9 Tips To Elevate Your Holiday Meal
1. Use The Best Ingredients
For your holiday meal or dish to taste great, the ingredients have to be great. When choosing produce, meats, and even the spices for your recipes, products of the highest quality are the only way to guarantee delicious and impressive results. Sure, the roast that crowns your holiday table must be cooked well, but if it isn’t truly quality beef that’s raised and processed the right way, it will fall short of expectations. (Certified Piedmontese standing rib roast and boneless strip loin roast are favorites for the holidays.) High-quality cheeses can really take your dish or meal over the top as well, and Farm-fresh eggs taste more like, well, eggs, and they add authentic flavor to the dishes they’re in.
2. Brown Your Butter
Once you experience brown butter’s delicious results in your favorite dishes, both sweet and savory, you’ll never not brown butter again. It adds a rich, nutty aroma to any recipe that calls for butter, giving the dish the perfect seasonal flavor boost. Simply start melting the butter in a pan over medium heat (a pan with a lighter-colored bottom helps keep track of the color). Swirl the pan occasionally to ensure the butter cooks evenly. As it melts, the butter will begin to foam. Once it turns a toasty-brown and you smell that nutty aroma, remove from the heat, let cool, and use it in all sorts of recipes!
3. Use Fresh Herbs
Use fresh herbs in compound butters (check out Lucia Watson's recipe for Red Wine, Shallot & Parsley Compound Butter ), pastries and desserts, and even cocktails. Add hard herbs like bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, and sage early in the cooking process to bring out the oils and aromas of the leaves, and add softer, more tender herbs like parsley, cilantro, and basil toward the end to maintain they’re brightness. Err on the side of starting out with less, knowing you can always add more.
4. Make Better Mashed Potatoes & Gravy
Believe it or not, the key to delicious mashed potatoes is using vegetables other than potatoes. Add celery root for creaminess (see Lucia Watson’s recipe), fennel bulb for subtle sweetness, cauliflower for nuttiness, and herbs and seasonings like parsley, garlic, and chives for a mash-up that sings with flavor. For the best possible gravy, use the rendered fat and tasty juices that accumulate in the bottom of the roasting pan as the base. It’s ideal if you can transfer your roasting pan right to the stovetop; if not, simply gather the drippings in a measuring cup and use them as the base for your roux, which should have a 1 tablespoon of fat to 1½ tablespoons of flour ratio.
5. Cook To The Indicator
Everybody’s cooking equipment (stove, oven, etc.) is different. Recipes provide time frames, but there’s no way of knowing exactly how long it will take your equipment to cook the food compared to the recipe’s instructions. The indicator is the portion of the recipe that explains what the food should look like. For example, a recipe might say to caramelize onions for 25 to 30 minutes, or until deeply golden brown. Cooking to the indicator means even if you’ve cooked the onions for 30 minutes and they aren’t golden brown, keep cooking until they are. Time isn’t nearly as important as the indicator.
6. Offer Delicious Wine Pairings
Don’t consider yourself an expert? Simple course-based pairings can go a long way. Kick off the meal with a sparkling wine while guests nibble on starters. Then go for a main-course red (think a lighter Nebbiolo or an earthy pinot noir) and a main-course white (a dry, acidic Riesling or a spicier Gewurztraminer, perhaps?), and maybe even a nutty, autumn-invoking sherry for dessert. Note that if you’re hosting, you needn’t feel guilty asking guests to bring a specific wine.
7. Serve An Elegant (But Easy) Charcuterie Board
A charcuterie board is a failsafe and elegant crowd favorite. The best part? It can be assembled beforehand. Start with a few favorite cheeses and meats (check out our beef summer sausage) and add olives, crackers, chutneys and jams, and seasonal fruits like figs and clementine. Guests love to mix and match, and it keeps them entertained during final meal preparations.
8. Play An Effortless Playlist
Incorporating some soft, ambient music can really heighten the mood of a gathering, and it doesn’t mean you have to play DJ. Take advantage of ready-made playlists on Pandora or Spotify for music that sets the tone. Keep the volume at a moderate setting: loud enough so people can hear it, but soft enough so it doesn’t hinder conversation.
9. Incorporate Nature
Nothing says ‘tis the season like natural seasonal elements—think a garland of greenery, birch candles, and winter fruits down the center of the table. It doesn’t need to be cookie-cutter perfect; in fact, the less perfect, the more charming. Incorporate boughs of evergreen, pine, and juniper to add freshness, color, and a delightful scent that heightens the holiday spirit of your gathering.