When it comes to holiday dinners for a crowd, keeping it simple has always been my style. But now that Alison Roman has said it — and well, made it into a best-selling book title — “Nothing Fancy”  is officially an acceptable way to feed guests and entertain.

While many holiday events are high-heel-worthy, entertaining guests at home for me is more around family and friends – the type of unpretentious gathering where we want things to feel a little more relaxed. Maybe even shoes off.

Enter: make-ahead stews.

Related: 11 of the best cookbooks parents should pick up now, from cookbook podcaster Suzy Chase

Whether you call them soups or stews, these lovely, hearty one-pot meals are the workhorse of my holiday kitchen and I love them for entertaining.

Almost always better the next day, soups and stews allow the host to relax a little and focus on enjoying the evening. You also won’t have a dish full of pots and pans, which alone is something worth celebrating.

Top: Sausage White Bean Stew: © Jane Sweeney

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Related: The easy Trader Joe’s dinners my family lives on during the holidays.

Holiday dinners for a crowd: 4 make-ahead stews

Repeat after me: soup, good bread, wine. And maybe if you want to add a fourth course, it’s soup, good bread, salad, wine.

In terms of the soup or stew recipes, take it from the queens of unfussy entertaining. These four make-ahead stews are my go-tos and I hope they become part of your holiday repertoire too. 


1. Classic Comfort: Chrissy Teigen’s Chicken Pot Pie Soup 

Relaxed holiday dinners for a crowd: Chrissy Teigen's Chicken Pot Pie Soup © Brandon Bales for Delish

Chrissy Teigen’s Chicken Pot Pie Soup | Photo © Brandon Bales for Delish

Teigen’s Chicken Pot Pie Soup has made the internet rounds, collecting praise at each turn. Originally published in her Cravings cookbook, you can find the recipe and reviews around the web , including from our friends at Pop Sugar and Delish, where Lauren Mirashiro actually tested it against Lauren Conrad’s own Chicken Pot Pie recipe.

(Guess which won?)

The dish is a kind of retro, and that’s what makes it both cool and a crowd-pleaser. Plus, all the ingredients are things my kids already love.

I admit the cracker-dough layer can look intimidating, but it’s not as complicated as you might think; and it’s way easier than making and rolling out a piecrust.

2. Fan-favorite Vegetarian: Alison Roman’s Spiced Chickpea Stew

Last year, Roman’s Spiced Chickpea Stew with Coconut and Turmeric was so popular it earned its own hashtag #thestew.

After making it for my own family, I know why. I’ll admit it’s not designed for the five and under crowd, but if your focus is more on adults and teens (although my 7-year-old loved it), this stew is definitely worth a try. The myriad of flavors and textures are so enticing and comforting. It’s the perfect soup to have on hand for all the other nights your guests still need to eat.

TIP: You’ll definitely want to double (or more) this recipe for a crowd. If doubling, you may not need four cans of coconut milk. I’ve made the regular recipe with just one can of coconut milk and it’s still delicious. Easy on the red chili flakes too if you’re feeding younger ones. Serve with lots of warmed naan brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with a little of the chopped mint.

Related: 10 holiday dinner recipes you can make in a slow cooker or instant pot.


3. Rich and Hearty: Ina Garten’s Beef Bourguignon

Comforting, unfussy stews for holiday entertaining: Ina Garten's Beef Borguignon made by Sue from View from Great Island

Beef Bouriguinon © Sue Moran, The View From Great Island

The Barefoot Contessa’s Beef Bourguinon is the fanciest of these decidedly un-fancy stews, but it still feels like wonderfully unfussy comfort food for your guests. They’ll arrive welcomed by aromas so rich and tempting, they’ll wonder how you’re so calm sipping a cocktail, and not sweating over the stove.

The secret is you’ll have prepped everything the day before — which actually makes the stew better. Hey, it’s even Jennifer Garner’s favorite Ina Garten recipe so if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.

The recipe was originally published in Garten’s cookbook, Barefoot In Paris, but you can find it published on Sue Moran’s wonderful site, The View From Great Island. She actually offers some great tips in her notes beneath the recipe — and don’t miss her reader comments as well.


4. Tried and True Make-Ahead: My Sausage, White Bean & Kale Stew

Make-ahead Sausage, White Bean Stew make a wonderful holiday dinner for a crowd: © Jane Sweeney Cool Mom Eats

I’m just going to sneak little ‘ol me right in here, right next to Chrissy, Alison, and Ina. Because I can guarantee this Sausage, White Bean & Kale Stew really is a cinch to prepare, and has generated so many compliments from guests that I think I’ve earned a few bragging rights.

The recipe is great for four, but double it if you’re feeding more than six.

A few notes from me to you:

– Be sure serve with a nice hunk of quality Parmigiano-Reggiano along with a peeler so guests can garnish with big thick shavings.
– Always use the best extra-virgin olive oil you have.
– A small pot of finishing salt is a nice touch.
– Warm crusty bread is essential.
– And do not forget the parmesan rind in the broth! You’ll thank me later.

It’s all those garnishes and the little extras that make a meal extra special — not how complicated or time-consuming it is to make. Enjoy your stews!