7 Christmas Dinner Recipes To Set Your Meal Apart
Though it’s hard to argue with the tried-and-true, we’ve got some Christmas dinner recipes that will set your meal apart with thoughtful twists and unexpected surprises.
If you’re fighting off winter’s chill this holiday, why not greet your guests with a warm glass of mulled wine. Our vin chaud (“hot wine”) recipe is a bit of a departure from the normal with the addition of white wine and Port in place of the more usual red wine. There’s also brandy in there for extra kick.
Perhaps your Christmas is somewhere balmy. In that case, start with a riff on a Royale. Bartenders have taken the classic Kir and are liberally “royaling” everything with sparkling wine. The Da Hora cocktail is a citrusy day sipper topped with Cava.
Sick of the same old salads and sides boring up your table every year? Consider the pickled pear for a salad revelation. (And save some for a grilled cheese the next day.) Or try adding radicchio to Brussels sprouts for an assertive color and flavor kick. And the gratin will never be the same again when you sub out potatoes for parsnips and add surprise with pears. (Yes, we love our pears at Wine Enthusiast.) Don’t worry, it’s still a rich, cheesy delight of a dish.
For your main course, toss the turkey and get with a rack of lamb. This impressive, yet surprisingly easy, main course gets a pop of color from a gremolata full of fresh herbs and lemon.
For dessert the classic pumpkin pie gets a jolt from whiskey, mellowed by maple syrup.
Beyond cocktails, we’ve got you covered with our Christmas dinner wine guide. When it comes to beer, see how Champagne yeast is making bottles that bridge the gap between sparkling wine lovers and beer geeks.
Courtesy The Lodge Bar at Hotel Lodge Park, Megève, France
Located in the southeast of France, near the Italian and Swiss borders, this area enjoys views of famed Mont Blanc (“White Mountain”), the highest mountain in the Alps. Yet, it has a quieter, more rustic feel when compared to big, splashy resort towns. The cobbled streets of the town center drew the chic ski set starting in the 1920s. Its proximity to Geneva (about an hour away) helps bring in affluent vacationers who look to ski, snowboard or scale the peaks.
Vin chaud (“hot wine”) is a traditional offering that keeps with the restrained feel of the town. Yet, while most mulled wines are made with red wine, this one combines white wine and Port, plus a dose of brandy. Jacquère, a dry white wine from France’s Savoy region, is recommended, though Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc also work well.
- 3½ tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 cup white wine
- ½ cup Port
- 1 apple, quartered
- 1 orange, quartered
- 2 cloves
- 1 star anise
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 4 cardamom seeds
- 1 pinch dried hibiscus flower
- ½ cup brandy
- Dried orange peel, for garnish
- Additional whole baking spices,
- for garnish
In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine brown sugar and 1 teaspoon water over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon, until sugar dissolves and mixture just begins to simmer. Simmer without stirring for about 5 minutes, or until it begins to darken.
Add white wine, Port, fruit, spices and hibiscus. Stir together, and heat slowly for 10 minutes. Add brandy, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
Pour into bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Strain mixture. At this point, the mulled wine can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
To serve, heat wine (stovetop or microwave), and divide among four tea cups or glass mugs. Garnish each mug with dried orange peel and whole spices. Serves 4.
Courtesy How To Drink French Fluently, by Drew Lazor
This citrusy, floral-forward drink that lands somewhere between a Caipirinha and a classic Royale cocktail. Try this easy sipper for brunch.
- 1½ ounces St-Germain elderflower liqueur
- 1 ounce cachaça
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ½ ounce grapefruit juice
- 2 ounces Cava
- Cucumber wheel (for garnish)
Combine all ingredients (except garnish) in cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, and strain into coupe glass. Top with Cava. Garnish with cucumber wheel.
A pickled pear is a thing of beauty. Structurally, most fruits aren’t strong enough to handle an extended vinegar bath, but some pears are up to the challenge. Varieties like Bosc and Anjou are firm and just a bit woody. They look beautiful in a fruit bowl, but they’re often a disappointment to eat raw.
But pickled, they’re a revelation.
Strong hits of acidity are tempered by the natural fructose of pears in a way that isn’t cloying, unlike many other pickling recipes. Pears play well with fall spices, resulting in a treat that’s exciting and bright, while also comfortably warm.
Pickled pears can get you through the coldest days of winter. They can bring so many things to life, working as an alternative to root vegetables in casseroles and roasts, upgrading sandwiches beyond the standard slice of tomato, and elevating salads desperate for a taste of sunshine.
In this salad, pickled pears bring brightness to peppery arugula. They’re further balanced by salty and savory marcona almonds and large crumbles of creamy, piquant Stilton cheese. A vinaigrette that incorporates the pickling brine with an additional splash of pear nectar ties everything together.
Pickled pears can fast become an integral part of your cold-weather kitchen. Layer them into a grilled cheese sandwich made with fontina and rustic bread drizzled with olive oil, or substitute a few slices in place of lemon for pan-seared seafood. Save the brine to add to marinades for poultry or duck, or to add a surprising dose of acidity to cocktails.
- 3 large firm cooking pears, like Bosc or Anjou
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 (¼-inch) piece fresh ginger
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 5 ounces baby arugula
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- ½ cup coarsely chopped roasted and salted marcona almonds
- ⅓ pound Stilton cheese
- ¼ cup grapeseed or canola oil
- ⅓ cup pickling liquid
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup pear nectar
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Peel, quarter and core pears. Place in 2-quart mason jar or container.
In medium saucepan, combine remaining pickling ingredients and bring to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Pour pickling liquid over pears and seal tightly. Refrigerate at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight. Reserve ½ cup of pickling liquid, and pass through strainer. Set aside.
Place grapeseed oil, reserved picking liquid, pear nectar and Dijon mustard in jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until well combined. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
Dress arugula and red onion lightly with dressing. Crumble in cheese, and toss well. Divide salad onto 4 plates. Cut pears into ½ inch slices and fan out on top. Sprinkle almonds atop salads. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Samuel Adams Rebel IPA; $10 12oz/6 pack, 91 points. This salad has a lot exciting and powerful flavors coming together, this well balanced IPA will help keep it all grounded. The bitter hop flavors wrangle in the creamy stilton and the sweet and vinegar notes of the pears; the brighter citrus notes of the beer team up with salad dressing to bring it all together.
Courtesy Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colorado
Radicchio adds a splash of color and a touch of contrasting bitterness to the Brussels sprouts. Glazed with butter and with the added zip of Sherry vinegar, it’s the perfect side dish to any roasted meat, poultry or richer seafood.
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
- 2 heads radicchio, sliced into ¼-inch
- 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons salted butter
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil in large sauté pan over high heat. Add Brussels sprouts cut-side down, and sear. Lower heat, toss with radicchio, and cook until wilted. Add Sherry vinegar, butter, salt and pepper. Toss frequently so butter glazes vegetables. Cook until tender. Serves 8.
A hot, bubbling gratin straight out of the oven is the definition of “so wrong, yet so right.” Who was the first genius that decided to cook vegetables by drowning them in heavy cream and cheese? Does it matter? That person is in heaven now, where they rightfully deserve to be.
A gratin is usually made with potatoes and gruyere. It’s like a loving hug for your insides, something to eat straight from the casserole while sitting fireside under a warm blanket.
This non-traditional recipe offers tantalizing new flavors and unexpected tastes that can help you avoid potato-gratin fatigue. Potatoes are swapped for parsnips, which convey the natural sweetness of the root vegetable family, but far subtler than most. Parsnips balance faint sugar notes with comparable bitterness. Their savoriness is almost reminiscent of a musky, autumn-inspired perfume.
Pears are a perfect companion for such an ingredient. Just as parsnip often acts as the carrot’s less-popular cousin, pears regularly find themselves playing second fiddle to apples. Bringing the two together in sweet harmony in this dish is a helping of heavy cream and gobfuls of luscious Brie.
- 8 ounces Brie
- 5 medium parsnips
- 4 large Bosc pears
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 6 sprigs thyme, stripped, divided
- 2½ cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup cornstarch or potato starch
Place Brie in freezer at least 20 minutes.
Heat oven to 400°F. Grease 9 x13 baking pan or medium casserole dish.
Peel parsnips and pears. Cut pears in half from top to bottom. Remove cores with paring knife or melon baller.
Using mandoline or chef’s knife, cut parsnips and pears into ¼-inch slices. Place pear slices in bowl, and toss with potato starch. Remove Brie from freezer and shred. Set one-third of the cheese aside to top gratin.
Place baking pan onto sheet pan.
Arrange three layers of parsnips in baking pan. Season with salt and pepper. Top with single layer of pears, shaking off any additional potato starch from slices first. Sprinkle cheese over pear layer with a bit of thyme. Slowly drizzle heavy cream to cover. Repeat layers until all ingredients are used.
Bake gratin for 30 minutes, or until it begins to bubble. Sprinkle remaining Brie over gratin. Turn on oven broiler. Place under broiler for 5–10 minutes, or until golden brown. Let gratin rest 10 minutes before serving. Serves 12 as a side.
Domaine Bertrand 2015 Pisse-Vieille (Brouilly); $25, 90 points. This juicy red wine with plenty of acidity gently lifts this cozy, gooey dish. Bright fruit flavors are a natural companion for brie while the smoky accents of the wine play well with the earthy flavors of the parsnips.
Courtesy of Frasca Food & Wine, Boulder, Colorado
Frasca is the brainchild of Bobby Stuckey, MS, and Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson. The eatery offers cuisine and wine from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, and it’s one of the state’s most acclaimed restaurants. This rack of lamb served with Brussels sprouts and beets is a surprisingly easy main course to prepare, and its elegance makes for a holiday dinner to remember.
- 2 racks of lamb (8 bones each), Frenched
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- Gremolata (recipe below)
Heat oven to 425˚F. Place oven-safe rack on baking sheet. Rub lamb with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Score “X”s into fatty side of lamb with a sharp knife. Truss lamb with kitchen twine, if desired.
Place lamb on rack, fat side up. Slide herb sprigs under racks.
Roast for 17–20 minutes, then drop temperature to 325˚F. For medium-rare lamb, cook 15–25 minutes more, or until internal temperature measured with meat thermometer reaches 115˚F. Let rest 10 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 125˚F. Slice racks into 2-bone chops. Serve drizzled with gremolata. Serves 8.
- 1 bunch parsley, chopped
- 6 sprigs mint, chopped
- ¼ bunch chive, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
- 1 medium shallot, chopped
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt, to taste
In medium glass bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Set aside until ready to serve. Can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
“The Livio Felluga Sossó is a wonderful blend of two indigenous grapes, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso and Pignolo, with Merlot,” says Stuckey. “The wonderful tannins with the dry aromatics go well with the rich marble of the lamb. For those of you looking for a white wine pairing, the Livio Felluga Terre Alte is a white blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco and Sauvignon from the great grand cru slopes on the hill of Rosazzo from the Colli Orientali del Friuli. This white wine has weight and is rich, but certainly not heavy due to the nice acidity.”
Pumpkin is no longer just a fruit, but an ethos that borders on obsession. Many people are less enamored by the actual flavor of pumpkin than what it represents: changing leaves, crisp air, chilly temps. We love autumn because it makes us just cold enough to where the act of warming up is enjoyable. It’s few short months where we can cozy up in front of a warm, flickering fire with hot mugs of spiced cider.
Pumpkin pie is more than merely “some pie.” Pumpkin pie is the edible embodiment of our autumnal spiritual needs baked into a buttery crust. Aspiring to make a good pie is to aiming too low. This pie needs to be bigger than dessert, bigger than Thanksgiving, bigger than all the colorful leaves and mittens and seasonal lattes in the world. It’s not just the centerpiece of the table, but centerpiece of the entire season. Eating a slice of pumpkin pie is bending the knee at the Altar of Fall.
To create this recipe, deep meditation was needed. It was not just the usual soul searching that’s needed whenever you craft a pie (pie is very serious), but it required to light that fire within to truly feel the essence of the season in mind, body and spirit. And, where there’s fire, there’s smoke.
A good whiskey has many characteristics ideal for this pie. Its flavor, from being aged in charred wood barrels, gives you the full “cuddling up next to the fire” experience in liquid form.
The fall fun doesn’t stop with the whiskey. Any pumpkin pie needs to be sweetened, and if you’re not sweetening it with maple syrup, then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. This is an obvious pairing, just like peanut butter and jelly.
Pick up the darkest maple syrup you can find, which may be labeled B or C grade, depending on its point of origin. It’s the syrup harvested at the end of the season, whose maple flavor is so strong that it’s commonly deemed as “too much” for pancakes. In a pie with pumpkin and whiskey, though, it’s perfect.
Once these ingredients are whisked together, we bring in our secret ingredient: liquid smoke. Be careful, this stuff is highly concentrated. A single drop can add intense flavor, so add the tiniest increments possible and taste as you go (it’s safe to do this). You won’t need much. If you worry about your judgment, feel free to skip the liquid smoke all together. It’s only there for a little je nais sais quoi.
Once baked, let the pie chill in the refrigerator for a day or two, as it will improve with age. You can serve with plain whipped cream if you have company, but ideally, you’re eating this all on your own, tucked under a fleece blanket.
- 1 stick cold butter
- 1⅓ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2–4 tablespoons ice water
- 1 egg white, well beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Cut cold butter into flour, sugar, and salt using food processor or pastry cutter until it resembles small pebbles. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough just comes together. Place on large sheet of plastic wrap. Gather edges to make satchel, and squeeze so dough comes together in ball (if it doesn’t, add a bit more water). Flatten plastic-wrapped dough into a 1-inch thick disc. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Place dough on well-floured board. Let sit for 10 minutes. Roll to ¼-inch thick, and line dough into pie pan. Roll up edges to make decorative rimmed crust, then dock bottom and sides with fork. Freeze until solid. (Well wrapped, frozen shell will keep 3 months.)
Heat oven to 375°F. Place baking sheet into oven to warm. Line frozen pie shell with foil, and fill with rice, sugar, or pie weights. Place on baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and weights. Using pastry brush, glaze pie crust with egg wash. Bake additional 5 minutes. Remove pie shell and baking sheet from oven. Set crust aside, and reduce oven to 350°F.
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 egg
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups canned pumpkin
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 3 tablespoons whiskey
- ⅓ cup dark maple syrup
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- ⅛ teaspoon (or less) of liquid smoke (optional)
In bowl, whisk yolks and egg with sugar, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice and salt until solidly mixed. Add pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, whiskey, syrup, heavy cream and vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Place drop of liquid smoke onto spoon, and add to custard. Mix and taste for flavor. Add another drop, if desired.
Pour custard into pie shell Place pie onto baking sheet, and place in center of oven. Bake 45–50 minutes, or until pie is mostly set but looks slightly jiggly in center. Let cool, and refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature. Serves 6–8
Cossart Gordon 2008 Colheita Single Harvest Bual (Madeira); $34, 94 points. Though made on a Portuguese island, Madeira has a long, sweet history in the U.S. It was the toast of choice after the signing of the the Declaration of Independence, and is a worthy accompaniment to any occasion, whether a historic moment or a holiday gathering. Rich toffee notes are contrasted by refreshing acidity, getting you ready for that next bite of pumpkin pie.
- 1A Vin Chaud Recipe With a White Wine Surprise
- 2Da Hora
- 3Pickled Pear and Arugula Salad
- 4Brussels Sprouts with Radicchio
- 5Pear and Parsnip Gratin
- 6Oven Roasted Rack of Lamb with Gremolata
- 7Whiskey Pumpkin Pie