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christmas in july

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8 ways to lighten up rib roast, sweet potatoes and more Christmas classics for a celebratory July feast

For those who truly love celebrating Christmas, the notion of waiting an entire year to make merry seems too much to bear. Enter Christmas in July. Many people host parties, exchange gifts and don holiday attire — albeit tailored for warmer weather — to tide themselves over until December. One aspect that could pose problematic is the food.

Certain fruits and vegetables may not be in season during the summer months; and eating a spread full of heavy food when it’s 95 degrees outside may feel like an unpleasant endeavor. Instead, try these Christmas-inspired recipes that are also perfect for warmer weather.

Grilled Oysters with Parmesan Garlic Butter
Oysters are the perfect way to kick off a celebratory meal, which is why raw oysters are such a popular part of a holiday feast. Instead of serving them chilled, take advantage of grilling season by blasting those bivalves on the barbie. A dollop of garlic-parsley compound butter and a sprinkling of Parmesan adds a giant umami boost to the briny oysters. Pay little heed to that old adage of only eating oysters in months that end in “r” — the widespread availability of commercially-harvested seafood has rendered that saying largely obsolete.
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Bacon-Wrapped Andouille-Stuffed Dates with Pecan Romesco
Finger foods, especially those on toothpicks, are a hallmark of any great cocktail party or holiday spread. Inspired by Spanish tapas and pintxos, sweet dates get stuffed with spicy andouille sausage before being wrapped in smoky bacon and roasted in the oven. Be glad you’ll have extra romesco sauce leftover: the nutty, acidic sauce is the perfect accompaniment for grilled or roasted seafood, vegetables, poultry and meat.
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Emerald Salad
Congealed salads are becoming something of a lost art these days. However, when else would you want a chilled, creamy, dessert-like “salad” than when the weather screams shorts and flip-flops? The bright acidity of the lime and pineapple are refreshing on a hot summer’s day, and will make you contemplate whether or not to serve this dish at the beginning or end of the meal.
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Lamb Shoulder Chops with Garlic and Rosemary
A roasted leg of lamb can be a scrumptious centerpiece of a holiday meal, but that massive leg of beast may not be your speed in the middle of a heat wave. This is the perfect time to break out individually-portioned lamb shoulder chops and cook them over the high heat of your grill or carbon steel skillet. Fresh rosemary and garlic enhance that savory, lanolin flavor that makes lamb so darn craveworthy.
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Standing Rib Roast with Horseradish Cream
Speaking of centerpiece, fewer dishes are as much of a surefire showstopper as a standing rib roast. This oven method requires a little math, but the results are pretty much foolproof. Use your imagination for side dishes and accompaniments to make this meat a more appropriate for a Christmas-in-July celebration. A simple salad of arugula and oven-roasted tomatoes, or a grilled corn and mushroom salad should help keep this beauty of a roast firmly rooted in the summer.
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Anne Byrn’s Southern Spoonbread
Do you enjoy the flavors of cornbread dressing but wish it were a bit lighter at times? Try Anne Byrn’s recipe for this savory Southern spoonbread, which brings all of the pleasing notes of toasted cornmeal while remaining light as a cloud. Even if a full Christmas spread isn’t in the cards, enjoy this spoonbread as a moderately hearty side dish with grilled or barbecued chicken.
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Fire-Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans
If you have a backyard fire pit, charcoal grill or Big Green Egg, wrap sweet potatoes with aluminum foil and throw them into the coals once the initial flames burn down. The medium heat given off will caramelize and soften the spuds while imparting a wonderful smoky flavor. Not adding any additional sugar helps the potatoes remain more seasonally neutral as well. Serve these as part of a full holiday feast or with some simply grilled meats.
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Green Beans with Almond Brown Butter
It’s a bit strange to see green beans on the table in November or December, as summer is their peak season. Honor that by preparing this classic green beans amandine recipe, which calls for gently toasting almonds in nutty brown butter. The rich sauce enhances the beans’ subtle sweetness, and the result is a side dish that boasts amazing versatility. Serve this with grilled or roasted meats, poultry or seafood.
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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”

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