Our easy feast leaves time for family.

Our easy feast leaves time for family.

Before we were old enough to cook, we would perch on stools in the kitchen to help Mom brainstorm menus for holiday feasts. Once we gained a little experience (and eventually both started working for EatingWell) we were invited to help out. Holidays took on a whole new meaning-they became all about getting into the kitchen together and trying out new recipes. After all, what's the fun in cooking the same thing every year?

This spirit of adventure has gotten us in over our heads at times-maybe Christmas Eve dinner wasn't the best time to try smoking a whole brisket for the first time. By the time our guests arrived, we were delirious from staying up all night in 33°F drizzling rain, tending the monstrous 16-pound slab of brisket. Worse, by dinnertime we realized that the brisket wasn't anywhere near ready. We delayed as long as possible by serving extra rounds of drinks to our now-tipsy guests. Then we crossed our fingers and hoped that no one would notice that we were serving up meat that was more like smoky lederhosen than tender, lacy, Texas-style brisket. After one bite, Grandpa declared it the worst brisket he had ever eaten.

Which is why we've decided that sometimes it's better to keep it simple, healthy and close to home. Yes, the risk and excitement factors are down, but the upside is that with delicious dishes that are easy to prepare there is plenty of time to enjoy friends and family. So for this year's menu, we chose to let great ingredients shine in straightforward preparations. Inspired by our home state, we've highlighted some Vermont culinary gems like Cheddar cheese, maple syrup and apples. Luxurious beef tenderloin, one of the leanest cuts of beef available, gets a rub of horseradish before being roasted on high heat. Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes, with the skin left on for the extra fiber and rustic texture, are tangy with a touch of buttermilk and sharp Cheddar. We're huge on salads (both of us eat small truckloads of greens each week) so we lavished the Red & White Salad with some of our favorites like endive, radicchio, fennel, hearts of palm and apples. For dessert, a moist maple walnut cake, with a decadent maple-flavored drizzle, has ground walnuts in the batter that provide a nutty flavor as well as a dose of healthy omega-3 fats and vitamin E.

With bright, fresh flavors, fantastic ingredients, loads of nutritious vegetables and easy techniques, this menu is elegant and wonderful enough to become a holiday tradition for years to come. Unless, of course, you're in it for the adventure, like we are.

December 2006