Questions for Allie: Hot Buffet Ideas for Christmas Eve Dinner?

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Allie Lewis of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food asked for your holiday cooking questions. She's already answered questions about shrinking pie crusts and easy food for last-minute holiday gatherings. Now here's the third of five questions Allie is answering for us - welcome to The Kitchn, Allie!

Q: I have 20 folks coming over for dinner on Christmas Eve and I need a good hot buffet dish that I can make. In the past, I've made beef bourguignon and short ribs, and even Martha's spinach and ricotta stuffed chicken breast, but I want to change things up a bit. Any suggestions?

There's an excellent answer below, with full instructions for one of Allie's favorite recipes.

A: You've already hit two of my favorite ideas for easy, hearty entertaining in the wintertime! Both Beef Bourguignon and braised short ribs are great make-ahead meals that only get better as they sit, giving you lots of flexibility with timing your big meal. How about one of my other all-time favorite cozy-yet-elegant dinners? Braised Lamb Shanks. Served with some rich, creamy polenta (20 minutes max from plain old cornmeal), and some roasted Brussels' sprouts or even just a simple green salad.

  1. Dredge lamb shanks (1 per person) in flour, then brown them well in some olive oil in a large Dutch oven; do this in batches for proper browning (alternatively, speed up the browning process for a large braise by using an additional skillet. Just don’t forget to deglaze all the yummy brown bits on the bottom of that skillet and add that tasty liquid back into your braise. If your pan ever gets too dark, add a splash of water and scrape it up. Browning the meat is the most important part of any braise... the browner the meat (take it as far as you can before it burns), the richer and darker the gravy.
  2. Transfer lamb to a plate or a bowl, and in the same Dutch oven, add some chopped onion, garlic, celery, and carrot; flavor with a couple sprigs of thyme and a few bay leaves. Again - if your pan gets too dark, just add a splash of water and scrape it up.
  3. Add the shanks back to the pot, add a bunch of red wine, a can or two of whole peeled tomatoes, and then just enough water to cover the shanks. Simmer gently, covered, until the lamb is fork-tender, 2-3 hours (you can also do this in your oven at 350 degrees, if you're feeling hands-off about it).
  4. If you're feeling fancy, strain the cooking liquid: carefully remove the shanks from the cooking liquid (they should be tender enough that they risk falling apart), then strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve (into another large pot if you have one or into a large bowl if you don't). Return the shanks and strained liquid to a clean pot. You can make these a day or two ahead of time and keep them in the fridge. Just reheat them to serve.

Other thoughts that might fit the bill:

• Coq au Vin
• Beef Stew
• Brisket - I love this Coffee-Glazed Oven Brisket, actually a recipe submitted by an Everyday Food reader.
Sausage and Bean Casserole (a take on cassoulet, without a lot of the hassle)

Thank you Allie!