Back to the Kitchen: A Holiday Menu Perfect for a Tree Trimming Party

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Eat, Drink, Be Merry — and trim a tree!

There are many great reasons to throw a party with friends and family this time of year. In order to make entertaining easier, it’s best to prepare a menu to make ahead of time so you make a spectacular presentation and fully participate in all the activities.

The following menu is a sit down dinner designed with two courses. If you are tight on oven space, you can eliminate the roasted veggies and steam or sauté what ever you like. Keep it simple. The idea is to give yourself lots of time with your guests.

The evening before I make the Caesar dressing, the croutons and the cranberry sauce. Have the baked brie ready when your guests arrive. It is so simple yet I have received marriage proposals from men who can’t stop eating it! Serve it with crusty bread for an appetizer.

If you are having a tree trimming party, have the appetizers out in the same room as the tree when the guests arrive. (I also recommend having the tree set up with the lights already strung.) One hour before guests arrive:

1. Prep salad.

2. Place sauce in a saucepan.

3. Bake chicken and roast potatoes.

4. Simmer sauce.

After the tree is trimmed, toss the Caesar and serve it as a first course. Then plate up the main course and serve.

After dinner you can relax a bit, clean up, make coffee and after about 30 minutes serve dessert. I would make the cakes the day before as well. They look like an enchanted forest when they are plated together. It is all about sharing time with friends and family and sharing a great meal and making the most out of your holiday time together!

Baked Brie with Mushrooms, Onions and Garlic

4 tablespoons butter

2 large onions, sliced

1-tablespoon thyme, minced

4 garlic cloves, sliced

2 cups button or crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 8-inch-diameter 32- to 36-ounce

French Brie

French bread baguettes, sliced

Melt butter in heavy very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until just tender, about 6 minutes. Add minced thyme and mushrooms and stir until soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool. Preheat oven to 350°F. Unwrap Brie, reserving bottom of wooden box. Cut away only top rind of cheese, leaving rind on sides and bottom intact. Return Brie to box, rind side down. Place box on baking sheet. Top Brie evenly with onion mixture. Bake until cheese just melts, about 30 minutes. Transfer Brie in box to the platter. Surround with baguette slices.

Caesar Salad
In small bowl whisk together:

1 egg

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-tablespoon anchovy paste

Then add:

Juice of one lemon

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Up to 3 cloves of garlic to taste

2 teaspoon dried thyme

In a steady stream add:

1-cup olive oil

If you would like, add a few shakes of pepper or a dash of Tabasco sauce. If you like a stronger flavor or are not keen on the anchovy paste, a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce works wonders.  Fill a large salad bowl with lettuce. The traditional Caesar lettuce is Romaine. I like to add spinach and radicchio for flavor and color. Mix in croutons (see below) shaved or grated Parmesan and then toss in the dressing. Go lightly the worst Caesars are the ones that are over-dressed. Taste as you go. For variation you can add cherry tomatoes or toasted pine nuts, both are tasty and add a little pizzazz.

Killer Croutons

Truly, you can use any kind of bread, seasoning and oil. I will give you the basic, but again – go for it and make it your own.

1 baguette (long loaf of French or sour dough bread)

Olive oil to coat

Pinch of Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Slice baguettes into quarter inch slices. Place in large bowl. Toss with oil until well coated. Add salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet in single layer rows and bake at 350 until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cranberry Chicken

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 shallots, finely chopped

2-teaspoon thyme

2 teaspoon sage

1/2-teaspoon white pepper

3 cups chicken stock

1 bag fresh cranberries (12 ounces)

1/2-cup sugar

1-teaspoon cornstarch

8 chicken breasts

Sautee shallots over medium heat until tender. Add sage and thyme and sauté for one minute. Add stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Add cranberries and sugar and boil until cranberries burst, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl whisk together the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Whisk it in and return to a boil and cook for 5 minutes longer. Add white pepper. And serve over chicken. (To bake the chicken I slather with butter, thyme and sage. Cook at 400 for about 45 minutes until cooked through and golden. Pour a generous amount of sauce over the chicken.

Roasted Potatoes

You can use any potatoes that you like or can find. (There are over 400 varieties!) I love the mix of flavors and you don’t need to peel them. I usually use two potatoes per person. Be sure to include 2 Sweet potatoes and 2 Yams. Even my most devoted Atkins following friends can’t resist makes for such a simple, amazing presentation.

A mix of 16 potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
(Red, russet, Yukon gold, purple, fingerling, golden wonder Epicure, Cara, King Edward, Linzer, just to name a few.)

Coat evenly with olive oil (About 1/2 a cup)

Sprinkle with kosher salt, pepper, and dried thyme

Roast in a 400 degree oven until fork tender and golden brown. About 1 hour.

Assorted Roast Veggies

If you are short on oven space you can do these a couple of hours before the guests arrive and then re-heat for a few minutes after you take out the chicken and potatoes. This is a good combo of taste and color, however you can use any vegetable that you like. Also if you have left over you can make bowtie pasta with grilled veggies.

Roast Carrots, Parsnips and Asparagus

8 carrots, peeled with greens on and trimmed to 1 inch

8 parsnips

32 asparagus

Kosher Salt, pepper

Olive oil

Toss in a baking pan with olive oil. Salt and pepper. Roast at 400 until brown and slightly caramelized, turning occasionally about 30 minutes.

Chocolate Yule Log Cake

This is a very traditional Christmas cake usually made in Europe for Christmas Eve. Considering the lovely presentation it is pretty simple to make. Remember that butter cream is like glue so you can hide a multitude of cracks and mistakes.


5 eggs, separated

1-cup sugar, divided

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/4-teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar


2 cups heavy whipping cream

1 cup white chocolate, chopped

1/4-cup sugar

2 tablespoons vanilla

Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting:

1-cup butter, softened

1-cup cocoa powder

2 cups powder sugar

2-teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons milk

For Cake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-inch x 9-inch jellyroll pan with baker’s joy and then line it with parchment paper and spray again.  Beat the egg yolks and 1/2-cup sugar in a bowl and beat until it thickens enough to leave a trail. Then whisk the cocoa, flour and salt and gradually fold into the egg yolks. Beat the egg whites until foamy. Add thee cream of tartar; beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/2 cup sugar beating on high speed until stiff peaks form.  Add one-fourth to the egg yolks and fold in, then add the rest of the egg whites and fold in carefully. Pour into the jellyroll pan and spread evenly all over the pan, right up to the edges and into the corners. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes until firm to the touch and the cake springs back when pressed.
Turn the cake out on to a linen towel dusted with powdered sugar. Peel off parchment paper. Carefully roll up in the towel, starting with a short side. Cool on a wire rack.


Break up the chocolate in to small pieces then put it and 1/4-cup cream into a saucepan. Heat slowly, stirring continuously until the chocolate melts. Put it to one side to cool to room temperature. Whip the remaining cream and vanilla until it reaches the soft peaks stage then fold it into the cooled chocolate mixture. Chill. Unroll cooled cake and Spread over cake to 1/2 inch of each side. Re-roll cake. Be gentle, but don’t worry if it cracks…that’s why we have butter cream frosting.

Butter Cream Frosting:

In a large mixing bowl mix all of frosting ingredients together. Frost cake. Using a fork make lines to imitate tree bark.

Pumpkin Buche de Noel

3 eggs

1-cup sugar

2/3 cup pumpkin puree

Juice of one lemon

3/4-cup flour

1-teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2-teaspoon salt

1 cup chopped pecans


1 cup powdered sugar

1-cup cream cheese

4 tablespoons butter

1/2 tsp. vanilla

For the cake:

Beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes. Add sugar gradually. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice. Set aside. Stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Fold into pumpkin mixture. Spread on greased and floured 10×15 sheet cake pan. Top with pecans. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Turn out on towel sprinkled with powdered sugar. Roll and let cool. Combine powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter and vanilla. Unroll cake; spread on filling and roll back up. Sprinkle with powder sugar. Keep refrigerated.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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