When your usual dinner situation typically includes you, a bowl of spaghetti, and Netflix, hosting a holiday meal for eight or more people can feel super-intimidating. (The mental math alone is enough to make you want to hire a caterer, stat). To avoid panicking and ordering pizza for 10, we called upon Blackberry Farm’s executive chef and Krug champagne ambassador, Cassidee Dabney, for help.
The James Beard finalist’s biggest piece of advice when hosting a big group? Prep as much as you can ahead of time. “Lay out any veggies you picked up at the farmers’ market on a baking tray lined with parchment, freeze, and then transfer to Ziploc bags for storage,” she shares. The same goes for anything that reheats easily, like broccoli, macaroni, and soup. Soft herbs and proteins, on the other hand, should be made on the day you plan to serve them. And when it comes to plating, forget the fancy china: Dabney recommends serving larger groups family-style so there’s flow. “It takes the stress out of serving,” she says.
Now onto the question on everyone’s mind: What do I make? From a hands-off appetizer to an easier-than-pie dessert, Dabney walks us through the perfect three-course dinner for a crowd:
- 1 large butternut squash (choose one with a longer neck)
- Olive oil (for drizzling)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter (one stick)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¾ cup hazelnuts (toasted and coarsely chopped)
- 16 oz crème fraîche (whipped like cream)
- 1 cup fresh dill (stems removed)
Peel one large squash. Reserve the bulb end for another day. Slice the neck of the squash into 1-inch-thick rounds. Drizzle with oil and season with salt. Roast in oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender. Cool until ready to use. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees.
Using a skewer, poke 12 to 14 holes in the butternut slices and top each slice with a tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Just before serving, heat the butter-topped squash in the 450-degree oven for 5 to 6 minutes or until the butter starts to brown and the squash is warm. Remove from oven and drizzle lemon juice evenly over the squash. Top with chopped hazelnuts, a generous dollop of whipped crème fraîche, and a hearty pinch of freshly picked dill.
Herb-Roasted Rack of Lamb
- 2 lamb racks (8 to 9 ribs each)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Grape-seed oil
- 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- 8 thyme sprigs, crushed
- ½ cup butter
Pat the lamb rack dry with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper. Place on a baking pan and allow to come to room temperature for an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat and add about 2 tablespoons of oil. Sear the racks fat side down until golden brown, about 7 minutes. Turn over so that the fat side is up and roast in the preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and add the herbs and butter to the pan. Over medium heat, baste the racks with the herb-garlic butter for about 5 minutes. Check the internal temperature of the lamb with a probe thermometer. Shoot for an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Let the rack rest on a clean pan for 10 minutes before cutting.
To serve, cut each lamb rack into four equal pieces, two bones per chop. Garnish with more fresh herbs.
Poached Apples and Granita Cream
For the Apples:
- 1 pint apple juice
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Juice of one lemon
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 3 apples, preferably a local Honeycrisp or Cameo
Combine the apple juice, vanilla, and lemon juice in a pot and bring to a light simmer to melt the sugar. Use a melon baller to scoop spheres out of the apples and place them in the liquid. Cook at a light simmer until the apples are cooked but still firm, about 4 to 5 minutes. Pour the whole mixture into another bowl and place over an ice bath to cool.
For the Whipped Cream:
- 1 pint heavy cream
- ¼ cup freeze-dried apple powder
- 3 tbsp powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl (sift the freeze-dried apple powder). Use an immersion blender to combine, then whip until you have semi-medium peaks.
For the Granita:
- 1 quart freshly juiced local apples, like Honeycrisp or Cameo
- ¾ cup raw honey
Combine both ingredients in a blender until they are fully homogenous. Pour into a shallow pan and place in freezer. Every 15 minutes, pull out to scrape with a fork, until it is fully frozen and fluffy, like the texture of shaved ice. Plate with one fresh apple, thinly sliced.
You got this!