Q: I am invited to an affair called Boxing Day. My Scottish and Polish sister-in-law will be having Scottish and Polish food and I would like to bring a side dish that will knock their socks off. They wanted my spinach salad but I am thinking of Barefoot Contessa's scalloped potato and fennel casserole. ... Are there any other appropriate side dishes for Boxing Day that I can consider bringing? I would like to make some hearty vegetable side dishes such as red cabbage, apples and vinegar.
—Joanne Thompson Pease, Torrington, Conn.
A: Boxing Day is marked on Dec. 26 in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada and other past or present Commonwealth dominions. There's all sorts of debate on where the name came from and who started it but its generally thought the boxes distributed on Boxing Day contained food or cash tips and were given by those better off to tradespeople, servants and various others who worked for them. Talk about trying to put a pretty gift bow around a very "ouch" moment.
Today, Boxing Day is less about giving and more about doing: Shopping, playing or watching sports, eating.
What to eat isn't fixed by custom or precedent, a quick Google search shows. Most sources say the Boxing Day dinner is a more casual meal built off the Christmas feast of the day before. One or two said a Boxing Day meal started from scratch should center on a roast beef and all the trimmings because a turkey or goose was most likely eaten on Christmas.
You are pretty much free to do what you will. But don't.
My advice is to bring the spinach salad and do your duty as the good guest. Anyone planning a Polish-Scottish menu knows exactly what they want for that meal. Go along with it. Your sister-in-law may very well need your spinach salad to provide some sort of "green" relief during the dinner. She may already have a potato dish planned and you don't want to bring something similar.
Still, if you absolutely have to bring something else, why not go easy on yourself and jazz Christmas leftovers into "new" creations? Make a casserole or strata by layering slices of cooked turkey, leftover stuffing, the vegetables and cranberry sauce. Use a little gravy to "glue" it in place and reheat. Or pipe leftover mashed potatoes into decorative shapes (the Scottish thistle and Polish eagle come to my cheeky mind) and run under the broiler so that the ridges made in the piping brown and crust like a meringue. Or chop up the leftover vegetables and turn them into a quiche or a stir fry.
Whatever you decide, do talk to your sister-in-law first so she won't be surprised when you arrive. Let me know what you make, Joanne, and how this Boxing Day celebration turns out.
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