During the holiday season, event menus require an extra bit of pizazz to capture the festive spirit. Fortunately, we have access to many ingredients that can spice up a menu and really embrace all that the season has to offer. Winter menus tend to lean towards heavier, warmer meals, which means summer rules go out the window.
While soup or stew may be a favorable appetizer in the spring or summer, don’t be afraid to make it the main event at a holiday party—and have fun with the flavor profile. Likewise, you may find that a typical bar of beer and wine won’t do for a holiday party, since people are seeking the comfort of a hot chocolate or mulled wine station.
The moral here is that winter—and the holiday season, especially—is a wonderful time to get creative and experiment with new ingredients and flavors. Here are a few evergreen ingredients that can support your menu all season long.
What can’t you do with root vegetables? Ingredients like carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, and beets can be the stars of a dish or they can serve a supporting role. Either way, the sweet and earthy tones of root vegetables makes it a perfect addition to a wintry menu. Think stews, casseroles, and other hearty dishes that stokes that inner fire.
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It wouldn’t be fall and winter without a proper squash dish! Unlike summer squashes, like zucchini, winter squashes have a rich and velvety texture, which is perfect for the chillier months. Popular winter squashes include acorn, butternut, spaghetti, and the fall favorite, pumpkin. The fun part about these veggies is that most of them play well in every course, thanks to their signature sweetness.
These holiday favorites are a powerhouse of flavor and, much like squashes, cranberries can play a role in many dishes, from braised chicken to bread pudding. Even still, the bar is another great place to incorporate cranberries—think cranberry mimosas for daytime events and cranberry martinis or Moscow mules for an evening celebration. These versatile berries double as flavor enhancers and garnishes, so feel free to go a little crazy.
Holiday menus typically evoke a feeling of warmth and coziness and there’s no better way to achieve that than with a wide array of spices. While herbs reign supreme in the warmer months, we’re partial to the robust flavor profiles of spices in the winter.
Cinnamon and ginger are already popular favorites, but don’t be afraid to experiment with the likes of vanilla bean, nutmeg, turmeric, anise, and fennel. Better yet, try out a delicious spice blend like Chinese five-spice powder, which incorporates a few of these already.
When planning holiday menus, don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors and ingredients. Visit your favorite cocktail bar or a local fine dining restaurant for inspiration, then find new ways to put your own creative spin on your menu.