Planning a Christmas brunch with a tough critic... - Mothering Forums
Meal Planning > Planning a Christmas brunch with a tough critic...
Lookingup's Avatar Lookingup 10:30 AM 12-17-2010

... my MIL.  She's an RD, an excellent cook, and a very judgmental woman.  I am hosting her and twelve others from my husband's family the day after Christmas... in my 950 sq foot house and I am STRESSED.  Luckily, an aunt is bringing the ham.  But I have to provide some knock-your-socks-off side dishes.  And while I am a decent cook, I need some serious inspiration.


Does anyone have any great holiday side dish recipes -- veggies, etc. -- that I can wow with, but not be so complicated that I stress out and open a bottle of wine too early?  ;)  Please share.  All my recipes look so blah right now.  If MIL makes one negative comment in front of everyone, I might throw a pie at her.  But I prefer not to.



sleepypeanutsmom's Avatar sleepypeanutsmom 07:14 PM 12-17-2010

Have you checked out  There are tons of recipes and you can do a search.  The best part is there are reviews of each recipe so you can see if it is good before trying it out.  Best of luck!

JD5351's Avatar JD5351 04:00 PM 12-19-2010

I agree with love that site. :)

I know you're looking for side dishes, but I made the "chocolate chip cheese ball" from allrecipes for our work potluck last week, and I won the #1 award..It's yummy.


I always read the reviews for tips on making it better. :)

madskye's Avatar madskye 06:31 PM 12-19-2010

What kind of food does she cook?  (fancy or homestyle?)  What kind of food do you cook? 


I would make an egg strata casserole as a side dish.  Depending on what your family likes, you could put whatever you like in there and you can mostly make it ahead. 


Every day, I'm a pretty healthy "clean" eater, but when I am entertaining I use these two high calorie websites:


If you are an adventurous cook, the Martha Stewart website and her magazines have some great recipes, too.  This is the best macaroni and cheese that I've ever had, and I always get a ton of compliments on it:  and this asparagus puff pastry thing is really delicious and fairly easy: 


Don't let your mother in law make you feel bad.  My MIL is a terrible cook, and she still makes dubious comments about my cooking (which is pretty darn good!) I think it's just the nature of the beast!


Smokering's Avatar Smokering 06:34 PM 12-19-2010

Yes, allrecipes is good. It's user-contributed, so there are plenty of junk and so-so recipes on there as well - but go to the "Top 20" section for a category (and the categories can be pretty specific, like Chocolate Chess Pies or Grapefruit Recipes), and the top-rated ones with heaps of reviews are nearly always successful. I've gotten some of my favourite recipes from there - the New York cheesecake, an awesome carrot cake, banana muffins...


Better yet, have your DH ring up your MIL and tactfully say something like "My darling wife is stressing out a bit over brunch. You're not going to be critical about the food, are you?".


Also, anything involving cubed potatoes fried in olive oil with rosemary, garlic and cubes of cream cheese? Always a hit. :)

CookAMH's Avatar CookAMH 07:04 PM 12-19-2010

I would encourage you to not make too many new dishes. It's easy for them to be off or for you to learn something that will make it better for next time.  I would think of some things you are very familiar with and like, and then find a stepped-up version of it. If you are REALLY worried about it, do a trial run for dinners this week so you have made it at least once, if you do use a new recipe. Be careful about picking 4 dishes that all need the oven at different temperatures.


I personally am not a fan of allrecipes because there is so much junk to sift through, but that's just me. I find a lot that I like from epicurious, food network and, and from blogs that I read regularly. has some good, simple stuff. I read reviews carefully as there are often good tips or suggestions.


One of the keys of successful cooking in a meal is to have everything ready and hot at the same time. I often hold off cooking the one dish that can't sit around getting cold until I know it's the right time to go in, when everything else is on its way well, in order for it to finish hot and delicious.


Taste your food too as you cook it (and as it's safe to taste in those stages).  Read through the recipes carefully before you start in order to not skip steps or start something too late.  Make little notes on the recipes, draw a little line on the ingredient lists to group what you will be mixing together, prep what you can early (ie chopping onions, peeling excess skin from garlic cloves, measure out dry ingredients.


Half of good cooking is the recipe itself, the other half is successful execution of it in your kitchen with your tools, oven, skills, timing, etc. Have fun!


If this isn't a woman who normally offers praise, don't look for it. Just be satisfied in your own cooking :).

cristeen's Avatar cristeen 07:38 PM 12-19-2010

I agree with the pp - I don't like allrecipes.  My go-to website for recipes is Epicurious.  They have a mashed yam and white potato "casserole" that is great holiday fair, and completely unexpected.  It's mashed sweet potatoes mixed with russets, with rosemary, garlic and parmesan cheese.  It's amazing.  Most people expect sweet potatoes to be served sweet (i.e. with marshmallows), so this is a bit shocking.  One of the great things about it is you can make it the day before, and just pop it in the oven to do the final heat-through and melt the cheese.  You definitely have to taste it as you go though - it needs a fair bit of salt.  Baked Mashed Potatoes and Yams with Garlic and Parmesan



I also like Simply Recipes, I've had great luck with her recipes.  She has a beautiful seasonal fruit salad recipe that I served at the Xmas party yesterday to great acclaim.  Persimmon Pomegranate Fruit Salad  I had to play with the amounts, since 3 tiny persimmons was not enough for 8 adults, but the fruit I got were unusually small.  I probably wound up doubling the recipe and came home with a fair amount for lunches this week.  Nice part it is it's super simple - you can make it the night before or you can even put the first person through the door to work peeling and chopping. 
I would probably do your favorite biscuit/roll recipe - hot from the oven. 
Since it's a brunch, I might do an egg dish also - like a frittata or a quiche.  Something with a green veggie in it, maybe spinach.  You can even cook it the night before and serve it cold. 
And then I'd probably round it out with a green salad - something simple, maybe with some nuts, some cheese, and an interesting vinaigrette.  Doesn't have to be super fancy. 
But I do agree - don't expect her to praise it.  But to be honest, if there was someone in my family who didn't appreciate my cooking, i would no longer cook for them.  I love to cook, and if you're going to critical of the time and effort I put into it, I'd rather just order takeout and save myself the effort. 

Nicole730's Avatar Nicole730 07:43 PM 12-19-2010

Homemade Cream Corn


Frozen Corn

Cream Cheese



Sauteed Onions and Diced Red/Green Peppers


Simple and super tasty.

Lookingup's Avatar Lookingup 10:49 AM 12-20-2010

Ladies, I so appreciate your comments!  Not only for the recipes, but for the tips too.  I am not a good timer when it comes to preparing multiple dishes, so I think the advice about prepping a couple things the day before (that I can heat up on the 26th) is very wise.  My other conundrum is that my son can't have gluten, but I find most recipes I can substitute with. 


I so love biscuit roll recipes, but I've yet to find a good recipe for g-f biscuits.  Maybe I'll look for that today.  And yes, a good green salad will definitely lighten my load.


Y'all have made me more excited about the prospect of this cooking adventure, so I thank you! 

californiajenn's Avatar californiajenn 11:30 PM 12-20-2010

One of the most important things, IMO, is to start with great ingredients. Good ingredients prepared simply results in stellar food.  Root veggies, squash and good butter go a long way. ;-)

Lisoula's Avatar Lisoula 12:08 PM 12-22-2010

I agree that sifting through allrecipes can be rough.  But here is one I LOVE, is easy, and goes with everything.  The only thing I changed is I used Bragg's Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce.

Lookingup's Avatar Lookingup 04:17 PM 12-23-2010

Mm.  That sounds both tasty and simple.  Thanks!

CookAMH's Avatar CookAMH 08:04 PM 12-29-2010

How did it go? What did you make?

Lookingup's Avatar Lookingup 10:51 AM 12-30-2010

Blizzard canceled the visit.  My relief was combined with annoyance... because now I'll have to psyche myself up again!


However, I've tried a couple things in advance.  The broccoli with cashews was a BIG HIT with my family.  The homemade cream corn was also enjoyed by all!


I'm making the chocolate chip cheese ball for a party tomorrow.  And I'm going to try the persimmon salad next week.


So by the time the whole mob gets here, I should have enough experiments for a really good meal.  :)  Thanks again, all! 

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