A Simple and Stylish Feast
"Remember the true spirit of the holidays."
You’ve heard this sentiment more than “Jingle Bells,” and no doubt have long avoided the pitfalls of the season’s commercialism.
Yet, strangely, this well-intentioned mantra is often overlooked when we host during the holidays.
While inviting loved ones over for a homemade feast is inherently giving and caring, the festivity’s true meaning is easily muted by the mere routine of it all. We’re not bad people. We’re just on autopilot, replicating the gatherings of year’s past—from the casual, charmless buffet to the annual formal affair, where everyone silently agrees it feels forced.
Traditions must be honored, but we shouldn’t lose sight of why we began them in the first place. Isn’t it time to reinvigorate your celebration of the people in your life you hold dearest?
The solution to carrying the spirit beyond the invitations is ridiculously uncomplicated: Have simplicity steer your dinner’s menu and style, allowing conversation, sharing, laughter and love to be your ultimate centerpiece.
Start with pledging to use only seasonal ingredients, even with those hand-me-down recipes. And whenever you can, buy from local farmers and markets. It not only strengthens community, but ensures your dishes will taste as fresh and flavorful as possible.
For your décor, go natural, but do so sparingly. Bare wood tables (instead of blanketing tablecloths) and casually placed fresh herbs and evergreen create high rustic style that’s warm and inviting.
The best part of this minimalist approach is it will feel more thoughtful to your guests, yet requires far less worry and work. Indeed, the hardest part is committing to doing something slightly different this year.
Here’s our easy-to-follow guide and menu to inspire you to take that initial step, and make certain this return to the roots of your holiday tradition is a stress-free success.
—Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Photos by David Malosh
Food Styling by Adrienne Anderson
Prop Styling by Nicholas Sherman
Focus on pouring America’s better naturally grown and produced wines for your feast.
Roederer Estate NV Brut: Kick the festivities off with this Anderson Valley sparkler made from estate-grown grapes.
Silver Thread 2013 Doyle East Seneca Vineyard Riesling: This sustainably managed Finger Lakes winery produces lovely brisk and dry Rieslings. A single-vineyard selection, it boasts earthy mineral tones with layers of fresh flowers, apple and peach.
Bonterra 2013 Sauvignon Blanc: Bonterra is the leading producer of organically grown wines in California. This bright white works well with the crostini.
Newton 2012 Unfiltered Chardonnay: Natural fermentation and no filtration create a wine with full fruit flavors. This Napa Valley pour will pair well with the chicken and earthy vegetables.
Hudson-Chatham 2013 Old Vines Masson Place Vineyard Pulteney Farm Baco Noir: Baco Noir is a hybrid grape grown in the northern U.S. and Canada. This family-owned winery in New York’s Hudson Valley has produced a winner, which has a flavor similar to Pinot Noir.
Goldeneye 2011 Pinot Noir: This Anderson Valley standout has earned a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification for its farming practices. Mixed berry flavors and a hint of pepper won’t overpower the chicken.
Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon: Horses and cattle graze near these certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in Lake County. Flavors of plum and dark chocolate will complement the complex root vegetables.
Sutcliffe 2011 Cabernet Franc: A naturally farmed, handmade Cabernet Franc from the wilds of southern Colorado. This rich red has an earthiness that’s a natural match for both the herbed poultry and winter produce.
Quady 2012 Essensia Orange Muscat: This dessert wine is sweet, but not cloying. It will work well with both apple and nut tarts and pies.
Start with simple 3-ingredient crostini that blend the sweet and savory. For the main courses, it's lightly seasoned root vegetables and herb chicken, followed by an apple tart and pecan pie. And yes, it's OK to serve chicken at your festive occasion. It’s a crowd favorite, and you can easily find a local free-range chicken farm near almost every city in America.
3-ingredient Sweet & Savory Crostini (pictured)
1. Hummus + Broccoli Rabe + Red Pepper Flakes
2. Apple + Parmesan + Smoked Paprika
3. Pickled Cauliflower + Egg + Green Olive
4. Apple Butter + Brie + Pomegranate Seeds
5. Roast Pork + Pimento + Onion Chutney
6. Brussels Sprout Leaves + Sriracha Mayo + Bacon
7. Pumpkin + Goat Cheese + Caramelized Onions
8. White Beans + Radicchio + Rosemary
Herb-roasted Root Vegetables
A coating of extra virgin olive oil and gentle roasting coaxes the natural sweetness of the vegetables. Pungent oregano and rosemary complement the earthy flavors, while muted shades of green, cream and orange provide a striking visual on the plate.
2 cups white parsnips, sliced
2 cups carrots, sliced
1 cup onions, sliced
2 cups celery root, sliced
1 cup leeks, sliced
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Preheat oven to 375˚F.
Place the parsnips, carrots, onions, celery root and leeks in a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary and oregano, and toss well. Roast approximately 1 hour, or until vegetables are fork-tender. Serves 8.
Oven-roasted Beets with Goat Cheese
What could be prettier than a medley of red and gold, topped with bubbling goat cheese? The sweet earthiness of the beets gets an added kick from sage and thyme, while goat cheese brings a touch of tang to the meal.
3 cups red beets, sliced into rounds
3 cups golden beets, sliced into rounds
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried sage
8 ounces goat cheese
Preheat oven to 375˚F.
Place the red and golden beets into a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme and sage, and bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until the beets are fork-tender. Remove and change oven setting to top broil. Crumble the goat cheese over the roasted beets, and broil until deep golden brown. Serves 8.
Butter and Herb Chicken
Local free-range chicken has a texture and taste that surpasses even the best grocery store organic brand. Butterflying the bird makes an elegant presentation of this comfort food classic. Wait for the compliments as you bring this golden-brown beauty to the table. Plan on one chicken for every 5 guests.
1 4-pound chicken, backbone removed
8 tablespoons butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons melted butter
1½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¾ cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 400˚F.
Using poultry shears, cut alongside both sides of the backbone and remove. (Discard or save for soup or gravy.) Lay the chicken flat on a baking pan. Starting at the top of the breast, carefully separate the chicken skin from the breast and thigh meat, using your fingertips and working your hand inward.
Combine the softened butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of pepper and the rosemary, thyme and cheese in a large mixing bowl.
Using your hands, gently work the butter-herb-cheese mixture under the chicken skin, being careful not to tear the skin, until all of the mixture is used. With butter still on your hands, massage the outer skin of the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for approximately 1 hour, or until the internal temperature is 165˚F.
Using a pastry brush, coat the skin with the melted butter and roast for 5 more minutes, until skin is golden brown.
Apple Tart with Pomegranate Seeds and Clementines
Turn a delicious apple tart into a holiday ornament with Clementine slices and pomegranate seeds. These two fruits grow in the Mediterranean during winter months. Though not local, they are seasonal and bring a bit of warmth and brightness to the holiday table.
1 pie dough
4 tablespoons butter, melted
5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch slices
4 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
3 Clementine sectioned
Roll out the pie dough on a lightly floured surface. Place the dough into a buttered 2-piece tart pan and pierce the bottom with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Arrange the apple slices in the tart pan in concentric circles. Whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, cranberry sauce and orange marmalade in a small bowl and drizzle over entire tart. Return the filled tart to the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until the crust is golden brown and the apples are tender when pierced with a toothpick. While the tart is still warm, top with pomegranate seeds and Clementine slices. Serves 8.
Bourbon, Almond and Pecan Pie
Nuts are a winter staple, and baking it will fill your home with that quintessential holiday spice aroma.
For the filling:
1 pie dough
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, whisked
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 teaspoons Bourbon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup almond halves
1 cup pecan halves
Roll out the pie dough on a lightly floured surface. Place the dough into a buttered metal pie pan. Pierce the bottom with a fork. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Combine the brown sugar, eggs, butter, Bourbon, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Toss in the almonds and pecans until well combined. Pour the filling into the pie pan, and bake until crust is golden, approximately 45 minutes. Allow the pie to cool before slicing, then plate with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Serves 8.
Our Tasty No-frills chilled Pie Dough
1¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup butter
To make the dough, combine the flour and salt in a glass mixing bowl. Using your fingers, rub in the room-temperature butter until the mixture looks like small breadcrumbs. Make a well in the center and add the egg. Hand mix well and add ice water as necessary until the dough holds together, approximately 2–3 teaspoons. Remove the dough and shape into a ball. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour. Makes one pie crust.
The Hello: Greet your friends with sparkling wine and trays of simple, beautifully arranged crostini.
The Table: For high rustic table style, remember: Less is more.
Date Night: The blue cheese and almond stuffed date is a dinner party catch-all. It works as a canapé, a main-course flourish and a bite-size dessert.
The Takeaway: Send guests home with a mulled wine spice mix in a muslin bag that can be added to any recipe. We love coming two cinnamon sticks, a candied orange, a few each of juniper berries, pink peppercorns, cloves, star anise and two pinches of allspice and nutmeg.