Welcome to what for most of us is the Cookingist Part of the Year!  December is for me always a mish mosh of entertaining, holiday meals, and on-the-fly dinners in between.   Let’s hone in on the big meals, the meals you’ll hopefully be sharing with friends and family.  

Classic Baked Ham

Let’s talk a bit about menu planning.  Here are some basic notes, and for more in depth tips, click here.

1. Write everything down. 

2. Organize those tasks over time. Decide what you will do three days before, what you will do the night before, what you will do the day of. You can shop for non-perishables any time. Most produce, meat, and poultry can be bought three to four days before your event, but do buy fish the day before.

3. Start by thinking of a general theme or cuisine (Italian), whether you’re going for a hot meal or a room temperature meal (a good idea if you’re new to entertaining), and the kind of occasion it is, and build your menu from there. 

4. Make thorough shopping lists from the recipes you’ll be making. Buy everything you can as early as you can, and of course perishable items like fish or berries need to wait until the day before or the day of. Organize your shopping list accordingly.

5. Less is more. That means fewer dishes (easier on you) and reasonable amounts of food so the table feels generous but not ridiculous. 

6. Make everything ahead that you can. All of those, “Oh I can do that at the last minute” jobs start to mount up, and the last minute is never long enough.   

7. Set up the table and the buffet and the bar, if applicable, the day before. Put out the glasses, put out the ice bucket, put out the platters you will be using with post-its on each plate identifying which food will go in which dish, put the serving utensils next to their appropriate dish, set the table of stack up the plates and utensils, arrange the flowers.

How to Set Up a Buffet Table

8. Think about letting people bring a dish, or maybe getting one or two prepared dishes to lighten your load. 

9. Think about a featured cocktail (alcoholic or not, or the option of both versions) for the evening.  

Okay, on to the recipes!

17 Seasonal Recipes to Make in December

Smoked Salmon Crostini with Herbed Mayonnaise

A fresh herby mayo snuggles up so nicely to lush smoked salmon on a crostini. A perfect holiday bite!


This Puerto Rican pork shoulder recipe is an amazing party dish.

Classic Baked Ham

The classic, perfect baked ham — shiny with a tangy sweet glaze, crosshatched, ideal for Christmas, Easter, and any large gatherings that call for a ham.

Jewish Crispy Potato Pancakes (Latkes)

If I don’t make these at least a few times, my people get ornery.

Homemade (Eggless!) Egg Nog

This is the classic holiday drink, with all of the creaminess and flavor, but skipping the raw eggs.


Creamy and coconutty and boozy, this Puerto Rican Egg Nog is a holiday staple and turns a gathering into a party.

Pomegranate Orange Mocktail with Mint

No booze in this refreshing drink.

Lazy Oven Baked French Toast

When french toast for breakfast is appealing, but making it in the morning isn't. An easy make-ahead French toast in the oven.

Brussels Sprouts, Apple, and Pomegranate Slaw Salad

So much going on, in terms of taste, texture and color – this is a fully engaging salad.

Wild Rice Salad with Cranberries

The sweet-tart chewy cranberries are a great foil for the slightly smoky, nutty flavor of the wild rice.  A perfect fall or holiday side dish.

Baked Mashed Potatoes

Baked mashed potatoes are next level in many ways: creamy, crunchy and cheesy. You can also make this dish ahead, and heat it right before serving.

Coq au Vin

The classic red wine braised chicken dish that embodies the best of rustic French cooking.

Cheesy Au Gratin Potatoes

Tender slices of potatoes layered with a creamy sauce with generous amount of cheddar…this is one of the greatest potato comfort food recipes of all time.

The Best No-Bake Haystack Cookies

This easy classic haystack recipe has a combo of butterscotch and chocolate chips, PLUS peanut butter and crushed peanuts.

Easy Shortbread Cookies

In the world of best-loved cookies, it’s hard to beat simple, buttery, dense but flaky shortbread.  

Gingerbread Cake

Moist and filled with warm spices like ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon. Perfect for the holidays.

Nut-Free Snowball Cookies

These classic cookies are sweet and soft and melt in your mouth (warning; may evoke childhood memories).

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