Here is a small collection of my holiday favorite recipes that will take you from Thanksgiving into New Years. Like most everything I present to you, these highlight seasonal ingredients, and are typically full of love but not labor. As a person predisposed to the holiday scaries brought about by being a solo planner, cook, and hostess for far too many years, I no longer have time or energy for the complicated.
I grew up in a small family who lived far away from any relatives, so Thanksgivings included the complete standards but on a small scale, always prepared beautifully by my mom. I also raised my own family far away from any relatives, so that pattern repeated. If I were hosting Thanksgiving this year, it would the 38th time in the last 41 years. That's a lot of holiday cooking!
Now, my sweetheart and I have a combined seven grown kids, and ten amazing grandkids. This year we are visiting a daughter in Texas and her beautiful family. I get to relax a bit and be the assistant!
Here are some recipes that work for smaller groups, or perhaps step out of tradition a wee bit if your weary of the classic standards.
I love handing guests a cup of soup as they arrive this time of year. A cup or small mug of soup, like this Winter White Vegetable Soup, or its winter squash version (also within this recipe), is portable as guests mingle and makes a nice handwarmer coming in from the cold. This recipe has enough body and flavor to make it delicious and noteworthy, but it light enough to keep from spoiling anyone's appetite. This pureed soup requires using an immersion blender, so if you don't have one, now is the time. (This is the one I have and love.) An immersion blender is also a truly fantastic Christmas or Chanukah gift for budding cooks, or anyone who doesn't have one. Another big plus-- this soup can be made two or three days ahead and rewarmed at the last minute.
Blue Cheese and Pear Tartine (like a crostata or bruschetta) are frankly amazing. The favors sing. Use this throughout the holiday season, whether its a quiet night at home, or if you are hosting or taking food to a party.
Some of my favorite holiday recipes include Citrus Rush Beet Orange Salad. I love this one for it's pop of gently acidity that seems to be very welcome with all of the other buttery dishes. It is so pretty, and the components can be made ahead.
Autumn Grains, Grapes, and Greens is beautiful, and blurs the line between side dish and salad. With it's grain base, it is also wonderful to serve when vegans and vegetarians are at your table. They will truly know you love them!
As for cranberry sauce, I love hearing about everyone's favorite recipe. There are so many ways to enjoy cranberries, and it seems that once we hit on our favorite there's no room for change. This is the recipe I've used since the early '90s, and my daughter makes it every year now, too. Cranberry Sauce with Raspberry Vinegar was originally from Bon Appetit magazine, and you can find it here. I've used several blueberry and blackberry vinegars in it with equal deliciousness (P.S.-- don't be tempted to scrimp on the raspberry vinegar. That's where the magic is. And if you can get your hands on it, this blueberry or blackberry vinegar is glorious.)
So maybe there's just two or three of you, and a big bird doesn't sound like fun. You still want something seasonal and special, but don't want to be at it all day. Another holiday favorite recipe is my Roasted Chicken + Autumn Bread Salad is really all the glory with a fraction of the time and work. Hey, it's still poultry, right? The bread salad takes the place of stuffing, vegetable sides, and refreshing salad all at once. It truly is Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner worthy.
It might be because of my old pastry chef days of making and rolling a dozen pastry crusts every Monday, but making pies feels pretty tedious amidst all of the other pre-holiday meal components. If you have non-pie eaters or gluten free eaters, these two recipes will save the day.
Flourless Walnut Cake (use GF flour to dust your pan) is so lovely, and so simple. Ground walnuts, some eggs, and sugar are all you need. And better yet, you can opt for the coffee flavored version, or the spice cake version. This flexible recipe gives you these flavor choices, or make it plain and serve it with the ice cream of your choice. So good, so pretty, and so simple.
If you want to keep it really simple, how about a rich and very adult wintry Nutty Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae? This takes 10 minutes, and yet is as elegant and rich as any other dessert ever. And with this choice, you won't spend one minute baking. (The candied orange slices that make this so wonderful are available at most Trader Joe's stores.)
However you do your holiday, do it in a way that's authentic to you! Pure traditionalist or thoroughly modern; formal or casual; fancy or simple are all valid. It's easy to get caught up in the perfect Instagramable holiday, but it is only as wonderful as you feel!
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