It's the rare year when the calendars collide and interfaith families can combine their holiday celebrations. But in Holiday Mash-up 2016, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve, ensuring that children in said families will be loaded up with a double dose of sugar and new-toy euphoria while adults in said families will require twice the amount of eggnog.
That said, the happy coincidence inspires fun possibilities for culinary invention - the chance to mix and match both holidays' flavors.
In that spirit, we asked four local chefs for some ideas about how they might entertain a Judeo-Christian crowd in inclusively delicious style.
At Birchtree Catering, owner Rasa Stirbys Benefico combined some favorites on her usual catering menu with her own Eastern European family's Christmas traditions, all in keeping with Birchtree's emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients. The meal opens with small bites of noodle kugel layered with Lancaster cheddar, Parmesan, and ricotta cheeses, individually baked in mini muffin tins and sauced with a brisket ragu. Next comes a liver pate.
"To me, this is both Christmas and Hanukkah - in Eastern Europe, livers are a big part of the Christmas meal, and, of course, in the Jewish tradition, chopped liver is very popular."
The main course, lamb shoulder rubbed with ground porcini mushrooms and a blend of spices, including sumac, ancho chili, and smoked paprika, brings a zesty warmth to the traditional Christmas roast. The meat is set over blood-orange segments, baby potatoes, and shallots, and the oranges dissolve into the vegetables as they cook.
Accompanying this dish is a vibrant version of latkes with butternut squash and sweet potato and a chili-spiked applesauce. Green beans tossed with walnut oil and bright pomegranate seeds add holly-like color to the table, and the roasted chestnuts with confit-style potatoes convey an earthy wintry element.
Tova du Plessis, owner of Essen Bakery, grew up as a Jew in South Africa, celebrating Hanukkah every year, lighting candles for eight nights and eating latkes and doughnuts.
"We sang songs and got a dollar every night. We didn't do gifts the way people do for Hanukkah in America," she says. She and her (also Jewish and South African) husband continue this tradition, but as transplanted South Philadelphians, they also participate in a caroling crawl party with friends where the group travels to each member's home for cocktails and snacks and sings for strangers in between.
Du Plessis already serves a mix of holiday foods at her bakery. Though it's primarily known for its Jewish delicacies, including challah, rugelach, and babka, it also offers Christmas cookies and South African milk tart this year.
As a baker and pastry chef, du Plessis insists on a luxuriant dessert for the holidays. Her eggnog and challah bread pudding is easy to throw together - stale or fresh bread cubes are submerged in a bourbon custard and served warm - and it embodies an ideal melding of holiday flavors.
Laura Frangiosa, chef/owner of the Avenue Delicatessen, is Italian by birth, Main Liner by upbringing, and married to a Jew. As such, her Avenue Delicatessen in Lansdowne always showcases interesting cultural intersections, like Reuben Arancini. As a couple, they tend to celebrate Hanukkah with fried chicken and latkes, and Christmas with crescent cookies during presents opening, followed by a big feast with lasagna or stuffed shells alongside the traditional roast and accompaniments.
The main course, short rib goulash, comes from Frangiosa's husband's Eastern European side of the family. "Unlike brisket, you can't mess up short ribs, which makes this dish perfect for entertaining, but beef is always good to have on the holiday table. I'd also serve crispy fried Parmesan triangles to soak up the paprika gravy."
As a chef around the clock at Talula's Garden, Charles Parker really enjoys his quiet time during the holidays and the ability to make food for his loved ones. He typically serves lunch after presents are opened, and it always begins with caviar on potato chips. "For this meal, I'd make latkes by spreading out the batter thin on a silpat on a baking sheet and baking them until they are thin and crispy. From there, I'd spoon American sturgeon caviar over the chips with crème fraîche. You eat this with a swirl of champagne in your mouth and it's indulgent and sets the course for a day of celebration," he says.
The main course, a vegetarian pasta casserole, keeps the proceedings rustic yet special and somewhat religion-neutral. Like a highbrow mac and cheese, it folds together fusilli pasta, Swiss chard, a goat cheese Mornay sauce, and bread crumbs. On the side, Parker offers his version of the classic Christmas Brussels sprouts with chestnuts dish, sweetened with a Madeira wine reduction and made irresistible with brown butter.
Lamb Shoulder with Blood Oranges
For the rub:
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms, pulsed in food processor or spice grinder until fine
2 tablespoons blood orange zest (reserve oranges for roast)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1 tablespoon sumac
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons black pepper
4-5 pounds whole lamb shoulder, bone in
4 pounds baby Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into ½-inch discs
6 blood oranges, segmented, plus more for garnish
¼ cup olive oil
1 quart peeled, sliced shallots
¼ cup minced garlic
1-2 cups beef stock
1. To make the rub: Mix all ingredients. (There will be some left over; it can be kept refrigerated for up to two weeks.)
2. Rub lamb thoroughly and let meat sit at room temperature for two hours.
3. Set lamb on a baking sheet. Liberally drizzle lamb with olive oil until it's well coated.
4. Roast at 500 degrees F until the meat is crusty and darkly browned, about 15 minutes. Remove roast, and lower oven to 275 F.
5. Meanwhile, combine orange segments, potatoes, shallots, and garlic in a large Dutch oven or roasting pan. Add enough stock to cover vegetables. If using a Dutch oven, cover with lid; if using a roasting pan, cover very tightly with two layers of aluminum foil.
7. Roast for 6 to 8 hours, until meat is tender to the touch but retains some firmness. Check at hour 4, then every 30 minutes.
8. Remove from oven and allow meat to rest for 1 hour before pulling meat from bones.
9. Serve on top of vegetables and garnish with orange slices.
- From Birchtree Catering
Per serving: 659 calories, 48 grams protein, 72 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams sugar, 21 grams fat, 128 milligrams cholesterol, 2,858 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber.
Butternut and Sweet Potato Latkes
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and hand grated
1 sweet potato, peeled and hand grated
1 russet potato, peeled and hand grated
2 medium shallots, hand grated
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 to 2 cups flour
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pint vegetable oil
Spiced applesauce, for serving (see recipe)
Optional sour cream for serving
1. Combine squash, sweet potato, russet potato, shallots, beaten eggs, and 1 cup flour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Place in small colander or strainer for 2-3 min to release excess moisture. Mixture should be tacky (not runny; not too thick) with eggs fully absorbed in flour. Add flour, a quarter-cup at a time, if needed.
2. In a large sauté pan with at least a 2-inch lip, heat vegetable oil on medium-high heat.
3. Once oil is hot, take ¼ cup of latke mix and form into a patty (no thicker than 1/2 inch in center). Delicately place in oil, taking care not to burn yourself.
4. Continue making latkes until pan is full, leaving an inch or two between them. By the time you fill the pan, the first latke should be browned on the bottom and ready to flip. Using a slotted spatula, slowly flip all latkes as they brown. Once bottoms are equally browned, remove to paper towels. Serve immediately or reheat later. If serving later in the day, let cool fully, then leave tightly wrapped on the counter. For best texture, do not refrigerate. Reheat in a single layer on a baking sheet in 350 F oven.
- From Birchtree Catering
Per serving (without optional toppings): 300 calories, 6 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 12 grams fat, 70 milligrams cholesterol, 37 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Yields 1 quart
6 large Honeycrisp apples, skin on, grated
1 tablespoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon allspice
Pinch of cayenne
Salt, to taste
1. Combine all ingredients and simmer on very low heat for 2-3 hours until apples break down into a saucelike consistency.
2. Cool and serve.
- From Birchtree Catering
Per 1/4-cup serving: 45 calories, 9 grams protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams sugar, trace fat, no cholesterol, 20 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Brown Butter Chestnuts, Brussels Sprouts
1 pint chestnuts (jarred or frozen)
1 cup diced butter
1/2 cup shallots, thinly sliced
1 quart Brussels sprouts, quartered
1 cup Madeira
½ cup minced thyme
Zest of 2 lemons
1. If the chestnuts are frozen, allow them to thaw before beginning: Place in a single layer on a sheet tray and leave at room temperature until thawed.
2. Heat a large sauté pan or wide saucepot (either way, be sure the pan has short sides to allow evaporation) over medium heat. Add half the butter and allow to froth and turn brown. Add the whole chestnuts and roll in the browning butter continuously until browned on all sides.
3. Add shallots and allow them to caramelize. Once the shallots are a deep, dark gold, add the Brussels sprouts and allow them to brown, then add salt to taste.
4. Once the sprouts have some color, add the Madeira and steam the vegetables as the wine reduces. When the wine becomes syrupy and viscous, remove the pan from direct heat. Little by little, add remaining butter and stir to create a light pan sauce. Just before serving, sprinkle in the thyme and lemon to allow them to bloom and be at their freshest. If the sauce reduces too much and you have a pan of greasy vegetables, simply add a splash more Madeira, water, or stock. Stir quickly and the sauce will come back to life. Season with salt to taste.
– From Charles Parker, Talula's Garden
Per serving (based on 6): 434 calories, 4 grams protein, 30 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams sugar, 32 grams fat, 81 milligrams cholesterol, 239 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.
Eggnog Bread Pudding
1 loaf challah, fresh or stale
2/3 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 whole eggs
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
3 ounces bourbon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Ice cream (optional, for serving)
Chopped toasted nuts (optional, for serving)
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
2. Cut challah into large cubes and place in a large bowl.
3. Heat milk and cream in a medium-size pot until the mixture almost boils. Add sugar and whisk until dissolved. Whisk in eggs, sugar, bourbon, spices, and vanilla.
4. Pour egg and cream mixture over challah and toss, evenly coating bread cubes. Press mixture into 9-by-13-inch cake pan.
5. Bake until top is slightly browned and feels firm, about 40 minutes. Serve warm with a scoop of ice cream and chopped toasted nuts.
- From Tova du Plessis of Essen Bakery
Per serving (based on 10, without optional toppings): 240 calories, 5 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams sugar, 13 grams fat, 189 milligrams cholesterol, 155 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.