What We Had for Christmas Dinner

When we take our family Christmas trips, we try to cook a Christmas dinner that reflects to some degree the region we are visiting. Since we rent a house, it’s no problem to cook for ourselves.

At Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales, you can buy your tamales warm or cold through a window that opens on to the sidewalk.
At Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales, you can buy your tamales warm or cold through a window that opens on to the sidewalk.

We do a little research to figure out the menu. In the case of Los Angeles, we decided on tamales as our main dish. We did not try to make our own tamales, though. Instead, we bought them cold at Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales in a part of Los Angeles called Pacoima. We drove over there after visiting the Huntington Library in Pasadena (there will be a separate post on that visit soon).

For some reason, we thought these two places were close to each other, maybe because they both begin with “P”. (We are not very strong on LA geography.) They are not at all close, nor does Pacoima bear any resemblance to Pasadena. But Me Gusta was a good place to get tamales.

2014-12-25 23.28.01 tamales

We got a dozen tamales: red pork, green pork, peppers and cheese, and corn. They were all very good, though the corn tamale is basically corn meal stuffed with sweet corn kernels. My favorite was peppers and cheese. The tamales come wrapped in corn husks and should be steamed to reheat. They kept just fine in the fridge for a couple of days.

Ingredients for green salsa before going into the oven.
Ingredients for green salsa before going into the oven.

Though the tamales came from a store, other foods we prepared ourselves. Danny made a green tomatillo salsa. This required roasting tomatillos, onion, hot peppers, and garlic in the oven. Tomatillos look like green tomatoes when you remove the outer husk.

In the blender
In the blender

Then you mash them up together in a food processor, adding some cilantro and fresh lime juice. Delicious, but be careful how much hot pepper you put in there. In our case, two peppers was too many.

Brown mole and green salsa. The salsas in the styrofoam containers came from Me Gusta, they were ok, but not as good as what we made.
Brown mole and green salsa (on the right). The salsas in the styrofoam containers came from Me Gusta, they were ok, but not as good as what we made.

Danny also made a brown chile-chocolate mole from paste bought at the Grand Central Market downtown.

Jicama and orange salad
Jicama and orange salad

Research online indicated that a good side dish for tamales is jicama and orange salad. This is pretty simple to make. Here’s a recipe.

The tres leches being poured onto the cake.
The tres leches being poured onto the cake.

Finally, we made a tres leches cake for desert. This is just a regular white cake, with a mixture of whole milk, condensed milk, and evaporated milk poured on top. UPDATE: Judy tells me it’s NOT a regular white cake, so just look at the recipe. Here’s the recipe we used.

2014-12-25 23.27.30

So here’s our dinner table about mid-way through our meal. We are pretty informal about these holiday dinners. Did I mention the huge steamed artichokes? We bought those at the farmers’ market. We ended up having tamales for breakfast and afternoon snacks the following day.

So how was your Christmas dinner?

Next post: Watts Towers.

47 Comments on “What We Had for Christmas Dinner

  1. Your dinner looked delicious, and I know it was special because your family was gathered around to share it. We eat our holiday dinner with our daughter and family. They made a delicious meal of spaghetti and home-made sausage meatballs. It’s the people that count. 🙂

    • We understand LA geography a lot better after driving around for a week. We did enjoy our trip – very glad we chose to go to Los Angeles.

  2. Interesting that our holidays were similar, only we had our tamales on Christmas Eve and visited the Huntington on Monday. Look forward to reading what you thought of the desert garden. You did visit the desert garden didn’t you?

      • Really? That’s crazy! We were there when they opened at noon and got kicked out of the place at 4:30. I would recognize you guys (this is danger garden Loree – WordPress won’t let me comment with a link to that blog), I know it’s a big place but I’m surprised we didn’t bump into each other at some point.

    • We got there before 1 and left around 4 – didn’t stay as long as I might have as the youth get restless. Why on earth won’t Word Press let you leave a link to Danger Garden? You’re the wrong person to ask, of course, but that’s ridiculous.

  3. I am so relieved to hear you didn’t go to In-n-out! Your dinner sounds pretty much like what people here eat for Sunday dinner. Yum.

    • Ahem, actually we did go to the in-n-out for a late lunch after we saw the Huntington. It was decent, though I can’t really see why all these people go into raptures over it.

      • Me neither. I love what you said about people being the most important ingredient. So true.

  4. Sounds like a really great dinner–and you know what is said about tres leches cake.

  5. I enjoyed reading about your holiday meal. I love that you always go away for Christmas and research the local foods to put it together. I adore tamales!

  6. What an interesting and unique dinner…..I loved it! Now….is there a reason for the coins on the table, do they represent something?xxx

  7. I love that you become locavores on your trips. :o) I have vivid memories of eating hot corn tortillas fresh off a skillet as a kid. They were made by our neighbor and tamales remain one of my favorite foods. Your meal sounds delicious!

  8. This all looks delicious. The Jicama and orange salad especially caught my eye after too much heavy, comfort foods this week.

  9. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a single thing that you mentioned in this post, but it sounds good. We didn’t see much southwestern food here when I was a kid so we just ate traditional New England comfort food. In fact we still do and had baked ham for Christmas.

    • I didn’t each much Mexican food until I moved to Chicago. In New York where I grew up there was Puerto Rican food, but that’s very different.

  10. Footnote about the tomatillo salsa: thank goodness Danny started with one jalapeño– it was very hot! (We tossed out the second pepper.) We added a tomato, a hunk of avocado, and extra cilantro to dilute the heat. Some peppers are hotter than others! In the end, it was delicious.

  11. I really like how you create a dinner based on the region you are in….very creative! And it pushes you to try new things! Just fantastic! And bravo to your son for whipping up delicious sides! It looks delicious and I will be checking out that cake for sure! We are Italian so my brothers and dad truck to the city each year for fish and oysters. Have a great New Year Jason!

  12. Oh my gosh, you’re making me hungry! The food in California–especially the Mexican food–was one of my favorite parts about living there for the summer. What a great tradition for your family!

  13. Never had Tamales and will have to google it now. Looks good anyway, we had pigeon with beans, scallops on a bed of leek with saffron sauce as starter. Happy new year, Jason!

  14. Yum! Like the look of those artichokes. And pretty much everything else too! But if I had been there, someone would have had to whip up a maragrita. Can’t wait to see what you did next.

  15. An interesting dinner! I have never tried any of these things but I am going to try making the tres leche cake for my guests tomorrow. I was just wondering what to make, so thanks for the idea. I had never even heard of it before. But I see that there are plenty of recipes

    • A good tres leches cake is oozing milk when you eat it, but somehow not soggy. The first time I had one, a Mexican friend brought it to Hannukah dinner (he and the baker had quite a time figuring out how to spell Happy Hannukah in icing on the top!). Miguel handed me the box with the cake, I put it on the kitchen counter, got distracted and didn’t get back to it for half an hour. It was oozing, and I thought it was a melting ice cream cake, and I was horrified! But all was fine, it’s supposed to be oozing some. The recipe we used at Christmas seemed pretty straightforward.

  16. We had tamales one time at my daughter’s, homemade by a friend’s mother who was from Mexico–delicious! We celebrate with family on Christmas Eve, so Christmas dinner is usually leftovers:) Wishing you a Happy New Year, Jason!

  17. What a cool holiday tradition you have! Because I have a church gig on Christmas eve, I’m always happy to go to my sister’s house where she cooks.

    • That, too, is a cool tradition. We do what we do in part because there isn’t really any extended family to visit. Happy new year, Peter!

  18. Sounds like you had a marvelous Christmas dinner, and I like that you did a little culinary exploration in the process. Happy new year to you and your family.

  19. Jason, I’m just catching up with this. I love the way you try to eat a holiday meal that is traditional for the place you are visiting. The tamales look delicious. One of my former colleagues is married to a woman from Mexico, and tres leches cake was always their contribution to any special occasion dinner — and the rest of us always looked forward to it.
    Because I usually cook Christmas dinner at home, my version of what you do is a locavore Christmas dinner with as many ingredients sourced as close to home as possible — a farm-fresh heritage breed turkey from a local farm, cranberry sauce made from locally grown cranberries, side dishes of rutabaga and butternut squash from other local farms, and a salad made from locally grown greens, fresh-baked rolls made from Maine-grown wheat and buttermilk from a Maine dairy farm. Dessert is usually apple pie and pumpkin pie, made (of course) from locally grown apples and pumpkins.

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