The Search for a New Tradition

We celebrate Christmas Eve at my sister-in-law’s home for dinner. Brandon’s family always has Swedish meatballs, creamed spinach, garlic mashed potatoes, fresh bread, and a jicama salad. It’s their tradition, it’s delicious, and everyone looks forward to it. Earlier in the day, my dad’s side of the family comes over for brunch and we serve coffee and pastries. We alternate between Brandon’s family and mine each year for Thanksgiving, but both families prepare a turkey and the standard Thanksgiving sides: sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce and so on. My mom bakes an ham for Easter and we have colorful hard-boiled eggs, but we also have Polish sausage and pierogies. And for Christmas dinner with my mom’s side, we would gather at my uncle’s house and he’d always make sloppy joes. Not a typical holiday menu, but everyone loved them and so that was tradition for as long as I can remember.

Last year, Christmas dinner moved from our uncle’s house to ours… and we had no idea what to make. Our 100-year-old stove is charming, but limiting. We can’t cook anything too delicate because the burners are incapable of properly simmering, the oven doesn’t maintain a steady or predictable heat, and we can’t fit anything larger than a lasagna pan in it.

Our 1918 Cast Iron Wood-Burning and Gas Stove from Nicole Balch on Vimeo.

Cast Iron Antique Oven

We served tacos and tamales to my family last year, mostly because we didn’t feel confident enough with our stove to experiment with something more ambitious! We make them all the time so we knew we could make enough to feed everyone successfully, but because we make them so often, the meal didn’t feel special enough for a holiday. This year, we’d love to try something new. Something that may hopefully lead to a new family tradition, and a meal that we can look forward to each year. I’ve been paging through our cookbooks, looking for ideas and I think roast beef would be great for the main dish, but I’m not all that confident in our oven. I was talking to a couple of people at a party over the weekend and they suggested a roaster oven. I didn’t realize such a thing existed! Do any of you have experience with these things? Could it be a good solution for us?

Brandon and I do cook regularly, but meal planning is not a strength of ours. I’m trying to figure out what we can serve to feed twelve people that can be made on our antique stove, and that won’t drive us insane when we’ve got two little kids running around and a newborn to take care of. Maybe we should just make a pot roast in our slow cooker and save the fancier roast idea (say, beef tenderloin) for a time when we have a more functional kitchen? I was talking to my mom about all of this, and her advice was to find something that takes enough effort to feel special, but not so much that we’re setting ourselves up to dread the work involved each year.

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  • Nichole Clark
    December 15, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Maybe a crockpot could help? Pinterest is littered with slow cooker recipes, im sure there’s a few that are for special occasions. It would be low effort and take the guesswork out of having to rely on the stove.

    • Nichole Clark
      December 15, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Obviously I shouldn’t try to read posts while playing with the kids…seems I missed that whole part of the last paragraph. Oops!

  • Christine
    December 15, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    What about Short Ribs? They aren’t terribly expensive and are pretty easy to make. I made them last night for my in-laws and they could not stop raving about them. I started them on the stove and finished them in the oven. I don’t see why you couldn’t transfer them to big counter-top roaster. I used this recipe. I ended up thickening the sauce a bit with wondra but it is not a delicate sauce that you would have to worry about babysitting. I also added mashed potatoes and a nice salad. You could certainly add more sides too.

  • Catherine
    December 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Yes, crockpot.

    Thinking of things that don’t require a stove; maybe fondue? An oil fondue for meats, cheese for bread and apples? Fondue isn’t too much work and feels special because few of use do it regularly.

  • lilly
    December 15, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    You cook tamales all the time? Wow. I am impressed. I used to help my mom when I was little. It’s a lot of work!!

    • Making it Lovely
      December 15, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      Well, we cook tacos all the time. Tamales we usually warm up from Trader Joe’s. ;)

      • lilly
        December 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

        Good idea!

  • Michelle
    December 15, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    I think your mom is wise. Figuring out what feels fancy/special but do-able is sometimes harder than it seems though.

  • Katja
    December 15, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Roaster ovens are wonderful – if you’ve never tried one then you’re in for a treat. We regularly cook whole chickens (about 6-8 lbs.) in our roaster and it takes roughly 2 hours @ 250-300 degrees. Put the thawed chicken (or turkey or whatever fowl you choose) in the pan with a bit of water. Stuff herbs, garlic or other goodies inside the bird. Turn on roaster. Enjoy the aroma filling your house while you do other things (such as side prep). We’ve also cooked uncured pork butts in our roaster to make pulled pork. Those we brined in saltwater for a few days prior to cooking. Roasters are so versatile, you can probably find numerous recipies online for their use. If expecting a crowd, this seems like the most versatile worry-free option. Maybe you know somebody willing to loan a roaster for the event? Good luck!

    • Sarah
      December 15, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      We use a roaster for all large family gatherings. Every Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas prime rib that I have eaten in the last 20 years was from a roaster oven. Even when you have a functional oven it is so nice to keep it free for browning rolls or broiling vegetables and warming up the dishes that other family members bring over. It makes getting everything done and hot at the same time so much easier (and that is really what is hard about feeding a crowd).

  • Clare
    December 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    We made a great pot roast in a slow cooker from one of those Cooks Illustrated cookbooks (the Italian one?) and it definitely felt like a special occasion. They have some great slow cooker ideas that are very fancy compared to everyday cooking. I actually like your idea – and while I have a full-size working stove, I kind of want to put something in the slow cooker for Christmas dinner now. I’m imagining that slow cooker pot roast (that makes an awesome gravy), mashed potatoes, and some sort of roasted vegetables or fancy green beans. Sounds delicious AND easier than making a turkey again.

  • Sandra
    December 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Your mom is right. We have two roaster ovens. Everyone in my family does. We use them a lot for wedding meals and family gatherings. But a crockpot and be used too possibly, depending on size. I’d also suggest you look into making a pork tenderloin. They come pre-marinated and seasoned or plain and have very good flavor and are super easy to make but taste like a special meal item. They work well with many sides dishes too.

  • Jess E
    December 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    My parents cook all sorts of things in their roaster oven – the Thanksgiving turkey, hams, prime rib, beef. Theirs isn’t crazy – I think they bought it from Walmart a couple years ago. The temperature regulates really well as long as you don’t open it too often (if you’re looking – you’re not cooking).
    For the bigger meats, they use a thermometer thats attached to an external alarm. You set the desired temp and it goes off when its within 10 degrees of that temp.
    This really opens up their regular oven for other things – side dishes, rolls, etc.

  • Laura @ Rather Square
    December 15, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    I’m a big fan of lasagna because you can customize it to whatever you like. I’ve only made it in the oven, but I know there are recipes for slow cookers too. No matter what you end up deciding, don’t put too much pressure on yourself – you’ve got a newborn and that’s a perfect excuse to cut yourself some slack this year. :)

  • WES
    December 15, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Your Mom is wise. I personally would advocate the crock pot, these two are easy which is good but still taste fancy. Both could be served with roasted or mashed potatoes.

    The second one I have made with both beef or pork, so delishious

    • WES
      December 15, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      I meant to add I have never used the roaster oven and I have nothing against it personally I just wouldn’t want to add another appliance to store. YMMV

  • Stephanie
    December 15, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Have you ever heard of “Mississippi Roast”? It’s the best roast I’ve ever had and you cook it in the crock pot. You could double this to make enough for 12:

    4 lb Chuck Roast or any beef roast you prefer
    1 stick of butter
    1 packet of ranch dressing mix (dry)
    1 packet of au ju gravy mix (dry)
    5 pepperoncini peppers (in a jar by the pickles)

    Cover the roast in the dry mixes all over. Place the stick of butter on the top of the roast and place the peppers all around. That’s it!

    My crock pot cooks fast so I only cook this for 4-5 hours on low. It’s SO good! I serve mine with mashed potatoes and a green veggie.

  • Allison
    December 15, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    I would think a braise could work well. You could do it in the slowcooker or even in a finnicky oven (since it’s in so long, if the temp fluctuates a bit it probably won’t matter). You could optionally make it more special by choosing a different meat than you’d normally serve (duck? goose?) and make the sides something interesting or unusual for your family to get the extra “special tradition” feel. My Mom used to sometimes make “green rice” at Christmas time, which wasn’t a particularly difficult dish but it made it more festive (and it was the only time of year it ever was made, which in itself is enough to make something seem celebratory, no matter how easy). I suggest a gingerbread cake with whipped cream for dessert. It’s Christmas-y, but also super-duper easy and can be made ahead –though maybe even an easy cake is problematic with your oven. Anyhow, even if the “main” is something relatively familiar, if all the side-dishes and dessert are special (which doesn’t necessarily mean hard or time-consuming), then the whole meal will take on that feel.

  • Becky
    December 15, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    That video about your stove was really eye-opening for me. I always wanted one, but… not any more! It’s cool looking, though! I have a few dinner suggestions: 1. a “fancier” pasta dish, like stuffed shells 2. a roast in the Crock-Pot made a little more special with the addition of some good sides 3. a meal of appetizers — many of them can be made in a Crock-Pot or on the stovetop, and others can be heated up or served as-is(Trader Joe’s to the rescue!). We have appetizers for supper on New Year’s Eve every year, and everyone loves it. We usually do fondue, cocktail wieners/meatballs, a cheese plate/ball, fancy olives and nuts, shrimp cocktail, pesto pinwheels, crackers w/ a variety of dips, etc. A platter of cookies or a pie serves as dessert. You have such a great “mingling” house that appetizers might be just the ticket. Good luck!

  • Kim B
    December 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    We use a roaster over every year for our turkey on Thanksgiving. It cooks the BEST juiciest turkey and always cooks faster than the usual oven. It frees up our stove for side dishes. We can also place it anywhere in the house we have had a turkey cooked in the laundry room, guest room, garage. We cook a 20lb bird and I believe we have a 22q roaster. You can usually find them for about $40 on sale and although we only use it once a year, it is worth storing it.

  • Allison
    December 15, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I think the internet ate my reply, apologies if this turns out to duplicate it…

    My suggestion was a braise since you could make it in a slowcooker OR in a dubious oven (since it’s in so long, the temp fluctuation shouldn’t matter too much). You can make it more special by using a type of meat you wouldn’t normally cook (duck? goose? venison?) and most importantly, focus on the sides. Even if the main dish is familiar, if the sides are unusual (but not necessarily time-consuming), the whole effect will be celebratory. I suggest green rice as a festive, but not really that hard to make option. And for dessert, if your oven can manage a cake, gingerbread cake with whipped cream is easy and Christmas-y.

    Happy Holidays and Happy Cooking!

  • Miriam
    December 15, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    I encountered a similar newborn + toddler + family entertaining issue at Thanksgiving, so I made two pork loins in my crockpot using this recipe: People liked it better than a turkey, it felt special, it made a lot of food, and was easy and didn’t stress me out.

  • mary
    December 15, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    You are going to get a lot of great suggestions…here is mine. We make Beef Burgandy for Xmas Eve. It us festive and can be made on the stovetop. The best part is that it is make ahead (you can reheat it via stovetop or crock pot) It is better tasting if you make it a day ahead. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes or egg noodles. Great bread and a salad and done. I have served this at formal, sit down coursed dinners and casual buffets. The meat counter can cube the meat for you. It’s awesome.

  • Kim
    December 15, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Roaster ovens are probably a great thing for you to invest in – my mom bought one specifically to hold a 25+ lb turkey at Thanksgiving, since our oven was being used for all the sides, etc, and probably wouldn’t hold that large of a turkey anyway! It would be a lifesaver for you all! I’d suggest using it for a ham, turkey or the pork tenderloin you suggested, then use your oven for a casserole of some sort.

    Good luck! :)

  • erin
    December 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    we’ve done lasagna for YEARS. I can’t remember a christmas dinner without it! it’s so simple and feads a whole bunch of people. and we like to keep it simple christmas day because it takes us a LONG time to open all our gifts!

  • sarah
    December 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    I don’t have a lot of specific suggestions, but am thinking that it could be the type of thing that cooks all day, but is relatively hands-off once it’s on the stove. That way the house smells amazing (all. day.), it feels special because honestly who does ALL DAY cooking most days, but if it’s hands-off you have time to do…everything else. My husband’s mom was Italian, and so he and his brothers have perfected a good old-fashioned long-cooking gravy (red sauce Jersey-Italian style). If you wanted to get really ambitious you could do homemade pasta, but that’s totally not necessary. Toss in some crusty bread and get good photos of babies slurping spaghetti with sauce-covered faces and that sounds like a good memory to me :)

  • Debbie
    December 15, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    It’s OK if you don’t have a traditional meal you make every Christmas. Your tradition can be that you always try a different recipe on Christmas! Or you can just serve the same dessert every year and call it good enough. We had a lasagna for Christmas last year which was fantastic—-made it the day ahead and so Christmas itself was low key and not spent in the kitchen.

  • Alison
    December 15, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    We live on the West coast so our Christmas Eve tradition is a little different. We do chioppino and crab with my in-laws. It’s much better than the old fish dish they used to do. We add some great bread and a few sausages and green beans for the non-chioppino eating kids. It is a highlight of the year.

  • Kari
    December 15, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I’m a huge fan of serving homemade chicken pot pie — an entire meal in one dish! It’s a great comfort food and most prep work can be done in advance. This year you could prep two, and cook the first one prior to Christmas to figure out the oven logistics.

    A nice green salad and cranberries go well on the side.

  • Erin
    December 15, 2014 at 1:16 pm

    Another Erin who votes for lasagna. I made the Pioneer Woman’s recipe last year and am thinking it might be the new tradition. I actually love cooking, but being able to make this ahead of time and pop it in the oven on Christmas day felt like a real treat.
    Also, don’t rule out your grill! We cook our turkey on the grill every Thanksgiving and it turns out wonderfully! We are lucky enough to have a rotisserie attachment, so if you have one of those you could roast meat or poultry or even lamb out there.
    Someone above mentioned fondue, which was our “special meal” while I was growing up. We’d marinate chicken and beef and then my mom would make 6-8 different dipping sauces ahead of time. Add a salad and some easy veggie sides and you’re all set. It’s a very fun meal that takes some time to enjoy. It might be trickier with the little kids though – especially the part with hot oil at the table!
    And as many have said, crockpots can be awesome.
    Just don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I, for one, would love a Taco Christmas Eve!

  • Sharon Flasche
    December 15, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    I have 2 different roaster ovens and use them constantly from soups, beans roasts and turkeys they both work great, as a roaster or as a slow cooker.

  • vanessa
    December 15, 2014 at 1:39 pm

    What about a counter-top convection oven? It would serve you well all year round. Here a link to an article with recommendations.

  • Sara Dill
    December 15, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    You should do an alternative of what your uncle made (comfort feel wise) and make pulled-pork chili!

    That way you can keep your mexican- chip- cheese vibe and give people lots of options of fresh toppings.
    You only have to use a crockpot, and although it takes many hours to cook, it doesnt take that much work and will at the same time make your house smell amazing.

    Also– the best part of christmas is the dessert all the way! Yay for sugar cookies :)

  • Kate
    December 15, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    I cooked for 28 passengers on a cast iron woodstove for a summer on board a historic sailboat in Maine, so I understand some of the difficulties you describe! The oven was very uneven, I rotated everything frequently, but the burners (“eyes”) worked well once I got used to moving pans around the cooktop from the hot to warm side. I was told that the oven does have one advantage; it’s so tightly built and sealed without a fan that the moisture from roasts and breads stays in for moist roasts and crusty bread. I can’t say I noticed the difference when I was struggling to get meals ready in time! I did learn to not pay too much attention to oven temperature–most recipes will be perfectly fine with a fair amount of fluctuation, and my eyes and nose did more to tell me when food was ready than any recipe’s cooking times. I did like having the warming areas above the stove, although yours are probably better off as storage since it’s really the wood burning part of the stove that heats up the entire appliance (and kitchen)!

    For your holiday meal, it looks like there are great suggestions in the comments so far. What about sharing something Moroccan, as a memory from your trip earlier this year? With tamales last year, you could start an international tradition… I know a family that themes Thanksgiving each year around a different country’s cuisine and culture, for example. Two recipes I’ve enjoyed are the tagine from this site which would be fine throwing everything in a crock pot, and this (I omitted noodles) Good luck!

  • judy
    December 15, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    I can see your tree peeking out from the room off your kitchen-looks huge! and very pretty. I have to admit we have a Martins Grocery(formerly Ukrops) here in Virginia that does a complete Holiday dinner-choice of Ham, Standard Turkey or a Spicy version,a great sweet potato casserole with a nutty topping,etc.. The 1st year I bought it I was actually ashamed but it was delicious and boy what a change from my usual day! I actually got to sit down and enjoy the company. I cut the turkey in half with a large serrated knife and heated it on a cookie sheet. Trying to get it hot enough in the middle without making the exterior too dark.
    But long term and with the children on their way to bottomless pit teens I think you will have to figure out how to keep the charming stove and hide a modern one. I love your voice,very pretty. Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year to you and all your readers.

  • Jennipher
    December 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Hi – I love your blog, and really relate to most of what you post, so I don’t mean to sound like a jerk at all, but why do you still have that stove? It clearly doesn’t work for your family and it sounds like safety could be an issue too. I know replacing appliances can get expensive, but it’s hard for me to understand when you have just recently posted about purchasing a $1500+ piece of Restoration Hardware furniture. I’d certainly consider foregoing a couple of nice-to-have furniture items in favor of a necessity like a functional stove.

    • WES
      December 15, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      I had the same thoughts myself because I did replace a stove that wasn’t functional for my family. But also because I just look at it and think holy cow I would be paranoid about my kids with that stove. Alas I am sure there are reasons that ultimately make sense for her family despite me scratching my head. And FWIW I would imagine that if I put my life on a blog people would think the same about some of my decisions.

    • Making it Lovely
      December 15, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      I’m the one holding out! We’ve had a couple of companies generously offer a new stove to us in exchange for coverage, so it isn’t even the cost. I may complain about certain aspects of it, but I do actually like our ancient stove. And as far as what “people would think” about some of our decisions, it’s funny. If the day comes that I post about getting rid of the old stove, there will be people horrified that we aren’t keeping it!

  • Cynthia
    December 15, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Our tradition for Christmas eve dinner is soup in bread bowls. Easy to feed a crowd, and can be done in a slow cooker. We usually have two or three different kinds (each daughter-in-law brings one – sometimes they’re fancy/gourmet-ish sometimes they’re not). It’s warm and cozy and perfect for Christmas eve. :)

  • Jenny
    December 15, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    We have been hosting a fondue dinner for the last few years…?something we look forward to. I haven’t ventured into meats, but we do cheese (cheddar) & chocolate. I grill filleted chicken breasts & serve with salad. It’s very easy as most everything can be prepped ahead of time…raw veggies & bread for the cheese. Strawberries, pound cake , marshmallows & bananas with the chocolate. Yum.

  • Carin
    December 15, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    We host Christmas dinner every year and we switch things up each year. One year we did Italian, port tenderloin, prime rib and soup. The soup was by far the favorite. It was a super tasty lasagna that we served with a tasty italian salad good bread. It was easy, filling and so tasty.

  • Bonnie
    December 15, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Our traditional Christmas Eve meal is beef stroganoff which we do in the electric skillet. Delicious, and while simple to prepare, it seems fancy. I also like the notion of the beef burgundy mentioned earlier.

  • Giulia Doyle
    December 15, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    If none of you have nut allergies, I’ve had huge success with my pork tenderloin recipe. I make it with this peanut orange sauce and serve it with wild rice and a nice vegetable side. It looks really impressive, but it’s easy to make and I think the pork isn’t too finicky. I posted the sauce recipe on Instagram if you want to have a look:
    We usually make this at New Year when we have different family members visiting.

  • Marilee
    December 15, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    How about braised pork shoulder? All you need is a pot big enough for the meat and enough liquid to simmer it for 2 to 3 hours depending on the size of the cut. Because it cooks at a low heat for so long, even an inexpensive cut of meat becomes tender and delicious and you can make enough for a large gathering! A crockpot can work for this as well.

  • JessK
    December 15, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    Here’s an easy pork roast recipe this is absolutely delicious! Add some mashed potatoes and a vegetable and you’re done.

    • Jeanne
      December 15, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Hi – I had an ancient wonky oven that never maintained the heat and it destroyed many, many meals. Thanksgiving turkey was the worst…24 guests for dinner and the blackest turkey I have ever seen in my life came out of that oven…dry and black. With all that being said, I have done very well with a roaster oven (the white enamel ones – Target and Walmart, cheap, very retro but they work great) Turkeys turn out moist and browned. Set it up, leave the lid on, and let it do its’ stuff. Good Luck!

  • Laurie
    December 15, 2014 at 3:06 pm

    We have started using a roaster oven at Thanksgiving to free up the oven for all the other dishes. It cooks quite fast and does a beautiful job. They aren’t expensive but the one we got gets very hot on the outside so we put it in the garage on the concrete floor. It would be a great solution for you.

    I love to cook as many of my sides via crockpot as possible. Almost every side dish has a crockpot version and you can just line them up on the counter. Excellent resource. I even did stuffing in one the two times I hosted Thanksgiving. This freed up our stove and oven for things like gravy and making croutons.

    This is a great resource and she does a really nice job of categorizing the recipes so you can browse easily.

  • Alanna
    December 15, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Roaster ovens are amazing! and easy to use… if you are lucky you can find one at the goodwill. since they are kind of a dying art thanks to convection microwave/oven/ do-it-all at once ranges!

    best of luck!

  • Rebecca
    December 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    I love the idea of continuing your uncle’s tradition of sloppy joes — I think the kids would love it, and I can’t think of an easier holiday meal with three young kids!

    • Kristina
      December 15, 2014 at 3:49 pm

      I completely agree! Go with the sloppy joes. If its already a family tradition, why not continue it… As least while you still have that stove. :)

    • Making it Lovely
      December 15, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      My sister is having a holiday party on Saturday and she’s making them!

  • Jill
    December 15, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    Why not just use your fancy Blue Apron service – the one you raved about not long ago? That way you can just use your old stove oven as a warming oven. No worry about uneven cooking.

    • Making it Lovely
      December 15, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      I love Blue Apron, but there wouldn’t be enough food for 12, and you still do all of the cooking.

  • Debbie
    December 15, 2014 at 3:38 pm

    I love my roaster oven. I always cook my Thanksgiving turkey in it and it can cook somewhere beside the kitchen counter. I always put it in the laundry room! What about beef burgundy for Christmas? It can be made ahead and just heated up Christmas Day

  • Lindsey
    December 15, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    I suggest buying some fresh pasta and making a homemade sauce (I love a Vodka sauce). My family does this the weekend after thanksgiving every year (we make homemade pasta and sauce), serve with some italian sausage (that you can cook on the grill or oven) and its a delicious special meal.

  • lea
    December 15, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    I won’t even rent a place without a proper gas oven, so it’s crazy to me that you haven’t bought a functional oven when you’ve bought loads of other pricey items. I don’t know how yall eat! Buy yourself an oven for xmas.

    • Making it Lovely
      December 15, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      We’ve gotten pretty used to cooking on it, but it’s the oven that throws us. The added importance of the meal is making me nervous, too.

  • Sandra Avis
    December 15, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    Yum! Pot Roast in the slow cooker with onion and carrots, NYTimes make ahead mashed potatoes (on the website with other Thanksgiving recipes) and steamed French green beans. Peppermint Stick ice cream with hot fudge for dessert!

  • nanne
    December 15, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    at thanksgiving we cook our turkey outside on the grill & for christmas, duck on the grill. delicious, easy, gets on dish out of the kitchen and your husband can be in charge of it. we finish off both the turkey and the duck with a cranberry glaze.

    maybe wild rice in a rice cooker and add toasted pecans, dried cranberries, etc when done. steam green beans, asparagus, etc on the stove top or roast some root vegetables in the oven, if you keep an eye on them they should be fine. an updated sweet potato casserole, very hard to mess up.

    another option would be bbq pulled pork or chicken in a crockpot.

    good luck!!

  • hkw
    December 15, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    I like the short ribs idea, but you’ll need a lot to serve 12 and you’ll want to do a long stovetop simmer (can your burners handle it?) since you don’t have room in the oven for big braising pots. The benefit is you can do them a couple of days in advance.

    Other possibilities:
    1/Get a pre-cooked ham (like Honeybaked), then you’ll only need to do sides–and people could even bring those. Or instead of sides, do a big cold buffet with cheeses, salumi, crudites, dips… You’ve got a new baby, keep the holidays simple! 2/If everyone likes seafood and is ready for a lighter meal, what about a big boulliabase or cioppino or other seafood stew? You can cook the base in advance then throw in the seafood at the last minute, and the whole thing is done on the stovetop but feels super-festive. Serve with a green salad and a lot of crusty bread.

  • Megan
    December 15, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    First off, I realllllly love the peek at your Christmas tree from your kitchen. You have such a beautiful home that you have really done a great job on. Second, I have a roaster and it works pretty good! It was an inexpensive one. I’ve only cooked turkeys in it, but it was fast and good! So, just a thought. It’s very simple to use!

  • Monica
    December 15, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Did not read thru all comments, so forgive me if this is a repeat… But how about lasagna!? Fits all the requirements – you can make it ahead, put it in the oven all it has to do is get hot – you serve it with bread and a salad and you’re golden! If you feel the need to be fancier, I think you could probably make something with the bechemal sauce or sausage or something other than basic lasagna but really the basic is great. Good luck!

  • Maureen
    December 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Really enjoyed the video, Nicole. The stove is beautiful. Do you ever plan to replace it? Or perhaps supplement with a new oven/cooktop? (Side note: your voice is so soothing, I bet you just lull your little ones to sleep with bedtime stories!)

  • Ronda
    December 15, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    I have an electric roaster. I use it more in the summer than I do in the winter. Plug it in outside in the shade in the summer so I don’t heat up the house. I find that meat doesn’t brown in it like it does in the oven, it braises more than it roasts…so if you make a beef roast be sure to sear it on the cooktop first. I think it’s a worthwhile investment. A thermometer that tells you the temperature of the meat in the roaster is a good addition because when you lift the lid you loose all the heat! Your family will love anything you serve…don’t overthink it…and enjoy each other’s company. Merry Christmas!!!

  • nancy50
    December 15, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I would do the bbq brisket in a crock pot and serve it on rolls – people help themselves and everything stays hot in the pot so there is little to fuss with. I would make it a tex mex theme and make cheese quesadillas (can be made in the microwave) as an appetizer and serve with sour cream, pico de gallo and guac. Maybe make some baked beans too.

    An alternative and super easy (and vegetarian too!) is to go to an Indian Market and buy the chana masala mix (comes in a packet) one packet per one large can of garbanzo beans – – add water and cook on stove top. Make rice in a rice cooker (if you have one) chop some cilantro for a garnish and everyone will think you spent hours on it – -shhh I won’t tell!

  • Cara Crowley
    December 15, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I love that your uncle used to serve sloppy joes! I love tradition but I grow bored with it quickly. A few years back, I wanted to create my own household traditions since I didn’t want to trek to my parent’s house across town in the cold anymore on Christmas day and started making meatballs and it’s been a lovely tradition that’s stuck and that my family actually embraces along with me now. Meatballs are simple to make but feel much more special. I make them out of great ingredients and make a yummy sauce to simmer them in. You can also serve with fresh pasta picked up from a specialty store or spaghetti squash that can be simply steamed and piles and piles of freshly grated parmesan cheese. Happy Holidays!

  • etta
    December 15, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    We don’t have an xmas dinner tradition – but for xmas eve, we have always made a dinner of appetizers in front of the fireplace. We then open one gift. I hated it as a kid (i hated fires – we lived in california!), but now it’s really nice. Last year for xmas, we made raviolis by hand, which was super fun.

    When I was a kid, our xmas dinner tradition was fried chicken, potato salad and brownies in the beach.’

    Also, I’m a vegetarian, but my parents would often buy a honey baked ham for fancy dinners (I think it’s pre-cooked) – so something like that is an option.

  • suzannefleck
    December 15, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    their pork ragu is amazing. and so .. so easy. and tasty. and comforting.. and impressive for your guests. just serve salads and breads. its a no brainer.
    you can get the fresh noodles at marianos. the tagliatelle.. and they cook in 1 minute in boiling water.

  • suzannefleck
    December 15, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    The pork ragu is amazing. I recommend with a salad or two and breads and dessert. it’s so easy .

    pairs well with fresh pasta such as tagliatelle, that marianos sells.. and takes 1 minute to cook.. you would have to triple or quadruple the recipe.

  • Stefe
    December 15, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    If you haven’t already, I’d transition to cast iron/heavy bottomed pots that can withstand temperature fluctuations from the stove without ruining what’s within. Then focus on things that do well in dutch ovens. Stew, Arroz con Pollo, short ribs, chicken & dumplings. Risotto may need more fine temperature control than you have, though a good dutch oven can mask plenty of issues. I even do a twist on chicken pot pie in my dutch oven. I make the chicken/veggie/gravy base then dump biscuit batter on top instead of using a standard crust.

  • Carrie
    December 15, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    We used to try different meats for my husband’s family Christmas dinner/party. A few years back my mother-in-law steamed crab legs and it’s become a tradition that everyone loves (although it gets expensive as the family grows.) Both teenage nephews told me they want crab for Christmas (as a present) and are looking more forward to having crab than anything else about Christmas.

    Electric roasting pans are great too. My uncle cooked the Thanksgiving turkey in it this year and it was the best one yet – he brines it beforehand – I keep thinking about it almost 3 weeks after the fact!

  • sarah
    December 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    it is our family tradition to do lobsters and asparagus (red and green… get it?). also, TONS of champagne. and some sort of delicious, make ahead dessert. pumpkin parfait has been in th erunning for about 5 years now. it’s a barefoot contessa recipe. anyway, the lobsters are a SPLURGE but are the easiest thing in the world to make AND clean up. and the asparagus we just roast with EVOO and salt. it’s so decadent and fun and delicious. highly recommended!

  • Heather
    December 15, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Growing up it was always Christmas Eve ham and Christmas Day lasagna. Now that I have my own family and cook for everyone on Christmas Eve, we have lasagna, salad, fresh homemade bread, and cookies for desert. On Christmas day, we go to my moms for beef tenderloin, potato casserole, rolls, veggies, and chocolate praline cake for dessert.

  • Joan
    December 15, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    Our Christmas dinner tradition is beef tenderloin cooked on the grill. We live in Illinois, too, so there have been years when my dad — the official griller — has had to cook in a ski mask and gloves, but it always turns out deliciously. Just salt, pepper, and garlic powder before grilling. For Christmas Eve, we have chicken Tetrazzini, which can be made ahead and served with rolls and a green salad. Good luck!

  • Rachelle
    December 15, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Those roasters Are amazing! Just be careful when you open it. (Lots of steam wear gloves!,) When I have a little baby I love to cook pork tenderloin for guys? Hard to fuck up and tastes super yummy. You can even use a cranberry glaze to make it more festive.

  • Jay Vasconcellos
    December 15, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Good God woman- get out the BBQ! That way you don’t have to rely on your tiny oven. You can cook up pork tenderloins in mere minutes. Rub them all over with olive oil, liberally salt and pepper them and rub them down with minced garlic. Use twine to bind rosemary to them. You will need about 3 tenderloin roasts for 12 people. Cook 5 minutes on side 1, turn them and cook 5 minutes on side 2, and DONE.

    Do a pan of roasted veggies in the oven, and perhaps a simple risotto, and you’ve got a pretty good meal.

  • Bethany
    December 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm

    What about braised beef short ribs? Fancy but easy like a roast and just simmers in the oven for a few hours. I just made Pioneer Eomans recipe for a dinner party and it was a hit! I was able to cook during my children’s nap time and had a delicious dinner for everyone at 7p. Good luck figuring something out. We host Christmas too and it is a joy and a stress!

  • Bonnie
    December 16, 2014 at 5:56 am

    I always try to do a festive meal ahead of time so I can enjoy the guests. My “go-to” for Christmas dinner is beef bourguignon (I use Ina Garten’s recipe). It is best made the day ahead and reheated. Add a fabulous fresh salad and a loaf (or two) of La Fournette’s (Wells or N. Clark locations) signature bread accompanied by a dish of European-style butter and you will received kudos!! Ask your guests to bring an assortment of desserts. ENJOY!


  • Zhaleh
    December 16, 2014 at 6:35 am

    My family have used those roasters ever since I was little. For most cuts of meat we sear before putting them, and for turkey we always do the bag method. Either way, I never remember having an issue with texture/crispiness. Even with a functioning oven it works well as it frees up the oven for sides, and in the summertime you can do some BBQ ribs/brisket without heating up the house.

  • Shaina
    December 16, 2014 at 6:38 am

    We have a huge family, so every meal around the holidays is potluck. But it is not “bring whatever you want” potluck, my grandma gives people specific items to make based on their strengths. That way, all of the food compliments each other and you don’t get one big mess of dishes.

    I would make beef bourguignon in a dutch oven. After the hands on part is done, it will mostly just hang out on its own for a few hours. I make mashed potatoes on the stovetop, but I typically keep them warm in the crock pot until it is time to eat. Add a nice salad for your vegetable and you are all set.

  • Kelly
    December 16, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Perhaps someone else suggested this already, but Beef Bourguignon is a very easy dish and feels extra-special somehow. I like to start it in the oven and then let it finish in the slow cooker. You could make it a day ahead and then heat it up Christmas day. Your oven could do a potato gratin beautifully too. Again, make it a day ahead and then heat slowly in the oven before serving. Add a huge salad and maybe some crisp green beans and you have a beautiful meal!

    Beef Bourguingnon:
    Potato Gratin:

    • Laura
      December 16, 2014 at 3:02 pm

      I second this commenter – a dutch oven on the stove top. An even easier meat dish is beef burgundy. There are many, many versions, but I’ve made this one with stewing beef. The longer you cook, the more tender it is. It is so simple, yet I always get people asking me for the recipe.

    • Andrew
      December 17, 2014 at 8:11 am

      Absolutely! Everything Kelly said.

      I also agree with the commenter above who recommended using cast iron pans if you don’t already. If you end up replacing this stove with a commercial grade one, you’ll want heavy duty pans anyway.

  • Kari
    December 16, 2014 at 10:20 am

    My family’s tradition is appetizer dinner. Pigs in blankets, smoked salmon cream cheese pizza, hot wings, artichoke dip, pizza rolls. I guess it’s pretty similar to the food at a superbowl party but it always seems so indulgent and fun.

  • Autumn
    December 16, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I would also use your grill outside, butterfly a pork or beef tenderloin, I stuff mine with bacon, mushrooms, and spinach. Tie the roast and sear over high heat on all sides and then move to indirect heat, takes about 40 minutes or so, i just check the temp every 15 mins or so, at 155 degrees, take off and let rest for 10-15 mins and it should be good to go. I’ve also done scalloped potatoes in a metal pan on the grill while those are cooking. Good luck!

  • Michelle M
    December 16, 2014 at 11:17 am

    We are having people over for Christmas day and because we are in a similar kid situation as you, we decided on a casual day with chicken noodle soup, chili, and a variety of salads. It’s causal but super easy. Soup will be cooked in crock pot and chili the same way. Make it feel special by serving it up fancy and having lots of toppings.

    What feels special about Christmas is not the food, but the company and love. And of course the kid’s faces!

  • Cheryl
    December 16, 2014 at 11:17 am

    YES on Roaster! Nesco is what we have and it’s very good. Best Turkey Ever for sure. I use those oven bags for turkeys, put 1/2 cup flour in bottom of bag before inserting turkey. I also use Tony Chacher’s injectables. They have one for ham and 1 for turkeys. Follow directions in the cookbook that comes with your roaster. For me, that’s 400 degrees for first hour, then cut temp to 375 for rest of time and last hour put it back up to 400 degrees. Moist flavorful turkey.

    you can do all kinds of meats in it and I have. Doing a ham for Christmas dinner.

    we’ve done the barbecue at holidays, kind of a hassle and you wouldn’t think it would be.

    i particularly like not heating up the kitchen and having the oven for other stuff. i use my roaster in the utility room on a little table. then i store it in the garage on a shelf with other appliances i don’t use all the time.

    good luck! and experiment and you’ll find what’s comfortable

  • Sarah
    December 16, 2014 at 11:20 am

    I love the idea of traditions — my family used to just do a buffet of hors d’oeuvres and special cocktails/mocktails when we were growing up. Now that I have kids of my own, a special meal seems so important.

    I always lean toward Italian — most people love it. Easy to go vegetarian, etc., if needed.

    here’s a menu I’ve done:
    pork in milk — you could do this in the slow-cooker too:

    creamy polenta

    citrus salad:

    fennel and apple salad

    end the meal with a big tray of Christmas cookies.

    Good luck … remember that being together makes it special enough.
    Happy Holidays!

  • Kristen
    December 16, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I have a newer gas oven & still like to use my electric Nesco roaster. For our Friendsgiving this year (23 people) I roasted the turkey the day before in the roaster. Once it was done I let it cool, sliced it and refrigerated it over night. Then about an hour before we ate I through it back in the roaster on low with some broth (periodically pouring more broth on top). Everyone said it was the most moist turkey they had. I will say I agree with a previous comment in that it doesn’t get as golden on top as a traditional oven but the flavor is great.

  • Gillian Helm
    December 16, 2014 at 11:46 am

    For Thanksgiving this year we opted out of turkey and made osso bucco in our crock pot. It was probably one of the best meals we’ve ever had. We roasted glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, made pretzel rolls, and used the sauce for gravy. Best of all, IT. WAS. SO. EASY!! And because it was veal, it felt special!

  • Amy
    December 16, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Hubby’s family always did fondue on Christmas Eve and we’re also hosting this year (first time) so we are attempting to carry on the tradition. My tips (because we’ve done fondue before) is have sides because fondue is a lot of work for a small amount of food. We’re going to have a salad. We are just doing a cheese fondue with bread, roasted potatoes, and cooked beforehand lobster and scallops. I have done beef broth fondue before too which is yummy and partially precooking the meat would cut down on the fondue time. That’s my two cents! Have fun!

  • E E Faris
    December 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Tom Douglas has a great recipe for beef short ribs with cannelini (made with some rosemary) and a gremolata. It’s all do ahead, and he gives instructions for reheating. Add a green salad with sliced oranges or pomagranate seeds and you are good to go. It’s forgiving in the making, and lots of restaurants do shortribs, they still feel special.

  • Jules
    December 16, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Deep fry some meat like the do in the south! You can throw tons of other stuff in the oil too like chopped potatoes for homemade fries and even Oreos. Don’t knock it until you try it. It’s amazing. Clean up is a beast though. Make your guests do it ;)

  • Sara
    December 16, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Our family has always done a dinner of potluck appetizers for Christmas Day. Everyone contributes, minimal stress, much can be made ahead, and who doesn’t love appetizers? :)

  • Melissa
    December 16, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    We make the Thanksgiving turkey in the exact roaster you linked. It turns out moist and delicious every time!

  • Kara
    December 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Sorry I didn’t read all the comments! Sear your roast and put it in the crock pot with beef broth, onions, and that onion soup mix. Comes out perfect every time and it’s so easy.

  • nanne
    December 16, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    the grill is your friend!! :)

    we (as in, my husband) grill turkey for thanksgiving and duck for christmas & finish them off with a cranberry glaze. so easy, delicious and gets one big thing out of the kitchen.

    wild rice either in a rice cooker or microwave. stir in some toasted pecans and craisons when it is finished.

    an updated sweet potato casserole is hard to mess up, even in a finicky oven.

    pulled bbq pork or chicken in a crock pot for more casual dining.

    my parents do shrimp & grits for christmas. easy, comforting and so, so good!!

    best of luck & happy holidays!!


  • nanne
    December 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm

    oh, and roasted root vegetables! make them simple with just garlic, kosher salt, olive oil or get fancy and make some kind of glaze to go on them

  • nanne
    December 16, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    you have to let us know what you decide to serve and how it turns out!! :)

  • Becky
    December 16, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I have to echo other posters comments on the Dutch oven. Also a meat thermometer and cook a forgiving piece of meat like pork shoulder. I cannot recommend enough this recipe for porchetta from another local Chicogoan based on a recipe from the Zuni Cafe cookbook intended for an easy dinner party. Good luck with whatever you cook.

  • Elina
    December 16, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I suggest a spiral ham, they come pre-cooked so they just need to be reheated in the oven for a couple of hours at a low temperature. And they are sooo good! I am of Finnish background and this is a staple at our Christmas dinner.
    I also have a roaster oven and I LOVE it! I have done turkey, ham and roast beef in it and they always turn out moist!

  • Kathie M
    December 16, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    I am a big fan of the crock pot. I recommend using two and doing a roast in one and a large pot of pasta fagioli soup in another.

  • Margie
    December 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

    Fish tacos …. fun and can really be dressed up with fun toppings that don’t require an oven!

  • Christina H
    December 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

    I bought and used a roaster for the first time this year, for hosting my first thanksgiving. I got it to make the days easier on myself and free up oven space. I made sure to follow the directions and it was the best turkey we’ve ever had, It doesn’t brown skin like an oven does, but I didn’t have to baste and it was so moist it fell apart (no carving took place). Fair trade in my book. I love the roaster and will be sure to use it as much as possible.

  • nanne
    December 17, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    one more idea (sorry:)!), gumbo! we do it for christmas eve. make it ahead of time minus the seafood. freeze it and defrost the day before chrsitmas. throw it in the crockpot on high then add the seafood, cook on high until seafood is ready. then keep it on warm until time to serve. rice on the side, green salad and a selection of bread.

  • Christine
    December 17, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    I just have to say, my mind is kind of blown right now… There are options other than turkey for Christmas dinner??????!!!!! I guess it makes sense, since Thanksgiving in the US falls so close before Christmas. I think we’d be more likely to change the TG meal then not have turkey at Christmas! However, these do sound like delicious options.

    When my sister in law has hosted, my father in law roasts turkey at home the day before and brings it the day of the meal. Easier to make sides while “hosting” without having to also watch a bird.

  • Rachel
    December 18, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    I have a roaster oven and it is magical!! That’s how I make my turkey every Thanksgiving (as does my mom)! It makes life super easy! That’s my vote!

  • Dustin
    December 18, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    OK I can only smile and nod to some of these other comments. I got a 7-qt cast iron dutch oven from amazon last year; it was an inexpensive purchase, and I love it for cooking on my (not-quite-as-old-as-yours-but-still-absolutely-unable-to-simmer) gas range. It’s fantastic for pork ragout and beef burgundy; both can be cooked on the stovetop or in the oven. They’re also fantastic cooked ahead and reheated in a crock pot…

    And I’d also heartily second (fifth? twenty-ninth?) the motion to consider a Nesco-style A/C roasting oven. We use a Westinghouse one every year when family comes over, to roast a (medium-sized, not behemoth) turkey or ham. As expected it frees up the oven for reheating other dishes. But what we didn’t expect was how grateful some people were! We feed tolerant vegetarians every year. And the year we switched on the Westinghouse to roast the turkey out in the laundry room, I got hugs and gratitude for the house smelling more like mashed potatoes and green beans, less like turkey.

    So for what it’s worth I’ve had great luck with our tabletop roaster. I’ve had amazing food come out by cooking the day before with both pork ragout and with boeuf bourguignon. And I love my new Lodge cast iron dutch oven for how well it’s tamed the burny-burniness of my finicky old range.

    Amazon has a low-cost probably-fine-for-occasional-use roaster similar to our old Westinghouse. Search B000G0HPEI. And the Dutch oven I’m using is also on amazon; search B000SOM5XS.

  • Samae
    December 20, 2014 at 7:32 pm

    We have used a roaster the past few Thanksgivings so we free up our oven for all the sides. The roaster we have works just great. It does cook a little hotter than our oven. This is the one we bought and its a total deal. Ours did have a small dent when we got it from Amazon, but no biggie. And for $46 I am not going to complain. Got get yourself one and enjoy your new Christmas traditions!

  • jenn aka the picky girl
    December 21, 2014 at 12:08 am

    For nearly a decade now, my family has eschewed a formal Christmas dinner. We do a big turkey dinner and sides at Thanksgiving, and none of us wanted a feast like that at Christmas. Plus, we really wanted something more low key. So now, Christmas Eve, we throw together a French toast casserole (or two) and an egg-based casserole (changes year to year). Then Christmas morning we wake up and put them in the oven, cut some fruit, make mimosas, and eat mid morning. We open presents and visit. No one is usually hungry until late afternoon, and I order a sandwich tray and get chips for that.

    We LOVE it, and it’s definitely turned into a favorite tradition. This will be my brother’s first married Christmas (and only our second without him, as he lives in NYC), and he and his husband plan to do the same. :)

  • Holly @ Woman Tribune
    December 27, 2014 at 10:31 am

    That stove is absolutely stunning. I can understand why you would have it, even though it makes meal planning or cooking for a group of people nearly impossible. The only suggestion I have for making meal time a little easier, especially when you’re having guests over is a good slow cooker. Plus it’s nearly impossible to mess anything up in one.