The one thing that Filipino families particularly like about Christmas is its inherent power to get people together, regardless of distance or differences. Apart from the lights, carols, mall sales, gifts, bonuses, and even the cooler weather, it is the reunions and get-togethers that people prepare for.
And the most special hour is Christmas midnight. Families and friends gather around the table for the traditional Noche Buena feast. For weeks leading to this night, families plan on what to cook for Christmas dinner. It has to be special and nothing like what you normally eat on ordinary days.
Condo living makes celebrations like this not only special, but also convenient for everyone. Planning the Filipino Christmas menu shouldn’t be that difficult because supermarkets and groceries are strategically located near many condominium complexes. Condos, given their relatively small footage, also bring families closer and somehow encourage them to be more intimate.
But what really brings people together is their love for good food. And Christmas is definitely a time for special once-a-year meals. If you want to rock the traditional Filipino Christmas party, you just need to think of elevating your Noche Buena food ideas. How can you make that ball of cheese look more festive or what else can you do with crispy pata, for example.
Make cooking Christmas dishes even more exciting with these unexpected food twists.
Transform the ham
No Noche Buena gathering would be complete without the Christmas ham. It is usually at the center of the dining table because it looks festive and is a symbol of prosperity.
But there’s so much more you can do with ham other than just taking it out of the box then baking it in the oven. You can even prepare your own ham to make it more special, or glaze it with mustard, cranberry or orange. Maple syrup, apple, and even cola are also good ingredients to glaze the ham.
Torn whether to serve spaghetti or pancit palabok? Why not have both?
Instead of the usual sotanghon noodles, use spaghetti noodles instead. And instead of shrimp, use tuna in olive oil. Of course, the usual palabok mix, celery, and lemon or calamansi must be present. It’s worth a try, right?
Pasta with kaldereta sauce
Kaldereta is a well-loved Filipino dish because it has everything that would potentially please the palate. It is a bit salty and sweet, with just the right amount of tanginess because of the tomato-based goodness and flavorful, tender meat.
Instead of serving this with the usual rice, why not use it as sauce or topping for your al dente penne or spaghetti noodles? That will not only provide a unique twist toyour Noche Buena menu, it will also make the kaldereta fancier.
Re-introducing the barbecue
Juicy and tender pork on stick is a favorite on the Christmas dinner table. The barbecue is perfect with soda or beer, with rice or on its own. Guests usually grab a stick, walk, and chat away. But how do you make it more special?
You can glaze these grill chops with peach or pineapple. Instead of the vinegar or ketchup dip, prepare a tomato or avocado salsa to go with it. And to make the dish more filling, why not serve it on fajitas rather than on stick?
Since these pork bits are easily consumed, you may even take them out on the condo pool where you can have an extended holiday feast.
A cheesy dessert
Filipinos like buying queso de bola, but most don’t really know what to do with them. They sure add color to the dinner table, but other than cut the cheese ball into bite-sized pieces to go with the wine, most do not know how to maximize it.
Why not turn it into another Filipino favorite? Pastillas for dessert. All you need is to combine ¼ cup unsalted butter and 1 can of condensed milk in a bowl. Sift powdered milk and grated queso de bola into the mixture and then mix. Shape into small balls or thick logs. You may either wrap them in Japanese paper or serve them as they are.
You may also use queso de bola to make no-bake cheesecake. Add a cup of grated cheese to a mixture of milk and cream cheese for a yummy dessert.
Fondue makes for a quick and easy Christmas party idea. But this time, instead of chocolate, introduce cheese fondue to guests. Prepare bite-sized bread rolls, crackers, and plain nachos and let the guests dip away. You may even cut apples or bananas.
Set up a s’mores station
This will be a big hit when hosting a Christmas dinner. A s’mores station or s’mores bar is a perfect table centerpiece or a perfect after-dinner treat you can enjoy outside the condo balcony. No need to build a big camp fire. A DIY roasting station made out of a planter box and ethanol gel cans are all you need.
But if you think setting up a fire pit is a lot of work, you can still serve s’mores goodness without fire. Banana s’mores pancakes or bites, protein bars or s’mores smoothie would be good alternatives.
Life can get so busy all year round. Most of us may be eating take-outs most of the time. Christmas is a good time to slow down and enjoy a hearty meal. So if you are tempted to just order food trays, remember that preparing a Christmas dinner menu is much more rewarding. Just add a few twists and you will be able to serve the greatest Noche Buena feast ever.