The holidays are upon us, and that invariably means traditions—especially when it comes to the dinner table. And tradition is, well, traditional.
Maybe even … predictable.
Now, don’t get us wrong—we like tried-and-true family recipes as much as you do, and nobody’s suggesting that it’s time to retire your great aunt’s legendary crab dip. But if you want to make your holiday dinner party truly memorable (or even if you’re just tired of turkey), there are a lot of choices for the adventuresome Somerville host courtesy of local shops.
Maca | 1 Bow Market Way
After two years of popping up at local markets and the Somerville Flea, Tamy Chung opened Maca in Bow Market so she could sell her macarons year-round. She taught herself macaron-making out of a desire to bake “something that wasn’t just a traditional chocolate chip cookie.” And when it became clear she had a knack for customizing them, well, how could she not come up with holiday versions?
“I’m always having people coming in with requests,” says Chung. “I do themed boxes for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and other holidays.”
Those special bakes feature a variety of characters and messages, such as one Thanksgiving box with macarons that spell out “Thank You” and have decorations of turkeys and maple leaves. Flavors have included maple crème but, alas, no turkey or dressing. Her Christmas macarons have included eggnog, peppermint mocha, and bourbon crème.
“My uniqueness is about seasonal flavors,” Chung says.
She’s also done savory flavors on request, such as an everything bagel macaron, or red pepper and jelly. And she’s put custom decorations on them like animals and David Bowie.
Clearly, these are not your French grandmother’s macarons.
So, what kind of creation would Chung whip up for her own holiday table?
“I’d probably make myself a macacake,” she says. “It’s a large macaron—4 to 8 inches across—with two layers of cake in the middle instead of filling.”
Caramel French Patisserie | 235 Elm St.
For siblings Sophie and Dimitri Vallier, owners of Caramel Patisserie, the holidays are a time to honor tradition. French tradition, that is.
“We always go for a traditional Yule log,” says Sophie Vallier, who manages the family bakery. “We have been doing this for almost four years now.”
The Yule log, or buche de Noel, is decorated to look like an actual log, and when sliced it reveals a beautiful swirl of cake and crème. They are made to order in different sizes, so no one has to go without, no matter how many or few are at the table.
“Four people, six people, eight people,” says Sophie. “You don’t need to be a big family.”
In fact, you technically don’t need to be a family at all. On Saturdays and Sundays in December, you can walk into Caramel and pick up an individual Yule log in chocolate or vanilla—a miniaturized version, decorated just like the large ones, portioned for you alone.
For the sharing-size Yule logs, Chef Dimitri creates three different flavors: The traditional chocolate or vanilla, and a third he changes every year. For this holiday season, Sophie says, it will be either hazelnut or lemon.
As for their family Christmas treat, the Valliers always make a Yule log for themselves, and it’s always the same flavor.
“We like chocolate,” she says unapologetically.
Dave’s Fresh Pasta | 81 Holland St.
If you’re planning to serve pasta to your holiday guests, it might seem the go-to would be something that reflects the colors of the season—carbonara for Thanksgiving, perhaps, or marinara on spinach noodles around Christmas. But according to Dave Jick, owner of Dave’s Fresh Pasta, the clear favorite among his customers during this season is…
“Lobster ravioli,” he says without hesitation. “We sell a lot of lobster ravioli, and we have a vodka cream sauce that goes with it.”
Looking for something readymade? Try the panforte, a dense and flavorful Italian fruitcake.
“Ours is a chocolate panforte, and we make our own,” Jick says. “You’re going to see a dense cake of fruits and nuts, only about an inch high. It’s not overly sweet, but it is dessert.”
It is crammed full of the traditional hazelnuts, almonds, orange peel, and raisins, and the top is dusted with cocoa powder. But Jick’s recipe also offers a local nod in the form of dried cranberries.
“The cranberries are a New England twist,” he says. “Not a lot of cranberries in Italy.”
Because of its richness and strong flavor, a six-inch panforte from Dave’s will serve up to 10 people.
Jick first encountered panforte while traveling in Italy—specifically Sienna, which is known for the dessert. He was already a fruitcake fan, since his mother had always made them for family holidays. The panforte struck him as something that was “right up my alley” and would do well in his store.
So … does Mom like his panforte? “She loves it, of course,” he says with a laugh. In fact, she’s passed him the baton as the family fruitcake provider.
M.F. Dulock | 201A Highland Ave.
Josh Turka is a butcher and the shop manager at M.F. Dulock, where the holidays mean selling cuts from one end of an animal to the other as people come in and ask for their favorite roasts.
“The holidays are a time to be at home and have a nice cooking project with your family,” Turka says. “Maybe a bigger project, like a braised pork shoulder that’s going to fall apart and be incredibly tender.”
While many folks think about the usual suspects, such as prime cuts like tenderloins, this time of year M.F. Dulock gets requests for some much-beloved but less popular pieces: a ranch roast of beef shoulder, a sirloin spoon roast, skin-on pork shoulders, rack of lamb.
The majority of their trade is in raw cuts of meat—Dulock doesn’t have an oven on-site—but they do have options you can take home and serve straightaway: Several varieties of traditional European salamis, which Turka says are very popular around the holidays.
“We have a number of different flavors—fennel, chorizo, French saucisson-sec,” he says. “They’re dry-cured for three weeks and go great on a cheese board.”
With what cheese? Well, that depends on the variety. Take the saucisson-sec, for instance: It pairs well with any classic French cheese, so if you’re a fan of brie this would make a great accompaniment, says Turka. But you’ll probably want more than one, depending on the size of your party; three salamis with cheeses and perhaps olives and cornichons should make an appetizer for around 10 people.
And then there are those who are even more adventurous…
“We have a British couple that comes in and gets a whole pig head,” says Turka. “They brine it for a couple of days and then roast it until the skin is crispy.”