Day 1 of 12 Days of Articles: Seasons Eatings: Foods for the Holidays

Region 16’s Food Service Director and Administrative Assistant to the Food Service Director, Patricia Iraci and Melinda Ferrare, share the secret behind making holiday foods special. The holidays are a time for family and cheer, and you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen hovering over the stove. The best thing you can do, according to Iraci, is to have a plan.

“I want to have fun too,” Iraci shared. “I’d like to enjoy the holidays, so I make the dishes easy but pleasing. You have to appease the hungry crowd that is the family waiting at the dinner table.”

Iraci’s family prefers appetizer style foods, so they have always planned the menu as such. Some foods stay the same from year to year due to popularity, such as crab meat, stuffed mushrooms, and scallops wrapped in bacon. She always tries to make something for the younger ones in the family, including chicken tenders, pigs in a blanket, and ziti in tomato sauce.

“Christmas time at the Iraci house is chaotic, you take so much time to prepare just for the event to come and go in the blink of an eye. It’s a lot of hard work but it is well worth it,” Iraci commented.

For Iraci, she sees some of the family only at Christmas time, because its an event no one misses. It’s the one time of the year for everyone to gather and have a good time. With good times also comes good meals, the meal makes the party after all. It’s a time to exchange presents and a time for joy, but the meal is what really makes it special.

“Because I’m in food service, everyone in the family has high expectations and I’m glad enough that they’ve never been disappointed,” Iraci stated. “I always try to go above and beyond, and make sure I have that one ‘wow’ factor that really stands out from the rest.”

With preparing the food also comes presentation. Iraci is a firm believer that people eat with their eyes, meaning the appearance is what makes you decide that it is going to be delicious. When people look at the food, they decide that they are going to like it just by the appearance of it. Presentation isn’t limited to just the food, it is important to incorporate colors, linen, and just about anything else that gives the appearance that special touch. It helps tell the story of whatever event is being catered for.

“I use things that people would never think of using when it comes to presenting my display,” Iraci revealed. “At Halloween, I use pumpkins and scarecrows; at Christmas I use snowmen and pine branches off of the trees in my backyard. You need to make the table look more festive to know that you put more effort into it and you actually care about your craft.”

The “wow” factor comes mostly from presentation. The first thing people notice about a food display is the appearance rather than the actual food itself. The food has an impact but it’s less about how the food looks and more about the look of the overall display.

Ferrare has the opposite approach. For her family, the meals for the holidays are big and extravagant. Preparations take place throughout the week before Christmas, to make cooking on the day less stressful. She keeps things traditional, using recipes that have been passed along in the family.

“When growing up, Christmas Eve dinner was always seafood dishes, and now as an adult I still keep that going. I think it’s important to keep the holiday traditions alive so the family that has passed away are still attending dinner in spirit,” Ferrare recollected.

While Christmas Eve is an important day for feasting, all of it is just a lead up to the big Christmas celebration. Ferrare shared that she does tend to spend more money on the Christmas meal, however the most important thing is presentation and execution. The food for Christmas tends to be more complex than Christmas Eve or past holidays (Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.). When the family is over, Ferrare’s number one goal is to please them and make sure everyone has a good time. Food is a top priority, so if the food is nicely displayed, the family will respond positively and just help add to the happy and laid back atmosphere.

Christmas dinner I serve Filet Mignon. I do this because I serve turkey on Thanksgiving and ham on Easter. Christmas I tend to spend a little more money on the dinner,” Ferrare stated. “The most important thing is that everyone is happy and if my food displays can help add to that, then I’ve done my job right.”

Based on FN’s article, “How to Prepare for Holiday Guests,” the most important part of Christmas time is spending time with family and making sure there is cheer in the air.

“This season, focus on what’s really important: spreading that holiday cheer, and spending time with family and friends,” Food Network shared.

There’s nothing worse than having hungry guests, so FN suggests that holiday hosts have snacks accessible and try to keep the meal simple. Certain foods are associated with the holidays, and for the festive season, FN shares that it is most common for people to put out cheese and cracker platters, Christmas cookies, and holiday chocolates. The snack aspect adds that little bit of relief on the host’s end, revealing that the meal is not always the main event. Fancy snack platters help fill up the guests’ stomachs and provide a festive aesthetic to the home.

This Old House has an article titled, “How to Prepare for a Stress-Free Holiday Feast,” which shares the simple steps to make the holidays easy and stress free. TOH states that the easiest way to keep the feast stress free is to prepare ahead of time. Stock up on the basics: disposable cups, napkins, spices, and any food dishes that will be served.

“Most people prepare a detailed grocery list before holiday shopping, but basic sundries are often overlooked. Be sure to have everything you need on hand,” the article shares.

The holidays are about the three F’s: family, fun, and food. Families spend time together and have fun exchanging gifts while eating wonderful food. Christmas and any other holiday is just an excuse to eat a ton of food, so indulge! Have a safe holiday and make sure to keep the stomachs full and the gifts exchanging.

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