Very Merry Meals for Your Holiday Table

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 Put a bit of the Bull City on your holiday table this year

By Matthew Lardie | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Sticking with the tried-and-true classics is always a safe bet when deciding what to make for the holidays, but adding a new dish or two is a sure way to spice things up and make spirits even brighter. We reached out to a handful of Durham’s favorite chefs and mixologists to craft a fresh seasonal menu that has all the bases covered, from starters to desserts, and everything in between. Prepare every course or pick out the recipe that excites you most – either way, you can’t go wrong with this festive feast.

Mulled Wine Pear Salad
This salad, from Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club and JB Duke Hotel’s executive chef Troy Stauffer, is an elegant start to any meal. Fresh pears poached in North Carolina sweet red wine are the star, although you’d be forgiven for making a double batch of the recipe’s spiced pecans for some late-night snacking. (This recipe has a lot of components, but all can be made a day or two ahead of time and assembled right before serving.)

Mulled Wine Pears
• 3 cups sweet red wine (Troy says any local red muscadine wine would work well)
• 1 cup water
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 2 orange peel strips (equals about ⅓ of an orange, in total)
• 2 whole cloves
• 1 star anise
• 2 whole allspice berries
• 1 oz. fresh ginger, sliced
• 2 tsp. salt
• 4 pears, peeled, stem left on

Combine all ingredients except for pears in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat until liquid is just under a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse the wine with the spices. Add pears, cover, and bring the liquid back to a simmer for 45 minutes, turning the pears every 10-15 minutes. When pears reach a deep burgundy color and are al dente, they are ready. Remove the pears from the mulled wine. Reserve the wine for further poaching needs. When pears have cooled, cut them in half. Remove the core and seeds using a measuring spoon or melon baller. Remove the stem, if desired. Set the pears aside, and continue with the other salad components.

Chevre Toast
• ½ baguette, cut thin on the bias, for crostini
• 1 oz. olive oil
• 1 tsp.salt
• 4 oz. chevre (fresh goat cheese), room temperature or slightly warmed
• 1 pinch chopped parsley
• 1 pinch lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 F. Lay the cut baguettes on a cookie sheet. Drizzle olive oil equally across the bread and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 10-15 minutes until crisp. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool. When crostini have cooled, schmear goat cheese equally across each crostini. Sprinkle with lemon zest and parsley. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes to slightly toast the goat cheese. Remove, and set aside.

Spiced Pecans
• 1 cup pecans
• 1 oz. canola oil
• 1 ½ tsp. blackening spice blend (store-bought or homemade)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toss all ingredients together in a mixing bowl, then dump on to a baking sheet. Bake for 5-10 minutes until pecans toast and you can smell the spices. Remove from the oven, and set aside.

Membrillo Vinaigrette
• 4 oz. membrillo (quince paste)
• 1 oz. Dijon mustard
• 4 oz. white balsamic vinegar
• 1 pinch salt
• 8 oz. canola oil

Combine membrillo, Dijon mustard, white balsamic vinegar and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend at low speed to start, and work up to medium speed within 60 seconds. With the blender running at medium-high speed, pour the canola oil in an even stream to emulsify. Set aside.

Assemble:
6-8 cups baby arugula
⅔ cup dried cranberries
Toss arugula, cranberries and half of vinaigrette together. Add more vinaigrette as desired.
Build salad on four plates or shallow bowls. Top with spiced pecans, 2 pieces of chevre toast and 2 halves of poached pears, and serve.

Pair this salad with a Rosemary Diamond Fizz cocktail by Jason McCoon, restaurants director at the JB Duke Hotel.


Succotash chef Juan DiGiulio’s recipe is such an elegant main course that your guests will be reaching for their phones to get that perfect Instagram photo before diving into the roasted acorn squash chock-full of rich seafood, cheeses and spices. Juan makes his own lobster stock base from scratch to bolster the sauce, but store-bought stock base (like Better Than Bouillon) makes life a bit simpler here.

Seafood Stuffing
• 2 medium to large acorn squash
• Salt and pepper to taste (at least 1 Tbsp. salt and ½ Tbsp. pepper)
• ½ stick unsalted butter, room temperature
• 1 poblano pepper, diced
• 1 red bell pepper, diced
• 1 medium onion, diced
• Olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
• 1 small yellow squash, diced
• 1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
• 2 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley, chopped
• ½ tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1Tbsp. Cajun spice blend (Paul Prudhomme’s recommended)
• 2 ½ cups raw shrimp, diced
• 2 cups jumbo lump crabmeat, picked through for any shell fragments
• 1 egg, beaten
• 1 lemon, juiced
• 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
• 2 cups Gruyere, grated
• 2 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Halve each squash, and scoop out seeds. Lightly salt the insides of each half and place face down on a well- buttered sheet pan. Add hot water to pan, about ¼-inch deep. Bake squash until soft (but not so soft that the skin starts to wrinkle excessively – start to check after 20 minutes). Remove from oven, flip cut side up and allow to cool. Once cool, scoop out most of the squash meat, leaving enough so that squash doesn’t fall apart (¼- to ½-inch-thick layer of flesh left). Add the scooped-out squash to a mixing bowl. Mash squash meat with a fork until mostly smooth. Set aside.

Meanwhile, saute peppers and onion in some olive oil. Add garlic and yellow squash once onions begin to appear translucent, then saute 2-3 minutes more and add herbs, spices and shrimp. Cook for an additional 2-3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and add to the bowl with the mashed squash. Add the crabmeat, egg, lemon juice, cheeses and breadcrumbs to the bowl. Fold in lightly to avoid breaking up crabmeat.

Taste a bit of the stuffing and add hot sauce, salt and pepper, more herbs or lemon juice, etc., if necessary or desired. A little Worcestershire sauce is also optional. Put stuffing into the fridge to fully cool.

Seafood Sobrino Sauce
• ½ cup yellow onion, diced
• ½ cup red bell pepper, diced
• Olive oil
• 1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
• 1 ½ Tbsp. all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ cups dry white wine
• ½ lemon, juiced
• 1 Tbsp. green onions, chopped
• Pinch of cayenne
• Pinch of salt and pepper
• Pinch Cajun spice mix
• 1 tsp. paprika
• 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
• ½ Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
• 1 ½ cups cream
• 1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon lobster base
• 1 tsp. Better Than Bouillon chicken base
• 1 pound raw shrimp
• ½ stick butter
• 1 pound cooked crawfish tails

Saute onion and pepper in a little olive oil in a skillet until onions are translucent. Add garlic, and saute for a minute more. Add the flour and stir. Cook for a minute while stirring. Add the white wine, lemon juice, green onions, and all spices and herbs. Stir well until flour is completely incorporated. Once wine is reduced to half, add the cream. Allow to simmer until reduced to half (it should be a bit thicker than gravy). Add the lobster base and chicken base along with a ¼ cup of water; stir to fully incorporate and dissolve the stock bases. Add the shrimp, and simmer for 2 minutes. The desired consistency is a thin gravy. If too thick, add a bit of butter. (You can add butter anyway, as it never hurts.) Add the crawfish tails, and allow to simmer for just a minute. Turn off flame, adjust seasonings to taste.

Topping
• Handful of panko bread crumbs
• Handful each of mozzarella, Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
• Garnish of shredded fried leeks or fried sage leaves (optional)

Assemble:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Remove the stuffing from the fridge, and divide it among the four acorn squash shells. Place the shells onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and top with all three cheeses. Bake until the cheese is brown and the edges of squash are bubbling, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven, place each half onto a dinner plate (or onto one large serving platter), top with Seafood Sobrino Sauce, and dust with breadcrumbs and a little extra Parmigiano. Sprinkle on the fried leeks or sage, if using, and serve immediately.


Classic desserts are often the best, and pastry chef and owner Djamila Bakour of newly opened La Recette Patisserie suggests an impressive, yet deceptively simple to make, creme brulee. Just a few ingredients come together to make a deliciously creamy custard with that crackable caramelized crust. Djamila suggests using a scale to weigh your ingredients, a common practice in professional pastry kitchens that will help your homemade desserts turn out perfectly every time.

Ingredients
• 500 grams heavy cream
• 10 grams vanilla extract
• 6 large egg yolks
• 70 grams sugar

Preheat the oven at 325 F. In a heavy-bottomed pot, stir together the heavy cream and vanilla, and place over high heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and fluffy. Once the cream is hot (but not boiling), slowly pour it over the egg mixture while constantly whisking to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup or other pourable container. Put a pot of water on to boil. Meanwhile, divide the custard into six oven-safe ramekins (6- to 8-ounce size) and place them into a high-sided baking pan or Pyrex dish. Add enough boiling water to come about three-quarters up the sides of the ramekins (this is called a water bath). Bake for 35-40 minutes until just set but still slightly wobbly in the center. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath and chill in the fridge for at least four hours, but preferably overnight, before serving. Once cooled and ready to serve, preheat your oven’s broiler to high. Sprinkle 1 tsp. of sugar evenly over each custard and caramelize the sugar under the broiler, being sure to keep an eye on them to prevent burning. (Conversely, you can use a kitchen blowtorch.) Crack the top, and enjoy!


Photo courtesy of Guglhupf

Pecan Bourbon Pie
Durhamites know where to go when it comes to finding some of the best German baked goods and desserts (and have for nearly 25 years). For this year’s season of sweets, Guglhupf owner Claudia Cooper shares a recipe for pecan bourbon pie that amps up the flavors of a holiday classic and supplies its baker with not one, but two deep-dish pies – one for the table, and one for the freezer. (Trust us, an extra pie in the freezer is always a good idea.) Here the shortcut to deliciousness is found in the form of store-bought deep dish pie crusts, but by all means, use your own recipe if you have one. (Claudia also suggests, for more experienced bakers, trying a chocolate pâte sucrée crust.)

Ingredients
• 2 deep-dish pie shells
• 12 oz. unsalted butter (3 sticks)
• 4 cups light brown sugar
• ½ pound bittersweet chocolate
• 1 cup dark corn syrup
• ¼ cup bourbon
• 12 eggs
• 1 Tbsp. salt
• 4 cups pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bake the empty pie shells for about 10-15 minutes, or until light golden brown. Remove them from the oven, and set aside to cool while you make the filling. In a large saucepan over low heat (or in a double boiler), gently melt together the butter, brown sugar, chocolate, corn syrup and bourbon, stirring often to prevent the chocolate from burning. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs together. Pull the saucepan off the heat, and slowly add one ladleful of the melted mixture to the eggs, whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Then slowly pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan with the filling, again whisking constantly. Fold in the salt and the pecans, and then divide the filling between the prepared pie shells (you may have a little extra left over). Reduce the oven heat to 330F, and bake the pies for 35-45 minutes, until the filling feels firm to the touch and barely jiggles. If the crust begins to darken, you can cover the pie with a bit of foil. Let the pies cool completely (preferably overnight) before slicing and serving.


Cranberry Gin Fizz
Whether you start your holiday meal with a cocktail or end it with one, this tart and refreshing concoction from Taylor McClintock, head bartender at Durham Distillery’s Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser. The homemade cranberry syrup will last for weeks in the fridge and can be added to club soda to make mocktails, too.

Cranberry Syrup
• 2 cups water
• 2 cups white sugar
• 2 cups cranberries
• 1 each star anise pod, clove, cardamom pod and cinnamon stick
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• Zest of one lemon
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan on the stove and gently bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture begins to boil, remove from the heat and set aside for 30 minutes to cool and infuse. Strain out the solids and save the syrup in a jar or squeeze bottle in the fridge.

Cranberry Gin Fizz
• 2 oz. Durham Distillery Conniption Gin (Navy Strength, if you’re feeling brave)
• ¾ oz. fresh lemon juice
• ¾ oz. cranberry syrup
• 1 egg white

Combine the first three ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and shake hard until cold. Strain the mixture into a second cocktail shaker, add the egg white, and again shake hard. Strain it into a chilled Collins glass (or glass of your choice) and garnish with rosemary and/or fresh cranberries.


‘Visions of Sugarplums’ Latte
Spice up the post-meal coffee with this joyful spin on a gingerbread latte from Addison Yarbrough, owner of Omie’s Coffee Shop and Roastery. A molasses-based syrup brings the holiday cheer, and a sprinkling of edible glitter really makes the drink sparkle. Of course, if you don’t have an espresso machine at home, you can always head over to Omie’s to get one straight from the source (that goes for most of the recipes featured here, too!).

“Gingerbread” Syrup
• ½ cup water
• ½ cup molasses
• ½-inch piece of ginger, peeled
• 3 whole cloves
• 1 stick cinnamon

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients over medium-heat, and stir until combined. Bring the syrup to a simmer, cover and remove from the heat. Let cool for 30 minutes to infuse, strain out the solids, and then pour into a jar or squeeze bottle and store in the refrigerator.

For the latte, combine espresso (single or double shot, your choice), with syrup in a mug, to taste. Top off with hot steamed milk and, if so desired, sprinkle with some edible glitter.

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