Holiday dining is a highlight for many of us during this festive season. It’s a time for friends and family, for gift giving and receiving, but it’s also a time for delicious meals topped off with cakes, pies, and plenty of Christmas cookies.
Of course, it can all be a little stressful for those preparing the meals, especially when it comes to deciding what all to serve your guests. So if you’re planning your holiday dinner party and don’t know where to start, read these three easy tips from our expert on dining, The Admiral At the Lake’s Chef Alejandro Arreola.
Tip 1: Keep Using Old Favorites
It might be tempting to try out a new dish to shake things up a bit during the holidays. However, it’s best to stick with the tried-and-true dishes that everyone loves—at least for the main course.
Alejandro, who goes by Chef Eddie, said that each year during the holidays, he’s always sure to include residents’ favorites.
“I have gotten to know what the favorites are, so during the holidays, we keep it very traditional. We have dialed down to the dishes that people always love during the holidays,” he explained. “People want to see the traditional dinner.”
He went on to say that for Thanksgiving, this means turkey and pies. For Christmas, there’s a bit more wiggle room so he and the culinary team prepare things like leg of lamb or roasted duck. And for New Year’s Day, he likes to serve things like lobster bisque and filet mignon.
“That’s when we do a get a bit fancier with a plated dinner. I like to do things we wouldn’t regularly do during the year,” he said.
With that said, don’t be afraid to think outside the box a little. Once you have a few favorite dishes on the menu, it’s always fun to mix in newer dishes like one of Chef Eddie’s go-to sides, Brussels sprouts with bacon and dates. He added that another popular winter dish is a butternut squash bisque with white chocolate cream. Although it’s not a traditional holiday dish, he said it “feels very wintery and Christmasy” and is a big hit with residents.
Tip 2: Offer Healthy Sides
It can be difficult but healthy eating is key during the holidays, Chef Eddie said. In addition to traditional, rich entrees, offer healthy sides for your guests to enjoy.
“Our community likes vegetables a lot so we try to have plenty of options for them, like vegetable medleys or composed salads,” Chef Eddie said.
The composed salads are very popular, he added, and they’re crafted using local ingredients.
“Most of our salads have winter ingredients like pomegranates or whatever's available,” he explained. “We plan our menus depending on what's available locally because we buy from a few local farms. We try to do everything sustainable and local, so we base it on that. We like to use the best the season has to offer.”
Of course, the holidays are also a time for indulgence. If you can’t treat yourself now, when can you? Offering some healthy sides is a great way to break up an otherwise rich, filling meal, but you do want to offer guests a few chances to indulge.
One creative way to do that is to provide festive holiday drinks. For example, on New Year’s Eve the culinary team at The Admiral at the Lake offers champagne or sparkling wine to diners. On Thanksgiving, a hot cider station is always a crowd pleaser. And for Christmas, Chef Eddie says he turns to homemade eggnog, as well as some Admiral-brewed beer, which was introduced last year and has been a big hit with residents and guests.
Tip 3: Don’t Forget Dessert!
Dessert can sometimes be an afterthought after you spend your time carefully crafting the main course. But it’s a great opportunity to get a little creative and end the night with flair.
Chef Eddie said that in addition to holiday mainstay desserts like pies and Christmas cookies, one popular dessert at The Admiral at the Lake is their famous Butter Rosemary Cookies, which have a hint of honey.
“They have become a favorite of the community and everybody looks forward to them. Residents even ask us to make them for private parties,” he said.
The Admiral at the Lake’s Butternut Squash Soup
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
2 large butternut squash (about 4 ½ pounds total), halved lengthwise, and seeded
3 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups of sliced onion
5 cups vegetable broth (see below)
1 ½ cups of mascarpone cheese (if not available, substitute with crème fraiche or heavy cream)
2 fresh bay leaves
Sprig of fresh thyme
Salt and white pepper to taste
Vegetable Broth Recipe:
Roughly chop 3 stalks of celery, three carrots, three parsnips, 1 large celery root, 1 large leek, ½ cup of fresh ginger; place them in a stock pot. Barely cover with chicken stock (or water if vegetarian soup is desired), add a small bay leaf and bring to boil, simmer for 20 minutes, strain and save.
Directions for Soup:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Oil baking sheet. Place squash, cut side down, on baking sheet. Bake until squash is very soft, about 50 minutes. Using paring knife, remove peel from squash; discard peel. Cut squash into 2-inch pieces. Heat butter in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Mix in onion, brown sugar, and garlic. Cover pot and cook until onion is tender, about 15 minutes. Add squash, 5 cups vegetable broth, and 1 cup of mascarpone cheese (if not available, it could be substitute with crème fraiche or heavy cream). Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
Working in batches, purée soup in blender (this can be done one day ahead. Cool slightly. Cover and refrigerate.). Return soup to pot. Season soup with salt and white pepper. Bring to simmer, thinning soup with more broth if necessary. Ladle into bowls. It can be garnished with Truffle cream, pumpkin seed oil or toasted pumpkin seeds.
Celebrating the Holidays at The Admiral at the Lake
Chef Eddie said that his favorite part of celebrating the holidays at The Admiral at the Lake is getting to meet the family members of residents.
“You piece everything together,” he said. “You get to know the residents and they talk about their son or their daughter, and then you have the opportunity to meet them and relate even more.”
He explained that it’s common for people to bring their families in for dining.
“Particularly in our community, they’re here for the holidays,” he said. “I don’t want to brag, but I think it’s partly because of the culinary program we have here.”