When planning out your Christmas dinner menu, what foods typically come to your mind? A traditional southern Christmas dinner usually consists of ham or turkey, enough casseroles to feed a small army and an array of homemade desserts that will undoubtedly put you into a blissful food coma that can only be remedied by an afternoon nap on the couch. For most of us, Christmas dinner is deeply rooted with family traditions and heirloom recipes that have been passed down for many years. We tend to feel a little nostalgic as we pile on the ham and a second helping of dressing and green bean casserole onto our plate, knowing that these foods are always bringing us a little comfort and joy during the holiday season.
But what if I told you that it’s okay to switch things up a little bit? Hang with me here – I know that may sound a little bit crazy to some. The idea of not doing what you’ve always done may not sound nearly as exhilarating to others as it does to me, and I completely understand that. I love and respect family traditions, and nothing speaks truer to my heart than diving into a plate full of southern food during the holidays, but there’s an abundance of truth in the old saying “variety is the spice of life.”
I am certainly not suggesting that you ditch the family traditions, but rather add a little something unconventional or unexpected to your holiday menu! Many families find themselves having multiple holiday dinners with extended family, which can mean having the same or similar meals over and over again. In situations like this, I think it’s a great idea to switch things up a bit and serve something that may not typically be considered a traditional Christmas dinner. These Christmas Carnitas, for example, are perfect for feeding a small crowd and feature a beautiful variety of colorful and fresh ingredients that are perfect for the cheery holiday season!
Carnitas are very similar to a taco in how they’re served, but differ from traditional tacos in the cut of meat that is used. Carnitas are traditionally made using pork shoulder that is cooked low and slow, creating a beautiful fork-tender meat that nearly melts in your mouth. I chose to zhuzh this dish up a little and make the carnitas festive by only choosing Christmas colored toppings such as red and green bell peppers, fresh salsa, pico de gallo, jalapenos, cilantro and crumbled cotija or queso fresco cheese to resemble fresh fallen snow – something we don’t typically see too often here in Alabama!
The beauty of this meal is that the slow cooker takes care of the bulk of the work for you, freeing up more of your time to spend with family. Once you’ve got your pork shoulder simmering away in the slow cooker, all you’ll need to do is chop a few veggies and you’re good to go! Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
For the carnitas:
4-5 lbs pork shoulder
1 1/2 cup vegetable or beef broth
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup salsa
5 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbs salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
For the toppings (think Christmas colors!):
Red green bell peppers, diced
Cherry tomatoes, cut in half or diced
Pico de gallo or fresh salsa
Crumbled cotija or queso fresco cheese
Place pork shoulder into the slow cooker and pour wet ingredients over the meat. Sprinkle remaining herbs and spices over the pork shoulder, cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Prep your vegetables ahead of time by pre-slicing and dicing and arrange on a platter for people to easily build their own carnitas. When the pork shoulder is finished cooking, remove from slow cooker and drain off excess liquid. Place meat in a serving dish, shred and serve. Be sure to heat up the tortillas before serving as well!
My Christmas wish for you this season is that you get to spend quality time with your loved ones at the dinner table – especially after the unprecedented times we’ve been facing over the last year and a half. Fellowship, laugh, and enjoy a home cooked meal and the company of others, no matter if you’re serving up a traditional ham or turkey, or if you’re going a less-traditional route and cooking up something fun and unique. Food has such a magical way of bringing us all together to experience something wonderful that goes far beyond what’s on the plate, and that’s truly something to be excited about this holiday season. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my table to yours!