The first time you make the leap from a home-cooked holiday meal to something catered or takeout, you will feel somewhat uneasy. As if you are an imposter or, perhaps, the dreaded “inadequate.” This sensation does not last long. From the moment you sit down at your end of the well-appointed table and find yourself actually carrying on a conversation, your sense of inadequacy disappears. Your hair does not smell like turkey. Your fingers are not numb from peeling chestnuts. You can actually taste the food. Cooking a huge meal for oblivious diners in the middle of the most stressful time of year: what was that about?
None of this means you are not a gourmand. If you are going to serve your loved ones the most important meal of the year out of boxes, it should be the best. Our assignment was to sample as much holiday food as we could—before the holidays. No problem. Except that cranberries weren’t in season (which is why you’re on your own in that department). And—imagine—no one wanted to bake us mincemeat pies in September. So there are a few holes in our selections. Nevertheless, we were able to sample a wide variety of dishes from several sources so we could give you what in our minds was the “best of” in holiday takeout. If this season you come up with your own nominees, let us know by writing us at D Home, 1700 Commerce St., 18th floor, Dallas, Texas 75201. We’ll give you an update next year.
Everyone loves appetizers—and not just on the big day. Keep these around for surprise guests or long-term visitors.
Best: Big Wood Smoked Goods and Eatzi’s
Big Wood’s smoked fish is flaky with a light smoky flavor and a beautiful presentation ($25/lb). Eatzi’s has a cold smoked salmon that is moist with an herb topping ($20/lb). Heavenly.
Best: Marty’s BLT Dip
This dip is a bestseller and kid friendly. The flavor of bacon, lettuce, and tomato is everybody’s favorite ($8/lb).
Best: Marty’s Drop Dead Smoked Trout Spread
This smoky fish dip—seasoned with garlic, onion, and white pepper—makes your mouth water. It also keeps for several days refrigerated ($11/lb).
Best: TJ’s Seafood Market
This is the best cooked shrimp we have ever eaten ($20/lb). It is cooked in the shell and hand cleaned, and they don’t have tails unless requested (that means about 40 to the pound). Sauces are made fresh on the premises—and there are lots of them—so buy your sauces here. TJ’s also carries the Fischer and Wieser bottled sauces. The charred, pineapple bourbon sauce is sweet and tart with a splash of bourbon.
Anyone who has ever roasted a turkey knows a) it is about the easiest part of the meal to prepare on your own, and b) you get a lot of mileage out of that turkey smell in the house. But takeout purists are not even going to want to roast their own bird. To that end, we suggest the following:
Best: Herbert’s in Houston
If you don’t know what turducken is, you are new. Herbert’s in Houston makes the best we know—a fine old Cajun tradition of boned turkey stuffed with boned duck that has been laced with boned chicken. In between each bird is a layer of sausage cornbread stuffing—all well seasoned and baked to perfection ($59).
We love Nates. The fried turkey—ordered spicy or not so spicy—is injected with a special seasoning called “Chip Chile Nathan” and a mixture of onions, celery, garlic, and bell pepper ($49/ 10 to 12 pounds).
Best: Dinner Bell Ranch
Charles Goff, a veteran of Neiman Marcus food service, starts with a fresh turkey to ensure quality. The bird—which isn’t too smoky—is succulent and holds its moisture ($38). Visit www.realtexasbbq.com or Cookworks.
Best: Dinner Bell Ranch
Charles Goff is a master of smoked meats (see above). Using fresh boneless pit ham, he has created a water-cured ham that isn’t watery ($65/10 lb ham). Visit www.realtexasbbq.com or Cookworks.
Best: Simon David
We roasted a five-pound beauty for two-and-a-half hours. The duck, which was lightly seasoned with salt and butter, had a beautiful golden color and was crispy on the outside, as it should be. Inside, the meat was dark and moist. Fabulous ($50).
Smoked Pork Loin
Best: Big Wood Smoked Goods
Claudia and the boys love this heavily smoked loin. It makes a great hors d’oeuvre served with rolls from Celebration or City Harvest ($31).
Pork Loin Rack
Best: City Harvest
This neighborhood cafe is worth the trip to Oak Cliff. Carla Wood and Warren Farmer came from Marty’s to open this laid-back, Bohemian-style restaurant four years ago. The sage, garlic, and black pepper marinated pork rack is the top seller for the holidays. It comes fresh for your cooking or cooked for your reheating ($12-$20/lb).
If you are new to the holiday takeout game, side dishes are a great place to get started.
Best: Luna’s Tortilla Factory
No one expects you to make tamales. Luna’s offers spicy, lean, pork tamales ($7/dozen) and the hard-to-find red and green tortilla chips. During the holidays, order ahead or get there early because there’s always a line. Cash only.
Best: Celebration and Celebrity Cafe & Bakery
These are highbrow versions of “that green bean dish” men and children love. Celebration presents crisp green beans in an almandine sour cream sauce, topped with toasted almonds ($8). Celebrity does a great job with the standard version that involves cream soup and fried onions ($8) and also has a yummy squash casserole ($8).
Marty’s signature recipe creamed spinach—prepared with Asiago cheese and mushrooms—is a winner. We were about to give up on a decent spinach dish until we tasted this fabulous concoction. Buy this by the square or by a whole pan ($7/lb).
Best: City Harvest and City Cafe To Go
Both places score big in the sweet potato department. City Harvest has a creamy sweet potato casserole ($7/lb) that comes with a pecan-crusted topping. City Cafe To Go’s dish is prepared with a hint of ginger and caramelized pecans on top ($8/lb).
The pencil-thin asparagus is cooked al dente and moistened with an outstanding basil tomato vinaigrette ($8/lb).
Best: City Cafe To Go
Tired of green beans? Try these snap peas mixed with celery, carrots, garlic, thyme, and basil instead ($12/lb). Pricey, but worth it.
Even the most diehard home chefs don’t bake their own bread during the holidays. But these are not your average dinner rolls.
This lightly sweetened corn bread is exceptional, with just enough whole kernels to give it a rich texture ($5/serves four).
Best: Celebration and City Harvest
City Harvest’s rolls are browned and topped with fresh herbs of fennel, flax, sesame, and poppy ($5/dozen). Even if reheated after a few days, they retain their moisture. Cele-bration’s dinner-sized yeast rolls are light as a feather with a wonderful yeasty flavor ($4/dozen). These also reheat very well.
The one thing you must do right during the holidays is dessert. We picked some old-fashioned favorites with a new twist.
Best: Celebrity Cafe & Bakery
We love the apple strudel pie ($16.50), which is thick with sliced apples and loads of cinnamon, and it’s topped with cinnamon crumbs and pecans. They also sell apple cranberry and apple praline pies ($16.50) that complement any holi-day menu. A word of advice: Serve all of these pies warm, and you’ll be happy.
Best: City Harvest
Even if you aren’t wild about pumpkin, you must try this. The filling is so light and fluffy that you won’t believe it’s pumpkin, and the flavorful crust is ginger snap and ground pecan ($36).
Pumpkin Pecan Pie
Best: Darrell’s Sensational Pies
Darrell’s pumpkin pecan pie, with its light and flaky crust, is an old family recipe. It’s available in two sizes—4 1/2 and 10 inches ($3 and $25). We loved the smaller size for easy party serving. Order from Darrell himself at 972-412-4062. Smaller size is available at TJ’s and the Burger House.
THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
Forget running around—we found a great place that will make your life right by preparing the entire meal, from the turkey to the pie. Bon appetit!
Best: Celebration Market
Celebration now has a takeout-only market called, appropriately enough, Celebration Market, which offers a Thanksgiving feast. The full meal serves 12 and consists of spicy, fried, or fresh turkey breast (8 to 10 pounds); mashed potatoes; gravy; green beans almandine; homemade cornbread stuffing; two dozen rolls (to die for); cranberry relish; and coconut cream or apple crisp pie. Comfort food with plenty to go around ($170).