While the Christmas season abounds with gifts, it is also outpouring with feasts awaiting to reach our palettes and satisfy our hungers. An occasion as grand as Christmas merits a well-prepared Noche Buena consisting of delicious meals.

Warm start

Soups are a good way to warm up one’s appetite for Christmas dinner. There are many variants to choose from. BBC Good Food, in a recent post online, suggests between a creamy celeriac, hazelnut, and truffle soup, or a crisp chestnut, bacon and parsnip soup. Woman’s Day magazine, in its 50 Christmas dinner ideas posted on its Web site, suggests cinnamon-spiced sweet potato soup with maple croutons.

Macaroni salad, meanwhile, remains a standard meal every Noche Buena. Philippine food Web site Yummy.ph, in its post about Noche Buena menus, suggests that “instead of mayonnaise, try using cream cheese to make your macaroni salad extra flavorful and indulgent.” Potato salad is also another popular dish. If you want to put a crunchy twist to the otherwise mushy meal, it is advised to add crushed nachos to a mixture of cheese spread, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, salsa, sweet corn, and black beans.

Grand feast

The appetite is just in time to delight in the main dishes after being warmed-up by starters.

For a meaty meal, you could opt between a Southern-style fried chicken, or a Pinoy-style buttery fried chicken. You could also choose between a sumptuous kare-kare made of ground peanut paste and paired with lots of greens; or a tender lengua that has a sauce made up of oyster, shiitake and button mushrooms mixed with sage, cream, and chicken stock. You could also make a twist to lechon kawali with a Lechon Macau recipe, where a crispy pork belly is rubbed with a mix of salt, Chinese five-spice powder, and sugar, then dried before it’s roasted.

The Christmas ham, as the centerpiece of the Christmas meal, definitely cannot be overlooked. While you could prefer the usual hamon, why not make it a little bit different? You could try glazing the ham with a home-made honey-rosemary glaze — a mixture of honey, dijon mustard, and dried rosemary. Or make it much tangier with making a compote from canned pineapple and apricot jam.

Food Network, in a list of “The Best Christmas Recipes” published on its Web site, also recommends several twists. While a ham coated with pineapple rings and cherries remains one of the classics, there is also a version where flaky pastry covers the salty ham, then topped with sweet pineapple sauce. There is also the “Millionaire’s Ham,” where the ham is spiced and candied by a mix of sugar, orange juice, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Any of these could be complemented with side dishes like glazed brussels sprouts and potatoes or roasted celery root and carrots.

You could also prefer for a rib roast coupled by a mustard horseradish sauce. Another recipe has the prime rib stuffed with whole cloves of garlic and complemented with a thyme and red wine sauce.

Furthermore, pastas are a staple in a Christmas meal. Upgrading your pasta dish could add flair to your array of meals in the dining table. Yummy.ph pitches an impressive combination of spaghetti and meatball, where queso de bola could be used in place of Parmesan cheese. Chicken and pasta could also go well in laying out a tasty chicken bolognese lasagna.

Sweet treats

Of course, the Noche Buena will not be complete without some sweet treats to complete one’s Yuletide meal delight.

There’s the regular crema de fruta, a stack of “soft sponge cake, creamy vanilla custard, and fruit cocktail that is set in gelatin”. Broas or ladyfingers could replace the cake layer.

While a creamy yet healthful fruit salad fits in the menu, it would be nice to take the dessert to a different level by making a fruit salad refrigerator cake. Imagine the components of the much-loved dessert stirred into a gulaman mixture and stacked into a chilled cream layer that is then topped by eggnog cookies.

If you’re still looking for a high-end twist, why not consider tablea — an essential for a hot drink for a cold season — and create a delicious torte out of it? From circular pieces of cacao, a stack of mousse, meringue, and ganache can be formed.

The Christmas feast does not run out of options for menus on which families and friends will celebrate the 25th of December and even the first day of next year. With a lot of recipes to learn and try, the Christmas we’ll celebrate on our tables will be more worth savoring. — Adrian Paul B. Conoza