Menu Ideas: Holiday Season Get-Togethers
I love the holiday party season and putting on a delicious spread for my friends and family at least once at this time of year. Here are some of my go-to dishes. The secret: choose dependable, make-ahead items that can be heated up or served at room temp and you won't get stuck in the kitchen.
Stock your bar with lemons, limes, mint leaves, olives, and other garnishes. Remember the mix (sodas, colas, tonic, juices) and also the maraschino cherries. Pull out your festive napkins and glasses, and ready your best corkscrew, cocktail shaker, and muddler.
Have a few bottles of your favourite reds and whites on hand, and a good supply of fresh, local craft beer chilling. Save room in your fridge for champagne, sparkling wine, or prosecco so you can be ready to pop the bubbly at a moment’s notice. And don’t just save it for 11:59 pm on New Year’s Eve! I say it’s always a good time for bubbly.
Blood Orange Bellinis
Blood oranges, mandarin oranges, and tangerines are plentiful at this time of year. This simple and quick bellini beverage from The Babbo Cookbook combines citrus juice with the fizzy vitality of prosecco. Add a twist and you’re done. Serve in a champagne flute.
Another sparkling beverage that goes down all too easily is the Martha Stewart Christmas Cookbook pear-champagne punch. Super easy and definitely a crowd-pleaser. If serving in a punch bowl, avoid adding ice, which will water down the fizzy fun. Instead set the punch bowl in an ice bath (a larger bowl half-filled with ice).
A Cheese Plate
Stock your pantry with a variety of crackers and flatbreads to go with cheeses, dips, and spreads. Choose plain crackers to pair with stronger cheeses, and savoury flavours like cracked pepper or thyme & sea salt to pair with creamy dips.
Quick starter platters can include a variety of milder cheeses and crackers, olives, candied salmon, salami, and all sorts of roasted nuts. (Stick with unsalted.) Put it all together in under 10 minutes and it’s ready for nibbling.
And if you don’t use it up, it makes a wonderful and decadent meal for yourself while watching your favourite holiday movie!
Soothing and spicy, pumpkin soup takes advantage of seasonal vegetables since you can substitute any other winter squash. Not only is it like sipping a bowl of comfort, it’s also a great nutrition boost.
Hot Nicoise Salad
From My Father’s Daughter, this recipe came to Gwyneth in a daydream when she was staying in cold, wintry London. Not only is this warm version of a summer salad delicious and easy to make for a large group, it also looks very festive with its green beans and red tomatoes and peppers. Can be served as a starter or even as a main course for lunch.
Rosemary Parmesan Biscuits
Fast, savoury, cheesy, and fresh. Make the dough ahead and chill, then slice into rounds, pop them in the oven and they’re ready in 15 minutes. Perfect alone or to use for soup dipping and cleaning up all the gravy your plate.
Brussels Sprouts Gratinée
These little green nuggets get a bad wrap, but when coated in cheese, your guests will be asking for seconds. Add diced bacon, prosciutto, or other spiced/smoked meat to the recipe from Gordon Ramsay’s Family Fare to make it your own. And if you’re going to do that, you better make a double batch.
Beef (Boeuf) Bourguignon
Classic, delicious, filling, and even better the next day! There are many great beef bourguignon recipes out there, including in Joy of Cooking, The Pleasures of Cooking for One (which is actually enough for two), Bon Appetit, Y’all, Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook.
This is the perfect meal to come home to after a day tobogganing with the kids or hanging out on the slopes. Pair with quick rosemary biscuits or fresh baguette (stock up on the take-and-bake bread from your local grocer or bakery) because you’ll want to soak up every last drop of the delicious sauce.
Bourbon Baked Ham
Second to roast turkey, baked honey ham is a holiday family dinner favourite. Recipes are available in Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything. Or buy a pre-baked ham at your local grocery or butcher, and all you have to do is heat and serve.
If you want to try something new this season, set your sights and taste buds on this bourbon-baked ham recipe from Bon Appetit, Y’all. It’s similar to honey-glazed ham, but the southern twist takes this meal over the top with its sweet, gooey goodness.
British through and through, this hearty dish is bread and meat all done up in its own package. Don’t be put off thinking this one is too labour-intensive. The key to effortless prep is to use ready-made puff pastry. Even Chef Ramsay suggests it in his cookbook Gordon Ramsay’s Family Fare!
Goat Cheese Torta
From The Babbo Cookbook, a colourfully-layered treat that works as a post-dinner, pre-dessert course with its sweet fig jam layer. You can make the recipe your own by substituting sun-dried tomato or something similar. This is another dish that will impress guests but can be made easily and well ahead of time. Plus, no cooking required!
For the ultimate looks-like-you-slaved-all-day dessert, chocolate mousse in a fancy bowl or festive cup is your best bet, and it can be made well in advance. There are so many recipes available, including in Gordon Ramsay’s Family Fare (coffee + chocolate!), Joy of Cooking, and The Family Meal.
Not surprisingly, Absolutely Chocolate has FOUR different mousse recipes to choose from. Definitely a good cookbook investment for all you chocolate lovers out there!
Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries
Creamy goodness topped with a hint of summer, panna cotta is yet another easy, make-ahead dish from Everyday Italian. Choose whatever berries you have available.
For a more decadent version, see the panna cotta recipe in The Babbo Cookbook, which uses saffron threads paired with lemon, orange, grapefruit or peach slices. Mario Batali describes it as “an ethereal flavour poem”. (Note: Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world.)