It’s just around the corner, can you feel it?! I know some of you are starting to compile grocery lists, gather recipes and maybe even freaking out a little. I can assure you that even trained chefs experience the somewhat panickly pre-holiday feeling when planning a Christmas dinner. This year, I had the chance to cook for eight of my closest friends who were finally going to be altogether in the same room for the first time in years. I had this clinically insane idea to do a “Feast of Seven Fishes,” but as I got closer to the date and the more I looked at my recipes, the crazier it seemed. I realized that seven fishes is like five too many and that perhaps I had gotten ahead of myself. Seafood dishes are time-sensitive, smelly and the chances of overcooking one (or all) of these dishes is TOO DAMN HIGH.
So I took pause.
I reassessed why I had chosen this plan and came to the conclusion that I was trying to WOW everyone. But that’s totally not the point of Christmas dinner, nor should it be the point of any dinner! As I imagined myself scaling fish and smelling like shellfish stock while my friends sipped bubbly and ate cheese, I came to the conclusion that I had to make something that was just as delicious, maybe even more comforting, and EASIER FOR ME. Enter short ribs. A low-fuss, set-it-and-forget-it dish that tastes so rich and comforting that it ALWAYS gets a resounding hum of approval from the crowd.
My go-to short rib recipe from Bon Appetit has a deceptively daunting ingredient list but the process of making it is actually VERY easy and most of it is just waiting! This year I paired that up with Ina’s Leek & Mushroom Bread Pudding, cubed butternut squash tossed in olive oil and ras el hanout spices, and this Broccoli Caesar Salad that I added some chopped lacinato kale to as well. I will also admit that I used my insant pot for the short ribs and let me tell you- that machine continues to be the best $80 I ever spent when it comes to kitchen appliances. Fall-off-the bone short ribs can be attained in under 1 hour and 30 mins- and that is some holiday magic sh*t right there. I paired dinner up with our Lieb Cellars Estate Merlot & Cabernet Franc (And I used some Bridge Lane Red Blend from the box for cooking the short ribs!) (All these recipes are simple ones that will spend most of their time in the oven so you can hang out!)
For some starter snacks I also made these deviled eggs, this CRAZY GOOD mayo/dairy-free smoked trout dip, and these DECADENT pancetta-sherry wine figs which I paired up with a hunk of room-temp brie. All of the starters were served with our Lieb Cellars Sparkling Rose, which in my opinion is the best aperitivo hour wine. These recipes all took under 15 mins each, and the dip can be made the day before!
My favorite moment of the night was what can only be described as the “Focciacia mid-course”: a fresh focaccia hot out of the oven, sprinkled with coarse Maldon sea salt, and blanketed with fistfuls of shredded gruyere. We tore at it at the kitchen counter with some Lieb Cellars Pinot Blanc and barely spoke intelligible words for 10 minutes. It was a bonding experience I will never forget, and one that I doubt seven fishes could have ever achieved.
Bottomline here is don’t put so much pressure on Chistmas dinner. In fact, make damn sure YOU can also sit down and enjoy yourself. In the end your guests want to be fed, sure, but ultimately they chose to be with you for your company. DO whatever you can to ease the stress and make it easy- prioritize being present and enjoying the company of the people you care about. Oh, and make sure there is plenty of wine.
Director of Tasting Rooms