Festive recipes for a grand Christmas dinner

A gargantuan porchetta, fruitcake, fried potatoes, crudite and polenta plus a cocktail on a table.
A gargantuan porchetta, fruitcake and fried potatoes with a festive cocktail — these recipes are made for celebrating Christmas or any holiday with flair.
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

Christmas is just days away, and if you haven’t already settled on what you’re cooking for the holiday, I’ve got some ideas that I hope you’ll check out. I spent the better part of two months dreaming up my ideal holiday meal — both to cook and, if the fates allow, get served to me. I developed recipes that all work together — from the time guests walk into the door until they’re putting their coats back on — to create a balanced but extravagant meal befitting the season.

The first things guests will get is a festive cocktail. This year it’s Your Place, or Mine? (brilliant name for a drink) from Atrium restaurant in Los Feliz. It’s made with whiskey, almond milk and maple syrup for a spirit-forward spin on milk punch or eggnog. While guests are sipping their drinks, a bowl of Classic Spiced Nuts With Rosemary will be on the coffee table so they can quell their hunger pangs immediately.

Then, when they’ve just settled in, I like to surprise guests with something unexpected: piping-hot fried potatoes, showered in flaky sea salt, and a platter of icy-cold crudités. Both are served with a Caesar Sour Cream that acts as a dip; it has anchovies, Worcestershire and Parmesan for maximal umami. A generous appetizer like this also buys me a little time to run into the kitchen for last-minute warming and slicing for the dinner to come.

Once everyone is ready for dinner, I’ll bring out my Citrus-and-Herb Porchetta With Roasted Lemon “Christmas” Salsa Verde; half of it sliced for serving and the other half left whole to elicit eye-popping gasps of “What the...??!” from my friends. The pork looks impressive but it’s quite easy to prepare — like making bread, it requires only a few intermittent bursts of activity over hours of low-effort babysitting.

To serve with such an elaborate roast, I keep the sides simple and comforting. To go with pork, that means Polenta With Parmesan and Thyme and a crunchy dish of Sautéed Red Cabbage With Fried Chestnut Breadcrumbs. The cabbage is dressed with fresh lemon juice at the end and showered in the toasted breadcrumbs dotted with caramelized chestnuts. It’s the perfect foil to the rich, herbal pork and buttery polenta.


And finally, once everyone’s had time to loosen their belts and sip on a digestive, it’s time for dessert in the form of my Warm Persimmon Cake With Orange and Olive Oil. It’s an update on classic persimmon pudding, using a lighter hand with the sugar and spice to allow the fruit — ripe Hachiya persimmons — to shine through. The fruit is pureed and mixed into a muffin-style batter that’s easy to prepare. I serve it warm with some macerated Fuyu persimmons and a dollop of Grand Marnier-spiked whipped cream.

And just when my guests think the night is over and start to leave, I hand them a gift on their way out the door: a slice of my Cinnamon Holiday Cake With Bourbon and Pecans. You can call it a fruitcake but I don’t, because it’s so much better than what that name conjures. The brown sugar batter is teeming with cinnamon and booze-soaked fruit like apples, cherries and golden raisins, so it eats lighter than traditional fruitcakes. And a slice is the perfect amount for gifting, since it gives people a taste without overwhelming them with a whole cake.

This is an ideal Christmas night dinner for me. It’s a treat for me to cook and for my guests to enjoy. I hope you’ll also take a shot at some of the recipes — or the whole meal — so the experience of eating it doesn’t have to live only in your dreams.

Fried Potatoes and Crudité With Caesar Sour Cream

This holiday appetizer has something for everyone: hot, salty roast potatoes that eat like French fries; cold, crunchy vegetables for health; and a rich sour cream dip flavored with anchovies, Worcestershire and Parmesan for a Caesar salad-like tang.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours, mostly unattended.

Fried Potatoes and Crudite with Caesar Sour Cream
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Classic Spiced Nuts With Rosemary

These nuts are the perfect nosh to keep in a bowl and eat with cocktails for the holidays. Their flavor and spice sneaks up on you after a while, which is a fun surprise. Adding the rosemary halfway through cooking allows the herb to cook through without burning or turning bitter.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 40 minutes.

A bowl of mixed nuts with glasses of clear liquid.
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

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Your Place, or Mine?

This cocktail has all the flavors of milk punch, eggnog and a strong Manhattan in one, but with a more spirit-forward and lighter touch — plus, it’s vegan, thanks to the use of almond milk. Serve this with appetizers at the beginning of your holiday party or holiday dinner.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 5 minutes.

A bowl of mixed nuts and three cocktail glasses that contain a brown liquid
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Citrus-and-Herb Porchetta With Roasted Lemon “Christmas” Salsa Verde

This recipe wraps a trimmed pork loin with a whole belly that’s been rubbed with a flavorful paste of wintry herbs, citrus zest and chile flakes to keep things as light and bright as possible in such a hearty roast. The salsa verde here brings a dose of lightness and freshness to the meat.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 40 minutes, plus 6 ½ hours unattended and 2 days for dry-brining and resting.

A whole porchetta with a slice lying next to it, and a bowl of green sauce
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Polenta With Parmesan and Thyme

Polenta is an easy and simple side dish that requires only a bit of stirring to get right. I like to make it hours ahead of time, leave it off to the side of my stove, then warm it over low heat while I assemble the rest of the meal.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 45 minutes.

A blue Dutch oven that contains yellow polenta dotted with thyme.
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

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Sautéed Red Cabbage With Fried Chestnut Breadcrumbs

Crunchy and warming, sautéed cabbage is a simple dish to serve with pork that doesn’t compete with it. I cook it quickly in butter and olive oil and season it with salt and pepper, plus plenty of lemon juice to keep it bright.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 25 minutes.

A dish of Sauteed Red Cabbage with Fried Chestnut Breadcrumbs
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Warm Persimmon Cake With Orange and Olive Oil

This dessert is an update on classic persimmon pudding. It’s typically spiced like gingerbread and very sweet, but this version is made with pureed Hachiya persimmons, delicately spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, and brightened with orange and lemon. It’s baked in a Bundt pan, then drizzled with booze-spiked butter and sugar while warm and served with whipped cream and snappy, tart Fuyu persimmons.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

A brown cake from a Bundt pan, with a slice of cake with whipped cream next to it.
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)

Cinnamon Holiday Cake With Bourbon and Pecans

When baking a cake like this, I prefer to use a large Bundt pan, which gives structure to cakes with a batter as heavy as this one. (It also helps to use the cleaves in the design when dividing the cake into servings.) Make this cake, slice it up and give it away as a party favor — a treat for guests to enjoy in their own time.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 5 hours unattended and 2 days for soaking fruit.

Slices of fruitcake on a white board.
(Dylan + Jeni / For The Times)