3 Cozy Dinners on Our Holiday Radar—Plus, Wines to Go With

We’re talking glistening roasts, fish so tender it practically falls apart, and more.

November 20, 2020

We've partnered with Imagery Wine Collection—a portfolio of unique, artistically inspired wines—to share holiday-ready wine and food pairings, plus plating tips and tricks for creating a stunning spread.

There’s something about the holidays that makes me want to cook meals more lavish than the average dinner: glistening roasts, free-poured cream and cheese over grains, fish so tender it practically falls apart.

Though this time of year feels familiar, the holidays will be different. The prospect of fewer—if any—cookie swaps or big family dinners is disappointing, but it doesn’t mean I’ll settle for boxed mac and cheese. I’ll roll up my pajama sleeves and head to the kitchen to prepare the prettiest-possible feast, even if I’m only feeding two people. (And roll your eyes if you want, but I never said I wasn’t going to Instagram this!)

Here are three holiday-worthy dishes I’ll be making this season—plus, the perfect wines to pair 'em with and serving ideas to make the whole thing feel like an occasion.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna.

1. Roasted Cauliflower Brown Rice Risotto + Chardonnay

I don’t eat too much meat, so for a festive vegetarian meal, I like a warming, stick-to-your ribs brown rice risotto.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna.

I like to crank my favorite holiday songs while I cook (I still listen to the home-burned CDs that my friends sent every year for a decade), and sometimes I’m too busy singing along with Mariah Carey that I don’t hear the timer. Trust me, nothing kills the celebratory vibe faster than acrid burnt walnuts, so when you’re toasting, bake the nuts just until you can smell them—trust your nose, it knows. Instead of finely chopping them before serving, I like to use the flat side of a knife or the base of a small bowl to gently smash them, which leaves rough walnut pieces that you can actually crunch on.

For the prettiest possible bowl, top the risotto with wide, flat shards of Parmesan instead of grated. Even if the rice is piping hot, cheese cut like this will only halfway melt, leaving you with two salty, funky Parm textures in those first bites (instead of immediately turning to gloop). I’ll ladle servings of risotto into individual flat bowls, bringing the pot to the table for second helpings.

Risotto’s simpler flavors call for drinks that won’t overpower the meal—I opt for wine that’s citrusy and not too acidic. Enter: Chardonnay. With a crunchy carrot and radicchio salad on the side, this crisp white is dreamy. And while we’re on the subject, though I don’t think white wine needs to be ice-cold, it should be well-chilled, which means a couple hours in the fridge; too cold, and some of the delicate flavors will get lost.

But later, while on the couch watching The Holiday, it doesn’t matter the wine temperature. As long as I’m stuffed from a great meal, I’ll have another glass—and probably a couple rainbow cookies, too.

2. Sesame Encrusted Salmon + Pinot Noir

It’s not quite Feast of the Seven Fishes-level fantastic, but my family has a long-standing tradition of fish on Christmas Eve. Greatest hit of years past: lox-topped latkes (that was the year Hanukkah fell on the same night—did I mention we’re Jewish too?). This year, I’m feeling a big salmon fillet, made extra-special with a Pinot Noir pan sauce.

A big handful of flat-leaf parsley (barely run through with a knife) is an ideal way to brighten up this fish before serving, offsetting the pink salmon flesh. To ensure those herbs stay perky, I soak them in ice water, then spin dry in a salad spinner. Before eating, instead of slicing the salmon into neat servings, I plop the whole fillet on a platter and gently break it into a few large pieces with a big spoon, encouraging my family to further break up and scoop their desired pieces.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna.

Naturally, we’ll drink wine too—starting with whatever’s left in the bottle, post-sauce. Spoiler alert: Fish doesn’t have to be served with white wine! Fatty salmon pulls out Pinot Noir’s notes of jammy fruit, and I personally like to serve it slightly chilled. I think one of the biggest mistakes made with red wine, especially a lighter one like Pinot Noir, is serving it too warm. I pop the bottles in the fridge for an hour before pouring a glass.

3. Pomegranate-Braised Lamb Shanks + Cabernet Sauvignon

Growing up, meat was a special-occasion dinner, and I’ve carried over that tradition into adulthood. Nothing feels quite as luxe on a holiday as a pile of lamb shanks, braised for hours until fall-off-the-bone-tender. Though I don’t drink full-bodied wines every day, this recipe begs to be served with something like Cabernet Sauvignon. I like to serve heavier reds a tad cooler than room temperature (there’s a trend happening; red wine shouldn’t be too warm!), so it goes in the fridge about half an hour before dinnertime.

Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth. Food Stylist: Lauren LaPenna.

But before digging in, let’s talk about the pomegranate braising liquid-turned-sauce: I like to reduce this one for a while (until thick and syrupy) before pouring it over the meat, effectively glazing the shanks. And don’t skip the pomegranate arils on top—they add the brightest color contrast, sparkling like jewels on top of the meat.

What food-and-wine pairings will you be serving this holiday season? Tell us in the comments!

We've partnered with Imagery Wine Collection—makers of creative, flavorful wines perfect for pairing—to share delicious wine and food combos ready for the holiday season. Think: a creamy, nutty brown rice risotto with Imagery Wine Collection’s citrusy-crisp Chardonnay; sesame encrusted salmon with Imagery Wine’s Collection’s light and jammy Pinot Noir; and tender pomegranate-braised lamb shanks with with Imagery Wine Collection’s full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon. Planning your own holiday feast? Have all three wines delivered straight to your door.

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Rebecca Firkser is the assigning editor at Food52. She used to wear many hats in the food media world: food writer, editor, assistant food stylist, recipe tester (sometimes in the F52 test kitchen!), recipe developer. These days, you can keep your eye out for her monthly budget recipe column, Nickel & Dine. Rebecca tests all recipes with Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Follow her on Instagram @rebeccafirkser.