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Seasonal menu planning for the perfect dinner party.

Serious Entertaining: A Warming But Light(ish) Winter Meal

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Congratulations: you made it through Thanksgiving. Now, take a deep breath and regroup for your rigorous schedule of holiday parties and cookie swaps, from now 'til New Year's Day.

Tromps through the bracing cold make us reach for hearty, rib-sticking comfort foods—stews, braised meat, molten chocolate, and so forth—although the subsequent lethargy is no match for holiday chaos. With that in mind, here's a winter dinner that will warm you from the inside out but won't weigh you down.

Salad: Kale Caesar Salad

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[Photograph: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Caesar dressing is the only reason anyone orders Caesar salad, right? It is, at least, when romaine is in the picture, but kale is here to change that. The dark, sturdy leaves work in a salad when you tenderize them with a quick massage with olive oil. The result? A green whose bitter, peppery flavor and frilly folds embrace the creamy, anchovy-rich dressing rather than bow down to it. Toss in some croutons, which are closer to toasted bread crumbs than jaw-breaking cubes, so that a delicate and even crunch makes it into every bite.

Get the recipe for Kale Caesar Salad »

Main Course: Roasted Cauliflower Soup With Bacon and Parsley Oil

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[Photograph: Lauren Rothman]

This velvety soup gets most of its creaminess from puréed cauliflower, with just a touch of half-and-half to finish it off. That extra step of roasting the cauliflower before adding it to the pot lends a complex, nutty flavor that's amplified by a (restrained!) handful of chopped bacon but anchors a drizzle of sprightly parsley oil. Trust us, you'll want a big bowl.

Get the recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Soup With Bacon and Parsley Oil »

Side: Balsamic Glazed Acorn Squash with Shallots and Rosemary

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[Photograph: Carrie Vasios Mullins]

You've made it through an October of pumpkins and a November of butternuts; now, in the midst of decorative gourd season, you may well think you've reached critical mass of squash. Here's something to lure you out of winter produce ennui. Balsamic vinegar brings welcome tanginess and depth to the squash, which echoes shallots' melty, subtle sweetness. Sprigs of rosemary, like the boughs of a Christmas tree, add fragrant, herbal freshness to distinguish this roast from the ones you've made all fall.

Get the recipe for Balsamic Glazed Acorn Squash with Shallots and Rosemary »

Dessert: Panettone Bread Pudding

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[Photograph: Carrie Vasios Mullins]

Okay, we may have lied a little: this dessert is far from light. It is warming, though, and if you ply your guests with it before they head home in the cold, we don't think anyone will mind. If you don't know panettone, allow us to introduce it: a tall Italian dessert bread that crops up in bakeries every December to make its way back into our rotation of holiday gluttony. It's eggy and buttery on its own, all the more so when it's drenched in vanilla custard. If you like, underscore the bread's raisin-and-citrus filling by tossing an extra handful of each into the pan.

Get the recipe for Panettone Bread Pudding »

Drink: Orchard Boulevardier

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[Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

The Boulevardier, a rye whiskey Negroni, is an easy sell to begin with. Add to it hot apple cider and serve it in mugs and you have the ideal nightcap, sweet and cozy enough to go back for seconds.

Get the recipe for Orchard Boulevardier »

About the author: Rémy Robert is an editorial intern at Serious Eats and recent graduate of Brown University. She's a diehard New Orleanian and makes a point to start each day with a bite of chocolate.

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