Sally Swift: I have a little bit of an ax to grind with appetizers. People feel like they have to give so much for an appetizer. An appetizer is meant to whet our appetites, not fulfill us. Smaller can be better. Simple things work really, really well.
Try a nice, beautiful bowl of sweet and salty nuts, maybe with a little spice added to them.
I have just recently been pickling mushrooms, which I absolutely love. Those enoki mushrooms look almost like they are from a fairy tale; they are the most beautiful things. I make a very, very simple brine with vinegar, salt, sugar and water. I add a little lemon grass. I crush black pepper so that you get big chunks of black pepper with every bite of those sweet, gorgeous, little mushrooms. I've been eating them a bit obsessively, I have to admit, on Triscuits smeared with cream cheese. It is just delicious.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: You know what is great too, which I don't think people think of, is pickled fruit. It's a wonderful contrast -- sweet, tart and great with drinks. Cubes of melon and grapes are fabulous pickled.
SS: They do grapes in the South. They are tricky too -- they look like olives, so you are fooling people.
LRK: One strategy I found that helps a lot is wherever possible, buy pre-cut vegetables. You can now buy butternut squash and sweet potatoes in cubes.
Take that butternut squash, toss it with a little olive oil, allspice, black pepper, lemon and brown sugar, and slow roast it for maybe an hour. Do that a day ahead. Serve it on picks at room temperature. It's fabulous.
SS: The idea of having things at room temperature -- Europeans do this all the time. They serve a ton of things at room temperature. In fact, many, many things taste better at room temperature instead of when they are served piping hot. Almost any vegetable that you roast is wonderful at room temperature.
LRK: Mustard-Glazed Red Cabbage is almost a sweet-sour treatment of cabbage. It's inexpensive to do, you do it a day ahead, you serve it at room temperature.
Recipe: Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi with Saffron Tomato Sauce (Photo: Ellen Silverman)
LRK: There are so many baked main courses that are really good at room temperature. There's a really fabulous-looking Crispy Feta-Stuffed Phyllo Torte that is done in a bundt pan. It is a celebration. It takes a little work, but you do that work early in the day or the day before. It's wonderful, and people think you have spent hours in the kitchen.
SS: We got that idea from Melissa Clark at The New York Times. That is a party dish. You drizzle each piece with honey. It really is magnificent.
LRK: There is a leg of lamb you roast really slowly, with honey and spices. At every place you have Moroccan spices, so you have little dishes or little piles of different spices. You also have lettuce leaves. What people do is they take the sliced lamb, they spice it the way they want it, they roll it up in the lettuce, they have a very simple sauce that's freshly made. Everybody feasts. It's a wonderful meal; it takes a long time to eat; everybody is engaged.
To accompany it, do grilled portobello mushrooms topped with garlic and arugula. That will be great for people who prefer not to eat meat. Then you can have side dishes if you want.
For a group, there is just no question what pasta I would serve. It is the simplest and most luxurious pasta I can serve. It's perfect for holidays like Christmas Eve. I would serve the true fettuccine Alfredo -- there is no such thing as an Alfredo sauce.
You boil the pasta, you have a big pan and you melt a stick of butter for every pound of pasta. You put the hot pasta right into that melted butter, toss it with a ton of Parmesan cheese, ground black pepper and a bit of salt. Do not add cream because the Italians will ask you never to come back. That's it. It is so fabulous you won't believe it.
SS: The other thing that has become a total tradition in my house is making this gnocchi with ricotta cheese. This dish is so kid friendly. My daughter started making it with me when she was about 6 years old. The dough is so malleable it is like playing with Play-Doh. It is delicious, easy and it is served with a really simple red sauce. It is an absolute must-have on Christmas for us. It's really a fun, fun thing to do with kids.
(Photo: iStock / Thinkstock)
SS: 2013 was one of the best years for prosecco ever. I'm sure there will be a bottle of 2013 on our table.
The problem is that most proseccos aren't vintage dated, but the better ones are. If you march into your wine store and ask for a 2013, see what they pull out for you. It's well worth it.
LRK: My splurge wine is going to be a sparkling wine, Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose. It's pink, it's bubbly, it's really delicious. It's around $20 a bottle, but for me, it tastes like bubbly that is much more expensive.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.
Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.