In the past, our heightened expectations of hosting a Christmas meal meant Martha Stewart-worthy spreads and winter wonderland décor. However, today a party should mean a party for the host as well.

Photography by Dan Austin // Set Styling by Lisa Malott

hen it comes time to prepare Christmas dinner, many hosts feel a frantic need to transform into domestic gods and goddesses overnight. But that no longer need be the case.

In this issue’s Taste, we show you how everyone, from the modern professional bachelor to Mom, can celebrate the holidays and host a delicious Christmas meal with style and grace without breaking a sweat and without sacrificing the happiness of being with loved ones. So, go gather your closest friends, trade your high heels for fluffy slippers, video stream the crackling fireplace on Netflix, and follow this guide to hosting a truly memorable and heartwarming holiday feast.


The responsibility of shopping and cooking a multiple-course holiday extravaganza needn’t rest solely on your shoulders. You want to spend time celebrating the season — there’s no time to waste on Florida’s one cold day of the year. You want to bask in the warm company of your companions, not over a steamy cooktop all day. Plan your party as a potluck and delegate preparations to your guests. Keep their instructions specific and clear; why not pass out the recipes included in this Taste feature for each guest’s contribution? For example, everyone can provide one component of a cheese plate that will be assembled into a modern and elegant pre-dinner snack. One guest can bring the red cabbage salad, novelty Christmas crackers, and a music playlist. Another could provide the brandied mushroom bisque, some festive table settings, and their copy of Home Alone 2. Delegating the meal and preparations will greatly increase your time and flexibility, and won’t blow through your entire 2018 grocery budget.


Who should you invite? If you aren’t able to make the trip back home to be with your kin, think of who you consider to be practically family. Invite an intimate group of those friends and colleagues. If any guest is bringing a plus-one, include that into your meal plan so you don’t end up with an unexpected seventh guest and realize the only place for you to sit is on a stack of Mariah Carey Christmas albums.

Encourage your guests to prepare their food contributions ahead of time so there is no stress about the timing of the meal, and setting the table will merely require warming the soup up, carving the Christmas lamb, and trading presents.


Selecting a theme is one solution that solves many problems: what to make, what to wear, how to decorate, what music to bring, etc. It is such a simple step that many hosts overlook finding a theme, but you’ll find that so much of the party falls into place once you find the aesthetic you’re looking for. The theme does not have to be obvious or overdone such as “ugly Christmas sweater party” or “awkward office Christmas party.” It can be unconventional such as “’80s Christmas” where you cook the meatloaf dinner from A Christmas Story and listen to Wham!’s “Last Christmas” or Madonna’s rendition of “Santa Baby.” Or perhaps “historic Lakeland” themed, full of royal swan decorations, pastel pinks and greens, a lamb roast ordered from Publix, and a Florida orange-scented hot chocolate.




This recipe was tested using a leg of lamb with the bone in and a layer of fat. The friendly attendants at the Publix butcher counter will be happy to take orders for the specific cut and size of roast you’d like. Estimate one pound per person.

5 pound lamb roast with the fat on

2-ounce can of anchovies packed in olive oil      (don’t worry, you won’t taste it at all!)

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp fresh rosemary

2 Tbsp garlic

4 oz soft butter

1 lemon, cut in half

white wine, as needed

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Use a sharp knife to make 10 or 12 deep incisions through the fat that covers the meat.

Puree or crush the anchovies, mustard, rosemary, garlic, and butter into a chunky paste. Use your hands to massage it deeply into the incisions and over the surface of the roast. Season with pepper, but you probably will not need to use salt, due to the mustard and anchovies.

Position the lamb on the rack of a roasting pan, fat side up, and squeeze the lemon over the roast. Pour a few good glugs of wine into the bottom of the pan to create steam and moisture during cooking. Maybe pour some in a glass for yourself while you’re at it?

Roast for 15 minutes at 425°F, then reduce the heat to 350°F for about another hour, until the internal temperature reaches 120°F. Switch your oven to convection or broiler and finish the roast another 15-20 minutes to make the outside crispy. The roast is ready to take out of the oven at 130°F.

Rest the meat at room temperature for at least 20 minutes with aluminum tented around it. This resting period allows the juices to set and residual heat to continue to cook the roast to perfect doneness without losing any moisture.

During this resting time, use any liquids at the bottom of the pan to make a gravy. Visit The Lakelander’s November Taste feature online where we go into detail on roasting and include a fast and deliciously savory gravy recipe.



2 cups pomegranate juice

1 cup cranberry juice

1 cup vodka

1 cup Grand Marnier

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 cup club soda

Stir everything together and serve over ice with a lemon garnish. The most difficult part of this punch is finding the appropriate festive bowl from which to serve it.

[item title=”MUSHROOM BISQUE”]


5 oz chopped onion

5 oz chopped parsnip

5 oz chopped celery

2.5 pounds white


5 oz butter

5 oz flour

1/2 oz tarragon, minced

1/3 quart heavy cream,

    kept hot

2 quarts chicken or veggie 


salt and pepper to taste

sour cream for garnish

In a wide pot with a lid, cook the onions, celery, and parsnip with a small amount of butter or oil. Keep the pot on low heat, covered so that the vegetables sweat and become tender and translucent.

Add the mushrooms and increase the heat very slightly to continue sweating. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour to make a roux. This will be used to thicken the soup into a bisque.

Once the mushrooms are tender, add the roux and stock to the vegetables and raise the heat so that it comes to a boil. Now reduce the heat again so that it cooks over low heat for about 40 minutes with the lid on. Stir the stock every once in a while to prevent the bottom from scorching.

Carefully puree everything in a blender, in batches if necessary, and add the hot cream and tarragon. Once everything is combined and you have a silky smooth bisque, season with salt and pepper to taste. This soup can be made ahead and reheated to serve. Garnish with a little dab of sour cream and freshly cracked pepper.



9.2 oz all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3.4 oz soft butter

9.5 oz sugar

2 eggs

1 Tbsp vanilla

10 oz sour cream

5 oz dried fruits and nuts

1.5 oz dark rum or brandy

for glaze

8 oz heavy cream

8 oz dark chocolate chips

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the soft butter and sugar on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla, mixing for about 30 seconds, then lift out the paddle and use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients and add to the egg mixture. Stir on low speed until a thick batter begins to form, then add the sour cream and dried fruits and nuts and continue on low speed until the cake batter is smooth and everything is combined.

Generously grease the interior of a bundt pan with pan spray or butter, and pour in the cake batter. Bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with only a few moist crumbs stuck to it, but no raw batter.

Once the cake is out of the oven, use a toothpick to poke several holes in the warm cake and pour the rum over it so that it soaks in. Once all the liquid seems to be absorbed, overturn the cake onto a tray lined with parchment paper and let cool completely before glazing.

To make the glaze, bring the heavy cream to a quick boil, then pour over the dark chocolate chips. Let it sit for a minute or so to let the heat penetrate the chocolate, then stir until it’s a smooth glaze. Pour over the cooled cake and let it set before transporting or cutting.



1 quart half-and-half

The peel of one orange

1 cinnamon stick

3 oz brown sugar

6.5 oz dark chocolate

3 oz Grand Marnier

Bring the half and half, orange peel, cinnamon stick and brown sugar to a gentle simmer, then strain over the dark chocolate. Let it sit for a minute to let the heat settle around the chocolate, then stir until smooth. Add the booze at the end and either serve warm, or make ahead and store in the fridge until you’re ready to re-warm it. No one will judge if you bring along a bag of pumpkin spice marshmallows to garnish your nostalgic cocktails with. If you don’t have Grand Marnier, brandy, Baileys, Kahlua, or other liqueur will work great. Seek your inner Buddy the Elf to make this decision.