. For two very different takes on a candy cane-themed dessert, you can try making this chocolate candy cane cheesecake and this candy cane shortbread.

The theme: A classy Christmas cocktail party

Best suited for: An adults-only affair

The eats:

Main alternatives: A cocktail party is the antithesis of the standard sit-down meal, so forget making a huge turkey roast. Instead, think of elegant finger foods to replace traditional mains – this doesn’t mean doing away with typical Christmas foods, it just means preparing and presenting them in a different way. If you can’t imagine Christmas without turkey, why not serve turkey satays? Simply cut the turkey into strips, toss with your favourite marinade and serve with a dip, like this horseradish beer cheese that blends pale ale beer with sour cream and horseradish cheddar cheese. Another way to incorporate turkey into your Christmas cocktail party is with this flatbread recipe – just swap out turkey for the chicken.

Apps: For an elegant take on the crudité platter, Crocker recommends replacing raw vegetables with roasted veggies. Roasted carrots, parsnip, mushrooms and cauliflower all work well and can be served cold. Kick up your platter several notches by pairing your veggies with a tasty dip, like this maple chive sour cream or this bacon horseradish dip.

Food served on a board will elevate any cocktail party – Crocker notes this is still very much on trend. Ideas include a farmers’ market cheese board or this Brie fondue featuring apples and butternut squash.

These jumbo shrimp canapés will add sophistication to your cocktail party – Crocker recommends making them lighter by replacing the whipped cream with Nordica Smooth Plain.

Dessert & drinks: Extend the board theme by putting together a fruit board for dessert. To satisfy guests with a sweet tooth, mix in some cookies, like these chocolate ginger slices or these dark chocolate espresso cookies. If you’re looking for a unique signature cocktail for your Christmas soiree, this chai coconut white Russian, which blends vodka and Kahlua with chai tea, is sure to wow your guests.

The theme: Christmas brunch

Best suited for: Everyone

The eats:

Wonderful waffles: Universally loved by adults and kids, waffles can be used in a multitude of recipes for Christmas brunch. If you hosted a Christmas dinner and you have some leftover roasted turkey, you can use it in these holiday-themed turkey, cranberry and cheddar waffle sandwiches – simply replace the deli turkey with your leftovers. Instead of using frozen waffles, Crocker recommends making your own.

For something on the sweeter side, try these homemade waffles topped with roasted strawberries and goat cheese whipped cream. A waffle bar is a fun idea for kids and adults alike. Put out a tray of waffles along with a variety of toppings, such as chopped fruit, preserves, toasted walnuts or pecans, chocolate chips, and whipped cream. To save yourself some time, you can make the waffle batter up to three days in advance and then cook the waffles the morning of your brunch. 

Excellent eggs: The definition of versatility, eggs are the quintessential brunch food. Mix them with cheddar cheese, ricotta and potatoes in these mini frittatas, a kid-friendly and easy dish if you’re hosting a large group of people. Pair the frittatas with a light leafy green salad, fresh fruit and croissants (either store-bought or try making your own using this recipe).

Quiche lovers can substitute turkey for smoked chicken in this quiche recipe, which also features asparagus, spinach, and Brie.

Desserts: Gingerbread cookie bark is on point with the holiday – serve at brunch or send guests home with some bark as a homemade gift. You can also serve a classic coffee cake – it’s the perfect sweet, yet not too decadent, finish to a holiday brunch.

Drinks: The Christmas holiday is a good reason to ditch the O.J. and opt for a more creative and unexpected brunch drink, like this pineapple Caesar with grilled Halloumi. For those who can’t live without their morning cup of joe, replace the pedestrian cup of coffee with this boozy nutty coconut coffee – hazelnut liqueur and rum jazz up this popular morning beverage.

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