Holiday Special

If you’re like most newlyweds, the last time both of your families got together, you were exchanging “I do’s.” It doesn’t take quite that much planning to host your first holiday meal, but you also probably aren’t hiring a caterer.

If you’re like most newlyweds, the last time both of your families got together, you were exchanging “I do’s.” It doesn’t take quite that much planning to host your first holiday meal, but you also probably aren’t hiring a caterer. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic. You can pull together an impressive family affair that’s fun and creative with minimal planning, a little organization and some tips from the pros.

Peggy Knickerbocker, author of Simple Soirées: Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005), has dedicated her life to good food and festive, successful parties. “To me,” she says, “the simplest thing is to have everything done ahead of time.” She loves to quote chef Alice Waters’ advice about having only one thing to do by the time the guests arrive.

Knickerbocker recommends setting the table the evening before. Simple table decorations can go a long way—a few candles and a branch of lemons, oranges or persimmons, laid down the center of the table, can be stunning, especially in the wintertime.

While you’re setting the table, you can set out some other items to welcome guests. “I love to put little trays out, with wine and champagne buckets and sparkling glasses,” says Knickerbocker. “And little dishes with roasted almonds and radishes with sweet butter and sea salt.” (Recipes follow.)

She suggests greeting each arrival with a flute of prosecco to kick off the evening. If you’re serving wine or champagne, open it before people start showing up to let it breathe, and make sure you have plenty of ice on hand.

The menu is the most important part of any big meal. Chris Schlesinger, chef-owner of the East Coast Grill & Raw Bar in Cambridge and a master of meat, suggests a no-fail and always-delicious cut of beef to roast for this occasion. He calls it a roast strip loin, but you should ask a butcher for a sirloin strip roast or a New York strip roast. Different people call this cut by different names, but it is basically a roast of New York strip steaks. “I like this because it has more flavor than a prime rib, is less fatty, cooks quicker, is easy to carve and it’s slightly unusual,” Schlesinger says.

This is the one dish you can’t prepare ahead, but with a meat thermo-meter and careful timing, you can’t go wrong. “Don’t worry about poking it and having juice come out,” says Schlesinger. “It’s far more important to get the temperature right.”

Let the roast stand, loosely covered with foil, for 15-20 minutes before carving it. This will give the juices time to settle throughout the meat.
“This is awesome for steak sandwiches the next day,” says Schlesinger—if, that is, you have any left over.

Roasted potatoes, a traditional side, are easy to cook with the beef. And while it’s tempting to go with a run-of-the-mill veggie like corn or peas, Geoff Gardner, executive chef and co-owner of Sel de la Terre in Boston, is emphatic that his creamy brussels sprouts with smoked bacon will win people over. “To me, the challenge is to do something that doesn’t require you to be in the kitchen all the time, and this is something you can do in advance and just heat it up,” he says.

“Another thing that’s great is that nice smoky, creamy liquid that coats the brussels sprouts serves as a bit of sauce for the meat. And they’re kind of festive and a little different. It’s not something your guests will have had three times that week like green beans or broccoli.”

No meal is complete without dessert. A clever cannoli filling is a sure bet, and easier to make than you’d have thought. Mitch Maxwell, executive chef and owner of Maxwell’s 148 in Natick, has a no-bake, do-ahead version of the dessert that’s very versatile. “They can be filled with a pastry bag into a cannoli shell, or sandwiched between pizzelle [round Italian cookies], or spread on one and topped with berries and powdered sugar,” he says. “You can even use little phyllo cups that you find in the freezer section of your supermarket.”

With this much help, entertaining your new, bigger family for the holidays should be stress-free—but just to make absolutely sure, Knickerbocker has two final suggestions: “Never answer the phone, and don’t do the dishes when people are there.”


Roasted Almonds
Adapted from Simple Soirées:
Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2005),
by Peggy Knickerbocker
Serves 8-10
1 lb. fresh almonds
2 tsp. salt
3 T. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place almonds in colander and splash with cold water so they are barely moistened and allow to drain. Toss almonds with salt. Place on baking sheet in single layer (you may need two pans). Bake for 15 minutes, watching carefully. Shake pan and turn almonds over using spatula. Return to oven for another 10-15 minutes. Listen for the first crackle—this is your clue that they’re done.
Remove pan from oven and allow to cool. Pour almonds into bowl, toss with butter, and store in airtight container. This can be done days before your holiday party.

Chilled Radishes With Sea Salt and Sweet Butter
Adapted from Simple Soirées: Seasonal Menus for Sensational Dinner Parties
Serves 6-8
2 bunches red radishes
1/2 lb. sweet (unsalted) butter
1/2 cup sea salt
Clean and remove spindly stems from ends of radishes, leaving greens on to grasp. Place in ice water until ready to serve. Fill small ramekin with sweet butter and another with sea salt for dipping. Be sure to have another bowl available for easy and obvious disposal of radish greens.

Roast Beef Top Loin
With Roasted Potatoes
From Chris Schlesinger,
East Coast Grill & Raw Bar, Cambridge
Serves 8
8 lbs. beef top loin
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup fresh-ground pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Liberally salt and pepper roast on all sides, then place on rack in roasting pan, fat side up. Cook at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, then turn oven down to 300 degrees and cook for 20-40 minutes more. For medium rare, meat thermometer should read 122 degrees. Take out and loosely cover with aluminum foil. Internal temperature will rise about 6 degrees while standing.

Roasted Potatoes
Adapted from How to Cook Meat
(Morrow Cookbooks, 2000), by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby
Serves 8
8 medium Red Bliss or baking potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise into sixths
1/4 cup olive oil
7-8 sprigs fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In large bowl, toss potatoes with olive oil, rosemary sprigs, and salt and pepper. Place potatoes on baking sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes until they are golden-brown and tender, turning after about 20 minutes.
Alternately, toss potatoes in roasting pan with beef, watching that they don’t overcook. You want them golden-brown and tender.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts With Smoked Bacon
From Geoff Gardner, executive chef and
co-owner, Sel de la Terre, Boston
Serves 6-8
2 lbs. brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed and bottom trimmed
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 tsp. garlic, minced
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup diced, rendered bacon*
Salt and pepper
Gently simmer brussels sprouts in pot of lightly salted water until tender (when you can insert knife with no resistance). Strain and refrigerate.
In separate pan, place cream, garlic, parmesan and rendered bacon. Bring to simmer and reduce heat slightly, for about 5 minutes.
While this is cooking, cut brussels sprouts in half with knife. Add brussels sprouts to bacon and cream. Simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally until brussels sprouts are hot and well-covered with sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
note: To render bacon, dice smoked bacon and saute until fat drains off meaty portions. Dry on paper towel before adding to sauce.

White Chocolate Cannoli Filling
From Mitch Maxwell, executive chef
and owner, Maxwell’s 148, Natick
Fills 10 cannoli
1 lb. ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lime, finely minced
Zest of 1 lemon, finely minced
Zest of 1 orange, finely minced
1/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup shaved white chocolate
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup shaved dark chocolate or toasted nuts for garnish
Place all ingredients except dark chocolate or nuts in bowl of food processor and blend until smooth. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
To serve, use pastry bag with large tip to fill prepared cannoli shells. Dip ends in shaved dark chocolate or toasted nuts. You can also spread filling on pizzelle.

Key Lime Cannoli Filling
From Mitch Maxwell
Fills 6 cannoli
4 egg yolks
1 can sweetened condensed milk
Zest of 2 limes
3/8 cup key lime juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup ground pistachio nuts, unsalted and roasted
Prepared cannoli shells
Fresh raspberries for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat egg yolks and condensed milk with mixer until smooth. Add lime zest, key lime juice and vanilla and continue mixing until smooth. (This can be done in food processor.)
Pour mixture into 8-by-8-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until set. Remove from oven and cool in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
In food processor, mix ricotta cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. In large bowl, first pour in cooled lime custard mixture, then fold in ricotta mixture. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.