The other day in a meeting, the Short Order bloggers got into a tizzy about which holiday had the better bites: Christmas, AKA Santa's birthday -- or is it Rudolph's? -- or Hanukkah, the eight days of lights not being turned off or something. This actually got our two members of the Tribe, Riki Altman and Lesley Elliott, in a bit of a disagreement. Altman argued that Hanukkah meals are highly underrated, and Christmas dinner is basically a redux of Thanksgiving. However, Elliott claimed that as a child, all she dreamed of was a White Christmas with lots of pork-laden foods.
So, who's right? Well, we'll leave that up to you as both make their case is a special Christmas vs. Hanukkah edition of Blogger's Bout.
Christmas Meals are Overrated
Let me sum it up in one sentence: Hanukkah food is the freakin' best because the stars of the meal are either fried, full of sugar, or both. All diet bets are off.
Aside from the lack of bacon, there's nothing a Hanukkah meal lacks. (On this note, I'd like to thank Top Chef's Ilan Hall for bravely introducing the bacon-wrapped matzo ball into modern American gastronomy. I don't think Grandma's going for it, but you can bet your gelt I'm serving those badasses at my next candle-lighting party.)
The typical fare, as many of you know, consists of those crunchy on the outside, soft and steamy on the inside latkes with heaping dollops of sour cream and applesauce; jelly-filled donuts (not typically my fave, but so much fun to squoosh!); cheese and blueberry blintzes (heck--throw some powdered sugar on 'em 'cause it's a holiday!); maybe some tender, savory brisket; and even a bowl of chicken or matzo ball soup. Yes, many make the latter incorrectly and the ball feels more like concrete than a fluffy sponge, but it's still fun to tackle either way.
Bon Appetit has a webpage dedicated to ethic twists on Hanukkah food, too, so if the aforementioned is yawn-inducing, how 'bout trying a beef short-rib tagine with honey-glazed butternut squash? With pea spaetzel featuring mint, chives, and tomatoes? Then you can finish it off with a scoop of coconut-piloncillo ice cream, coconut tortilla chips and fruit salsa! Or you can always pull out Joan Nathan's cookbook and throw down some Polish Hanukkah apple cake or Alsation fruit bread... I'll take a slice of that over some soggy fruitcake dotted with preserved green cherry pieces anytime.
Even the Food Network stars, most of whom I presume aren't Jewish, are happy to get in on the act with suggestions for kugel (Emeril), roast lamb (Alton), gravlax with mustard (Ina), and latkes (Nigella, Giada and Anne Burrell). Trust me when I tell you it was more fun for them to come up with these recipes than to try and improve upon their mothers' formulas for mashed potatoes. Snore.
I will confess that there are few treats finer than a cold glass of eggnog, especially with a rum floater, and a pile of gingerbread cookies, but those are just about the only components worth mentioning.
Any Jew -- that includes you, Ms. Elliott! -- who dares say that rubbery ham, a pie made of mincemeat (what the hell is mincemeat, anyhow?), plum pudding (again I ask, what the hell is in that?), flavorless sugar cookies, and the same crap you just ate on November 24 qualifies as a meal worth waiting all year obviously lost her marbles chasing bargains at the last Loehmann's two-day sale. Think I'm kidding? Even Wikipedia states on its "List of Christmas Dishes page"--and I quote: "See also: Thanksgiving (the dishes tend to be similar)."
Want something different, sugary, fattening, and plain ol' fun to eat? Get your Hanukkah bib on and join a Jew at the table on December 20. Or the 21st, or the 22nd... or any day up until the 29th. Our food is so good we celebrate with it for eight crazy nights.
-- Riki Altman
Christmas Makes Hanukkah the Bastard Step-Child of Foodie Holidays
Okay, since Riki's wrapping her matzo balls in bacon, I am totally in for her version of Hanukkah, but for the most part, I grew up with Christmas stars in my eyes. My family was not just composed of your average conservatives, we are talking several generations of Eastern European Orthodox Jews who had separate silverware and dishwashers for "milchadicks" and "fleishadicks," (which is how I thought it was pronounced until I was ten years old, because of my great-grandmother's heavy accent, I thought everything in in Polish and German ended in "dicks"). What it means is that you can choose to eat meat, or dairy, but never the twain shall meet. I get it, we are not supposed to boil a kid in its mother's milk (that goes for animals on both two and four legs), but seriously, no cheeseburgers, ever?
Thus we ate latkes, and blintzes, and borscht, all of these were topped with a heavy dose of sour cream. There was no chicken noodle soup with matzo balls, because chickens were verboten when sour cream came to the party. Even if a family doesn't keep kosher, who the hell wants to consume the same flavors, course after course? A carb-laden ball of matzo meal and noodles, then, noodles wrapped around cheese and potatoes (the blintzes), then more potatoes, fried within an inch of their life. Sometimes, there is salmon involved, but without capers and red onion, usually served breakfast style with bagels. Then, you eat a bunch of chocolate money for dessert, until you are so sick and jacked up on carbs that you don't know whether to chase your own tail, or just pass out cold. I don't think anyone fools around after dinner on Hanukkah.
Mincemeat? Plum pudding? Okay, Countess Altman of Derbyshire, we will contemplate your British countryside take on Christmas, but the reality is that American Christmas fare beats down Hanukkah offerings across the board. Like Michael Mina's slow roasted prime rib with beefy sage jus, or Alton Brown's honey baked ham, oozing with crusty brown sugar and "spritzed" with bourbon, and Jacques Pepin's "Glorious Christmas Goose" with crispy skin.
Although I will concur that sugar cookies can be a bit bland, what about the bouche du noel, a time honored tradition of chocolate, on chocolate, on chocolate...those little meringue mushrooms have me at "hello." Plus, Christians put liquor in almost everything on Christmas, egg nog, fruit cake, rum balls, the aforementioned bourbon-infused ham hock...what's not to like? And kosher wine is truly the most evil injustice of all.
So now let me sum it up in one sentence: Christmas food most definitely trumps Hanukkah because it's either braised in booze, bleeding meat juice all over your plate, or both. Diet bets are indeed off, but your holiday calories will be more worthwhile with a Christmas theme.
-- Lesley Elliott