Let’s forget about being “healthy”, just for a second and remember that holidays are meant for celebration, recovery, and a little indulgence.

However, for the sake of culinary evolution, don’t let your holiday meal slide into the same old “meat and potatoes” routine (literally). The typical stars of a December dinner table –turkey, roast beef, ham – have been the reigning kings for too long.  I’m about to help you blow the roof off your grandma’s roast.

You know those soggy, tiresome, bland green beans that somehow always make it onto the dinner table? That’s called checking the box. People feel obligated to include something green in such a meal, but usually with a lackluster effort. As a result, the green beans remain flavorless, lonely, and uneaten in the garbage can.

By enhancing and elevating the bounty that nature offers in the late fall and early winter months, you can let your veggies burst onto center stage with a stunning mix of bold, seductive, and striking flavors and colors. Pops of sweet, zings of citrus, and sprigs of earthiness bring a classy decadence to your holiday that leaves you full and satisfied without busting the buttons off your pants.

In order to create a culinary revolution, one holiday dinner table at a time, you must do the same.

All this might sound complicated, but it’s not! You will be surprised how easy it is to craft a gourmet holiday meal using the tips below, which are guaranteed to wow your friends and family this year – with no packaged food, not even the cranberry sauce! Let nature do the work. A small investment in fresh ingredients will pay dividends and who knows, you might even create a new tradition or two.

Here are some ways to become a holiday meal super hero with a few of my favorite things:

Tasty and tasteful fat

A little fat goes a long way to round out the flavor profile in a dish. ©iStockphoto.com/dulezidar

One of the best ways to enhance flavor of fresh foods is through the controlled use of high quality fats. I am NOT talking about just drowning those soggy green beans in five pounds of shredded mozzarella. In their most simple form, good fats include a nice, high quality olive or butter. Cheeses like brie, camembert, parmesan, and goat cheese, give you fat and salt all in one place and can be used to tastefully give your dish body and creaminess. Pistachios, walnuts, or almonds also provide great flavor, through healthy fats, and crunch. Finally, depending on the crowd, very few people will complain about the strategic use of crispy bacon or prosciutto atop your dish.

Herbs of the earth

Herbs like rosemary, thyme, parsley, oregano, and sage are assertively delicious and cozy when paired with the right vegetable and fat. Do not underestimate the power of fresh herbs. There is probably no better and easier way to elevate a traditionally boring dish than by using a handful of fresh or dried herbs. If possible, buy the pure herb rather than something in a can or jar. Some of my favorites for this time of year are thyme to enhance mushrooms, carrots, peas, squash, and potatoes, sage for squash, brussels sprouts, and apples, and rosemary for potatoes, mushrooms, peas, or tomatoes – whether they are roasted or in the form of a soup, stew, stuffing, casserole, or salad. Baked goods, like biscuits, benefit from an unexpected bolt of rosemary or sage. Add mint to bring a splash of refreshment to your dish or drink. Fresh herbs can also be sprinkled onto or incorporated into cheese, spreads, or dips for a new level of flavor sophistication. Either way, no dish, especially a roasted vegetable, should be left herb-less!

Spice it up

When it comes to food and the changing seasons, nothing puts the holiday spirit in your step more than wafts of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, anise, cardamom, and vanilla. Let me tell you a secret – people don’t go crazy over pumpkin spice because of the pumpkin (pumpkin itself actually doesn’t even taste that great!). It’s the spice combination (well – and the sugar) that makes you crave everything pumpkin spice the second that one fall leaf drops to the ground. Pumpkin spice usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, all spice, and cloves. Aside from pumpkin spice, think about a nice steaming mug of mulled wine. The bold seductiveness of this drink makes you just want to put on your favorite sweater and curl up next to the fireplace. Harness that sensation of warmth and coziness by bringing these flavors (cinnamon, cloves, anise, all spice, orange) and colors far beyond your wine glass and onto the dinner table. Any dessert or drink deserves a little spice! Some unexpected ways to spice up you meal include adding nutmeg to cheese dishes, a little pumpkin spice on your roasted squash or squash soup, or adding a spice rub to your meat dish.

Get fruity

Add color and vitamins to your festive table with these dynamic and delicious fruits. ©iStockphoto.com/dinosmichail

The temperatures are dropping and the snow is swirling outside, but not all hope is lost when it comes to winter fruit options. Red and orange pops of pomegranate, apple, persimmon, cranberry, or orange can bring major swagger to traditionally savory holiday recipes like stuffing, cheese dishes, or meat.

Zest and zing

Whether your recipe is sweet or savory, acids are crucial to bringing out flavor and making your guests say “yum.” A quick squeeze of lemon juice or orange or splash of balsamic takes your dish to the next level, especially roasted vegetables, soups, and stews, and a high quality balsamic glaze is a must-have accessory.

Look out for my ‘Holiday Recipes That Will Win You a Gold Medal’ next week here on GamePlan A.

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