The holidays are the ideal time to bring friends and family together and share the love of memorable wine and food in a manner that speaks to your own unique tastes. Focusing on a theme keeps you on track while selecting recipes, drinks, décor, dinnerware and music—all components that turn an ordinary dinner into an extraordinary evening.
Consider your personal sense of style and items you already own when choosing a party theme. Are you cutting-edge and contemporary, artsy and eclectic, or nurturing and nostalgic?
If your dishes look like they belong in the Museum of Modern Art and you’re always first in line at the Apple Store, then Merrily Modern is the theme for you.
If the breezy style of San Francisco circa the 1960s and the modern organic food movement is your thing, you’re more of the Boho Holidays type.
If you believe that stress relief is best found in a warm casserole or a bubbling pot of stew, then you’ll relish the Rattle Those Pots and Pans theme.
Whatever the choice, each of these parties will set your celebration apart.
It’s hard to keep the conversation flowing if everybody’s absorbed by his or her smartphone, so load the table up with gadgets of your own for a high-tech holiday.
Strategically placed tablets (i.e., iPad, Kindle Fire HD, etc.) can host a slideshow of a wine region or videos of you prepping dinner. Deconstructed or molecular cuisine will shine on plates with clean, modern lines.
Finishing a dish tableside on an induction burner is the height of state-of-the-art home cooking. Electric corkscrews, pepper mills and cheese graters will keep idle hands busy until it’s time to post a picture of the pie on Pinterest.
Molecular gastronomy for the home cook can be easier than you might think. Tyler Florence Fresh* (Clarkson Potter, 2012) breaks down dishes by main ingredient and offers instructional techniques for making “pearls” and cooking sous vide. Modernist Cuisine at Home** (The Cooking Lab, 2012), by Nathan Myhrvold and Maxime Bilet, offers perhaps the definitive text on technical cooking at home. It’s packed with practical advice and fashionable recipes that you can create in your own kitchen.
White Cheddar Gougère*
Tossed Green Salad
Shaved Baby Carrots, Rose Yogurt, Fenugreek, Pomegranate and Mint*
Organic Chicken, Israeli Couscous and Basil Broth*
Pressure-Cooked Paella del Bosco**
Sous-Vide Lemon Curd**
Off the Menu
Shaved Baby Carrots, Rose Yogurt, Fenugreek, Pomegranate and Mint
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence Fresh by Tyler Florence (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
1 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon orange blossom honey
1 tablespoon rose water
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground fenugreek, plus more to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
6 red, yellow and/or orange carrots, peeled and sliced into long, thin strips using a mandolin
2 tablespoons pistachios, crushed and lightly toasted
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
¼ cup organic rose petals, for garnish
¼ cup micro cilantro, for garnish
Pomegranate gel pearls (recipe follows)
Prepare the rose yogurt by combining the yogurt, honey, rose water, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon fenugreek and salt in a blender. Blend until a layer of foam rises to the top.
To finish, place the strips of carrots in a large bowl of ice water, allowing them to crisp and curl up.
Drain the carrots and serve on a plate with the pistachios, mint leaves and a sprinkle of fenugreek. Use a spoon to drizzle with rose yogurt foam. Garnish with the rose petals, cilantro and pomegranate gel pearls. Serves 4.
Pomegranate Gel Pearls
2 cups olive oil
½ cup unsweetened 100% pomegranate juice
1¾ teaspoons agar agar powder
Pour the olive oil into a small glass and place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes to chill to 38°F.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring to a simmer the pomegranate juice and the agar agar. Whisk well to dissolve the agar agar completely. Remove from the heat, and chill in the refrigerator for 5 minutes.
Fill a large plastic syringe or a plastic squeeze bottle with a neatly trimmed tip with the pomegranate juice mixture, and carefully dispense large drops into the chilled olive oil. As the juice mixture becomes chilled in the oil, it will form gel pearls. Leave the pearls in the oil to firm up for a few minutes. Drain the pearls when ready to use.
Organic Chicken, Israeli Couscous, Pesto Broth and Basil
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence Fresh by Tyler Florence (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
This cut, with breastbone and ribs removed but skin and wing joint attached, is called the “airline” cut.
2 boneless chicken breast halves with skin and wing joint attached
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 lemon, one half sliced into 5 slices, one half juiced
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
1 pound Israeli couscous
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves, plus buds for garnish
1 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1½ cups finely ground Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1 garlic clove, grated
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Place the breast halves in separate vacuum-seal bags and add a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, and 2 lemon slices to each bag. Season with salt and pepper, and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to each bag. Seal the bags and place in a water bath held at a consistent 149°F for 1 hour to cook sous vide (see note). Remove the bags from the water.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size pot. Season with salt and a squeeze of a lemon slice. Then add the couscous and cook until tender, about 6–7 minutes. The liquid will not be completely absorbed; do not drain.
Combine the basil, parsley, 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, the juice of half the lemon and ½ cup olive oil in a blender and puree until smooth. Remove the chicken from the vacuum bags and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, skin-side down, and sear until the skin is crispy and golden, 3 minutes.
Fold the pesto into the warm couscous; it will turn bright green. Season with salt and 1 tablespoon butter. Serve the chicken with the couscous, and garnish with fresh basil buds and ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serves 2.
Note: For sous vide cooking, professional kitchens use an immersion circulator to heat water and keep it at a consistent temperature, though these are fairly pricey. More moderately priced, temperature-controlled sous vide units (sometimes called water ovens) are available for home use, or you can improvise the same with a large pot of water and an accurate thermometer. Make sure the pot of water is large enough to maintain a consistent temperature and check the thermometer often; if it gets too hot, add ice cubes to bring the temperature down.
Keep your colors simple and streamlined: white, black and silver are all you need. For dishes, glasses and flatware, look for squaredoff edges and contemporary shapes with minimal adornment. Go for a gray or silver tablecloth, or metallic placemats and stainless steel chargers. Use small glass or chrome objects as decorations. If tabletop flowers are a must, consider an orchid in a shiny pot or a single stem in a test tube or beaker. Set aside time at the start of each course to take photos of your cutting-edge cuisine for Facebook and Twitter. For modern lines and technical touches, use the the Fusion Infinity Wine Glass Set (16 glasses for $199) and the Wine Enthusiast Electric Push Button Corkscrew ($29.95), both at wineenthusiast.com.
Focus on the New World for your modern holiday. Look for lean, clean Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay from Chilean producer Cono Sur, whose motto is “No family trees, no dusty bottles, just quality wine.” Or look even further south into Argentina’s Patagonia region for Pinot Noirs from Bodega Chacra—the vines may be old, but Patagonia’s Rio Negro Valley is one of the newest fine-wine producing areas in the country. For Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon, head to Australia’s Barossa Valley for bottlings from First Drop, which was a virtual winery until producing its first in-house vintage in 2011.
Beer & Cocktails
You can go molecular on the cocktails by using agar and nitrogen, or simply serve clean, triple-distilled spirits in clear glasses with architectural lines. For beer, look to Italy, where breweries like Birra del Borgo and Birrificio Le Baladin offer solid sips.
Look for compilations that emphasize the glamorous, contemporary tone of the evening like Hôtel Costes or City Lounge. You can step it up a notch with lively music from LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening.
Retro is all the rage—as is organic and locally sourced cuisine—so celebrate the season in 1960s Bohemian style. You can spread the communal spirit by asking each guest to bring a dish, or you can all pitch in together to set the table or clean up.
This whimsical party encourages interaction, healthy eating and the sharing of food and drinks off the beaten path of typical holiday fare.
Be kind to your animal friends and host a plant-based feast for the holidays. Nava Atlas’s Wild About Greens* (Sterling, 2012) serves up an almost infinite variety of appetizers and main courses using a veritable cornucopia of leafy vegetables. Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market** (Clarkson Potter, 2012), by Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux, is a seasonal guide to using wild plants at the table.
Oven-Baked Kale Chips*
Wine- and Mustard-Braised Asian Greens*
Caramelized Braised Endive with Juniper Berries**
Hoisin-Glazed Bok Choy with Tofu and Soba Noodles*
Wild Raisin Crème Brûlée**
Off the Menu
Caramelized Braised Endive with Juniper Berries
Adapted from Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market (Clarkson Potter, 2012) by Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux
4 medium Belgian endives
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon ground dried eastern red cedar juniper berries, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat an oven to 325°F.
Prepare the endives by removing the outer leaves and cutting away the tough bottoms.
Melt the butter in a small heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-low heat, add the endives, and sprinkle with the juniper and sugar. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook, turning the endives gently after the color changes on one side, about 25 minutes, or until the outside edges turn a medium caramel brown.
Cover the skillet and transfer to the oven for about 45 minutes. The endives should turn a deep chocolate color but still be soft and melty. Sprinkle with a pinch of ground juniper before serving. Serves 4.
Hoisin-Glazed Bok Choy with Tofu & Soba Noodles
Recipe adapted from Wild About Greens: 125 Delectable Vegan Recipes for Kale, Collards, Arugula, Bok Choy, and other Leafy Veggies Everyone Loves by Nava Atlas (Sterling, 2012)
This quick, delicious dish of tofu and greens with a hint of citrus is tasty even without the soba noodles—or as an alternative, serve it over hot cooked grains like rice, millet or quinoa.
1 (8-ounce) package soba noodles
⅓ cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 (14–16 ounce) tub extra-firm tofu, drained and diced
2 tablespoons olive or other healthy vegetable oil
6 stalks bok choy or 2 baby bok choy, sliced diagonally, leaves chopped
12 baby carrots, quartered lengthwise, or 3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced diagonally
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons grated fresh or jarred ginger
¼ cup hoisin sauce
¼ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Cook the noodles according to the package’s directions until al dente, then drain.
Heat a stir-fry pan or large skillet. Add the almonds and toast on the dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until very lightly browned. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Heat the oil in the same pan. Add the tofu and sauté over medium-high heat until it is golden brown on most sides, stirring frequently.
Add the bok choy, carrots, scallions and ginger. Sauté for a minute or two, until the bok choy leaves wilt a bit, then add the hoisin sauce and orange juice. Turn the heat to high and cook, stirring, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the noodles and toss with the other ingredients in the pan. Season with soy sauce and pepper and serve at once. Serves 4–6.
Life was simpler in the ’60s, and your choice of materials should be, too. Natural fibers like raffia or hemp are perfect on your holiday table. Lay a foundation of earth tones with rustic placemats and linens, and then blow it up with a riot of colorful napkins, plates and glassware. Live plants— not cut flowers—belong on the hippie holiday table, and bring back multicolor drip candles in straw-wrapped Chianti bottles for a fun and funky touch. Small condiment bowls carved from quartz or jade add ’60s energy to the holiday table. Create an intimate, earthy ambiance with Wine Cork Candles ($19.95 for set of four), and the do-it-yourself crafts craze of the era with the Wine Cork Serving Tray Kit ($39.95), both at wineenthusiast.com.
Organic, biodynamic and eco-friendly are the buzzwords for this party, and California wines fit the theme well. Look to Sonoma for Benziger Family Winery’s biodynamically and organically farmed Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. Napa’s Robert Sinskey Vineyards produces excellent Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris from organic vines. If you want to reduce packaging waste and carbon emissions—and you’re cooking for a crowd—stock up on 3-liter boxes of Big House Red or Bota Box Zinfandel.
Beer & Cocktails
Seek out organic or small-batch local spirits like Crop Organic Vodka or Brooklyn Gin. Use artisanal mixers like Q Tonic, or offer fruit and vegetable juices. With the American craft-beer movement in full swing, look for what’s locally available, and consider organic beers by Deschutes Brewery from Oregon and Uinta Brewing from Utah to fit the theme.
Evoke the era with songs by Peter, Paul and Mary; Bob Dylan; Judy Collins; The Byrds; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; The Doors; and The Mamas and The Papas. Round out the soundtrack with some Indian-inspired world music by Ravi Shankar.
Rattle Those Pots and Pans
Holidays bring back childhood memories of homestyle family dinners. There’s no better time to prepare good old-fashioned comfort food, and there’s no better way to serve it than directly from your beautiful cookware. Let oven-to-table be your mantra this season, and remember that the best way to feed your family is family style! Elbows don’t belong on the table, but your colorful Dutch oven, enamelware, casserole dishes and frying pans deserve pride of place this year.
Choose dishes that can be served right in the pan. Rachael Ray’s My Year in Meals* (Atria Books, 2012) is a daily diary of everything the celebrated Food Network personality cooked and ate over the course of a year, including recipes and serving suggestions. The cuisine runs toward comfort food for a crowd and will look great served on the table in colorful cookware. Lisa Caponigri’s Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?** (Sterling Epicure, 2012) lays out 52 Italian-style menus. Make sure to have two gorgeous loaf pans on hand for the Sicilian meatloaf (polpettone alla Siciliana) and the pine nut loaf cake (torta di pinoli).
Mushroom and Burgundy Stew*
Chicken Pot Pie*
Macaroni & Cheese with Fennel*
Pine Nut Loaf Cake**
Off the Menu
Sicilian Meatloaf (Polpettone alla Siciliana)
Adapted from Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner? (Sterling Epicure, 2012) by Lisa Caponigri
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground veal
1 pound ground beef sirloin
2 large eggs
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Preheat an oven to 350˚F.
Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Transfer the mixture to an 8- by 4-inch loaf pan.
Bake the meatloaf for 1 hour, or until brown and crunchy on top. Serves 8–10.
Macaroni & Cheese with Fennel
Recipe adapted from My Year in Meals by Rachael Ray (Atria Books, 2012)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and quartered, thinly sliced, with a handful of fronds reserved and chopped
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup dry white wine
1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups whole milk
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 pound Italian macaroni or ziti
1½–2 cups shredded fontina Val d’Aosta or Gruyère cheese
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided, plus some for topping
Fennel pollen (optional)
Crispy fried onions, homemade or store bought, for garnish
Preheat an oven to 375°F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the macaroni.
In a medium saucepan or deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the butter. When the butter begins to foam, add the fennel, onion, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel and onion turn light caramel in color, about 20 minutes. If the fennel and onion brown too quickly at the edges, reduce the heat.
Once the fennel and onions become very soft and sweet, sprinkle in the flour, and stir for 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Stir in the stock and milk, and cook to thicken, about 5–7 minutes. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Salt the pasta water and cook the macaroni to al dente, about 7 minutes. Drain.
Add the fontina and ½ cup of the Grana Padano to the fennel sauce and stir until melted. Mix the pasta into the sauce.
Scrape macaroni mixture into a 9×13-inch baking pan. Top with the remaining grated cheese and sprinkle with fennel fronds and fennel pollen (if using). Bake until browned and bubbling, about 10–12 minutes. Top with the crispy onions. Serves 6.
Let your cookware be your guide when choosing a color palette. Is your cookware copper, bright enamel, stainless steel, cast iron or a blend? Family style can get messy, so skip the table cloth in favor of cloth or leather placemats and wood, enamel or cork trivets for your hot pots and pans. Clunky ceramic dishes will look best with a selection of serving vessels on the table, and Mason jars or tumblers are ideal for beer, cocktails or even wine. Break out your most photogenic serving spoons and spatulas, and be sure your potholders are equally presentable. Riedel Stemless “O” Glasses ($24.95 for a set of four) and Mason Jar Glasses ($19.95 for a set of four), both available at wineenthusiast.com, reflect the relaxed and playful style of the evening.
It’s comfort-food season, so stay in your comfort zone and go with what you know. Head for the Old World aisle of your wine shop. Stock up on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from venerable Burgundy houses like Louis Jadot and Louis Latour. If you’re celebrating with a bit of bubbly, grab some Champagne from Moët et Chandon. Italy is the place to go for Soave Bolla, or Chianti Classico bottled by Antinori or Rocca delle Macìe. From Spain, you can’t get more classic than Tempranillo from Muga or R. López de Heredia in Rioja.
Beer & Cocktails
Mix it up old school: Offer your guests a choice of classic cocktails, such as an old fashioned, martini or Manhattan, or find Grandma’s punch bowl and fill it with eggnog. The acidity of a Belgian lambic will match nicely with intense stews, cutting through the weight of the dish.
You’re updating the classics in the kitchen, so why not do the same with the music? Tony Bennett’s Duets II, Trav’lin’ Light by Queen Latifah, and Diana Ross’s The Blue Album will mix and mingle nicely alongside originals by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé.