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For Christmas, I make the same thing every year. My family loves it, I never get any complaints, and they really won't let me leave out or substitute any of my staples. Nobody has a problem with it, but me.

My staples are spiral ham, roasted potatoes, this brussel casserole thing with breadcrumbs, sweet honey orange carrots, and crescent rolls. The dishes by themselves are fine, but everything is dry, sweet, salty, and hot. The cumulative effect kind of just dries my mouth out.

I make a sauce for my ham to try to put some zest back into the meal, but I need more tips. As I said, they won't let me substitute a dish out, so is there anything I can add to the meal to switch it up? Can I "alter" them in any way to keep the same spirit of the dish, but less dry? More sauces? Drinks?

Thanks in advance!

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    Is there a reason you don't just shove gravy on top of it?
    – Richard
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 7:40
  • 6
    A few bottles of Prosecco will do the miracle.
    – gboffi
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 13:30
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    General remark that what a lot of answers have in common is that the key taste factor you're missing almost entirely is acidity. Fruit, pickles, vinegar or citrus sauces and dressings, (prosecco!), just get some acid in there! That's the best way to keep the palate from getting tired. Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 2:00

6 Answers 6

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In our family tradition there is always a kind of fruit in a main dinner. This can be as simple as a can of mixed tropical fruit, it can be prunes which have been soaking overnight or flash cooked, it can be cranberry in sauce out of a jar or self cooked.
Adding a simple bowl of fruit will add a different and not dry mouthfeel.

As indicated in a comment, some communities use pickles in this place. And in the English traditions there are some sauces which are often served with meat, like mint sauce with lamb, red current jam or horseradish with beef, chutney from apple and curents with pork.

All of these can be served straight out of a jar or can, just tip in a bowl or arrange on a dish for pickles or bigger pieces of fruit, which can be done in advance, adding very little work when serving the dinner.

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    In our Mennonite tradition this role is served by pickles (i.e., pickled anything, not just cucumbers). Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 3:44
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There are possible ways around this, but a lot depends on how much your family are willing to compromise. As you say, the profile of the meal is dry, sweet, salty and hot and changing that balance will alter the whole "taste" of that experience, but there are a few things to consider:

  1. You could cook the ham using the sous vide method.This will allow you to control the texture, juiciness and dryness of the meat to a very fine degree. This will also give you an excellent stock base to make a gravy from.

  2. Reduce the salt content and replace with a different flavour enhancer. You could achieve this by using powdered MSG, garlic powder or Maggi liquid seasoning. The theory behind this is as the dish is less salty, you are less thirsty and as a result fooled into thinking the meal is less dry.

  3. Changing the variety of potato and the oil / temperature used for roast potatoes can change their crispness profile considerably due to the amount of oil absorbed by the potato and their outer hardness.

  4. Look at using a different recipe for your rolls that uses butter and milk in the dough to give a softer, lighter, moist good.

I would be inclined to just execute point 1 though, it sounds like your family love things just the way they are. That way you can focus on getting the star of the meal just right and at the same time be rewarded with a superb gravy that will fulfill your taste profile as well.

https://www.seriouseats.com/sous-vide-city-ham-with-balsamic-brown-sugar-glaze-recipe

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Sprouts stand alone

This year it is all the same characters but the actors switch places. The breadcrumb casserole now is made with the honey carrots instead of brussels sprouts and that sounds so good I think I will try it. Get some parsnips in there too and maybe a leek. Yum.

The brussels sprouts will give you personally what you have been lacking. Get them out of the salty crumbs and let them stand alone. You will steam them or roast them and serve them with some likeminded vegetable friends (thin sliced shallots? fennel?) and balsamic vinegar dressing. You will offset your historical excess of yang with brussely yin: wet, vegetal, a little cruciferous bitterness, savory fennel winggirl, dark sour balsamic backing track. ooo -I saw it in my mind just now. There was red smoked paprika on it, added on top of the balsamic right before serving. Or did you steam some whole cranberries in there with them? Yes! So festive!

All the originals. Changed up just a little. I suspect tradition minded eaters might not mind you tinkering with the vegetables.

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I’m not sure where the saltiness is coming from aside from the ham, but I generally don’t cook with salt (including unsalted butter), and let people add to their preferences with the salt & pepper shakers. Also, ham saltiness can be lowered by soaking it in water (Source: BBC).

For potato alternatives, consider creamy mashed potatoes or scalloped potatoes to add moisture for them.

Consider adding fresher greens, like green beans (boiled/steamed) or a leafy salad. You could also do boiled/steamed spinach or broccoli, or mix up the brussel sprouts and do them in a cheese sauce or boiled/steamed with a titch of vinegar.

There are some ham gravy options available online (random example), but you could also have sauerkraut available or relishes to eat with it too.

Oh, and some years we do tomato aspic (ours is simply tomato juice and lemon jello, but another simple recipe is this)

Aside: I’d also suggest giving yourself the freedom to experiment. Unless your family wants to do the cooking, I personally feel that while its kind of the chef to make what the family loves, they’re/we’re the ones doing the bulk of the work.

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  • +1 just for your last paragraph. It is the chef that puts the food on the table, the others just have to eat what is there.
    – Willeke
    Commented Dec 25, 2022 at 12:55
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I suggest complimenting your menu with a Raisin Sauce. Ham & Raisin Sauce is a classic and it would provide an extra dimension to your palate. It's also fairly quick to pull together and kids like it as much as adults.

My Raisin Sauce (cannot possibly remember where I first got this):

  • Combine dry ingredients and set aside: 1/3 C brown sugar, 1.5 tsp cornstarch, 1/4 tsp (each) cinnamon, dry mustard (substitute: prepared mustard), salt, and 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • Boil 1 C raisins in 1.5 C water about 5 minutes. Add dry ingredients and stir to blend, simmering until thickened.
  • Blend in 1 T vinegar.
  • Serve warm.
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First cook with no salt water. And nothing must be salted before being cooked. Salt will be added when eating.Potatoes must have the same size in order to cook evenly. So split them adequalty if some are too big. Once almost cooked. Almost. Let them finishing the cooking in their own cooking water. Same goes for all vegetables. Voila for the greens. If meat is too dry. Add "un petit peu" de water in the pan and cover it. Keep it under warm but not hot cooker. To make it "sweat". Then remove water just before dressing. Bonus. A little sauce will really add something to pleasure your guests. Sorry for bad English. Greetings from France.

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