Grabbing the Gusto

Deirdre Reid – Freelance Writer & Home Cook

If you’re still not completely settled on your Christmas and holiday dishes, today I’m sharing some of my proven favorites.

First off, if you have a small kitchen and you’re hosting a holiday party or toying with the idea of having an impromptu gathering, check out my Small Space Gusto tips for preparing holiday feasts in a small kitchen.

Happy Hour

My Eggnog recipe has wowed people on both coasts. It’s pretty darn awesome. I know, that’s not humble at all, is it? And it’s rich – like dessert in a glass. A high-octane dessert. If you love (or even just like) eggnog, you will fall deeply in love with this one. And don’t worry, it’s safe to drink because you will pasteurize the eggs – an easy process, trust me, that helps make the nog oh so creamy.

Or, make a batch of Gluhwein (German mulled wine) and keep it warm in a slow cooker. Your house will be full of holiday aromas. Whatever’s leftover can be stored in the frig and warmed up for tomorrow’s happy hour(s).

Eggnog from Christmas & Holiday Recipe Roundup 2014 | Grabbing the Gusto

Eggnog from Christmas & Holiday Recipe Roundup 2014 | Grabbing the Gusto

Apps

Serve your nog or mulled wine with Maple Sage Walnuts.

Two old stand-bys that have graced my holiday table for years and years are Clam Dip and Shrimp Crostini.

My favorite version of stuffed mushrooms are these Italian-Stuffed Mushrooms with ham, fennel, sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, scallions, garlic and basil.

If you rather stuff jalapeno peppers, you’ll love this Spicy Italian-Stuffed Jalapenos recipe. Imagine Italian sausage, red bell pepper, red onion, garlic, mascarpone (or cream cheese), mozzarella and parmesan. Mm mm mmm.

You don’t often see something like White Pizza on the holiday appetizer buffet, but, oh my god, it’s so good. This recipe is from my old restaurant, Geppetto, in DC and Maryland. I’ve never tasted anything better and I’ve had a lot of white pizza in my life.

Another non-traditional choice that’s also a bit festive looking is Grape Focaccia.

Eggplant Caponata takes dips to a whole new level. Totally worthy of your Christmas buffet.

Jim doesn’t like goat cheese so it’s been ages since I’ve made this Goat Cheese Gratin with rosemary, oregano, dry-cured black olives and tomato sauce. I really miss it! Maybe I’ll have it for dinner one night.

Mains

I’m not sharing many main dishes because people always think of big cuts of beef, ham or turkey for Christmas dinner, and I rarely make those. I rather have lamb shanks. They’re luxuriously delicious – meltingly full-flavored. I serve my Lamb Shanks with roasted root vegetables over a bed of polenta, but mashed potatoes would be perfect too.

Coq au Vin is another dish that isn’t usually seen on the holiday table but it’s such good comfort food, it deserves consideration.

A Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherd’s Pie would make a delicious holiday potluck dish. An all-in-one meal!

Veggies and Sides

You say your family doesn’t like Brussels sprouts. Well, they haven’t had Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Onions and Mushrooms. Heavenly.

Even the leftovers of this made-from-scratch Green Bean Casserole are swoon-inducing. Seriously, this is the best.

Green Bean Casserole from Christmas & Holiday Recipe Roundup 2014 | Grabbing the Gusto

Green Bean Casserole from Christmas & Holiday Recipe Roundup 2014 | Grabbing the Gusto

Add a seasonal touch of orange (and flavor) to your holiday dinner plate with Roasted Butternut Squash with Maple and Bacon.

Instead of regular mashed potatoes, how about Cheesy Broccoli Potato Mash?

If you need a Cranberry Sauce, my version has maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar, butter and orange juice in it. Sounds good, right?

Desserts

The grand finale. First, cookies. These Italian Fig Christmas Cookies (Cucidati) have been the most popular post on my blog for the last several weeks. They’re my favorite cookie by far.

Everyone has a Russian Teacakes (or snow balls, butter balls, Mexican wedding cakes) recipe. This is my mother’s version.

In the pie category, my current favorite is Maple Pecan Pie, although I might make it with walnuts this Christmas because my mother is a huge fan of maple walnut ice cream so I think she would love that variation.

You’ll need an easy, reliable pie dough recipe too. After many years using what I thought was the best recipe, I’m now a diehard convert to this Baker-Friendly Pie dough – a Cook’s Illustrated recipe.

Mince Pie isn’t everyone’s thing, and that’s a shame. I call it “mince” instead of “mincemeat” because there’s no meat in mine. Mince pie is basically an apple and dried fruit pie fortified with spices, citrus peel and alcohol. I add walnuts too.

Holiday dessert tables are full of cookies and pies. If you bring this gingerbread (or as I call it, Serious Gingerbread), you’ll be asked to bring it forever more. It’s intensely spiced, moist and seriously delicious.

And if you have a hard time saying good-bye to pumpkin, you’ll love the flavors of this Holiday Bundt Cake – pumpkin, pecans, apples, maple and warm spices.

I’m always on the hunt for new holiday favorites so I’d love to hear about yours.

Italian Fig Christmas Cookies (Cucidati) from Christmas & Holiday Recipe Roundup 2014 | Grabbing the Gusto

Italian Fig Christmas Cookies (Cucidati) from Christmas & Holiday Recipe Roundup 2014 | Grabbing the Gusto

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