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Top 5 Make Ahead Menus For Christmas & New Year

Never Failed Foolproof Recipes For Your Party

There’s no last-minute fussing in this entirely make-ahead holiday menu, and it includes dishes that actually improve after a day or two in the fridge. 

THE MENU

  • Potted Shrimp on Toast with Celery-Radish Salad
  • Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Sauce
  • Mashed Potato and Rutabaga Gratin
  • Braised Fennel with Orange
  • Gingerbread-Brandy Trifle

Get organized

Mapping out a schedule for getting everything done—including shopping—is the key to never being a harried host. Start by dividing the grocery shopping into two trips. A week ahead, buy all the pantry items and less-perishable fresh foods, and then just pick up the shrimp and beef two days before the party (if you pre-order these, you can farm this errand out to a willing family member).

The actual cooking begins three days before the party. That’s when you make the ginger syrup for the trifle. The next day, turn your attention to the shrimp, the gratin, and the fennel, and make the gingerbread cake. The day before the party, prep the salad for the shrimp, season the beef, make the wine sauce, and finish the trifle. By breaking up the work, the menu feels entirely manageable, and your kitchen will never looks as though it’s eligible for federal disaster relief.

On the day of the party, most of the work is already done. A couple of hours before the guests arrive, remove the beef and side dishes from the refrigerator—they heat more evenly from room temperature than from refrigerator-cold—and turn on the oven. As guests appear, reheat the gratin and put the tenderloin in to roast (it takes just under an hour), which leaves a nice window for cocktails and pre-dinner mingling. The other side dishes take just a few minutes to get ready for the table, and as soon as the beef is done, serve the shrimp; this allows the roast time to rest so that it carves up juicy and rosy. Since the gingerbread trifle is at its best at least a day after you make it, it’s entirely ready to go. And as the host, so are you.

Menu Timeline

Up to 3 days ahead

Make the ginger-tea syrup for the trifle.

Up to 2 days ahead

Make the potted shrimp.

Make (but don’t bake) the mashed potato gratin.

Braise the fennel.

Make the gingerbread cake for the trifle.

Up to 1 day ahead

Season the beef tenderloin.

Chop the celery and radish and make the vinaigrette for the salad that goes with the potted shrimp.

Make the red wine reduction sauce.

Make the filling for the trifle and assemble the trifle.

Up to 2 hours ahead

Remove the potted shrimp, beef, gratin, and fennel from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature.

Up to 1 hour ahead

Roast the beef.

Heat the gratin.

Half hour before the beef is done

Heat the red wine sauce.

Toast the bread for the potted shrimp.

Heat the fennel.

Dress the salad.

While the beef rests

Serve the potted shrimp and salad.

Shopping List

Fresh Products

4 medium stalks celery

1 medium carrot

1 bunch radishes (5 to 6)

4 oz. cremini mushrooms

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley (for 1/4  cup chopped)

1 bunch fresh thyme

1 medium shallot

2 cloves garlic

5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes

1 large rutabaga

4 medium bulbs fennel, about 1 lb. each

1 piece fresh ginger, about 4 inches

1 medium naval orange

2 lemons

Meat, Seafood, Eggs & Dairy

2 beef butt tenderloins, each 2-1/2 lb., trimmed

18 large (31 to 40 count) shell-on shrimp (about 10 oz.), preferably wild

10 large eggs

1 cup whole milk

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

6 oz. (12 Tbs.) best-quality salted butter (such as Kerrygold)

6 oz. (12 Tbs.) unsalted butter

8 oz. cream cheese

8 oz. mascarpone

2 oz. pecorino cheese

Other Groceries

4 to 6 allspice berries

Cocktail-size sliced pumpernickel bread (12 to 15 slices)

2 cups lower-salt beef broth

1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth

1/2 cup un-sulfured molasses

Strong black tea, such as English breakfast, (1 teabag)

1 Tbs. pure olive oil or expeller-pressed canola oil

Whole nutmeg for grating (or 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg)

1 Tbs. ground fennel seed

1/2 tsp. caraway seeds

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 tsp. fennel seeds

1/2 tsp. coriander seeds

1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

Pinch ground white pepper

6 Tbs. chopped candied (also called crystallized) ginger

3/4 cup dry white wine (plus 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup Champagne or rice vinegar

2 Tbs. brandy, such as Cognac

2/3 cup sparkling wine, such as Asti Spumante

1 bottle dry, hearty red wine, such as Shiraz or Zinfandel

Pantry Staples

3 dried bay leaves

1/8 tsp. cayenne

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2-1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Black peppercorns

Kosher salt

Potted Shrimp on Toast with Celery-Radish Salad

potted-shrimp If you’ve never tried potted shrimp, a classic British hors d’oeuvre, think of it as a chunky, buttery shrimp spread seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg and a touch of cayenne. Here, it’s paired with a bright, crunchy salad for an elegant appetizer.

For the shrimp

3/4 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup coarsely chopped carrot (about 1 medium)

1/3 cup coarsely chopped celery (about 1 medium stalk)

1/4 cup Champagne vinegar or rice vinegar

5 whole black peppercorns

4 to 6 allspice berries

3 1/2-inch-wide strips of lemon zest

3 dried bay leaves

Kosher salt

10 oz. large (31 to 40 per lb.) shell-on shrimp (about 18)

6 oz. (3/4 cup) best-quality salted butter

1-1/2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cayenne

TIP: Wild-caught domestic shrimp have a sweeter flavor and more delicate texture than farm-raised imports.

For the salad

3 cups thinly sliced celery (about 3 medium stalks)

1-1/2 cups thinly sliced radishes (about 5)

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice; more as needed

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

12 to 15 cocktail-size (2-1/2-inch-square) slices pumpernickel, rye, or black bread, or 6 to 8 sandwich-size slices

Make the shrimp

In a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, combine 2 cups of water with the wine, carrot, celery, vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, lemon zest, 2 of the bay leaves, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 15minutes. Add the shrimp, return to a simmer, cover, remove from the heat, and let stand for 5minutes. Drain in a colander and let cool.

Peel and devein the shrimp (discard the other solids). In a food processor, pulse the shrimp until coarsely chopped—the pieces should be pea-size. Set aside.

Melt the butter in an 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the lemon juice, Worcestershire, nutmeg, and cayenne and stir to combine. Remove the skillet from the heat, add the shrimp, and stir to coat. Scrape into a 10-oz. ramekin, terrine, or bowl, and smooth the surface with a spatula. Garnish with the remaining bay leaf. Cover tightly with plastic and refrigerate.

Make the salad

Toss the celery and radishes in a large serving bowl.

Put the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, 1/4 tsp. salt, and several grinds of black pepper in a small jar. Cover and shake to combine. Season to taste with more salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Serve

Remove the potted shrimp from the refrigerator about 2 hours before serving. Toss the salad with the dressing and parsley, and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lightly toast the bread. If using cocktail-size bread, halve each on the diagonal; if using sandwich-size bread, quarter on the diagonal. Mound a heaping tablespoon of the potted shrimp on each piece of toast. Serve with the salad.

Make Ahead Tips

The potted shrimp may be made up to 2 days ahead; keep it refrigerated until 2 hours before serving. The salad may be dressed up to 30 minutes before serving.

 

Spice-Rubbed Roast Beef Tenderloin with Red Wine Saucespice-rubbed-roast-beef-with-red-wine-sauce

This roast beef tenderloin looks glamorous and tastes amazing, yet it’s practically foolproof. The meat gets its deeply browned exterior in the oven at a single temperature; no pre-searing or fussing with different temperatures necessary. Even better: The deeply flavored, thyme-infused red wine sauce can be made days ahead, so there’s no last-minute panic when it comes time to serve.

For the beef

2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh thyme

1 Tbs. ground fennel seed

1/2 tsp. caraway seeds, coarsely ground

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 2-1/2-lb. beef butt tenderloins, trimmed

TIP: For a crowd serve two partial tenderloins—request butt tenderloins at the meat counter—instead of one whole one. This way, there are no thinner tail ends, and the roasts cook evenly.

For the sauce

2 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 Tbs. olive oil or canola oil

4 oz. cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced (1-3/4 cup)

1/4 cup thinly sliced shallot (1 medium)

1/4 tsp. granulated sugar

Kosher salt

3 large sprigs fresh thyme

1 tsp. cracked black peppercorns

1 750-ml bottle dry, hearty red wine,such as Shiraz or Zinfandel

2 cups lower-salt beef broth

1 Tbs. all-purpose flour

Freshly ground black pepper

Season the beef

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, thyme, fennel, caraway, 1 Tbs. salt, and 1-1/2 tsp. pepper. Pat the tenderloins dry with paper towels and coat them with the spice mixture, using your hands to spread it evenly; it will sparsely cover the meat.

Make the sauce

Melt 1 Tbs. of the butter and the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, shallot, sugar, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring often, until soft and beginning to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the thyme, peppercorns, and half of the wine. Simmer briskly until the wine reduces and just covers the solids, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the remaining wine and reduce again until the wine just covers the solids, 10 to 12 minutes more. Add the beef broth and simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve set over a 1-quart measuring cup, pressing lightly on the solids. If you have more than 1-1/2 cups liquid, return the sauce to the pan and simmer until reduced to 1-1/2 cups

Melt the remaining 1 Tbs. butter in a 1-quart saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking often, until smooth and light beige in color, about 1 minute. Slowly add the wine reduction, whisking constantly. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking often, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roast the beef

If you’ve seasoned the beef ahead of time, remove it from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about an hour before roasting. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F.

Arrange the roasts on a flat rack on a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center reads 120°F for rare , 125°F to 130°F for medium rare, or 135°F for medium, 40 to 50 minutes.

Serve

If the sauce was made ahead, heat gently in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking a few times, until barely simmering.

Meanwhile, let the beef rest for 15 minutes before carving crosswise into thick slices. Slice only as much as you plan to serve right away (leftovers keep better unsliced). Spoon the sauce over each serving or pass at the table.

Make Ahead Tips

The beef can be seasoned with the spice rub up to 36 hours ahead. Put it on a rimmed baking sheet or platter, loosely cover with plastic, and refrigerate.

The sauce may be made up to two days ahead. Cool to room temperature before storing it airtight in the refrigerator.

Serving Suggestions

Start the meal with Potted Shrimp on Toast with Celery–Radish Salad, serve the tenderloin with Braised Fennel with Orange and Mashed Potato and Rutabaga Gratin, and make a Gingerbread-Brandy Trifle for dessert.

Leftovers

Leftover tenderloin makes delicious roast beef sandwiches; slice it thin and serve it on soft rolls with horseradish flavored mayonnaise and a few sprigs of watercress.

 

Mashed Potato and Rutabaga Gratinmashed-potato-and-rutabega-gratin

Rutabaga gives this surprisingly light and fluffy gratin a delicious earthy note. Bake it in a dish that you’re happy to take to the table.

2 oz. (4 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened; more for the baking dish

5 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (1-3/4 lb.), peeled and cut into 1- to 1-1/2-inch chunks

1 large rutabaga (about 1-1/2 lb.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

Kosher salt

8 oz. cream cheese, cut into 4 chunks, softened

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

1/2 cup (2 oz.) finely grated pecorino cheese

Whole milk, as needed

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Butter an 8×11-inch baking dish and set aside.

Put the potatoes and rutabaga in a 5- to 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven and cover with cool water by about 1 inch (the rutabaga will float to the top). Add 1/2 tsp. salt and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and cook until the potatoes are very tender and the rutabaga is soft, about 25 minutes.

Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot. Set over medium heat for a minute or two, shaking and stirring to rid them of excess moisture and steam.

Transfer the vegetables to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or use a large mixing bowl and an electric hand mixer). On low speed, break up the vegetables until the potatoes are smooth and there are small chunks of rutabaga in the mixture. Gradually add the cream cheese, increase the speed to medium, and beat until absorbed. Gradually add the butter and beat until absorbed. Add the mustard and half of the pecorino and beat until combined. If the purée seems too dry, add enough milk to make it light and fluffy but not wet. (You may not need to use any milk.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the mash to the prepared baking dish, smoothing the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Serve

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. If the gratin was made assembled ahead and refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature while the oven heats. Bake uncovered until heated though and the top is golden, about 40 minutes for a refrigerated gratin or about 20 minutes for a freshly made gratin. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Make Ahead Tips

The gratin may be made ahead, up to the point of baking, 2 days ahead. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it.

 

Braised Fennel with Orangebraised-fennel-orange

Orange juice and zest and citrusy coriander seeds underscore the sweetness of tender braised fennel. The beauty of this dish is that it’s delicious hot, warm, or at room temperature.

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

4 medium fennel bulbs (about 4 lb. total), stalks trimmed and bulbs cut into quarters (cores left intact), fronds reserved for garnish

2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth

1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth

1 medium navel orange

1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, toasted and lightly crushed

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.

Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a heavy-duty 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the fennel, cut side down. Cook undisturbed until browned in spots, about 2 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other cut sides.

Arrange the fennel browned sides up in a large (10×14-inch) gratin or shallow baking dish. Add the remaining 1 Tbs. oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining fennel. Lower the heat to medium if any smoking occurs. It’s OK if the wedges are snug in the baking dish; they’ll shrink as they braise.

Add the garlic to the skillet and and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dissolve any browned bits, about 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer to meld the flavors, about 2 minutes. Pour over the fennel.

With a vegetable peeler, remove three 3-inch strips of zest from the orange and then juice the orange. Nestle the pieces of zest in the fennel and pour the juice over. Sprinkle with the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, 1 tsp. salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Cover the dish tightly with foil and braise in the oven until the fennel has collapsed and a paring knife penetrates the cores with no resistance, about 1-1/4 hours.

Spoon some braising liquid over the fennel, garnish with the reserved fronds, and serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Make Ahead Tips

The fennel may be made 2 days ahead of serving.

Uncover and cool to room temperature before refrigerating it (covered).

Let the fennel come to room temperature before serving. Or reheat it, covered, in a 325°F oven.

 

Gingerbread-Brandy Triflegingerbread-brandy-trifle

This luscious dessert marries layers of gingerbread cake, chopped crystallized ginger, and a creamy filling spiked with brandy, sparkling wine, and black tea.

For the cake

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened; more for the pan

6-3/4 oz. (1-1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp. ground allspice

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

Pinch finely ground white pepper

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup un-sulfured molasses

1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature

TIP: You can find mascarpone, an Italian-style cream cheese, in the dairy section of most supermarkets.

For the ginger-tea syrup

1 cup granulated sugar

1 4-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)

1 bag strong black tea, such as English breakfast

2 Tbs. brandy, such as Cognac

For the filling

2/3 cup sparkling wine, such as Asti Spumante

8 large egg yolks

6 Tbs. granulated sugar

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract

8 oz. mascarpone, at room temperature

For assembly

6 Tbs. coarsely chopped candied ginger

Make the cake

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and line the bottom with parchment.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice, cinnamon, and white pepper.

Beat the butter, sugar, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl with an electric hand mixer), on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the molasses. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined. Add half of the milk and mix to combine. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and milk.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake until the center of the cake bounces back when lightly pressed and a cake tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for about 20 minutes; then carefully invert the cake onto the rack and let it cool completely.

Make the ginger-tea syrup

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and ginger with 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve set over a small bowl, pressing on the ginger to extract all of the syrup. Add the tea bag to the hot syrup and cool completely. Remove the tea bag and add the brandy.

Make the filling

Pour 2 to 3 inches of water into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. In a medium stainless-steel bowl, whisk the sparkling wine, egg yolks, sugar, and 2 Tbs. of the ginger syrup.

Set the bowl over the simmering water, making sure the bottom doesn’t touch the water. Whisk constantly until you can see the bottom of the bowl when you scrape the whisk across it, and the mixture is the consistency of pudding, about 8 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk frequently until cool.

Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream in a large bowl with an electric hand mixer on medium high speed until it just starts to thicken. With the mixer still running, add the vanilla and 1 Tbs. of the ginger syrup. Continue beating until medium peaks form, about 2 minutes.

Whisk the mascarpone into the cooled egg mixture. With a spatula, gently fold the egg mixture into the whipped cream.

Assemble the trifle

Cut the cake into 1-inch cubes. Spoon a rounded cup of the filling into the bottom of a 7-1/2-inch-diameter, 14-cup (or similar) trifle dish. Arrange a third of the cake on top of the filling in an even layer. Drizzle 1/4 cup of the ginger syrup over the cake. Scatter 1 Tbs. of the candied ginger over the cake.

Repeat this layering 2 more times. Spoon the remaining filling over the final layer and smooth with the spoon. Sprinkle the remaining 3 Tbs. candied ginger over the top.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least a day.

Serve

Remove the trifle from the refrigerator 1 to 2 hours prior to serving. Use a large spoon to scoop servings into individual dishes.

Make Ahead Tips

The syrup may be made up to 3 days before assembly; cover and refrigerate. You can also bake the cake up to 2 days before; once cooled, wrap it well in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature. In fact, the entire trifle can be assembled up to 2 days ahead; keep it well wrapped and refrigerated

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