Comforting, traditional holiday food is nice and all, but when you have guests during the holidays, you want to impress them with some dramatic dish. Sometimes it takes a lot of work, time, and patience to create that final crowd-pleaser. Other times — our favorite times — it’s deceptively easy.
The trick can be a simple combination of ingredients not typically paired together. Or it can be a knife skill on display. For your main meat, wrap it in bacon or prosciutto. Hell, wrap anything in prosciutto. If something is ho-hum, sprinkle pomegranate seeds on it. Fry any fresh herbs in oil and place the crispy result on top of a dish. Slice your fruit, vegetables, or whatever avocados are (a fruit also) into the shape of flowers, particularly roses, and you’ve found yet another great way to get some oohs and ahhs from your holiday guests.
Oh, and affogato. Scoop some vanilla or hazelnut gelato into pretty coffee cups, pour a few tablespoons of espresso or strongly brewed coffee on top, sprinkle on a few chocolate shavings or chopped hazelnuts, and you’ve sealed the deal on guest gratification. Here are some other tricks to thrill your holiday friends and blow the minds of those in-laws.
Some apple rose tarts can take hours upon hours. But there’s no need to make a custard which requires constant surveillance and stirring. Don’t bother with seemingly endless amounts of apples to slice paper-thin and then shape into rose petals. To make six apple roses, you need only two large red apples, a package of puff pastry, apricot preserve, cinnamon, lemon juice, a sprinkling of flour for the counter, and a sprinkling of powdered sugar to dust the tops of the flowers. It’ll look almost like they’ve been blooming in a morning mist or faint snowfall. Get the recipe.
Pear and Feta Bites
This is an easy appetizer that looks impressive and tastes great. That’s about all you need in your hors d’ oeuvres, right? Oh, and there aren’t any obscure ingredients either. You could include red endive leaves for more color, and swap out the toppings for goat cheese and figs with a balsamic or honey drizzle. You get the idea. So get our Pear and Feta Bites recipe.
Technically, it’s barely even a cocktail, but let’s call it that. This is a drink that’s especially good for a holiday brunch, whether it be for Christmas, Hanukkah, or New Year’s Day. It will feel so much fancier than mimosas, yet just as easy. Pour Prosecco in your Champagne glasses first and then carefully drop in a scoop of any flavor sorbet. That’s it. Now you’ve got a nice, light dessert-drink after a heavy holiday meal, a brunch cocktail, or a party drink. Watch our quick Dessert Cocktail video.
Gougère (Cheddar Dill Puffs)
First, they’re French. So there’s that. Then, there’s that cheesy, fresh herb taste with a crust on the outside and airy heaven within. In French cooking, these puffs are a type of baked savory choux pastry made of choux dough mixed with cheese. And they’re really easy to make: heat and stir some of the first ingredients, dump in flour all at once, stir, take off heat and stir in eggs, then stir in cheese and herbs. Scoop with a cookie-dough or ice cream scooper on a pan. Bake. The end. Get the recipe.
It’s the same concept as the apples, but make sure you buy avocados that are ripe but not totally soft. We’re not making guacamole here. If your avocado is too soft, your slices won’t hold their shape. You’ll get mush. Might as well go the guac route by then. So look for green-and-black speckles. The other trick: Sprinkle on lemon juice ASAP, before too many black speckles appear. Try these avocado roses on a fried egg on a hearty, grainy slice of toasted bread, or on top of a frittata (Then you only have to do one). Get the recipe.
Coconut Cream Spinach with Crispy Shallots and Shiitake Mushrooms
Instead of regular creamed spinach, spinach salad or, God forbid, green bean casserole, put a whole new twist on the creamy greens category. This is a coconut-y dish, so haters of the milky fruit won’t like it. But then it gets umami from the mushrooms and a crunchy, salty-savory touch on top that makes this a swoon-worthy side dish. Get the recipe.
Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini
Fig and goat cheese are a wonderful pair. Spread both on some toasted slices of French bread, and you’ve got something good. But fry up some seasonal sage leaves, and crown each toast with the green garland and you’ve got something special. Get our Fig and Goat Cheese Crostini recipe.
Not seasonal, but this is so delectable, we don’t care. It’s a simple, cute dessert that involves two ingredients only. And one of them is NUTELLA. ‘Nough said. Get the recipe.
— Head image: Unwritten.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She’s trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.