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Reliving Our Christmas Feasts Past With Old Traditions

My family has never really had any “carved-in-stone” traditions for celebrations, but our Christmas feast, just like those of many Filipino families, is centered on familiar memories. Tradition is comforting, surrounding us with love and happy memories. Of course, in my family, Christmas traditions were focused on the dining table. My childhood memories are of fruitcake and milk for breakfast on Christmas Day (yes, we really do love fruitcake!), my grandmother’s paella for Christmas Day lunch at her house, and the Tarta de Madrid, soft-centered meringues; and other Spanish goodies that she would order from a mysterious someone whose name will forever be lost in time.

For many of us, things aren’t the same ?anymore. The world is different, less connected, more hurried, and with the passing on of our grandparents or parents, we sometimes let go a little of the Christmas rituals that used to bind us together. We can create our own traditions, though, or continue those that they have started. Start? with the food, those much-loved but sometimes forgotten dishes. Gather around the dining table, not just to remember, but also to create your own new table full of memories.


A Perfect Roast 

Back in the day when the country was under import control, turkey was expensive. So my mom would roast a large chicken instead. It didn’t matter much to us when we were kids, because really, we only ate the roast chicken because we liked the stuffing and gravy. In this recipe, apples and dried cranberries update the stuffing with a fruity, tangy avor, while sage and thyme give it a classic “roast turkey” avor. My mom always told me that the secret to moist, flavorful stuffing was the added stock and egg.

Roasted Chicken With Apple Cranberry Stuffing

?Serves 6

  • 5 tablespoons butter?
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ?1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 4 cups bread, cubed
  • ?3 tablespoons fresh sage, chopped?
  • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme chopped?
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped?
  • 2 Fuji apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • ?1/2 cup white wine
  • ?1 cup chicken stock
  • ?1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • ?1 cup dried cranberries
  • ?1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped salt and pepper, to taste
  • ?1 egg?
  • 1 whole chicken

1. In a sauté pan, melt butter. Sauté onion and garlic until soft (not brown), about 5 minutes.

?2. Add the bread cubes, sage and thyme, stirring to combine. Stir in apples, wine, stock, pecans, cranberries and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.?

3. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Add the egg and mix well.?

4. Season the whole chicken with?salt and pepper. Reserve some apple cranberry stu ng to serve separately. Stu the chicken with the remaining apple cranberry stu ng mixture. Transfer to a baking pan.?

5. Roast the chicken in a preheated 350°F oven until fully cooked, about 35 to 40 minutes.?

6. Serve with gravy (recipe below) and extra apple cranberry stuffing.

Chicken Gravy

Makes 2 cups

  • Pan drippings from your roasting pan
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour?
  • 1 1/2 cups water?salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Pour the chicken pan drippings into a small bowl. Skim the fat and set aside.?

2. Place 1/2 cup of the fat into a saucepan and stir in the flour.?

3. Add water to the pan drippings to make 2 cups of liquid. Then pour it into the flour-fat mixture.?

4. Cook, stirring, until sauce bubbles and thickens then continue cooking for about 1 minute. Season with salt and black pepper.



Paella Forever

My grandmother was the paella ?master! No family celebration was? complete without her paella. She? had a little trick though. Because ?she had no paellera, she had mastered? the technique of cooking paella in her electric skillet. Her secret, written carefully down in one of her recipe notebooks, was to use intensely flavored seafood stock, lots of different kinds of fresh shellfish, and generous handfuls of Spanish chorizo. I wasn’t a big seafood eater as a kid, so I would pick out the rice and chorizo, and drop the seafood onto my dad’s plate. We make paella differently at home now, using saffron instead of my grandmother’s tomato sauce, but sometimes, I think back to Christmas lunch at her house and wish she were here to make paella again.

Seafood Paella (Paella de Mariscos)

Serves 10

  • 1/4 cup olive oil?
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • ?2 cups tomatoes, no skin, finely chopped?
  • 1/2 kilo pork tenderloin, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 kilo chicken thighs, boneless, skinless, cut into 1-inch cubes?
  • 1/2 kilo squid, cleaned, sliced into rings
  • ?1 kilo uncooked medium grain or bomba rice?
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • ?6 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 kilo mussels, fresh or frozen?
  • 1/2 kilo clams, fresh or frozen
  • ?1/2 kilo large shrimps, tail on
  • ?1 sweet red bell pepper, sliced into long strips salt and black pepper, to taste
  • ?lemon, sliced into wedges chopped parsley, for garnish

1. Heat a paella pan or large sauté pan. Add olive oil to coat the bottom, then sauté the onion and tomatoes. Add olive oil as needed to prevent sticking. When onions are translucent, add the pork and chicken, browning on all sides.

2. Add squid and cook, stirring often for about 8 to 10 minutes.

?3. Add the rice and stir for 2? to 3 minutes to thoroughly coat the rice with oil.? 

4. Add saffron threads to the warm chicken broth. Slowly pour broth into the paella pan until ingredients are covered.  

5. Arrange mussels, clams and shrimps on top of the rice, spreading out evenly around the pan. Add slices of pepper on top. Simmer until rice is cooked. Add more broth if necessary. Season with salt and pepper.  

?6. When rice is cooked, remove from heat and cover with aluminum foil. Allow paella to “rest” for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley before serving.



A Holiday Centerpiece

In China, dry-cured ham is normally used to flavor stews or braises. But many years ago, in the journey from China to the Philippines, Chinese ham became a popular Christmas treat for many Filipino families. Perhaps it was because its pungent saltiness made a little go a long way, and large families could feast on the ham for several days. Perhaps also, it was because of a creative cook who thought to temper its saltiness with a sweet glaze, feeding the Filipino appetite’s love for sweet-salty combinations. Whatever? it is, for many families, Christmas ?is not complete without a Chinese ham, here glazed with apple juice and maple syrup instead of the ubiquitous pineapple jam, eaten in slivers or sandwiched between pandesal.

Chinese Ham With Maple and Brown Sugar Glaze

Serves 24 to 32

  • 1 fully cooked bone-in Chinese ham, about 3 to 5 kilos
  • 1 cup pure maple syrup
  • ?1 cup brown sugar
  • ?1/2 cup apple juice
  • ?1/2 cup brown sugar, for additional sugar crusting (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. 

?2. Place ham, fat side up, on a roasting rack. Score the fat, if desired.? 

3. Combine maple syrup, brown sugar?and apple juice in a saucepan and bring?to a boil. Do not let it boil over.? 

4. Spoon the glaze mixture over the ham. Place ham in the preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Add more brown sugar on top if you want additional crusting.? 

5. Slice ham and serve with pandesal and queso de bola slices.


An Icebox Cake That Impresses

There was a time when icebox cake was all the rage—chocolate icebox cake and peach icebox cake in particular. People who were kids during the 1970s will remember with a laugh that tinned peaches just seemed so special and “imported from America.” Today, we don’t need peaches because our Philippine mangoes are amazingly sweet and luscious. Icebox cakes, with their colorful layers of cream and fruit, are always a simple and elegant dessert. And really, what’s not to love about cream mixed with condensed milk?

Mango Walnut Graham Icebox Cake

?Serves 6 to 8

  • 4 cups Graham crackers, finely ground
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • ?3 cups whipping cream
  • ?3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
  • 5 large ripe mangoes, sliced

1. In a medium bowl, combine Graham crackers and walnuts. Set aside.? 

2. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Gently fold in the condensed milk.

3. Cover the bottom of a round springform baking dish with one layer of ground Graham mixture. Add a layer of cream, completely covering the Graham mixture. Top the layer with thin slices of mango.? 

4. Repeat the layers until you reach an inch from the brim of the baking dish. Make sure to top the layer with slices of mango.?  

5. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and freeze for 2 to 6 hours.  

?6. If you are ready to serve the cake, place it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before serving. Unmold the cake and place on a serving platter.


Photography by Jc Inocian

Recipes and Styling by Nancy Dizon-Edralin