We spent the Christmas long weekend in NJ, of course, having Christmas dinner with my parents on Friday, Hanukkah brunch on Saturday afternoon (Josh’s parents were away the actual week of Hanukkah), and attending the last Giants game at Giants Stadium on Sunday. We did a lot of eating that weekend, feasting on a variety of foods.
With my brother and sister both living out of state, neither of them could make it home for Christmas this year so we didn’t really have a big, elaborate meal since it was just me, Josh, and my parents. We kept it super simple with a hot pot filled with tofu, fish cakes, cabbage, and thin slices of pork.
Hot pot chock full of tofu, fish cakes, cabbage, and pork
In keeping with tradition, we dipped all the items into a combination of sha cha (Chinese bbq sauce) and hot sauce before eating them. The pot bubbled away on an electric hot plate in the middle of the table and we merrily threw more items into it until we couldn’t eat any more, and the broth was rich and flavorful.
More tofu and pork ready to go into the hot pot
We also had a big plate of pan fried soup dumplings, which Josh and I request every time we’re at my parents’ house. Even though they buy them frozen at a Chinese supermarket, these dumplings are actually really good. They have thicker skin than most soup dumplings but the filling is hearty and flavorful.
Yummy soup dumplings
Lastly, we had stir fried beef cooked with scallions, hot chilies, and the latest harvest of pimientos de padron. The padron peppers actually worked really well with the beef, making kind of a fusion twist on pepper steak.
Stir fried beef with scallions, chilies, and pimientos de padron
Instead of exchanging gifts every night of Hanukkah, Josh’s family usually does gifts all on one day. We get together with his parents, sister, aunt, uncle, and cousins and have a big brunch first before digging into all of the presents. The highlight of the brunch is always Alice’s latkes, which she makes from a mixture of potatoes, onions, and matzo meal. She blends the ingredients together and then fries up the batter, which makes for a crispy outside and a creamy inside.
This year Josh decided to fry up a batch using bacon fat, which Alice wasn’t too happy about. Is that sacrilegious? I don’t know, but in the end, there wasn’t much noticeable difference in the bacon fat latkes. They were maybe slightly crispier on the outside but there was only a hint of bacon flavor in the background, and it wasn’t worth the effort to collect the bacon fat.
Potato latkes fried in bacon fat
Brunch at Josh’s house also isn’t complete without bagels from Three Star Bagels in Teaneck, NJ. I haven’t found a bagel in NYC that even comes close to Three Star in terms of flavor and texture. Jersey bagels are bigger than NYC bagels, which a lot of people might not like, but since I love bagels, the more the better. The crust on a fresh Three Star bagel is both crispy and chewy, and inside is airy and chewy but not too dense. These are my favorite bagels, hands down.
The best bagels
You can’t have bagels without an assortment of schmears. We got both scallion cream cheese and lox cream cheese. My preference is the scallion, since its chock full of chopped up scallion that adds a nice freshness.
Lox and scallion cream cheese
I also prefer the scallion cream cheese because I love to pile lox onto my bagels, and doing that on lox cream cheese would just be overkill. I absolutely love lox, and could eat it every day.
Lots of lox, with tomatoes and onions on the side
The salads at Three Star are also top notch. We always get the egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad, and break off pieces of bagel to eat with each one. My personal favorite is the tuna salad, as it’s not overly mayo-y or fishy.
Tuna salad (in front), egg salad, and chicken salad
We also got a container of whitefish salad, which was a bit salty and oily. While it wasn’t bad flavor-wise, I still prefer tuna salad.
Lastly, we had some slices mozzarella and prosciutto rolls. It was pre-packaged so I didn’t think it would be that good but it was actually delicious. The prosciutto was flavorful and the mozzarella was milky and soft. There were some basil leaves in the center of the roll that tied it all together.
Prosciutto and mozzarella rolls
Last summer we got tickets to go to the Giants game that would be over Christmas weekend. We figured it would be convenient since we knew we’d be in NJ that weekend anyway. We didn’t realize that this would be the last Giants game ever at Giants Stadium, which made it all the more exciting. We planned on meeting our friends in the parking lot around 9 am to do some tailgating.
Our tailgating spot right outside gate C
Josh and I volunteered to take care of the chili, which we put together the night before. It was simple – just ground beef, peppers, onions, kidney beans, and lots of garlic powder, chili powder, and cumin. We brought it in a big pot and heated it up on the small grill that our friends brought for the occasion.
Big pot of chili
Our friends took care of everything else, which was really awesome of them. After we warmed up with cups of chili, the brats were next up on the grill. First they were cooked in a pan with onions and beer.
Brats in a beer and onion bath
Then they were placed directly on the grill to get some nice char and grill marks on the outside. These were the first brats I’ve ever eaten (surprisingly!) and I liked them a lot. Juicy, flavorful, and the onions were a nice touch.
Perfectly grilled brat
We finished off with two giant racks of ribs, which were rubbed with a spice mixture first and then slathered with tasty bbq sauce. The ribs came out tender and flavorful even though we were running a bit short on time.
Two giant racks of ribs on the grill
We had also intended to make burgers but ran out of time before the game started. Unfortunately, the Giants didn’t show up for this game at all. It really was quite a disgrace, and we left early, completely disappointed.
Beautiful day for football but bad game overall
Still, it was a gorgeous day, chilly but not freezing, and we had a blast tailgating. It’s nice to be able to drink beer at 9:30 am and not feel guilty about it! When we got cold the guys warmed up with some scotch while the girls stuck with hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps. I couldn’t believe the number of people out tailgating so early in the morning, but the atmosphere was fun and festive. I definitely hope that we’ll be able to do this again!
Three Star Bagels
402 Cedar Lane