Chef Rhys Lewis, of the Woodstock Inn and Resort in Woodstock, Vt.

There’s nothing more fun than spending a few days at the Woodstock Inn and Resort in Woodstock, Vt., and getting holiday cooking tips from Rhys Lewis, the inn’s executive chef.

“I love the holidays,” says Lewis, who explains that it’s not difficult to host a memorable Christmas dinner. “Keep it easy. Do a little advance planning. First determine how many people will be attending, then go through your recipes ahead of time and get the ingredients together. Make sure you have eggs, flour, spices. Buy your vegetables. Root vegetables hold a very long time.” On Christmas morning, Lewis suggests baking vegetables on the low rack while the turkey cooks, then putting dessert in the oven when the turkey comes out. “The pies can set up and it allows you to re-set the table [for dessert].”

Holiday cookies from the inn.

Turkey, roast beef, and ham are traditional entrées, so focus on side dishes and desserts. “At the holidays there’s always family favorites — traditions and recipes that Grandma always made. It’s a time to pull out some of those dishes you enjoyed,” says Lewis, encouraging home cooks to incorporate new recipes. “Side dishes are a great opportunity to experiment. Instead of mashed potatoes, make them with half butternut squash and half potatoes, or substitute cauliflower for the squash. The traditional flavors are still there, but you’re introducing something new.”

The inn’s menu focuses on “Be Well” farm-to-table food, with most of its ingredients grown in nearby Kelly Way Gardens that is certified Vermont organic. “It’s vibrant, fresh, satisfying, and has that health benefit,” notes Lewis, adding that it’s easy to recreate similar flavors using organic ingredients. “It might cost a little more, but it’s worth it. Make the fresh ingredients stand out,” he says.

Christmas dinner isn’t complete without dessert. Lewis says cloves, cinnamon, mulled apple cider, ginger cookies, and sweet potato pie remind him of the holidays. “All of these have traditional spice profiles.” Lewis suggests an easy French apple tart made by layering cooked apples, raisins, and cranberries and finished with a streusel topping, or a warm oatmeal apple crisp infused with cardamom.  

As much as the celebration focuses on food, Lewis says, holidays bring people together. “Make sure everyone is part of the event. Have people set the table for you. Involve the family and your guests in the kitchen,” he says. “Put on nice music, put out bottles of wine and a cheese board, some craft beers.” After dinner, Lewis suggests that everyone clean up then return to the table for dessert. “It makes Christmas like two events. Then play games or watch a movie. At my house the wood stove would be humming. We had great meals and great times,” he recounts. For more information, visit woodstockinn.com.

Kelly Way Garden Butternut Squash Mashed Potatoes
(recipe courtesy of the Woodstock Inn & Resort)
Yields 8 portions

Ingredients:

2 lbs. Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and seeded, cut into pieces
1 cup cream
½ lb. (2 sticks) butter
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Place the potatoes and the butternut squash in a pot of cold water and bring to a simmer.
Combine the butter and cream in a heavy-bottom saucepot and bring to a simmer.
Season the potatoes and squash with salt and pepper.
Mash the cooked potatoes and squash through food mill into mixing bowl.
Add the cream and butter mixture until the potatoes are the correct consistency.
Add salt and pepper to taste. Reserve, covered, in a warm place until ready to serve.