The Holiday Dinner Party
Inviting your guests to bring a dish to share will make it special.
Holiday gatherings with family and friends are back after a long hiatus of hunkering down due to the pandemic. So, is it any wonder that people want to party in a big way? One of my favorite ways to entertain during the holiday season is to host an old-fashioned dinner party, but instead of doing all the work myself, I invite my guests to bring a dish to share. That way everyone gets in on the fun and “owns” the dinner.
The success of a dinner party is all about details like what can be prepared ahead of time, how to decorate the table, what beverages to serve and how many guests to invite.
For the bring-a-dish concept of a dinner party, the host is responsible for the beverages and the main dish, while the guests have fun bringing sides, salad or dessert. The main dish choice will determine what sides are most compatible, travel well and don’t need a lot of fussing like lots of time in the host’s oven or microwave.
My advice is to keep the guest list short. Invite too many guests and someone will invariably get lost in the conversation. Eight is an ideal number because food preparation is more manageable for both the host and guests. Table size and seating can also be a factor in determining the number of guests.
For the holidays, something special is in order when you want to make a presentation statement. A beef Wellington, a glazed ham, roast leg of lamb and roast duck are all classics and require lots of attention at the last minute. This year with food costs being so high, something elegant but won’t break the bank makes a lot of sense.
For me, a pork tenderloin rubbed with herbs and spices, wrapped in slices of bacon or prosciutto and served with fried apple slices will do nicely. Pork tenderloin is reasonably priced, and two will easily serve eight people. An added bonus is that the tenderloin can be prepped two days before and popped into the oven before the guests arrive.
Once the main dish is decided, guests can bring something compatible to go with it. For a pork tenderloin, roasted Brussels sprouts, a mixed vegetable casserole, a cauliflower and potato casserole, a rice and mushroom casserole, or sautéed broccoli are all great choices.
A green salad sprinkled with pomegranate seeds adds a festive touch and for dessert, nothing says holiday like a no-bake ice cream cake. Let the party begin!
Holiday Ice Cream Cake
This no-bake frozen “cake” must be on our holiday table—it is a family favorite and I can’t think of the holiday without it. Put it together a month ahead of time and stash it in the freezer. There are only two ingredients: good peppermint ice cream and store-bought chocolate wafer cookies. I guild the cake and serve it with warm hot fudge sauce, because Christmas only comes but once a year.
1 box plain chocolate wafer cookies
1 quart peppermint stick ice cream, softened
Hot fudge sauce (optional)
Whipped cream (optional)
Chopped walnuts (optional)
- Line a loaf pan or round or square cake pan with plastic wrap and leave at least 2 inches of an overhang.
- Place a layer of cookies in the base of the pan. Don’t worry if they do not fill in the entire area. Spread a layer of ice cream over the cookies.
- Repeat, making layers of cookies and ice cream. Make the top layer cookies.
- Bring the overhanging edges of plastic wrap over the top of the pan to cover and press on pan with your hands to compact the layers.
- Wrap the pan tightly in aluminum foil and freeze until ready to serve.
- Remove the foil and invert the pan onto a serving dish. Remove and discard the plastic wrap.
- Cut the cake into slices and serve with warm hot fudge sauce and/or whipped cream and nuts.
Bacon-Wrapped and Honey-Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Apple Rings
No need to spend a fortune to make this juicy pork tenderloin that will make a statement as the star of your holiday table.
4 tablespoons honey
4 tablespoons honey mustard
Fried Apple Rings
4 tablespoons butter or more as needed
6 Cortland apples, cored and sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
2 1 ½ pounds pork tenderloin
4 large, peeled garlic cloves
½ cup fresh rosemary, needles only
1 ½ tablespoons fennel seeds toasted and crushed
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 ½ tablespoons coarse black pepper
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or more as needed
8 not too thin slices bacon or prosciutto
- In a small bowl, mix the honey and mustard together and set aside. (Can prepare 2 days ahead.)
- Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a nonstick sauté pan, and cook the apple slices in batches if necessary until they are golden brown and glazed looking. Transfer the slices to a dish and set aside. (Can be made early in the day and reheated in the microwave just before serving.)
- Dry the pork tenderloins with a paper towel and set aside.
- On a cutting board, mince the garlic, rosemary and fennel seeds together. Place the mixture in a small bowl and add the salt, pepper and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil to make a paste. With your hands, rub the paste evenly all over the tenderloins. Wrap each one crosswise with 4 slices of the prosciutto
or bacon. (At this point, the tenderloins can be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days before roasting.)
- Preheat oven to 425oF.
- Place a rack in a roasting pan and brush the rack with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
- Place the tenderloins on the rack and baste each one with the glaze. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 145oF for medium rare. (Overcooking the meat will make it dry.) Remove the tenderloins from the oven to a cutting board and allow them to rest, covered loosely with aluminum foil for about 10 minutes. Cut across the diagonal to serve accompanied with the fried apple slices.
Mashed Cauliflower and Potato Casserole
Cauliflower and potatoes marry well in this hearty casserole that is perfect as a side dish for the glazed pork tenderloin.
It can be prepared and baked ahead of time and kept warm until serving.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1¼ cups fresh breadcrumbs
8 cups coarsely chopped cauliflower
2 cups small-diced, peeled Yukon Gold potatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup minced, fresh flat-leaf parsley
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
12 slices provolone cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375°F. Oil a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
- Sprinkle ¼ cup of the breadcrumbs evenly in the baking dish and place in the refrigerator.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, potatoes and 1 tablespoon salt and cook
until very tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain in a colander, then transfer the cauliflower and potatoes to
a large bowl. Mash the cauliflower and potatoes with a potato masher or large fork.
- Cool the mixture slightly, then stir in the olive oil, eggs, ½ cup of the grated cheese, the parsley, nutmeg, and salt and pepper.
- Use your hands to spread half of the cauliflower mixture evenly in the baking dish on top of the breadcrumbs. Layer and overlap the cheese slices over the top. Spread the remaining cauliflower mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle the top evenly with the remaining 1 cup breadcrumbs and remaining ½ cup grated cheese. Drizzle a little olive oil over the top.
- Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool slightly. Scoop from the pan to serve.
Brussels Sprouts and Leek Casserole
This fabulous Brussels sprouts and leek casserole is my go-to casserole for fall and winter holiday cooking. Sweet tasting and velvety smooth, even Brussels sprouts doubters will love this.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
1 pound (about 25) Brussels sprouts, washed, cored, cut in half and thinly sliced
½ cup dry white wine
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1cup light cream
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
½ cup shelled natural pistachio nuts
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan and, when it is fragrant, add the leeks and Brussels sprouts and cook until the mixture begins to wilt. Raise the heat to high, add the wine and allow it to almost evaporate. Lower the heat to medium. Stir in the salt. Set aside.
- In a quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, whisk in the flour and cook until a paste forms.
- Next, slowly whisk in the milk and cream and continue whisking over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken. Then, stir in the nutmeg, salt and half the cheese.
- Stir the cream sauce into the Brussels sprouts mixture and combine well.
- Transfer to a buttered 9-by-12 casserole dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top.
- Bake covered in a 350oF oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove foil and sprinkle nuts evenly over the top and continue baking an additional 10 minutes until the top is browned and the mixture is bubbly. Serve hot.