No-Fail Holiday Dishes
Easy Elegance Menu: Spinach and Mushroom-Stuffed Beef Tenderloin
Here are 5 main dishes, paired with complementary sides, that will impress guests and delight family: showstopper centerpieces, casual braises, even a cozy brunch feast.
First up: Beef tenderloin is a go-to meat for holiday meals for good reason: When it's done right, it's velvety soft and wondrously juicy. But because it doesn't have much fat to insulate and self-baste the meat, it gets dry and livery-tasting when cooked past medium. Tenderloin cooks faster than fattier cuts, and its soft texture makes the touch test for doneness a little unreliable for all but the most experienced cooks. Our secrets for the best beef tenderloin: Cook it quickly, keep it moist, and use a trustworthy thermometer. Pull it from the oven right when it hits 125°, and residual heat will take it to perfection.
Easy Elegance Menu: Serve with Smashed Potatoes with Goat Cheese and Roasted Winter Veggies
Pair two classic sides with your beef tenderloin. Goat cheese adds both creaminess and tang to mashed potatoes.
Crowd-Pleasing Brunch Menu: Bananas Foster Breakfast Strata
When you're looking to satisfy a brunch crowd without having to cook eggs individually for every guest, strata is just the ticket. But even though it's a casserole, strata (breakfast bread pudding) can be tricky to pull off. Its success depends largely on texture: You're shooting for a toasty top layer of bread with moist, custardy goodness inside. Not too dry or soggy. For the custard in this one, we combine eggs with fat-free evaporated milk, which brings thick, creamy texture. This thick consistency is key; it'll moisten the bread in the strata but won't oversaturate and sog it out.
Crowd-Pleasing Brunch Menu: Serve with Winter Jeweled Fruit Salad
Fresh fruit is a welcome addition to comforting strata in the morning. This recipe puts seasonal citrus, pomegranate seeds, and sliced mango to good use.
Seafood Feast Menu: Roasted Side of Salmon with Shallot Cream
A roasted side of salmon makes a mighty impressive dish for special company, but few home cooks attempt it, largely due to the fear factor. Cooking fish can seem daunting: With most finfish like halibut, cod, or tilapia, the flesh is easily, quickly overdone. That's why we chose salmon, and a large piece at that, which offers big advantages: First, it's rich because of its oil, and is harder to overcook. Second, as with beef, individual preferences can run from rare to well done. When you cook a 3-pound piece of salmon, you can easily deliver a fish that's cooked to about medium at the thickest part and cooked through at the thinner portion for those who like it that way. Everybody, especially the cook, wins.
Seafood Feast Menu: Serve with Lemon Couscous and Garlicky Haricots Verts
Lemony couscous and garlicky green beans are quick and easy to make, yet impressive—perfect for entertaining.
Hanukkah Comfort Menu: Beer-Braised Brisket with Onion Jam
Brisket at its best is meltingly tender with deep, beefy flavor. But it has a reputation as a finicky cut that can end up dry and tough, especially the leaner flat end that's sold in most markets. The secret to succulent results starts with low, moist heat. A slow braise breaks down tough muscle fibers and connective tissue. The post-braising process is just as important: The braised brisket rests overnight in the cooking liquid. This gives the meat a chance to relax and reabsorb any juices pushed out as it cooked. The fat cap stays on the brisket while it cooks as an extra guard against dryness. It is carved off before reheating, and the overnight chill lets any rendered fat rise to the top of the cooking liquid and solidify, so it can be removed easily. Finally, the meat is sliced and reheated in the rich, meaty cooking liquid to guarantee that every bite is juicy. The liquid is then used in a sweet onion jam.
Hanukkah Comfort Menu: Serve with Moroccan-Spiced Baby Carrots and Potato Latkes
You can't celebrate the Festival of Lights without latkes. Here, a hot pan and a little olive oil produce golden, crispy pancakes that aren’t greasy. Round out the plate with roasted veggies. Warm spices like cumin and cinnamon play deliciously off the sweetness of the carrots.
Home-Cooked Classic Menu: Apple Brandy-Glazed Pork Tenderloin
Holiday pork roasts often use pork loin, a tasty cut but one that really needs to be brined to stay moist. But brining lengthens the cooking process by hours or even days, and we wanted something quicker. So we went with tenderloin, a buttery-soft cut that stays moist until it's cooked well done (and even then, sauce comes to the rescue). We cook it until pink in the middle, basting partway through to give the meat a flavorful crust, then drench it with sauce spiked with brandy and cider. We use unfiltered (cloudy) cider because it has pectin to thicken the sauce.
Home-Cooked Classic Menu: Serve with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Wild Rice Dressing
Dried cranberries, roasted chestnuts, and nutty-smoky wild rice make an excellent dressing for your holiday meal. Brussels sprouts roasted with a bit of maple syrup will please even the pickiest eaters.