Holiday Comforts

Comfort foods served family style convey the generous spirit of the holiday season.

Photos by ALEXANDRA ROWLEY Food styling by ERIN MERHAR Props styling by MARINA MALCHIN

What better way to celebrate the abundance and warmth of the season than with a family-style dinner party? We suggest gathering ’round a spread of updated classics centered on a glorious glazed crown roast of pork and spiced winter vegetables. With wine poured from magnums, there will be enough to go around, and the larger bottles add to the festivity of a holiday dinner. Whimsical ice cream sandwiches featuring gingerbread wrap things up on a sweet note.

Kuri Soup with Ancho and Apple

This flavorful squash soup from James Beard awardwinning Chef Rick Bayless gives warmth to any dinner. Apples bring a bright note to the nutty flavor of kuri squash, while ancho chilies add mild heat and a touch of smoke. Bayless is the proprietor of Chicago’s Frontera Grill, Xoco and the Michelin-starred Topolobampo. He recently opened a Chicago brewery and taqueria, Cervecería Cruz Blanca, as well as Leña Blanca, which features the largest Mexican wine list in the United States.

  • 1 medium kuri squash, about 3 pounds (may substitute sugar pumpkin)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 medium yellow onions, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • 2 dried ancho chilies, stemmed, seeded and torn into pieces
  • 2 medium apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela
  • Salt, to taste
  • Sugar, to taste
  • Dried apple chips, for garnish
  • Fried thyme leaves, for garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

  • Peel squash, chop off stem end and cut in half lengthwise. Scoop seeds into small bowl and reserve; pull out stringy fibers. Chop squash into 1-inch pieces, about 3 cups.
  • In medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add seeds and onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are golden and seeds start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add chili pieces. Cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and lightly toasted, 1–2 minutes. Add squash, apple, pepper, cinnamon and 1 quart water. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook until very tender, about 30 minutes.
  • Ladle into blender, being careful not to fill all the way and working in batches if necessary, and blend until completely smooth. Pass soup through medium mesh strainer set over pot. Season to taste with salt and sugar. Divide among bowls. Top with apple, thyme leaves and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve warm. Serves 8.

Spiced Wine-Glazed Holiday Crown Roast of Pork

This beautiful crown roast shines with a red wine and Port glaze that’s infused with a mix of wintery spices. It was created for Wine Enthusiast by Yvan Lemoine, executive chef of the new Union Fare, a restaurant and food hall in New York City’s Union Square neighborhood.

  • 1 standing rib roast of pork (10 ribs)
  • 1 bottle dry red wine
  • 1 cup spiced wine glaze*
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon green cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon star anise
  • 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6 thyme sprigs
  • 6 rosemary sprigs
  • 1 herb bouquet of fresh rosemary, lavender, oregano and thyme sprigs, tied at base with kitchen twine, for garnish (optional)

  • Have butcher clean, remove fat cap and french bones.
  • Combine red wine and ½ cup spiced wine glaze. Marinate pork overnight in mixture. Remove and pat dry. Using spice grinder, grind garlic, dried spices and ginger into paste. Rub pork with paste. Season heavily with salt and pepper.
  • Stand meat up. Form into circle with bones curving out and loins tucked in middle. (You may need to make small incisions at base of each chop.) Truss with twine. Place in roasting pan. Cover bones with aluminum foil to avoid burning. Place thyme and rosemary sprigs in center.
  • Preheat oven to 350˚F. Roast pork for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue roasting until internal temperature reaches 155˚F, 15–20 minutes. Remove roast from oven and let rest 30 minutes. As roast rests, internal temperature will reach 160˚F. Leave oven at 350˚F for finishing later.
  • Using pastry brush, paint roast with remaining spiced wine glaze 20 minutes before serving. Return to oven and reheat for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer roast to large platter. Place herb bouquet, if using, in center and bring to table. Cut between ribs to serve one chop per guest. Serves 8, with two ribs left over.
  • Before you set the table, place the empty platter for the crown roast in the center, and arrange the place settings around it. When dinner is served, let the roast be your centerpiece for a moment.


  • 6 cups ruby Port
  • 4 cups robust red wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 1 orange peel
  • ½ cup honey
  • 8 whole ripe figs
  • 9 ounces apple pectin
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 cinnamon stick, vanilla,
  • 1½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon green cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon star anise
  • 1 teaspoon pink peppercorns

  • In large saucepan, combine Port, red wine, ginger, dried spices, orange peel, honey and figs in saucepan. Cook, covered, over low heat until figs are soft and mixture thickens, 15–20 minutes.
  • Strain mixture. Set aside fruit, spices and orange peel. Add pectin to mixture. Using a handheld blender, purée until smooth.
  • Return mixture to pot, and bring to boil. Strain again, and place pot or bowl over ice to cool. Cool strained fruit and spices. When cooled, blend fruit and spices back into glaze.

Roasted Okinawan Sweet Potatoes


Orange sweet potatoes may be a traditional holiday staple, but cooking up a purple variety shows your style and mixes up the color palate of your table. Top them with ginger glaze and spicy piri piri, and plate them over a bed of ricotta. The dish is the creation of Jacob Saben, chef de cuisine at The Publican in Chicago.

  • 12 medium sweet potatoes, preferably purple Okinawan or a mix
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6 limes, juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10 Fresno chilies, seeded
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 mall knobs ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 2 tablespoons rice bran or other neutral oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • Preheat oven to 400˚F. Rub sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Poke potatoes with fork, place in roasting pan and cover with foil. Cook 25 minutes, until potatoes feel slightly tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool completely, then cut into ¼-inch disks and set aside.
  • For the piri piri, blend lime juice, garlic and 2 tablespoons olive oil until emulsified. Add chilies, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon ginger and white wine vinegar. Blend until smooth. Add salt, to taste. Blend until combined.
  • For ginger glaze, heat honey in a saucepan over medium-high heat until frothy. Add cider vinegar, remaining ginger and chili flakes to pan. Reduce by half. Add chicken stock, and reduce again until thickened. Strain though a chinois or fine strainer. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  • Add salt and pepper to ricotta, to taste, and mix well.
  • In sauté pan, heat thin layer of rice bran oil or other neutral oil. Place potatoes in pan, and gently brown on each side. Pour off excess oil from pan. Add ginger glaze and baste potatoes.
  • Spread ricotta in center of serving platter. Arrange potatoes on top.
  • Reduce left over ginger glaze in pan and add butter. Pour over potatoes and drizzle piri piri over. Serves 8.

Challah Bread Dressing


Cooking dressing separately rather than making stuffing (cooked inside the meat or bird) saves time and ensures that the meat will be evenly cooked. Created by Yvan Lemoine, this dressing derives sweetness from butternut squash and cherries, which is contrasted by the tangy goat cheese. It also complements the baking-spice flavors of the crown roast.

  • Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden. Serve immediately. Serves 8.
  • 2 pounds butternut squash (will yield 1½ pounds cooked flesh)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup blanched sliced almonds, divided
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound challah bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons dried cherries

  • Preheat oven to 350˚F. Wrap squash in aluminum foil. Bake 1 hour.
  • Mix garlic, parsley, ¼ cup almonds and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Mix together.
  • Let squash cool enough to handle. Cut in half, remove seeds and cut flesh away from peel. Dice cooked flesh into 1-inch cubes.
  • Combine bread, squash, chicken stock and garlic mixture in bowl. Mix with hands until stock is absorbed by bread evenly. Do not overmix; leave some big chunks of bread. Season with salt, pepper and a little olive oil.
  • Coat bottom and sides of casserole dish with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Press mix into dish, smoothing corners. Scatter crumbles of goat cheese on top. Sprinkle with cherries and remaining almonds.

Gingerbread Man Ice Cream Sandwiches

The smell of just-baked gingerbread can soft en the heart of even the most hardened holiday cynic. The gingerbread’s spices continue the flavor profile of the preceding dishes, while vanilla ice cream refreshes the palate after a rich meal. For a nostalgic touch, place each into a crisp waxpaper bag before serving.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
  • ½ packed cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Sanding sugar, confectioners’ sugar or dragées for decoration (optional)
  • In medium mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, spices, salt and pepper. In bowl of stand mixer, beat butter and brown sugar together 1 minute. Add molasses, egg and vanilla extract. Add dry ingredients a little at a time, with machine running, until well combined. Form dough into large ball. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 5 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 350˚F. On lightly floured surface, roll dough ¼-inch thick. With 4-inch gingerbread man cookie cutter, form cookies and place at least 1 inch apart on a nonstick baking pan. Bake 9–11 minutes, or until edges start to brown. Cool on baking sheet 5 minutes. Transfer to wire rack, and let cool completely.
  • Using a long serrated knife, cut ½ gallon of well-frozen vanilla ice cream (preferably brick shaped) into four equal lengthwise slices. Using the same cookie cutter, cut 8 ice cream shapes.
  • Assemble each sandwich. Cover with plastic wrap, and return to freezer until ready to serve. May be assembled 2 days in advance. Decorate before serving, if you like. Serves 8.