Your Essential Holiday Hit List

’Tis the season for extravagant family meals, impromptu gatherings and office potluck parties. Our gift to you? Twenty-two crowd-pleasing recipes perfect for any and all of these occasions. With dinner taken care of, you’ll have more than enough time to deck the halls…and enjoy a festive drink (or two).

By Émilie Folie-Boivin, Christine Laroche And Mélanie Roy
Photos by David De Stefano Accessories Stylist: Caroline Nault Food Stylists: Heidi Bronstein And Graham Hood

No. 1 Morella Cherry Punch

The punch bowl is to a party what the water cooler is to an office: the heart of the action. Our punch gets its tangy flavour from two types of cherries (freshly pitted and tart morello in light syrup) and plums. For less of a one-two punch, replace the Moscato wine with a sweeter alternative like white port.

Total | 15 minutes Serves | 12 cups (3 litres)

  • 1 bottle (750 ml) white Moscato wine (or white port)
  • 1 jar (19 oz/540 ml) pitted morello cherries in light syrup
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) dark rum
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) white grape juice
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) Triple Sec or curaçao (avoid blue curaçao)
  • 2 plums, pitted and cut into thin wedges
  • 2 unpeeled oranges, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup (250 ml) fresh or frozen cherries, pitted
  • Ice cubes, to taste

In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine the wine, morello cherries, syrup, rum, grape juice and Triple Sec. Add the fruit. 2 Serve with ice cubes, if desired.

NOTE No steeping is needed for this punch, but it can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

No. 2 The Trio of Hors D’Oeuvres

Panko-Crusted Goat Cheese with Cucumber and Green Apple

Prep | 30 minutes Cooling | 15 minutes Cooking | 6 minutes Serves | 16 hors d’oeuvres

  • 4 thin slices pancetta
  • 4 oz (115 g) fresh unripened goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
  • 1 pinch Espelette pepper (see note)
  • 1 cup (140 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup (60 g) panko bread crumbs
  • 1 green apple, cored, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) long sticks and lightly drizzled with lemon juice
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced
  •  A few microgreens (optional)
  • Salt and pepper Canola oil, for frying

  • With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Place the pancetta slices on the baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes or until crisp. Let cool. Chop finely.
  • In a bowl, combine the cheese, pancetta, chives and Espelette pepper. Shape into 1-tbsp balls and flatten slightly. Set aside on a plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  • Preheat the oil in the fryer to 350°F (180°C). Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.
  • In a shallow dish, place the flour. Beat the eggs in a second shallow dish and place the panko in a third dish. Dredge the cheese balls in the flour, then dip them in the beaten eggs. Shake to remove any excess. Repeat these two steps for each cheese hors d’oeuvre, then press in the panko to thoroughly coat.
  • Place half of the hors d’oeuvres at a time in the hot oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, turning them several times, until golden brown. Drain on the paper towels.
  • Place the hors d’oeuvres on a serving platter. Garnish with a few slices of cucumber, julienned apple and microgreens. Serve with toothpicks, if desired.

NOTE: Espelette pepper is a chili pepper native to Espelette, France. It has a deep, subtle smokey heat. You can replace it with cayenne pepper.

Champagne and Pear Duck Skewers

Prep | 25 minutes Marinating | 15 minutes Cooking | 3 minutes Serves | 24 skewers

  • 1 duck breast half, about ¾ lb (340 g)
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) champagne jelly (see note)
  • 1 tbsp   (15 ml) champagne vinegar (see note)
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) hoisin sauce
  • ¼ tsp five-spice powder
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
  • 1 pear, cored, diced and lightly drizzled with lemon juice
  • 24 small basil leaves
  • 24 small wooden skewers or toothpicks
  • Fleur de sel and pepper

  • On a work surface, completely trim the fat from the duck breast. Discard the fat or keep for another use. Cut the breast meat into cubes. Set aside in a bowl.
  • Add the jelly, vinegar, hoisin sauce and five-spice powder to the meat cubes. Season with salt and pepper. Let marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 12 hours. Drain the meat and reserve the marinade.
  • In a non-stick skillet over high heat, brown the duck cubes for a few seconds on each side. Set aside on a plate. Pour the marinade into the skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes or until the sauce is syrupy. Remove from the heat. Add the meat cubes to the sauce and toss to coat.
  • Thread one basil leaf, one piece of pear and one piece of duck onto each skewer. Season with fleur de sel. Serve hot or warm.

NOTE Champagne jelly and vinegar can be found in specialty stores. If unavailable, use port wine jelly and sherry vinegar.

Cherry Tomato Confit and Escargots on Puff Pastry

Prep | 30 minutes Cooking | 35 minutes Serves | 2 dozen hors d’oeuvres

Cherry Tomato Confit

  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Mini Puff Pastries

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) water
  • ½ lb (225 g) store-bought frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
  • 1 can (4 oz/115 g) escargots, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) pastis or other anise liqueur
  • Fresh tarragon leaves, to taste

    Cherry Tomato Confit

  • With the rack in the highest position, preheat the oven’s broiler.
  • On a baking sheet, place the cherry tomatoes, cut side up. Drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with the sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Broil for about 5 minutes or until the tomatoes start to caramelize and have wilted. Set aside.
  • Mini Puff Pastries

  • With the rack in the middle position, adjust the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a small bowl, combine the egg and water. Set the egg wash aside.
  • On a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 10-inch (25 cm) square. With a 1 ½-inch (4.5 cm) round cookie cutter, cut 24 discs from the dough. With a fork, poke the entire surface of the dough. Place on the baking sheet and brush with egg wash.
  • Bake for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Let cool. At this stage, if the puff pastries seem to have risen unevenly while baking, you can cut off the cap (the top part of the pastry) with a breadknife.
  • In a skillet over medium heat, soften the shallot in the oil. Add the escargots and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Deglaze with the pastis and reduce until almost dry. Adjust the seasoning.
  • Assembly

  • On each puff pastry, place a cherry tomato half. Spoon on the escargot mixture. Garnish with a tarragon leaf. Serve warm.

No. 3 Citrus Vodka

Serving homemade limoncello—the popular Italian liqueur—is a family favourite chez Ricardo. In this twist on the original recipe, traditional lemon zest is replaced with refreshing grapefruit, orange and lime—the citrus combo lending a fresher, slightly sharper note.

Cheers to Ricardo’s favourite aperitif!

Prep | 15 minutes Cooking | 5 minutes Steeping | 7 days Makes | 4 cups (1 litre)

  • 1 grapefruit, scrubbed clean
  • 1 orange, scrubbed clean
  • 1 lime, scrubbed clean
  • ½ cup (105 g) sugar
  • 2 ½ cups (625 ml) vodka
  • Over a saucepan, remove long zests from the grapefruit, orange and lime with a vegetable peeler. Squeeze the juice from each fruit.
  • Bring the fruit zest and juice to a boil with the sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool.
  • In a bottle or a sealable glass container, combine the syrup and vodka. Let steep in a cool, dark place for 7 days.
  • Through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or cheese cloth, strain the liqueur. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

NOTE We prefer to use organic citrus fruit in recipes that call for a large amount of zest.

No. 4 General Tao Cocktail Sausages

Two things we’re crazy about at RICARDO headquarters: anything drizzled in General Tao sauce and cocktail sausages (maybe that’s a stretch). We combined the two ingredients to see what would happen and found a real wiener!

Prep | 15 minutes Cooking | 15 minutes Serves | 8 to 10

  • ¾ cup (180 ml) maple syrup
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp  cornstarch
  • 2 tsp  (10 ml) sambal oelek
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 ½ lb (675 g) cocktail sausages
  • 1 tbsp  (15 ml) olive oil
  • ¼ cup  (10 g) fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

  • In a small bowl, combine half the maple syrup (6 tbsp/90 ml) with the vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, sambal oelek and sesame oil. Set aside.
  • In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the remaining maple syrup (6 tbsp/90 ml), the ginger and garlic to a boil. Simmer until the mixture begins to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the first syrup mixture. Bring back to a boil, whisking constantly. Set the sauce aside.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the sausages in the oil for 2 minutes. Add the sauce, cover and simmer for about 5 minutes or until it thickens and thoroughly coats the sausages.
  • Place on a serving platter. Garnish with the cilantro and sesame seeds.

NOTE The sauce can be made 2 days in advance.

No. 5 Cream of Pea Soup with Pesto Oil

This silky soup can easily be prepared ahead of time and frozen. On the day of, add the cilantro garnish just before serving. It’s especially cozy ladled into small mugs—perfect for fireside sipping.

Prep | 15 minutes Cooking | 25 minutes Serves | 8 to 10, freezes well

Cream of Pea Soup

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
  • 1 russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 5 cups (1.25 litres) chicken broth
  • 1 bag (26 oz/750 g) frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper

Pesto Oil

  • 1 cup (125 ml) olive oil
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) store-bought pesto


  • ¼ cup (10 g) fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 lime, cut into small wedges
  • Espelette pepper, to taste

    Cream of Pea Soup

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, soften the onion in the oil. Add the potato and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potato is tender. Add the green peas and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
  • In a blender, purée until smooth. Transfer back into the saucepan. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pesto Oil

  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the oil and pesto. Strain through a fine sieve. Set aside.
  • Assembly

  • Ladle the soup into cups. Garnish with a drizzle of pesto oil and cilantro leaves. Serve with a lime wedge and a pinch of Espelette pepper.

NOTE Frozen peas are a great choice for an easy-to-prepare soup. They don’t need to be shelled and are very inexpensive.

No. 6 Pecan and Jalapeno Cheese Ball

A cheese ball in 2015? We get it: You’re sceptical, and so were we. Turns out that with a few updates over the years—cue a crunchy topping (grilled pecans) and a burst of brightness (pomegranate seeds, cilantro, fried shallots)—this kitschy classic is now “retro” and absolutely at home on a 21st-century table.

Prep | 20 minutes Cooling | 2 hours Cooking | 5 minutes Serves | 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Cheese Ball

  • 8 oz (225 g) sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 oz (115 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp seeded and chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 2 tsp chopped green onion


  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (40 g) toasted pecans, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup (45 g) pomegranate seeds
  • 3 tbsp (5 g) chopped fresh cilantro
  • Crackers or toasted bread slices
  • Salt and pepper
  • Canola oil for frying

    Cheese Ball

  • In a food processor, purée the cheeses until smooth. Add the pepper and green onion, pulsing a few seconds at a time. Transfer the cheese mixture to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Topping

  • In a small saucepan, heat about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of oil to approximately 350°F (180°C). Line a plate with paper towels. Set aside.
  • Dredge the shallots in the flour and shake to remove any excess. Fry the shallots until crisp and lightly golden brown. Drain on the paper towels. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  • Place the pecans on a plate. With your hands, shape the cheese mixture into a large ball and coat it with the pecans. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
  • Place the cheese ball in the centre of a small plate. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. When ready to serve, garnish with pomegranate seeds, cilantro and fried shallots. Serve with crackers or toasted bread slices.

NOTE The shallots can be cooked 2 to 3 days in advance and kept at room temperature in an airtight container.

TOTAL cheeseball

Legend has it that farmer Elisha Brown Jr. invented the cheese ball in 1801 as a 1,235-pound gift for Thomas Jefferson. (Our hearts melt for cheesy gifts!)

To read the rest of "Your Essential Holiday Hit List", see the November 2015 issue of Ricardo in the Texture app.