Ask Jonathan Bardzik whether the central showpiece of a Christmas meal should be a ham, turkey, or goose, and you’ll get a nontraditional response.
“I prefer beef,” he says. “I really like doing beef for Christmas.”
When he was in his early twenties, Bardzik muscled his way into the kitchen and took over the preparation of Christmas Day dinner at his mom’s. “She would serve the exact same meal every year,” says the naturally-gifted storyteller. “Turkey and mashed potatoes, some winter vegetables.”
Bardzik saw an opportunity to change things up.
“We started to do something different every year. I did Cornish game hens. I did a goose. I did a beef Wellington, standing rib roast. I did pork round roast with the little caps on all the bones that looked like the old Tom and Jerry cartoons.”
To help usher in the holiday season, we asked Bardzik, whose informative and entertaining cooking show Seasons to Taste debuted on the streamer Revry earlier this year, to concoct a special holiday meal, one that pays tribute to the season, but one that’s also scalable — something that could feed dozens as well as more intimate parties of four, two, or even one.
The meal Bardzik devised showcases a flawlessly prepared, reverse-seared steak. The meat is flanked by a recipe for carrots that has even those who generally despise cooked carrots often scrambling for second helpings, crisp-tender broccoli, an elegant, sweet-tart salad starter, and a stunning dessert of poached pears certain to bring the house down.
“This is a meal that’s going to feel good to eat,” he says. “It’s going to feel like an indulgence. It’s going to feel special. It’s also the meal that you’ll still feel like you can get up and go for your workout on the twenty-sixth.”
More to the point, the meal won’t have you laboring in the kitchen for hours on end.
“If readers wanted to do this entire menu and maybe include one or two of the drinks I’ve included, I would probably give themselves four to five hours of time to prepare it,” he says. “And that doesn’t all have to be in a row. There’s plenty here that can be prepped ahead of time, components that can be made, so that when you actually get in to cook the meal itself, you’re only spending a couple of hours in the kitchen. So you could plan that four or five hours out over two days.
“There’s something special about cooking from scratch,” he continues. “I think that it needs to be done in balance with the time that you have. At the end of the day, if finding some shortcuts to this meal helps you get it on the table and feel like you get to have a special celebration without being totally drained and stressed out by the time you get to the table, you should do it.”
Bardzik is a stickler for using the best ingredients attainable.
“Good ingredients not only make it more likely that you’re going to serve a good meal, but they also take out a lot of the work. When you start with good ingredients, you don’t have to do as much to them, and so it makes the cooking a lot easier. These are all fairly simple, straightforward dishes. None of them are complicated in terms of technique. None of them have long ingredient lists. So, starting with things that already have flavor saves work and means that you’re already starting with the flavor that you want to be eating when you serve the dish.”
As for what holiday food should be forever retired, Bardzik has a general and immediate response.
“I think we should stop eating lazy sweets,” he says. “That is, sweets that are just sugar and don’t hold up as high-quality food. This happened to me years ago. I was at Christmas Eve dinner and I had a cousin who brought some cookies that were just — they were just sugar. There weren’t good spices to them. There wasn’t a great texture to them.
“I think we get so stuck at this season just loading up on sugary desserts. For me, dessert should get as much care and attention as the rest of the meal. I want something that is a little more nuanced, that is a little more special, that is more memorable than just a sugary dough with more sugar on top of it. I’m going to eat a dessert, I want it to offer as much as anything else that I’m eating during the holiday season. So let’s retire those lazy sweets.”
Pomegranate and Honey-Glazed Beets, and Fresh Greens with Fennel Cream and Lemon Vinaigrette
The Main Meal
Reverse Seared Steak with Blue Cheese Horseradish Butter
Rosemary and Duck Fat-Roasted Fingerling Potatoes and Turnips
Broccoli with Gremolata Cream Sauce
Cardamom Poached Pears with Pistachios
Cardamom Ginger Liqueur Lychee Vodka Martini
Black Tea Lime Rum Punch
Cinnamon Chile Hot Chocolate with Honey Whipped Cream (Zero Proof)
A storyteller, cook, and author based in Washington, D.C., Jonathan Bardzik seeks to create joy and share connections, which he has brought to more than 900 audiences ranging from local farmers markets to corporate teams and the TedX stage. The food he cooks to bring people together is inspired by the fresh ingredients he grew up with from his parents’ garden and finds today at local farmers’ markets.
Jonathan’s new 8-episode series Jonathan’s Kitchen: Seasons to Taste is available on-demand on Revry anywhere you stream TV. Visit www.revry.tv.
Jonathan’s three cookbooks — including his newest, Simple Summer: A Recipe for Joy and Connection —- are available on his website, where you will regularly find new recipes on his storytelling and cooking blog. Visit www.JonathanBardzik.com.
Follow Jonathan’s daily cooking adventures on Instagram at @JonathanBardzik.
Read our May 2021 cover interview with Jonathan here.
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