In Good Taste, Vol. 1: Welcome to the (Holiday) Party

Photo credit: Epicurious

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At the start of this year, my partner and I started to throw a dinner party every month. As infrequent hosts in the past, we'd had plenty of fun varying our menus – with maybe an occasional misfire every now and then (piri piri eggplant, if I catch you in these streets...). Yet where we'd always remained stuck was on our guest list. Since The Big Dinner Party was only once in a blue moon, we tended to stick to the same inner sanctum, loath to take a risk and expand the platonic horizons.

With an increase in frequency, though, our entire approach changed – we had the time and space to riff a little. Soon our guests included old classmates, new neighbors, the snakes who blindsided me during my mid-lockdown Zoom Survivor games…

And now, you. Because here at In Good Taste, we're also throwing a dinner party every month: a digest of delicious, eclectic, seasonal recipes I can't wait for you to try, and all the best products that will help you make them. Whatever joy I've found in the kitchen, I've found even more in sharing that food (and drink) with friends – and keeping our friends in the know is what TQE is all about.

So we're kicking things off with a one-two punch: a guide to the whirlwinds that are November and December. Emotions are high, temperatures are low, and you're just trying to make it through the potlucks unscathed. Allow me to help with the holidays in the only way I know how: by keeping your plate and your rocks glass full, even if by proxy.

Photo credit: D'Artagnan

IT'S TURKEY (LURKEY) TIME

First off, cards on the table: I'm not here to replace your "Meemaw's" stuffing. While I have strong (and correct) opinions on which stuffing reigns supreme – Victoria Granof, you will always be the GOAT – supplanting traditions will always be a minefield. But where variations on mac and cheese and pumpkin pie can spark the fiercest debates, you'll find little controversy when switching up your turkey.

That's because most Thanksgiving birds are dry and flavorless, a fate that can very easily be avoided. The first step is to get yourself a high-quality turkey, not the supermarket behemoths who've been plumped up with antibiotics. My favorite is from D'Artagnan, the free-range farmers whose organic and heritage birds taste fantastic even without any bells and whistles.

But Thanksgiving is about indulgence, and Tom Colicchio's Herb-Butter Turkey is so unbelievably savory it's been the staple in my house for almost a decade. It's even better with some Giblet Gravy poured on top, which you can make from the neck, gizzard and heart of your D'Artagnan bird to get even more bang for your buck. If you're grossed out by half of the words in that sentence, I implore you to try it anyway: much like how anchovies mellow when cooked, these giblets impart tons of umami but still keep the flavors classic.

Credit: Bon Appetit // Brightland

Another area worth playing around is with your vegetable sides, where I've long since traded in sweet potato casserole for zingier alternatives. Try this Winter Squash Agrodolce, named for the Italian tart-sweet sauce that helps cut through high-fat meals. That's all thanks to a heavy pour of vinegar – even better if you swap out a generic red wine varietal for Brightland's Rapture balsamic vinegar. It's incredibly bright and punchy, meaning you can skip the salad that no one eats and still get freshness on your plate.

And lastly (or firstly, really – I'm pulling a Memento here), that whole carb marathon goes down better post-aperitif. The Boulevardier makes fantastic use of red bitter liqueur, which does wonders for priming the stomach before a long night of eating. Though Campari is the classic choice, my mind was blown when a friend made me one with Cappelletti, a deeper-cut cousin that trades Campari's orange peel notes for pops of candied cherry. It's my go-to drink when fall hits, and is boozy enough to take the edge off your in-law-related heart rate spikes.

Credit: Serious Eats // Fatworks

HEY SIRI, PLAY THE CHANUKAH SONG

Unlike Thanksgiving, where the culinary template is burned onto our brains whether we follow it or not, Hanukkah meals are a little more fast and loose. With room for idiosyncrasies across the eight nights, lots of families tend to chart their own course – but who could skip out on matzo ball soup?

If I'm not exactly reinventing the wheel with that rec, I can at least plug Serious Eat's pathologically thorough testing of the perfect matzo balls. It's full of different options for designing the floater (or sinker) of your dreams – but to really take it to the next level, use a tub of Fatworks' unbelievable schmaltz. It's got a serious claim to the title of liquid gold, which means pasta water has 48 hours to respond.

On the sweet side, I'm a certified groupie for sufganiyot, the jelly donuts that are deep-fried to commemorate the miracle of oil for Hanukkah. King Arthur's preparation, swapping in a pâte à choux batter for the traditional yeasted dough, eliminates proving time and yields perfect, pillowy donuts – but even still, it's all about the jelly. An assortment like Roots Kitchen & Cannery's Jam Box gives you ample room to mix and match, and includes a Sour Plum flavor, which is randomly my love language.

Photo credit: Apteka

On the beverage side of things, while you could get post-ironic with a Manischewitz cocktail, Kosher-friendly Camuna Cellars is a beacon for us natty wine heads. They've got a delicious Pinot Gris, an even better Cab Franc, plus experiments with cider and mead that are 100% worth the detour. Because Concord grape is great for a lot of things, and wine might not be one of them!!

*JINGLE BELLS INTENSIFY*

Then comes Christmas, a holiday that is deeply triggering for me as a Southern Californian. When December rolls around, I've got whatever Seasonal Affective Disorder is for people who wish they were somewhere wintery – and the only cure, I've come to find, is serious culinary cosplay. This year I'm going full English manor home with a Beef Wellington, that marriage of tender meat and flaky puff pastry. And the star of the show will be one of Flannery Beef's truly peerless tenderloins – a splurge any way you cut it, but this family-owned, dry-aged, house-cut beef is as special as it gets.

Photo credit: Food & Wine

Plus I've got two desserts I can't live without, including one that'll serve you your booze in custard form. The first, for all my Great British Bake-Off girlies, is Nigella Lawson's Sticky Toffee Pudding, which she describes as having "an almost savage intensity" (can confirm). This thing is so good that my mom and I made it two nights in a row last year – thanks in no small part to the earthy, molasses-y muscovado sugar it calls for.

But if your holiday party is in need of a showstopper, this towering Tiramisu Eggnog Trifle is your gal. With no less than three different liquors onboard, it certainly packs a punch, but layers of whipped mascarpone help soften the blow deliciously. It's also the dish that made me fall in love with Mr. Black, the cold brew coffee liqueur that should be the final nail in Kahlua's coffin. It's rich, toasty and wonderfully bittersweet – and can double as the espresso martini base that keeps you up for New Year's Eve.

Photo credit: Mr. Black

SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE

Speaking of New Year's, that's when I'll see you again for our next installment. Plans will be hatched, resolutions will be made – and some might even be kept, like the one that started my dinner party journey in the first place. Until then, I hope these recipes and products bring some joy to whoever sits around your table. Good taste and good cheer can always go hand in hand.

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