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Great Gatherings: Classic Holiday Dinner

A beautiful and trend-free holiday gathering demonstrates the power of tradition

Written by Rebecca Christian
  • This glowing room was designed by Krissa Rossbund, who as Traditional Home senior style editor is a discerning observer of design trends. Over the Christmas holidays, however, Krissa goes traditional all the way: “We’re all so busy this season that a sit-down dinner with all of its formal niceties is a lovely treat. Here we dialed into an atmosphere of adult elegance rather than glitziness.”

    A menu of updated Yankee yuletide favorites has as its pièce de résistance a roast crown of lamb that declares “Behold Christmas!” Although she chose black accents to lend sophistication to the tablescape, Krissa didn’t want it to look heavy. “That’s why the black-and-white salad plates have a toile pattern, and the chargers are patterned in black lace,” she says.

    Like a spectacular gift in understated wrapping, the room is enveloped in a lacy gray Scalamandré wall covering. “Gray is masculine,” Krissa observes, “but lace is feminine. I like the interplay.” In another nod to tradition, she chose curvaceous coupe-style champagne glasses rather than the slim flutes popular in recent years. (Think 1940s screen legend as opposed to post-millennial sylph.) Vintage silverware also resounds as tried-and-true. Krissa sought to avoid “overthinking” the look. Beauty and conviviality need no explanation, she points out. “They speak for themselves.”

  • Monticello Deviled Eggs 
    Pear Soup with Curried Pecans
    Roast Crown of Lamb with Chestnut Stuffing
    Butter-Braised Radishes with Kale and Lemon

    Honey-Bacon Sweet Potato Puffs
    Indian Pudding Pie

    Check your pantry for these necessary items before shopping:

    • Eggs (need 11)
    • Mayonnaise (need 2 tablespoons)
    • Milk (need 3 cups)
    • Dijon mustard (need 2 tablespoons)
    • Vegetable oil (need 1 tablespoon)
    • Olive oil (need 6 tablespoons)
    • Red wine vinegar (need 1 tablespoon)
    • Shortening (need 1/3 cup)
    • All-purpose flour (need 2 cups)
    • Cornmeal (need 1/2 cup)
    • Unsalted butter (need 1 stick plus 6 tablespoons)
    • Regular sugar (need 1/4 cup plus 1-1/4 teaspoons)
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Ground ginger (need 1 teaspoon)
    • Ground cinnamon (need 1 teaspoon)
    • Ground clove (need 1/4 teaspoon)
    • Baking soda (need 1/8 teaspoon) (check expiration date)

    Specialty grocery store

    • 1 (7-1/2 ounce) jar vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
    • Buckwheat honey—or order online from
    • Turbinado sugar (need 1 to 2 teaspoons plus extra for garnish)


    • 2 lemons (need 1 tablespoon juice for eggs plus 1 lemon for radish/kale dish)
    • 5 medium Bartlett or Anjou pears (1-2/3 pounds)
    • 1 bunch curly parsley
    • 1 bunch sage
    • 1 bunch thyme
    • 1 bulb garlic
    • 1 medium and 1 large onion
    • 8 medium orange- and/or yellow-flesh sweet potatoes
    • 1 large bulb fennel
    • 4 bunches large red radishes
    • Carrots (need 1 medium)
    • Celery (need 2 stalks)
    • 2 bunches sturdy kale


    • 1 jar capers
    • 1 can anchovy fillets (not salt-packed)
    • 1 (32-ounce) container vegetable broth (not stock)
    • 1 (32-ounce) can chicken broth
    • 2 boxes corn muffin mix (check box for additional ingredients)
    • Maple syrup

    Baking aisle

    • Curry powder
    • 1 (10-ounce package) pecans (need 1 cup)
    • Non-stick cooking spray
    • Molasses (need 1/3 cup)

    Meat counter

    • 2 racks of lamb (about 8 ribs each), trimmed and Frenched, trimmings reserved, and tied into a crown), pre-order 1 week in advance
    • 4 ounces ground lamb if trimmings not available
    • Bacon (need 6 slices)


    • 1 quart whipping cream
    • 1 (8-ounce) container crème fraîche (need ½ cup)


    • 1 bottle inexpensive but good quality Shiraz
  • The “Bella Luna” chandelier from Currey & Company is reflected in an etched mirror trimmed in gold from La Barge. Baker’s “Arcade” dining table sits atop a “Porcello” rug from Safavieh. Shimmery stockings adorned with beads and sequins are from Frontgate.

  • Rather than on individual cards, this menu of yuletide favorites is presented in a Swarovski–bejeweled and hand-enameled “Lorraine” frame from Jay Strongwater.

  • “Pear” salt and pepper shakers by Michael Aram are echoed by real pears that are spray-painted gold and used as placecards. Each is inscribed by marker with a guest’s name.

  • ed roses from Natural Decorations and ivory candles on gleaming gold mercury-glass pedestals from Frontgate create an air of opulence on the table.

  • Festively patterned “Derby Panel” dinner plates in red and “Black Aves” salad plates from Royal Crown Derby blend beautifully with Mottahedeh’s “Black Lace” chargers.

  • Tasseled Runner

  • Crystal Accents

    Rogaska’s “Aulide” crystal stemware rimmed in gold and an “Omega” crystal tumbler add sparkle to each place setting. Tasseled runners are made from Frontgate’s velvet damask ribbon; placemats are from Kravet’s “Geller” silk dupioni fabric.

  • Silver and Gold

    Gold-painted pinecones provide a holiday touch. Linen napkins trimmed with metallic thread and pearls are from Nuko Creations. Sterling flatware is from Replacements Ltd.

  • A Gift for Guests

    Filled with roses and hypercurium berries in vibrant red, ”Adria” crystal mini vases by Rogaska are lovely gifts for take-home mementos.

  • Christmas Tree

    A tree and wreath by Natural Decorations are decorated in classic colors with ribbon and ornaments from Frontgate. “Shalimar” wallpaper is from Scalamandré. “Wing” chair and “Tic Tac” table are from Baker. Thomas Paul’s reindeer pillow fabric is from Duralee.

  • Tree Details 

    The facets of a crystal-style ornament, hung by a gold ribbon, catch the light.

  • Classic Motifs

    Ceramic reindeer, fleur-de-lis stocking holders, and Mottahedeh’s brass candlesticks glow as they nestle into the mantel greenery from Frontgate.

  • Mantel Details

    An ivory and gold fleur-de-lis style stocking holder nestles among the mantel’s greens.

  • Creature Comforts

    Pillows made from “Gibson” fabric by Duralee contrast with tailored “Atelier” chairs in ivory leather from Baker’s Thomas Pheasant collection.

  • Stockings Hung with Care

    To avoid an overly matched look, stockings in the same color family, but with different patterns and trims, were chosen.

  • Indian Pudding Pie

    Mingling molasses and clove, this deep-dish dessert is an alternative to traditional pumpkin pie. Cutout pastry leaves embellish the pie top. Serve with maple-laced whipped cream subtly sprinkled with just a hint of cinnamon.

  • Simply Beautiful Buffet

    Preparation is the key to relaxed entertaining. Baker’s “Moderne” credenza is set and ready for dessert with decorative feather trees and a “Derby Panel” teapot and cups. “Fluted Spire” lamps are from Circa Lighting.

  • Bejeweled Details

    Embellished with beadwork and crystals, the extravagant ribbons and gleaming clip-on bird ornaments help coordinate the Christmas tree and the tabletop. All ornaments and ribbon are from Frontgate.

  • Monticello Deviled Eggs

    A version of this deviled egg recipe was served at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello. In Jefferson’s day, anchovies were laid across the top of the egg. We’ve incorporated them into the filling for a slight hint of briny sea saltiness.

    • 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and halved lengthwise
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
    • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
    • 3 to 4 anchovy fillets (not salt packed), finely chopped
    • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh curly parsley
    • 12 curly parsley leaves
    • Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

    Remove yolks from eggs; place in small bowl. Set whites aside. Mash yolks with fork. Stir in 1 tablespoons each of mayonnaise, mustard, oil, and lemon juice; mix well. Add capers, anchovies, and snipped parsley; mix well. Add additional mayonnaise until desired creaminess.

    Spoon or pipe yolk mixture back into cooked egg whites. Tuck parsley leaf into wide end of egg for garnish. If desired, sprinkle with pepper. Cover; chill up to 24 hours before serving. Makes 12 servings.

  • Pear Soup with Curried Pecans

    • 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
    • 1 medium carrot, sliced (1/2 cup)
    • 1 clove garlic, sliced
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 teaspoon curry powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 5 medium Bartlett or Anjou pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks (12/3 pounds)
    • 3 cups vegetable broth (not stock)
    • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup crème fraîche
    • 1 recipe Curried Pecans (below)

    In 4-quart Dutch oven or pot cook onion, carrot, and garlic in hot butter over medium heat 5 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle with curry, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Add pears and 1 cup broth. Bring mixture to boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 15 minutes or until pears are tender. Cool mixture slightly.

    Using handheld immersion blender, blend until smooth; heat through. (Or let soup cool slightly. Transfer mixture, a third at a time, to blender or food processor. Cover; blend or process until smooth. Return mixture to pot.) Add remaining broth. Bring mixture to boil; reduce heat. Stir in 1/4 cup whipping cream.

    To serve, ladle soup into bowls. Combine crème fraîche and remaining whipping cream until thinned. Spoon into bowls. Drag crème fraîche lightly with toothpick to create design. Sprinkle with Curried Pecans.

    Curried Pecans

    In oven-going skillet melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, 1/4 teaspoon each salt and sugar. Add 1 cup pecans, stirring to coat. Place skillet in 350°F oven. Bake 5 to 10 minutes or until nuts are toasted and fragrant. Cool.

    Recipes and menu developed by Stephen Exel

  • Roast Crown of Lamb with Chestnut Stuffing

    Chestnut Stuffing was a favorite at Theodore Roosevelt’s holiday feasts at his Sagamore Hill family home. Enjoy this updated version.

    Order the crown of lamb from the butcher at least a week beforehand. Ask him to trim, french,* and tie the racks for you, reserving the trimmings. If there are no trimmings available, substitute 4 ounces of ground lamb.

    Chestnut Stuffing:
    • 8 cups day-old cubed corn bread**
    • 4 tablespoons butter
    • 1 large onion, chopped (1 cup)
    • 2 stalks celery, chopped (1 cup)
    • 1 large bulb fennel, cored and chopped
    • 1 (7-1/2 ounce) jar vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, chopped (1-1/2 cups)
    • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh sage
    • 3 tablespoons fresh thyme
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 3/4 to 1 cup chicken broth

    • 2 racks of lamb (about 8 ribs each), trimmed and frenched,* trimmings reserved, tied into a crown*** (about 1-1/2 pounds)
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
    • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh thyme
    • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh sage
    • 1 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2 cups Shiraz, inexpensive but good quality
    • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
    • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    Preheat oven to 400°F. To make stuffing: Place corn bread in large bowl; set aside. In skillet melt butter. Add onion, celery, fennel, and chestnut meat to skillet, toss well to mix. Cook until vegetables are just tender, about 10 minutes. Add vegetable mixture to corn bread; toss well. Stir in 3 tablespoons each of sage and thyme. Add egg; mix well. Add enough chicken broth to moisten. Transfer to 2-quart baking dish. Cover with foil. Set aside.

    Place roasting pan in oven while preparing roast. Place roast on cutting board. Rub roast inside and outside with olive oil. In small bowl combine garlic, 1 tablespoon thyme, 2 teaspoons sage, and 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Press mixture into both sides of crown. Cover bones with aluminum foil.

    Place roast in heated roasting pan. Scatter trimmings on bottom of pan.**** Place stuffing in oven with lamb. Roast lamb 30 minutes for medium rare (135°F internal temperature). Remove roast from oven; transfer to serving platter, let rest. Bake stuffing 20 minutes. Uncover stuffing; bake 5 to 10 minutes more (total cooking time 25 to 30 minutes) or until an instant-read thermometer inserted near center registers 165°F.

    Set roasting pan over two burners set on medium heat. Deglaze pan with 2 cups Shiraz, scraping up brown bits from pan. Simmer until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Strain sauce into bowl. Whisk in mustard and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

    Spoon Chestnut Stuffing into center of crown, mounding on top. (Serve remainder on side.) Serve roast with wine sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


    *Tip: To “french” a rack of lamb, make a cut on the fat side, perpendicular to ribs, about 2 inches down from rib ends. Cut through fat down to rib bones. Stand rack on end and push small knife through
    flesh between each rib, level with first cut. Turn rack fat side down. Score thin membrane covering rib bones. Push against rib bones from fat side of rack until they pop through membrane. Cut away strip of meat from rib ends. Trim excess fat from fat side. Reserve meat and fat trimmings for sauce.

    **Tip: Use a favorite cornbread recipe, making enough to equal 8 cups or prepare two 8-ounce packages of corn muffin mix in two greased 8x8x2-inch baking pans according to package directions. (Each package will yield 6 cups cornbread.) Let stand, loosely covered, at room temperature overnight, or spread in shallow baking pan and bake in 300°F oven 10 to 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Bread will dry and crisp more as it cools.

    ***Tip: To prepare a crown roast using two 8-rib racks of lamb, make a shallow cut in flesh between each rib bone so that rib racks will curve easily into proper shape. Bend each rack into semicircle (meat side out and fat side in) and tie together at base, center, and top with 100% cotton kitchen string. The rib ends should be pushed outward to create the look of a crown.

    ****Tip: If you are only able to find lamb racks that have already been frenched (and have no trimmings), cook 4 ounces ground lamb in 1 tablespoon hot oil in hot roasting pan for sauce. Place roast in pan with ground lamb.

    Butter-Braised Radishes with Kale and Lemon
    Prep the radishes and kale prior to preparing the roast; cover and place in refrigerator. While lamb roasts, braise the radishes and sauté the kale.

    • 4 bunches large red radishes
    • 1 large lemon
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1 cup chicken broth
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 2 bunches sturdy kale, tough stems removed and torn into large pieces

    Trim roots and leaves from radishes. Soak radishes in cold water 15 minutes to loosen any dirt. Drain and scrub. Halve any large radishes. Finely shred peel from lemon; set peel aside. Juice lemon; set juice aside. Melt butter in large skillet. Add radishes in single layer. Add broth; bring to simmer over medium heat. Sprinkle with lemon peel and sugar.

    Reduce heat to low simmer. Cook, covered, 25 to 30 minutes or until radishes are easily pierced with skewer. Uncover; increase heat to medium. Shake pan to coat radishes; simmer until liquid reduces to a glaze and coats radishes, 5 to 10 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer radishes to serving dish.

    In same skillet, heat olive oil. Add kale, half at a time; season with salt and pepper. Cook and toss kale just until wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer kale to serving dish; toss with radishes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice; toss again. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

  • Honey-Bacon Sweet Potato Puffs

    The potatoes can be peeled and cut ahead of time. Place potatoes pieces in a large bowl of cold water; drain and pat dry before tossing with oil and spices. Place on bottom rack of oven and roast alongside Crown Roast of Lamb and Chestnut Stuffing.

    Buckwheat honey has a darker color than standard honey. It has a malty, molasses flavor, which contrasts nicely with the sweet potatoes. Find it at a specialty grocer or order online from

    • Nonstick cooking spray
    • 8 medium orange and/or yellow flesh sweet potatoes (about 3-1/2 pounds)
    • 4 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh thyme
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 6 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and chopped
    • Buckwheat honey or honey
    • Snipped fresh chives

    Preheat oven to 400°F. Line very large baking sheet with foil. Coat
    foil with cooking spray; set aside.

    Peel potatoes; cut into 1-inch pieces. In large bowl, combine potatoes, olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Spread potatoes in single layer on prepared baking sheet. Bake about 45 minutes or until potatoes are browned and slightly crisp on the outside, turning once halfway through cooking. Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle with bacon; drizzle with honey. Sprinkle with chive. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

  • Indian Pudding Pie

    Indian Pudding is a lovely old Yankee fall dessert: full of molasses, ginger, and cinnamon. We decided to try this cornmeal-based pudding as a pie filling. It’s a great alternative to standard pumpkin pie.

    Deep-Dish Pie Crust:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/3 cup shortening
    • 1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces, or shortening
    • 1/3 to 1/2 cup cold water
    • 1 to 2 teaspoons turbinado (raw) sugar

    • 1/4 cup sugar
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
    • 3 cups milk
    • 1/2 cup cornmeal
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/3 cup molasses
    • 2 egg whites
    • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
    • Turbinado sugar
    • Maple Whipped Cream:
    • 1 cup whipping cream
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup
    • Ground cinnamon

    Deep-Dish Pie Crust:
    Preheat oven to 450°F. In large bowl stir together flour and salt. Using pastry blender, cut in shortening and butter until pieces are pea size. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon water over part of flour mixture; toss with fork. Push moistened pastry to side of bowl. Repeat moistening flour mixture, using 1 tablespoon of water at time, until flour mixture is moistened. Gather flour mixture into ball, kneading gently until it holds together.

    On lightly floured surface, use your hands to slightly flatten pastry ball. Roll it from center to edges into circle 14 inches in diameter. Wrap pastry circle around rolling pin. Unroll pastry into a 9-inch deep- dish pie plate. Ease pastry, being careful not to stretch it, into pie plate. Trim pastry 1/2 inch beyond rim of pie plate, reserving trimmings. Fold under extra pastry even with plate's edge. Crimp edge high. Prick bottom of crust in several places. Roll pastry trimmings on floured surface to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut into maple leaves with small maple leaf cutter; transfer to baking sheet. Brush lightly with water and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.

    Line pastry with double thickness of foil. Bake 8 minutes. Remove foil. Bake 5 to 6 minutes more until crust is set and dry. Cool on wire rack. Bake leaves until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Cool on wire rack.

    Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. In small bowl, mix together sugar, ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, salt, and baking soda; set aside. In medium saucepan, heat 2 cups milk to simmer. Stir in cornmeal, a little at a time, until combined. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or until very thick. Remove from heat. Stir sugar mixture into cornmeal mixture. Place eggs in large bowl; beat lightly. Gradually stir hot cornmeal mixture into eggs; set aside.

    In another medium saucepan stir together molasses and remaining 1 cup milk. Cook and stir until bubbly. Cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes more. (Mixture will be foamy and may appear curdled.) Whisk molasses mixture into cornmeal mixture; set aside. In small bowl beat egg whites with electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold into cornmeal mixture. Pour filling into baked pastry shell. (Pastry will be very full.) Bake for 45 minutes or until slightly puffed and set. Pie will fall slightly on cooling.

    Cool on wire rack for 1 hour. Chill pie for 2 hours before serving. Drizzle with 1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Top with maple leaf cutouts. Sprinkle pie with additional turbinado sugar.

    For Maple Whipped Cream:
    In medium bowl beat whipping cream and remaining 2 tablespoons maple syrup to stiff peaks; place dollop atop each pie slice. If desired, sprinkle cinnamon over cream. Makes 8 servings.