As the holiday season hits its peak, family gatherings fill the calendar. Whether you are playing the role of host or attending as a guest, each special occasion calls for a dish or dessert created in your kitchen. We called on the pros — and pros in their own kitchens — to share what each might bring to a festive feast. Read our experts’ tips and techniques, fire up the stove, and start cooking. After all, the holidays aren’t complete without good friends and good food.
Leg of Lamb
For as long as Doros Hadjisavva can remember, his mother has made a Greek roasted leg of lamb as a Sunday holiday dish for the family. “I make it for my kids now,” says Hadjisavva, a native of Cyprus, an island nation in the eastern Mediterranean. Hadjisavva, along with his wife Ellada, own Acropolis, a Greek restaurant on N. Green River Road rated No. 1 in the city on Trip Advisor. “I have customers who come in and bring me their dishes and tell me how many people they are going to have over and I make it for them on holidays,” he says.
» 5 pounds boneless leg of lamb
» 4 cloves garlic
» 2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
» 2 tablespoons rosemary
» ½ cup olive oil
» 1 cup white wine
» ½ cup fresh lemon juice
» 1 teaspoon salt
» 4 bay leaves
» ½ teaspoon pepper
» 1 cup of water
» 8 large potatoes
» 2 whole tomatoes
» 1 whole onion
» 1 bag baby carrots
Clean fat from lamb and cut into 3 to 4-ounce pieces.
Peel potatoes and cut into large wedges or if you are using small potatoes, leave them whole. Peel onion and cut into 1-inch pieces. Cut tomatoes in 1-inch pieces. Finely chop garlic cloves and mix with cut up lamb.
Place all ingredients in a roasting pan and mix them together. Add the lamb fat in the pan for more flavor. Roast, covered with aluminum foil, at 400 degrees in an oven for one and a half to two hours until the meat is tender.
Uncover and turn oven to 475 degrees for 25 minutes. Turn lamb over to make a crust on the other side. Give potatoes a stir and continue to roast for another 20 minutes.
Cooking a turkey can be time consuming and daunting. Doug Rennie, who owns a catering and cookie company Just Rennie’s with his wife Marla, offers an easy and simple alternative using Cornish game hens. “It’s a very beautiful bird and presentation that is cooked perfectly and is moist so you don’t have to baste it overnight or adjust the temperature,” he says. Rennie applies a fig-and-balsamic glaze to the hens, and pairs the entrée with butternut squash risotto and roasted Brussels sprouts.
Ingredients (Source: Southern Living Christmas Cookbook)
» 8 (3.5-ounce) semi boneless hens
» 1 (11.5-ounce) jar fig preserves
» ½ cup dry red wine
» 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
» 2 teaspoons country-style Dijon mustard
» ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
» 1 teaspoon kosher salt
» 2 tablespoons dry red wine
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring the jar of fig preserves, dry red wine, balsamic vinegar, ground black pepper, and Dijon mustard to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and let the ingredients simmer eight to 10 minutes or until the mixture is slightly thickened. Reserve half of the fig mixture; cover and chill. Let the remaining fig mixture stand at room temperature.
Tie the ends of the hen legs together with string. Place the hen on an aluminum foil-lined jellyroll pan or in a shallow roasting pan, and sprinkle with salt.
Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Brush hen with the room-temperature fig mixture. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake hens 30 more minutes or until leg meat is no longer pink, basting with fig mixture every 10 minutes.
Place reserved chilled fig mixture in a small saucepan; stir in dry red wine, and cook over low heat, stirring often, two minutes or until thoroughly heated. Serve hen with sauce.
Butternut Squash Risotto
» 1 cup butternut squash
» 1 cup Arborio rice
» 2 tablespoons olive oil
» ¼ cup white wine
» 5 cups water
» 1 tablespoon vegetable base
Cube and roast butternut squash at 400 degrees until soft, or for approximately 30 minutes. Season with salt and butter. The risotto requires a heated pan with the olive oil. Stir in the Arborio rice. Deglaze with the white wine and reduce. Stir in water plus the vegetable base a little at a time. Add enough water to cover the rice then reduce. Gradually add a little more and reduce, then add more liquid until cooked to the desired consistency, which will take about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, fold in the squash, and sprinkle with Parmesan, which is optional.
Baking is a passion for Idrissa Cisse, owner of Cisse’s Bakery, and baking bread is the specialty he most enjoys. Challah bread is traditionally served during Jewish holidays and special occasions, but makes a great staple for any meal. Loaves of Challah are known for their impressive braiding. “It’s like braiding someone’s hair, which is the funny part about it,” says Cisse. The bakery opened in May and bakes fresh breads daily at its location at 4711 Bayard Park Drive.
» 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
» ¼ cup white sugar
» 1 cup lukewarm water
» 4 cups all-purpose flour
» 2 teaspoons salt
» 2 large eggs
» 1 large egg yolk
» 1 egg white (for egg wash prior to baking)
» ¼ cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil (not olive)
» 1 teaspoon milk powder (optional)
» ½ cup raisins (plumped in water prior) (optional)
Dissolve the yeast over the water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand. Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt (include milk powder if desired) in large mixing bowl. Add the eggs, yolk, and oil to a well in the center of the flour mix. Whisk together until well mixed.
Add the yeast mixture to the flour/egg mix. Dough should be a consistency that is difficult to mix by hand. Optional: add raisins if desired and gently mix into dough.
Knead the dough on a floured surface by hand for eight to 10 minutes adding flour as needed to reduce stickiness. Place the dough in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap. Place in a warm area and allow the dough to rise until doubled (usually about two hours). Separate the dough into three equal pieces rolling each into a rope about 1-inch thick and 12-16 inches long.
Gather the ropes on one end and braid as if you are braiding hair. Squeeze the ends together when done braiding. Place the braided loaf on a baking sheet. Cover with a clean linen cloth and place somewhere warm until puffy (about an hour). Brush the bread with an egg white.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake for 25-35 minutes or until the top is a deep, golden brown.
Apple Cranberry Slab Pie
The simplest ingredients almost always create the tastiest food. It’s a principle Lorenzo Minor, owner of Zo’s Chocolate Fix, a seasonal bakery found at the Downtown Farmers Market, lives by when he makes his Apple Cranberry Slab Pie. The holiday treat has a handmade butter crust with freshly sliced apples and dried cranberries tossed in lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and tapioca flour. Like most bakers worldwide, Minor insists on using metrics in his kitchen.
Ingredients (Recipe makes two slab pies)
» 700 grams sliced apples
» 150 grams dried cranberries
» 105 grams granulated sugar
» 56 grams instant tapioca
» 4 grams cinnamon
» 1 grams ground nutmeg
» 12 grams real lemon juice
» 400 grams slab pie dough
Preheat convection oven to 425 degrees. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Peel and slice the fruit, 350 grams per pie. Toss the fruit with lemon juice, then toss with dry ingredients. Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring every so often. Take cooled dough from the cooler, and shape into 8-inch circle, 1/8 of an inch thick.
Add fruit to center of the rolled out dough. Do not add any liquid from macerated fruit. When rolling, the outer edges should be thicker than the center. Brush edges of the dough with egg wash and sprinkle sugar over the folded edges. Place on baking sheet and refrigerate for 10 minutes. Place slab pie in oven and lower oven to 400 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Lower oven to 350 degrees and bake for 20-25 more minutes or until desired crust color is reached.
Slab Pie Dough
(Source: Tartine Bakery Pastry Book)
» 133 grams unsalted butter
» 2 grams salt, table or kosher
» 199 grams bread or all-purpose flour
» 66 grams water
Cut butter into 1-inch cubes and freeze. Measure water, add salt, and place in the freezer to chill for 10 minutes. Measure flour on work surface and spread into a 1/3-inch deep rectangle. Scatter butter cubes over flour and toss until coated. Use rolling pin to roll butter and flatten into long, thin pieces and use scraper to shape back into rectangle. Repeat three to four times. Make a well in center and pour water.
Keep scraping and rolling the dough until it’s firm. Shape the dough into a rectangle and lightly dust the top with flour. Cut and scale into 200 grams and wrap to refrigerate. Place in refrigerator for one hour (single layer) or overnight. Freeze the dough if kept more than one day in refrigerator.
The intimacy of a holiday meal often is formed preparing dinner together hours before sitting down to eat. Haubstadt, Indiana, resident Carmen Jay and her daughter Tucker Publishing Group Art Director Hannah Jay spent 13 hours preparing a Stollen, a German Christmas tradition. The mildly sweet dense, German yeast bread dating to the 14th century is filled with dried fruits and nuts, and can be frosted or dusted with powdered sugar.
Ingredients (Makes two stollens)
» 1 package active dry yeast
» ¾ cup warm water
» ½ cup sugar
» ½ teaspoon salt
» 3 eggs
» 1 egg yolk (reserve white)
» ½ cup butter or margarine, softened
» 3-½ cups all-purpose flour
» ½ cup chopped blanched almonds
» ¼ cup cut-up candied cherries
» ¼ cup raisins
» 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
» ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons soft butter
In a large mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, salt, eggs, egg yolk, ½ cup of butter, and 1-½ cups of flour. Blend for 30 seconds on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 10 minutes on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally.
Stir in remaining flour, ½ cup of almonds, cherries, raisins, and lemon peel. Scrape batter from side of bowl. Cover; let rise in warm place until size doubles, about one and a half hours.
Stir down batter by beating 25 strokes. Cover bowl tightly; refrigerate at least eight hours.
Turn dough onto well-floured board; turn to coat with flour. Divide dough in half. Press each half into oval, about 10-by-7 inches. Spread each with three tablespoons of butter.
Fold lengthwise in half; press only folded edge firmly. Place on greased baking sheet. Beat reserved egg white slightly; beat one tablespoon of water and brush over the Stollen. Let rise for 45 to 60 minutes until size doubles.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Once cooled, sprinkle powdered sugar over the top.
After a delicious holiday meal, settle in and relax with a warm drink topped with homemade marshmallows. A year ago, Andrea Miles, owner of Sweet Bettys Bakery, a vintage-inspired boutique on E. Virginia Street, challenged herself to step away from the “store bought” options and created the confection from scratch.
» 3 packages unflavored gelatin
» 1-½ cups granulated sugar
» 1 cup light corn syrup
» ¼ teaspoon salt
» 1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
» Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Mix the gelatin and ½ cup of cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Allow mixture to sit while you make the syrup.
Combine the sugar, corn syrup, salt, and ½ cup of water in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to high and cook until the syrup reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly pour the sugar syrup into the dissolved gelatin. Put the mixer on high speed and whip until the mixture is very thick or for about 15 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix thoroughly.
Line a 10-by-10 inch pan with parchment paper. With a sieve, generously dust bottom of the lined pan with confectioners’ sugar. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan, smooth the top, and dust with more confectioners’ sugar. Allow the mixture to stand uncovered overnight until it dries out.
Lift the marshmallows out of the pan by the edge of the parchment paper and place on a smooth clean surface. Use a dusted pizza cutter to cut marshmallows into squares. Dust them with more confectioners’ sugar.
Caramel Butter Press Cookies
No matter how busy the Christmas season is for Newburgh, Indiana, resident Robin Lawrence, she always finds time to bake cookies to share with family and friends. Lawrence, who follows a faded written recipe from more than 45 years ago, prepares her favorite Caramel Butter Press Cookies while listening and singing along to Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” and Amy Grant’s “Another Tennessee Christmas.” Using a cookie press, a hollow tube fitted with a disk design and a plunger at the end, she is able to press the dough directly onto a cookie sheet.
» 2-¼ cups flour
» ½ cup white sugar
» ½ cup brown sugar
» 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
» 1 egg
» 1 teaspoon vanilla
» ½ teaspoon salt
» ¼ teaspoon baking soda
Blend sugars, egg, butter, and vanilla with mixer. Mix flour, salt, and baking soda separately. By hand stir in flour mixture with sugar and butter mixture together until well blended. Fill cookie press and press dough onto ungreased cookie sheet. Decorate top with your favorite sprinkles. Bake at 375 degrees for about four to five minutes, until edges are lightly browned. Remove from cookie sheet at once.