After the obstacle course that is Thanksgiving (oh yeah, remember Thanksgiving?), an additional Holiday Meal can feel burdensome before you even get started.
So our Test Kitchen Chef, Josh Cohen, and our Chef-in-Residence, Sara Jenkins, thought up a wintertime feast that can be either cozy-casual or glitzy-formal, suited just as well to slippers as to holiday dresses and bowties. It's an impressive spread, surely, but not a feat that will leave you exhausted (whether you're doing the cooking or the eating). And you can make it, start to finish, in an afternoon.
The menu leans more heavily on smart techniques than a million hours of seeking out rare ingredients or standing over a hot stove. The centerpiece-worthy roast requires only six ingredients (including the pan sauce, made with the jam already hanging out in your fridge). The parsnips are exceedingly more flavorful than your run-of-the-mill glazed roots, but thanks to only one additional step. The fancy (and fussy) bûche de Noël is traded out for a gluten-free anytime cake that's less stressful to make (and to eat). And the weight is lifted off your shoulders! Can you feel it?
Browse the menu, read our game plan for getting it all done (it should take you less than three hours if you bake the cake and prep some dips the day before), and scroll to the bottom to see the Shop beauties that are dressing up our table.
Make it from start to finish or mix-and-match the dishes that most appeal to you. (And check out our Holiday Menu Genie to make your completely customizable winter feast.)
And bake the cake:
Sara calls this cake, which you can bake the day before or the morning of your feast, her "little black dress of a dessert": It's simple to make, it's timeless, and it's versatile.
Go glam with a ganache frosting or keep it understated with a dusting of confectioners' sugar or a dollop of whipped cream (spiking it with booze is optional, perhaps recommended). You can make that ahead of time, too.
And, like a little black dress, the cake can be "accessorized" however you'd like: If you don't have brandy, swap in another liquor; if you don't want to use almond meal, use ground hazelnuts or walnuts instead.
At least 2 1/2 hours before you want to serve the main course, turn up the oven to 450° F and start the roast:
This rib roast’s about as easy and impressive as roasts come, with minimal ingredients and fuss (which means: get the best beef you can find). After a quick stint at high heat to brown the meat's outer layer, you'll turn the heat down to 300° F and let it cook for about 2 hours (15 minutes per pound).
That's when you should put the shrimp on the stove:
You'll dump the soaked beans into a pot where you've seared chorizo and softened leeks, cover them with water, and cook till tender—essentially stewing them in a homemade chorizo stock for 2 hours (the same amount of time it takes the meat to roast to medium-rare!). You could use another cured meat, like pancetta, prosciutto, and guanciale in place of the chorizo and a different allium, like white or red onion, in place of the leeks.
With the roast in the oven and the beans on the stove, you'll have time to prep the mezze. Sara has experienced some insanely elaborate mezze—like, nine cold dishes followed by nine hot dishes—but to start her holiday parties, she opts for a truncated version of just a couple of dips (like beet moutabel), crudités, and mixed olives.
Mix together the olives and prepare any dips ahead of time; wash and peel the vegetables for the crudités, cover them with cold water, and keep them stored in the fridge—this will keep them crisp and crunchy until your guests arrive.
When the beans are about 30 minutes from being finished, start the shrimp confit: You'll gently simmer the shrimp in an oil bath on the gentlest heat possible—the slower you cook the shrimp, the more tender they will become. (If you don't eat shellfish, try onion confit or mushroom confit instead.)
This recipe could work with any variety of add-ins, including roasted peppers, caramelized onions, or charred octopus. Extra confit can be eaten over rice or pasta (or, you have the option to save time and skip the beans altogether). The confit will leave you with extra “shrimp oil,” which can be used to sauté vegetables, fry eggs, dress pasta, garnish a seafood stew, or jumpstart a stir-fry.
Once the roast is out of the oven, you're almost there! Use the drippings from the roasting pan to make a wine-bolstered pan sauce with the addition of a couple tablespoons of the jam you surely have in the back of your fridge. Sara recommends plum, quince, or a wine jelly—just nothing that’d be better spent on toast like raspberry or strawberry jam.
Try to use something you have: This is not about going out and hunting down an obscure ingredient.Sara Jenkins
Let the sauce reduce until it’s nice and sticky (with just the right amount of va-va-voom from a knob of butter) and keep it warm. Let the roast rest while you finish the meal by putting the finishing touches on the vegetable sides:
Glazed root vegetables, a ubiquitous wintertime side in which carrots and the like are cooked in water and butter, feel "very polite" to Josh—not to mention, if done poorly, mushy and monotonous.
To give glazed roots more oomph in texture and flavor, Josh takes an additional step that's well worth the effort: The parsnips, cut into planks to increase surface area for browning, are seared in canola oil, then set aside while a sauce of white wine, butter, rosemary, and maple syrup is reduced in the same pan. (You can experiment by swapping out the rosemary for fresh thyme or fresh sage; replacing the maple syrup with agave or honey; or adding a pinch of cayenne for a little heat.) Finally, the parsnips, now nice and caramelized, are returned to the saucy pan so that they're warm and glistening yet still al dente.
Traditional glazed vegetables feel too polite to me.Josh Cohen
Be sure to choose small parsnips for the recipe: When they're too big, their centers can be tough and fibrous. And, it's important not to overcrowd the pan when searing the planks—an overcrowded pan will lead to steaming instead of charring (meaning, less sweetly burnished flavor).
With the parsnips ready and the roast rested, you're all set to toss together the salad:
This salad’s flavor is built around a simple formula: bitter greens + sweet fruit + crunchy nuts. If you follow those flavors as a guideline, you can make the salad in many different ways: You could swap endive for the watercress, clementines for the pomegranate, and toasted hazelnuts for the sunflower seeds. Or Sara might use chicory, grapefruit, and fried shallots.
Feel free to whisk together the dressing, wash your greens, prep the pomegranate, and toast the sunflower seeds in advance, but don't toss the salad until everything else is ready: Delicate watercress wilts quickly.
Spoon the shrimp confit over the stewed beans, transfer the parsnips to a serving platter, toss the salad, then either carve the roast and dribble the gently-rewarmed sauce over top, or bring it to the table for a dramatic presentation.
Now there's only one thing left to do... (Eat!)
Like Josh and Sara's feast recipes, the serveware, glassware, and table accessories in the photos above are versatile because of their simplicity. They'll look as good on a picnic table as on your finest party-time linens.