’Tis the season for gathering around the table with family and friends. But sometimes fixing that festive feast can be a little overwhelming. To make things easier for cooks who aren’t master chefs, we at Monthly have put together this simple but elegant meal that’s perfect for holiday entertaining.

“Easy” can be misleading. Yes, these festive recipes have fewer ingredients and steps than, say, a holiday meal of ham, turkey, duck or roasts with two or three side dishes and elaborate desserts, but that does not in any way mean that they are any less delicious or fall short of a pleasing presentation.

When planning a holiday meal, many cooks tend to focus on appetizers too much — I say skip them. They are the saboteurs of all the host’s efforts. Serve Champagne or prosecco with a small bowl of olives and a few slivers of cheese, and don't replenish the tray. This will whet guests’ appetites but won't fill them up. Food tastes better when one is hungry — a basic rule of entertaining. 

Since we eat with our eyes first, this first course of bright Citrus Carrot Soup with Cilantro Pesto will awaken the palate, followed by golden brown Roasted Cornish Game Hens surrounded by ruby-colored Mushrooms au Vin and brilliantly green Italian-Style Green Beans. Cornish game hens work well for many reasons. For example, one game hen serves one person, which makes a pretty presentation on the plate, and no carving is needed. A simple green salad of baby greens with olive oil and fresh lemon juice would work here as well, but that’s optional.

And for dessert, the Prosecco-Poached Pears with Blue Cheese bathed in rose-colored syrup will shimmer in the candlelight. Wines can be versatile; if going with red, a pinot noir or a syrah will work, while a gewurztraminer, pinot gris or buttery chardonnay are good choices for whites (see related article on page XXX). As an extra garnish on any of the dishes, red pomegranate seeds offer mini bursts of flavor and add color and sparkle.


Makes: 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
11/2 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch rounds
2 cups water
2 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 cup cilantro leaves, thick stems removed
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

To make the soup, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat in a medium pot. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, stirring often. Sprinkle turmeric, salt and pepper over onions and stir for 1 minute. Add carrot slices, water and vegetable broth to the pot, making sure the water covers them. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat, cover and simmer until the carrots are tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor. If it’s too thick, add water by the tablespoon. Return to pot and then stir in the lime juice.

To make the cilantro pesto, combine all ingredients in a mini food process and pulse. Add more olive oil to thin out the pesto as needed.

Serve the soup warm or chilled with cilantro pesto.     


Makes: 4 to 6 servings

GREEN BEANS2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
zest of a lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

In a medium-sized heavy skillet, heat butter in olive oil over medium heat. Add green beans then sprinkle with salt and pepper and then sauté, using tongs to turn the beans constantly until desired doneness. Add a few teaspoons of water, if needed. Transfer to a serving dish, toss with lemon juice and zest and top with toasted pine nuts. Can be served warm or at room temperature.


This festive dish is inspired by the classic coq au vin — but with fewer ingredients and steps. The presentation is quite special.

4 Cornish game hens
3 cups dry red wine
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 10-ounce packages cremini or white button mushrooms
1 medium yellow onion, finally chopped
Salt and pepper

Parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Rinse and pat the Cornish game hens using paper towels. Pour the red wine into the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Arrange the hens, breast side up, in the Dutch oven. They should be spaced 2 to 3 inches apart. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and dot with butter. Place the hens in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

While the hens are cooking, start the mushrooms. Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, and then add the mushrooms and onions, sautéing and stirring often, until browned — about 15 minutes. The mushrooms will release a lot of liquid, but if necessary, carefully add a small amount of red wine to the skillet if the skillet seems too dry. Remove the hens from the oven and arrange the sautéed mushroom mixture and any liquid around the edges of the hens. Return the hens to the oven and continue roasting, basting twice during the remaining roasting time. If necessary, stir in a few tablespoons of red wine while the hens and mushrooms are roasting.

When the hens are golden brown, test for doneness by inserting a thermometer inside the thickest part of the thigh — it should read 165 degrees and juices will run clear. Loosely tent the hens with foil and allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley.



PROSECCO PearsThis is a light and festive dessert that pairs pears with blue cheese — a classic combination. This recipe can be made up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container.

Makes: 4 servings

2 pounds Bartlett pears (about 4 pears), peeled, cored and halved
3 cups prosecco, Champagne or other sparkling wine
3 tablespoons red wine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1/2 lemon

½ cup blue cheese, crumbled

Pour lemon juice into a shallow dish. Place the pears, cut side down, in the lemon juice to prevent browning. In a medium pot, bring the prosecco, red wine, sugar and lemon zest to a low boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat and poach the pears in the liquid, covered, for 15-17 minutes. Remove the pears from the liquid with a slotted spoon and transfer to a dish. To make the syrup, bring the remaining liquid to a boil over medium-high heat for 15 minutes until it reduces, stirring occasionally. Allow the syrup to cool slightly, then add to the pears and refrigerate. Serve pears and syrup in shallow bowls and top with crumbled blue cheese.


First course: Carrot Citrus Soup with Cilantro Pesto
Main course: Roasted Cornish Game Hen with Mushrooms au Vin

Side vegetable: Italian-Style Green Beans
Dessert: Prosecco-Poached Pears with Blue Cheese

Impress your guests with this easy yet elegant holiday dinner menu