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Holiday Gathering with Sparkle and Shine

At Christmastime, a Chicago North Shore designer executes a stylish sister act in her brother’s classic dining room

Written and produced by Krissa Rossbund
  • Werner Straube

    Menu and recipe start here.

    When Winters is your surname, it’s assumed you embrace with gusto everything that the season brings, from subzero mornings to the joyful moments of Christmas. Chicago-area designer and Midwest native Megan Winters did exactly that when she decided on decorations for a holiday dinner at the home of her brother, Larry.

    “The sparkle, the candles, the people, the favorite recipes—Christmas is a multifaceted time,” says Megan. “I like decorations that are unexpected but honor the traditions of the season.” 

    Photography: Werner Straube

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  • Werner Straube

    Dreamy Table

    Like a handsome tuxedo, a tailored tablecloth made of Ralph Lauren Home’s silk “Albertine Damask” lends a debonair foundation to an ensemble of elegant table accoutrements. Accompanying the glow that flickers from black candles on crystal wall sconces, Baccarat’s tubular crystal “Jardin de Cristal” lights surprise with modern LED flair.  

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  • Werner Straube

    Festive Tabletop

    Megan’s visual message focused on metallics. In the handsome space outfitted with charcoal walls and fabrics she added shimmer—both warm and cool—with silver serving pieces and a dinnerware suite featuring gold cabochon details.

    White linen “Mirasol” placemats and napkins from Matouk reflect the classic white paneling that lines the walls. 

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  • Werner Straube

    Metallic Setting

    Bernardaud porcelain mixes silver and gold.  Megan designed weighty Lucite chargers with gold balls in each corner to anchor the porcelain dinnerware from Bernardaud’s Ithaque cabochon and Feuille D’Or collections. 

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  • Werner Straube

    Sparkle and Shine

    Baccarat’s “Mille Nuits” crystal bowl corrals hand-painted Christmas balls. 

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  • Werner Straube

    Beautiful Breakfront

    Above the breakfront, Megan Winters combined two round boxwood wreaths for a layered effect.  Flowers are by Molly Flavin. Silver flower containers are from Rare Finds Ltd. 

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  • Werner Straube

    Festive Occassion

    Contemporary “Château Baccarat” stemware and decanters add festive sparkle; all from Baccarat. A boxwood topiary ball tops a gold trophy vase. 

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Eat Up!

    An ambitious menu that starts with lobster polenta bites, pauses midway for fennel-rubbed beef tenderloin, and ends with cardamom-kissed soufflés ensures fare as rich in flavor as the table’s elegance.

    The main course includes tenderloin, Brussels sprouts drizzled with white truffle oil, and whipped sweet potatoes and pumpkin. Recipes start here.

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  • Werner Straube

    Winters Wonderland

    Designer Megan Winters shimmers in sequins. 

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  • Werner Straube

    Megan Winters’ holiday menu takes classic, homey favorites and adds an elegant, modern twist. The warmth of a Southern Comfort cocktail welcomes guests who arrive in chilly Chicago weather. Lobster dots polenta spread over flatbreads. Creamy chestnut soup starts dinner, followed by the bright flavors of a non-traditional green salad. The main course is classic but contemporary, showcasing beef tenderloin, Brussels sprouts with an extravagant drizzle of truffle oil and whipped pumpkin and sweet potatoes standing in for the usual Russets. An ethereal cardamom soufflé provides a dramatic end. Recipes by Chef Mary Payne Moran of Hail Mary, Food of Grace (marypaynemoran.com).

    Menu

    Southern Comfort Sparklers

    Lobster Polenta Bites

    Chestnut Soup with Bacon and Goat-Cheese Cream

    Spinach, Endive, and Granny Smith Apple Salad; Warm Lemon Vinaigrette

    Fennel/Sage-Rubbed Beef Tenderloin; Pomegranate Sauce

    Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with White Truffle Oil

    Whipped Pumpkin and Sweet Potato with Golden Raisins and Pine nuts

    Buttery Poppy Seed Rolls

    Cardamom Soufflés with Caramel Sauce

    Shopping List

    We’ve organized a shopping list to make shopping for this party menu easier for you. Package sizes are included so you have enough for duplicated recipe ingredients.

    Check your pantry for these necessary items before shopping:

    Note: Unless specified, when we call for “butter,” we mean the unsalted variety. When we call for “eggs,” we are suggesting large eggs unless specified. When we call for “brown sugar,” we are calling for light brown sugar.

    • Butter (need about 6 sticks)
    • Olive oil (need 3/4 cup)
    • Vegetable oil for frying
    • Nonstick cooking spray
    • Red wine vinegar (need 2 teaspoons)
    • Paprika (need 1/4 teaspoon)
    • Dried basil (need 1/4 teaspoon)
    • Ground cinnamon (need pinch)
    • Cream of tartar (need 1/8 teaspoon)
    • Salt
    • Kosher salt (to taste + 2-1/2 teaspoons)
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Sugar (need about scant 1 cup)
    • Brown sugar (need about 1-1/4 cups)
    • Confectioner’s sugar (for sprinkling)
    • Honey (need 2 tablespoons)
    • Flour (need about 5-3/4 cups)
    • Eggs (5 + 4 additional if making soufflé base ahead)

    Order on-line

    Specialty grocery store

    • 1 package flatbread crackers or water crackers
    • 1 can or jar roasted, shelled chestnuts (need 7 ounces)
    • 4 ounces pine nuts
    • 1 (3-ounce) bottle white truffle oil

    Produce

    • 4 lemons (2 for cocktails +1 for Lobster Polenta + 1 for vinaigrette)
    • 2 medium Granny Smith apples
    • 1 large onion
    • 5 shallots
    • 1 large head garlic
    • 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
    • 1 bunch celery
    • 4 heads Belgian endive
    • 2 to 3 large bunches baby spinach (need 4 cups)
    • 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
    • 1 bunch thyme
    • 1 bunch Italian parsley
    • 2 bunches sage

    Grocery

    • Polenta-style cornmeal
    • 2 (14-ounce) cans chicken stock or broth
    • 1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium beef broth
    • 1 (8-ounce) bottle pomegranate juice
    • 1 (12-ounce) package golden raisins

    Baking aisle

    • 2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin
    • Ground white pepper
    • Poppy seeds
    • Cardamom
    • Fennel seeds
    • 2 packages active dry yeast

    Seafood counter

    • 2 lobster tails (8 to 10 ounces each)

    Butcher

    • 1 package bacon
    • 1 (3-1/2 to 4-pound) center-cut beef tenderloin roast (may need to preorder)

    Dairy

    • 1 (half-pint) container milk
    • 1 quart whipping cream
    • 1 pint half-and-half

    Cheese aisle

    • Grated Parmesan or small wedge Parmesan-Reggiano
    • 1 (4-ounce) log goat cheese

    Alcohol

    • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle Southern Comfort
    • 1 (750-milliliter) bottle peach schnapps
    • 2 (750-milliliter) bottles brut (dry) champagne
    • 1 (750-milliliter) inexpensive dry white wine
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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Southern Comfort Sparkler

    Bitters are a bar staple most people don’t give a second thought to, yet they’re an integral element of many cocktails. Bitters are a distillation of aromatic herbs, barks, flowers, and plants. Today, the base ingredients of bitters are expanding to include fruits and nuts. Black walnut bitters add a dash of herby nuttiness to this welcoming winter cocktail. Find Black Walnut Bitters here.

    Prep: 10 minutes

    • 1 ounce Southern Comfort
    • 1/4 to 1/2 ounce peach schnapps
    • 3 dashes black walnut bitters
    • 4 ounces brut (dry) champagne, chilled
    • 1 dash lemon juice (optional)

    In champagne glass combine Southern Comfort, peach schnapps and bitters. Add cold champagne and lemon juice, if desired. Makes 1 cocktail.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Lobster Polenta Bites

    Spoon this rich, lobster-laden polenta onto cracked flatbreads or water crackers for an elegant appetizer.

    Prep: 25 minutes
    Cook: 25 minutes

    • 1 cup milk
    • 3/4 cup water
    • 1/2 cup polenta-style cornmeal
    • Salt
    • 2 lobster tails (8 to 10 ounces each)
    • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
    • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Flatbread crackers or water crackers

    In medium saucepan bring milk and water just to a boil. While continuously whisking, gradually add cornmeal. Reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, 20 to 25 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

    Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to a boil. Add lobster tails; boil 8 minutes. Remove and rinse under cold water to cool. Remove meat from shells; discard shells. Chop meat into small pieces.

    In large bowl combine polenta, chopped lobster, Parmesan cheese, butter, oil, lemon juice, paprika, basil, and black pepper to taste. Serve warm with flatbreads or water crackers. Makes 8 servings.

    Variation: If desired, substitute 1 pound fresh or frozen medium shrimp for lobster. Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel and devein shrimp. Boil shrimp 3 to 4 minutes or until opaque.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Chestnut Soup with Bacon and Goat-Cheese Cream

    This classic holiday soup has a sweet nuttiness and creamy texture. A swirl of goat cheese cream and a sprinkle of chopped bacon update this version.

    Start to finish: 40 minutes

    Chestnut Soup:

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 cup chopped onion
    • 1/4 cup chopped celery
    • 1 slice bacon, minced
    • 2-1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
    • 1 cup packaged roasted and shelled chestnuts (about 7 ounces)
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 to 3 tablespoons whipping cream
    • Kosher salt to taste

    Goat-Cheese Cream:

    • 1/4 cup whipping cream
    • 1/4 cup goat cheese, room temperature
    • Kosher salt
    • Whipping cream (optional)
    • Coarsely crumbled cooked bacon
    • Fresh thyme

    For Chestnut Soup, in large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and bacon. Cook 6 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in stock, chestnuts, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil and reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Cool slightly.

    Blend soup in batches in blender or with immersion blender until smooth. Stir in enough cream to reach desired consistency. Season to taste with salt.

    For Goat-Cheese Cream, whip cream to soft peaks. Whip in goat cheese. Season with salt and, if needed, thin with additional cream to desired consistency. 

    Serve soup in bowls and top with the Goat-Cheese Cream, crumbled bacon, and thyme. Makes 8 servings.

    Recipe from Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Spinach, Endive, and Granny Smith Apple Salad; Warm Lemon Vinaigrette

    This salad plays on a pretty palette of green lettuces and offers a pleasant acidic follow-up to the rich, creamy chestnut soup. Frisée, curly endive, or escarole can all be substituted for the spinach and endive.

    Prep: 20 minutes

    Salad:

    • 4 cups Belgian endive leaves (3 to 4 heads, 5-1/2 ounces)
    • 4 cups baby spinach
    • 2 medium Granny Smith apples, cored and thinly sliced in wedges
    • 4 green onions, thinly sliced on a bias
    • Kosher salt to taste
    • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

    Warm Lemon Vinaigrette:

    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
    • Salt
    • 1/4 cup lemon juice and 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel from 1 lemon
    • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
    • 1 teaspoon sugar

    For salad, in bowl toss lettuce, spinach, apple wedges, and green onions.

    For Warm Lemon Vinaigrette, in small saucepan heat 1 tablespoon of oil over low heat. Add minced shallot; cook 5 minutes or until soft. Season dressing with salt. Add lemon juice, red wine vinegar, and sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered 3 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the lemon peel. Toss with salad while warm. Season with kosher salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Makes 8 servings.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Fennel-Sage Rubbed Beef Tenderloin; Pomegranate Sauce

    This tenderloin is a holiday showstopper: Fennel seed and sage are subtle additions to a traditional rub. The pomegranate sauce gives the pan juices a complimentary sweetness. Fried sage leaves are a pretty holiday garnish.

    Prep: 35 minutes
    Roast: 40 minutes at 400°F

    • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
    • 6 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
    • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
    • 1 (3-1/2- to 4-pound) center-cut beef tenderloin roast
    • Vegetable oil for frying
    • 16 fresh sage leaves
    • 1-1/2 cups reduced-sodium beef broth
    • 1 cup pomegranate juice

    Preheat oven to 400°F. In small bowl stir together pepper, parsley, salt, fennel, garlic, chopped sage, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Spread mixture over all sides of beef.

    In 12-inch oven-going skillet heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add beef and brown well on all sides. Place skillet in oven; roast 40 to 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in meat registers 135°F. Remove meat from skillet; cover to keep warm.

    Meanwhile, for fried sage leaves, heat about 1/4-inch of vegetable oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Add sage leaves to hot oil in batches; fry 1 minute until starting to brown. Remove with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.

    For sauce, holding handles of skillet with hot pads, add broth and pomegranate juice to skillet. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, scraping up browned bits from bottom of skillet. Boil gently, uncovered, 12 to 14 minutes or until thickened slightly and reduced by half. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter.

    Slice beef and serve with pan sauce. Top with fried sage leaves. Makes 8 servings plus leftovers.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with White Truffle Oil

    A drizzle of white truffle oil gives this simple, earthy side dish an elegant finish. Find white truffle oil at a specialty grocer.

    Start to finish: 30 minutes

    • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 5 cups Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
    • 4 small shallots, cleaned and halved
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
    • 3/4 cup dry white wine
    • 1 teaspoon white truffle oil

    In large skillet heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts, shallots, salt, and pepper. Cook and stir 5 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully add wine. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 4 to 8 minutes or until Brussels sprouts are tender. Remove lid and cook 2 minutes more to reduce liquid.

    Transfer Brussels sprouts to serving platter with slotted spoon, season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with truffle oil. Makes 8 servings.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Whipped Pumpkin and Sweet Potato with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts

    This combination of pumpkin and sweet potatoes is sure to become a new holiday staple (bets are on it will make it to the Thanksgiving table as well). Canned pumpkin is a holiday workhouse; it can usually be found in the baking section, but make sure you’re not picking up “pumpkin pie mix.”

    Start to finish: 45 minutes

    • 2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin
    • 1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, cooked, peeled, and mashed (about 2 cups)
    • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
    • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup whipping cream
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    • 1/2 cup golden raisins
    • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

    Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl combine pumpkin, sweet potatoes, butter, brown sugar, cream, salt, and pepper. Spoon into a 1-1/2 to 2-quart baking dish. Bake 25 minutes or until heated through. Top pumpkin with raisins and nuts before serving. Makes 8 servings.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Buttery Poppy Seed Rolls

    These light, airy rolls taste as though they came from an artisanal bakery but are simple enough for bakers of every skill level to make.

    Prep: 25 minutes
    Rise: 30 minutes to 45 minutes
    Bake: 18 minutes to 20 minutes at 375°F

    • 1-1/2 cups warm water (105° to 115°F), divided
    • 2 packages active dry yeast
    • 2 tablespoons honey
    • 3/4 cup unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks), cut up and softened
    • 5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
    • 1 tablespoon sugar
    • 2 teaspoons salt
    • Nonstick cooking spray
    • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
    • 1 to 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

    Add 1 cup of warm water to large bowl. Add yeast and honey; stir to dissolve. Let stand in warm place 8 to 10 minutes or until foamy.

    Add softened butter and stir it into yeast mixture. Add 5 cups of flour, sugar, and salt to yeast mixture; mix well with wooden spoon. Add remaining 1/2 cup water; mix well. If dough is sticky add some of the remaining flour.

    Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Coat dough bowl with nonstick cooking spray. Use any remaining flour to sprinkle over dough and lightly knead to make smooth ball. Place dough back in bowl, turn once, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand in warm place 30 to 45 minutes or until double in size.

    Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease baking sheet. Punch dough down. Shape dough into 18 balls and place on baking sheet. Brush each with egg white and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

    Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm. Makes 18 rolls.

    Recipe by Chef Mary Payne Moran

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Cardamom Soufflés with Caramel Sauce

    Soufflés have a reputation for being tricky, and there’s really no way they can be completely made ahead and served immediately after the main course is finished.

    But don’t fret: At least half the work can be done ahead. The soufflé base can be made up to three days ahead. The soufflé cups can be prepared during the day and set aside. (The parchment paper collars help the soufflés rise straight and tall.) The caramel sauce can also be made ahead and reheated while the soufflés bake.

    So, plan on taking a break after the main course and offer coffee and small cookies while you finish the job. The dramatic—and delicious—results will be worth the wait.

    Prep: 30 minutes
    Bake: 23 minutes to 27 minutes at 350°F

    Cardamom Soufflé:

    • 2/3 cup half-and-half
    • 3 tablespoons whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus more for soufflé cups
    • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for soufflé cups
    • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
    • Pinch ground cinnamon
    • Parchment paper
    • 4 egg whites
    • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
    • Confectioner’s sugar

    Caramel Sauce:

    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup whipping cream
    • 1/2 cup butter

    For Cardamom Soufflés: For soufflé base, in small saucepan bring half-and-half and whipping cream to simmer over medium heat. Add granulated sugar, stirring 2 minutes to dissolve.

    In medium saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour; mix well to combine. Add cream mixture; whisk to combine, cooking over medium heat until thickened and bubbly and the mixture releases from the sides of the pan.

    Immediately place mixture in bowl of stand mixer fitted with flat paddle (or place in large mixing bowl and use hand mixer) and beat on medium-low speed 10 minutes. Add egg yolks to soufflé base, one at a time, beating until each yolk is incorporated before adding the next. Stir in cardamom and cinnamon. (At this point you can cover and chill base up to 3 days).

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter eight 4- to 6-ounce soufflé dishes, custard cups, or ramekins with additional softened butter, being sure to cover entire surface area on inside of dishes, including the rim. Coat the buttered dishes with granulated sugar, rotating dishes to coat them evenly. Tap out any excess sugar; set aside. 

    Recipe continued on the next slide

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  • Peter Krumhardt

    Cardamom Soufflés with Caramel Sauce cont.

    For a collar on each soufflé dish, measure enough parchment paper to wrap around top of dish and add 2 inches to both length and height. Wrap parchment around individual dishes. Tape or staple ends of paper together, or tie with length of 100% cotton kitchen string.

    In large bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer until they form stiff peaks (tips stand straight). Using rubber spatula, gently fold half the egg whites into reserved soufflé base. Fold in remaining egg whites. Gently pour batter into prepared soufflé dishes. Be careful not to drip batter on rims of cups or the soufflés may not rise evenly.

    Bake in center of oven 23 to 27 minutes or until lightly browned and set on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Dust with powdered sugar to garnish. Serve immediately with warm Caramel Sauce. Makes 8 servings.

    For Caramel Sauce, in small saucepan combine brown sugar, whipping cream and butter. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

    Recipe from Chef Mary Payne Moran

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