Photos by Collin Richie.

Boxing Day meets Baton Rouge with this British-inspired menu

Back in 2017, we made a Christmas tradition pivot and called it “First Louisiana Christmas,” which I wrote about with glee, planning a new menu and decking the halls of our home in Baton Rouge. This year, we pivot again with a family trip to London where our oldest daughter lives. Her boyfriend Johnny’s family invited us for Christmas and we did not hesitate.

I wondered aloud about their holiday festivities and menus and planned to share the recipes here. I called my daughter to get the scoop and she put me on speaker so Johnny and his sister could give me the details. They started with “turkey, it’s always roasted turkey, with bread sauce.” They followed with the technique and I had to stop them, trying with my best manners to explain I couldn’t do a turkey story for a December magazine.

They tried in vain to persuade me again. Cueing my manners, I pleaded that I was looking for something a little different than what we just served in November.

“Fish pie!” they sang in unison, “you could do that for Christmas Eve.” They seemed to agree on this, though there was some of the promised bickering over the international line. At that moment, Johnny had a eureka moment and suggested a Boxing Day menu. “I’ve got it, yes, Boxing Day! It’s the best holiday where we do absolutely nothing. You just chuck all your leftovers together and keep it really simple.”

A traditional holiday celebrated in Great Britain on December 26, Boxing Day has no relation to fisticuffs or the boxing up of Christmas extras. The history sites give detailed versions of the holiday and how it has changed over the years, a whole story on its own. I’m eager to experience the celebration firsthand. While I ponder the excursion, I asked if I could commandeer their kitchen and make a simple menu. I turned to my collection of British cookbooks plus pantry staples for recipe inspiration and got agreement rather than argument from the Londoners.

If Boxing Day is all about relaxing and sitting around, stepping outdoors for a stroll or watching a game of cricket, then I decided on something that could be eaten on laps in front of the telly or while playing games in front of the fire. The stores are all closed, so a little advance planning is required—or not. Just add pasta to the leftover Christmas veg. I declare this pasta recipe to be brilliant (a word my favorite Jamie Oliver says in three emphatic syllables) and equally delicious. Add a colorful salad, some crusty bread and a sweet and it’s a feast without a lot of fuss.

Boxing Day Broccoli Pasta with Cheese

Adapted from The Modern Cook’s Year by Anna Jones, the cheesy sauce “makes itself” in the pasta bowl while the pasta cooks. Talk about simple! It reheats beautifully, too, for leisurely dining.

1 large bunch broccoli (about 1 pound), stalks trimmed and diced and florets cut bite-size
1 lb. pasta (I decided on bowties.)
¼ cup crème fraiche
8 oz. soft Fontina cheese, grated on the large holes of a cheese grater*
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
½ cup chopped toasted nuts (The holiday extras are great. I used hazelnuts.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add broccoli to the boiling water and cook for 3 minutes, until crisp-tender and still bright green. Transfer to a colander with a ‘spider’ tool or large slotted spoon.
Add pasta to boiling water and cook to al dente per package instructions. While pasta is cooking, combine crème fraiche, Fontina and lemon zest in a large, heatproof pasta serving bowl and mash together with a spatula. Place bowl over boiling pasta pot, continuing to mash until almost melted (careful with steaming water and make sure pot doesn’t boil over).
When pasta is done, scoop a mugful of pasta water to reserve for making sauce. Pour pasta and water over broccoli in the colander. Gently shake colander to drain most of the water, then transfer to large bowl with cheese sauce. Toss to coat, adding some of the hot pasta water as needed for a silky sauce. Sprinkle with nuts and serve.
Makes 8 servings
* Grating cheese is necessary here. Pre-grated cheese, which has a coating to keep the shreds separated, will not work to make a creamy sauce.

Winter Salad with Citrus and Nuts

Adapted from the Round to Ours cookbook by Laura Jackson and Alice Levine.
Dressing colorful, sturdy greens with a citrus dressing makes the perfect companion to the cheesy pasta. I used red kale; radicchio and endive would also be nice.

4 oranges or blood oranges, tops and bottoms sliced off and peel removed with a sharp knife, then sliced into thin rounds (reserve the peels to squeeze for the salad dressing)
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of ½ a lemon, or to taste
1 tsp. honey
About 8 cups salad greens
(or reds), torn into bite-size pieces
½ cup chopped toasted nuts
(I used hazelnuts)
Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze juice from orange peels into a large salad bowl. Set orange rounds aside for serving. Whisk olive oil, lemon zest and juice and honey into orange juice in the bowl. Add salad greens and toss to coat with dressing. Sprinkle in nuts and season with salt and pepper to taste. Top salad with orange rounds and serve.

Sticky Toffee Puddings with Toffee Sauce and Crème Anglaise

Once in a while, you can break the rules. So I’m making an authentic English dessert that comes from my friend Tracey’s English grandmother, even if it doesn’t qualify for the “do nothing” Boxing Day theme. To simplify, I asked if I could skip the crème anglaise and she answered, “it is not traditional without it.” So it’s a three-piece dessert worth every ounce of effort and can be made a few days ahead. This is the house feature at the award-winning The Burns Pub & Restaurant, Tracey’s restaurant in Broomfield, Colorado.

For Toffee Puddings:
8 oz. chopped pitted dates
1 tsp. baking soda
1½ cups boiling water
5 Tbsp. butter at cool room temperature, plus extra for the pan
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup cane syrup (or 2 Tbsp. each corn syrup and molasses)
2 eggs
2½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
For Toffee Sauce:
½ cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup heavy cream
For Crème Anglaise:
1 cup half-and-half
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
3 egg yolks, reserved in a small heatproof bowl
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For Toffee Puddings: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter wells of 12 large muffin cups (about ¾-cup-sized wells).
Place chopped dates in a large heatproof bowl and sprinkle with baking soda. Pour boiling water over and set aside.
Cream butter and brown sugar in a mixer on low speed. Add vanilla and cane syrup and mix until combined. Add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix until incorporated.
Add combined flour and baking powder and mix to combine. Scrape sides of bowl and beat on medium speed for 1 minute.
Pulse dates and their soaking liquid in a food processor to create a textured date paste (4 or 5 pulses). Scrape date mixture into batter and mix gently.
Fill muffin cups 23 full and bake until deep brown and edges have just pulled away from the sides, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in pans before removing to a wire rack.
For Toffee Sauce: Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir to combine. Bring to a gentle boil and cook to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Ladle warm sauce over each plated sticky muffin.
For Crème Anglaise: Place half-and-half in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in sugar, stirring until dissolved. Scoop about ½ cup of hot cream mixture into bowl of egg yolks, whisking to combine and temper mixture, which prevents egg from scrambling. Scrape creamy egg mixture into saucepan with remaining cream, whisking constantly over low heat to thicken. When sauce coats the back of a spoon, it is ready. Whisk in vanilla extract and scrape sauce into a bowl and top with a round of parchment paper cut to fit on top of the sauce. Cool to room temperature, then store in refrigerator until ready to serve. Pour about 2 Tbsp. of sauce onto each plated muffin with toffee sauce.