A World of DifferenceHoliday traditions may vary, but one thing for certain is that there will be parties and other celebrations around this time of year. For as long as I can remember, my family’s tradition was to have a Christmas night party, which I always dreaded a tiny bit because we had to clean up on Christmas day. At the party, my siblings and I had to perform the whole Nativity story, and through the years I think I played everyone from the baby Jesus all the way to Mary. My mother also always wanted to do something nontraditional, such as serve dishes like this beef picadillo. It drove me crazy as a teenager, but I find myself changing things up as I make my own traditions.

While my mother’s beef picadillo was more Mexican, I adjusted
a few things in the recipe to make it more Spanish. The vegetable skewers—which may seem boring at first—are paired with a dipping sauce that combines sweet (maple) and tart (Dijon mustard) flavors.

Beef Picadillo served with Corn Muffins
1 lb. ground chuck beef
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 cup raisins
1 (14-oz.) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 tblsp. white-wine vinegar

Sauté beef and onion on medium high heat until onion is soft. Stir in garlic and other seasonings; cook until garlic is soft. Add raisins. Stir in tomato sauce and water and simmer until most of the liquid is evaporated, stirring frequently. At this point, the mixture can be stored to serve later.

Before serving, stir in olives, almonds and vinegar. Serve with split mini corn muffins. (I use the recipe on the back of the package for coarsely ground yellow corn meal, using bacon grease in place of the oil and preheating the greased pan before pouring in the batter so the muffins will have a crispy crust.) Serves 10 to 15.

Festive Vegetable Skewers with Maple Dipping Sauce
2 medium sweet potatoes
1 large sweet onion
1 medium bell pepper
2 green apples
2 tblsp. butter, melted
Sweet paprika

Maple Dipping Sauce
3 tblsp. real maple syrup
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cube sweet potatoes, onion, bell pepper and apples, then place on bamboo skewers. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and touch of sweet paprika. Bake for 25
to 30 minutes or longer, until potato gives to the touch. Serve while warm with Maple Dipping Sauce. Serves 10 to 15.