Xueci Cheng

Associate Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

instagram.com/scharf.xueci/

This article is part of our monthly issue "A Culinary Christmas Carol," in which we explore traditional and modern takes on holiday dishes from around the world. Using the framework of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come, we'll share fun recipes, last minute gift ideas, tips for cooking a small feast in case you're social distancing, and plenty of light-hearted holiday content for you to unwind with. Check out this link to find an overview of all our weekly topics, stories, recipes, and more.

Oddly enough, I’ve spent my last few Christmases having hot pot with family and friends back in China. Although the pandemic doesn’t allow me to physically be there, sitting in a Sichuan hotpot restaurant that stays open until 3AM in the morning, I am still secretly hoping for a hot meal. This year for me, it might be a sukiyaki or another Asian stew paired with mulled wine and WeChat video calls. This time of year it’s going to be different, which we can all relate to, whether you celebrate Christmas or like me, don’t.

You, like me, are probably already tired of hearing the phrase the “new normal”. But for me personally, cooking might actually be the easiest place to step out of my comfort zone (from the comfort of my home), have a try, and possibly fail. Have you ever looked at a batch of failed cookies and laughed? I have. Experimenting a little and having some projects going on in the kitchen can still bring delight—especially at a time when the winter blues are all too real.

1. Upgrade your baking game with new ingredients

Even if you can escape Christmas cooking, like me, the fun of baking and eating cookies (preferably in bed) is not something I want to miss out on. If you want to try something different, the simplest step is always to add new ingredients. Look no further, you might already have them in your pantry: I’m favoring matcha, miso, tahini, black sesame seeds, and Chinese five-spice. They may not be completely new, but they are each so underrated in the wonderland of Christmas baking. 

Tahini-miso-cookies

Tahini-miso-cookies

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Flourless five-spice chocolate cake with ginger cream

Flourless five-spice chocolate cake with ginger cream

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We tried these instagram-famous Neapolitan cookies in the test kitchen, which made it to the list of best cookies of 2020 and ‘the’ cookie of the season. Unprecedentedly bold, I even experimented with powdered goji berries for an orangey shade. They turned out fabulous and perfectly swap-worthy.

Making them is rather easy: Use a basic sugar cookie or butter cookie recipe (like these Sablés), divide the doughs, mix them with different natural food coloring or flavors, and combine them into a ball again, roll them out, and cut out the shapes.

2. Make your spread different this time

When it comes to the celebratory meal, inspiring your table with novelty doesn’t mean an endless ingredient list and preparation time. Think of the glaze to your roast, the butter to your bread, and all the dips and sauces. Here are a few not-overly-stressful but different choices: 

Duck pancakes with cucumber, pomegranate, and hoisin sauce

Duck pancakes with cucumber, pomegranate, and hoisin sauce

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Roast lamb with mint sauce

Roast lamb with mint sauce

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Steak with celery root rösti and kimchi butter

Steak with celery root rösti and kimchi butter

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5-ingredient honey-miso ribs

5-ingredient honey-miso ribs

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3. Cure the fomo of this year’s food trend

This year’s quarantine time truly made a few things shine on social media: dalgona coffee, sourdough, hot chocolate bombs. Boredom is a great excuse to tick these food trends off the list: to try at least once (or one last time) and later be filled with the pride of  “been there, done that”. 

However, you could also make them more festive: A glass of Dalgona coffee infused with chai spice (add it when whipping the coffee with sugar)? Make sourdough cookies with colorful frosting! What about finally baking the garden focaccia but with some festive decorations? And, hot chocolate bombs can be dropped other hot drinks too: Irish coffee anyone?

Sourdough banana bread

Sourdough banana bread

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TikTok’s viral hot chocolate bombs

TikTok’s viral hot chocolate bombs

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4. Non-alcoholic drinks are the new black

For many, the holidays go hand in hand with drinks—followed by Dry January. Instead of promoting a dry December, I would rather assert that non-alcoholic drinks should be exciting this year when massive celebratory events are on hold. The fact is, they’re also having a moment in recent years, in an enjoyable rather than abstinent way. Flipping through Julia Bainbridge’s cookbook Good Drinks can be a great source of inspiration, but a few cups of mulled wine will always be forgiven. Or you always mull apple juice!

Salty elderflower fizz

Salty elderflower fizz

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Virgin margarita

Virgin margarita

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Raspberry tea and rosemary sour

Raspberry tea and rosemary sour

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More recipes worth trying!

Of course, throughout the season, we’ll continue to fill your festival table with loads of ideas! Stay tuned for more.

Tie-dye dumplings

Tie-dye dumplings

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Hanna tries to make a floral jello cake

Hanna tries to make a floral jello cake

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More delicious ideas for you