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The Ultimate Holiday Dinner -- Our Guide

The stakes are high, and so is the pressure -- but it doesn't need to feel this way. With our thoughtful planning and prep (and these crowd-pleasing recipes), you can pull off an impressive feast without getting stuck in the kitchen during all the fun. Here's how to orchestrate a seamless evening, from first bites to sweet endings. 

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1. Serve Simple Starters

Your goal is to welcome guests with nibbles and drinks, not fill them up or get them too lubricated before the main event. A single, showstopping cheese (in this case, a gooey baked Brie) and colorful crudités with a three-ingredient dip are plenty. Keep the cocktail hour to just that, one hour, and then call everyone to the dinner table.

Yogurt Dip with Crudites and Chips

In our lightened-up version of a ranch dip, Greek yogurt substitutes for sour cream, and a sprinkle of za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mix, adds zip. Vegetable chips, baby fennel, endive, and blanched purple cauliflower and broccolini are a fresh twist on the usual carrot and celery sticks.

Make-ahead tip: Cut and blanch the crudites and make the dip the day before. Just prior to serving, drizzle dip with extra-virgin olive oil.

Get the Yogurt Dip with Crudités & Chips Recipe

 

Baked Brie with Boozy Fruit

Ground pecans rolled into store-bought puff pastry offer a nutty note to this mouthwatering appetizer. Sliced baguette and tart apple wedges, along with a compote of port-wine-plumped raisins and dried figs, apricots, and pears, balance out the buttery richness.

Get the Baked Brie with Boozy Fruit Recipe

 

THE DETAILS: Nordstjerne green marble board, $85, theline.com. Ann Ladson forged knife with carbon steel blade, in Bronze, $600, annladson.com.

What to Pour

Food is the focus of the holiday meal, so don’t overthink drinks:

 

Put it in a pitcher: To play host instead of bartender, make a nonalcoholic punch and set out spirits so adults can spike it, if desired. If your group loves cocktails, designate a house mixologist to mix up these recipes.

Serve both red and white: Give guests their choice by placing one food-friendly bottle of each (say, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a robust Malbec or Merlot) on the dinner table.

End on an herbal note: Finish with a bittersweet digestif, such as amaro. We like Averna and Fernet.

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2. Choose Your Main Dish

If you want a bold centerpiece, make a crown roast. For a wallet-friendly alternative to traditional tenderloin, a beef bottom round is flavorful and, with our preparation, very tender. As a quicker option, salt-roasted jumbo shrimp are ready in just 30 minutes. The clincher is that they all cook in the oven, leaving your stove top free for making your sides.

Get ahead of the game: Order meat or shrimp a week before your party. These items are generally readily available, but you don’t want to be driving around town in a panic if your local store runs out. You can also do mail-order: For lamb, we like D’Artagnan; for head-on wild Gulf shrimp, Louisiana Crawfish Co.

 

Salt-Roasted Prawns

Packing hot salt around shellfish before roasting keeps them juicy. Lemon wedges, which are tossed with the salt mix, spend time in the oven, too. After cooking, squeeze them into melted butter and float slices of red-finger pepper on top.

Get the Salt-Roasted Prawns recipe

 

Roast Beef with Shallots

It’s delicious cold, warm, or anywhere in between, so you can make it early in the day and serve it at room temperature. To ensure tenderness, we recommend cooking it rare, then slicing it thinly across the grain.

Get the Roast Beef with Shallots Recipe

 

Plan on leftovers: Roasts are great for big gatherings, and for more than one meal; buy a piece that’s larger than you need and you’ll have enough for a breakfast hash or sandwiches the next day. Similarly, leftover shrimp can be cut up and tossed in an omelet, or even fried rice.

 

THE DETAILS: Match Large Luisa rectangular platter, $330, and Berti carving fork with white Lucite handle, $364, jungleeny.com

Crown Roast of Lamb with Pilaf Stuffing

This traditional dish is the undisputed star of the dining table. Ask your butcher to french the bones for a clean lollipop look, and -- if you’re willing to pay a bit more per pound -- to truss the ribs together. (Step one, done.) In the pilaf, bulgur replaces the usual vermicelli, adding a satisfying chewy texture.

Get the Crown Roast of Lamb with Pilaf Stuffing recipe

3. Add Flavorful Sides

All of these one-skillet recipes can cook on the stove while the main dish is roasting, which means no jockeying for space and time in the oven. Each one spotlights a single ingredient dressed up in flavors that complement any protein, whether it’s your traditional turkey or ham or one of our entrees.

Clockwise from top left:

Pan-Seared Mushrooms with Cream and Dill goes especially well with beef or lamb: Miso-and-Honey-Glazed Carrots are our flavorful update on carrots cooked in butter and sugar; Sauteed Spinach with Pepitas and Sesame Seeds these quick-sauteed greens go beautifully with the salt-baked prawns: Braised Green Beans with Tomatoes takes the green bean to a juicy new level of deliciousness.

 

Map things out: A day or two pre-party, handwrite dish names on slips of paper, and place them in platters and bowls to designate what will go where. Choosing serving utensils and setting your table in advance will also prevent last-minute scrambling.

4. Save Room for Dessert

End the evening with a flourish -- in this case, an impressive, wintry sweet that you can pull together with ease. These desserts are spectacular -- but the work is done ahead, so there’s no dashing to the kitchen between courses. Our Pear-Cranberry Tart has a press-in crust that's as easy as -- no, easier than -- pie. Prefer something etheral and gluten-free? This Lemony Snow Pudding with Tarragon Crème Anglaise is made with fluffy meringue and is like biting into "snow." After the entree, invite guests to hang out in front of the fire with an apres-dinner drink while you add any final touches.

 

Nail the final details: Before guests arrive, arrange dessert plates, silverware, and coffee cups on a side table or buffet. Refill the water and grounds in the coffeemaker after you finish the morning pot; that way, after dinner, you can just flip the switch as you clear the main plates.

Don’t rush to the finish: Nothing signals that a party’s over like the host starting the dishes (it’s like the lights coming on at the end of a school dance). Stack everything in the sink and soak it in hot water and soap -- out of sight, out of mind -- and relax. You can put away food after everyone leaves, too.

Eggnog Semifreddo Genoise Cake with Meringue Frosting

This knockout is not for the novice, but imagine the standing ovation you’ll get when you slice into it. To create the vertically striped interior, nutmeg-and-rum-scented semifreddo is spread onto the cake layers. Then one layer is rolled and set on its side in the center of a plate, and more layers are wrapped around it.

Get the Eggnog Semifreddo Genoise Cake with Meringue Frosting recipe

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