by Big City Chefs, 2011
We are undeniably smack-dab in the middle of the entertaining season. And whether you’re looking to hire a private chef to make your parties effortless, or you’re an aspiring Martha Stewart who loves to impress with your own culinary accomplishments, here’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse at some of the creative holiday party menus that our professional chefs have been custom-creating for our clients this season, coupled with some tips to steer you in the right direction:
Idea 1: Keep it Fresh, Local, and Light
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where fresh produce, meats, cheeses, and wines abound year-round and many of our clients tend to have healthy diets, Private Chef Alex likes to bring out winter flavors without the usual holiday heaviness. “Salads aren’t just for summer,” he says. “This time of year, my clients love a salad of winter chicories, creamy Gorgonzola balsamic vinaigrette, crispy shallots, toasted hazelnuts, and local grapes.” Chef Alex’s other standout dishes include brined and roasted chicken breast with bread salad (yum!), mustard greens, currants, and onions; Butternut Squash soup with bacon and apples; and Crispy Polenta with braised sausage, peppers, onions, and tomatoes. “All of these dishes have a light touch but totally satisfy those homey, hearty winter cravings.”
Idea 2: Put A Twist on the Traditional
Bored with Spinach and Artichoke dip? The same old stuffing? Too much pumpkin pie in your life? Our San Diego Private Chef Justin likes to prepare appetizers, dishes, and desserts that echo familiar comforts wrapped up in a whole new package.
For unique holiday appetizers, Justin recommends a mix of both hearty and light, as well as traditional and nontraditional items. For all menu items, always minimize your last-minute workload. “I love making a classic Italian Braised Beef in Barolo, served with Gorgonzola in a Phyllo Cup,” he says. “You can braise the meat the day before — in fact, it tastes better the next day — and make your phyllo cups ahead of time. Just fill them at the last minute and set them out for your guests.”
For a light appetizer with crunch, Chef Justin likes a simple Goat Cheese Crostini with Organic Honey and Toasted California Walnuts. If you don’t have time to toast your own crostini, you can use store-bought ones that are ready to go. If you’re tired of stuffed mushroom caps or Spinach and Artichoke Dip, combine them into a single appetizer. A hot spinach, artichoke, and parmesan stuffing pairs perfectly with big mushroom caps. Lastly, don’t forget the unexpected. Crab Cakes with Poblano Cream and Mango Salsa are a fun south-of-the-border bite that break up the monotony of holiday appetizers.
Want to host a pre-holiday dinner without roasting a whole turkey with all the trimmings? “Try a Turkey Leg Roulade with Apple Sourdough Stuffin, simple Pan Gravy, Brussels Sprout Hash, Shallots, and Pancetta,” then finish the evening with Chocolate Pumpkin Bread Pudding, Ginger Crème Anglaise, and Cinnamon Whipped Cream.
For additional dessert ideas, especially for buffet style parties, Chef Justin recommends mixing up your old standbys with some unique offerings. “Assorted miniature Irish Pub Cakes are super whimsical. I make one called Irish Car Bomb, and I make others with Guinness cake and either Irish Cream Frosting or Whiskey Ganache. They’re great for parties.”
Idea #3: Take an Italian Christmas “Staycation”
The Italians sure know how to do Christmas right. Combine one of the most important Catholic holidays with the birthplace of one of the world’s most popular cuisines, and you’ve got a great reason to explore Italy’s vast holiday food traditions. Typical Christmas dinners have many courses served family-style, ranging from pasta to whole fish to “Seven Seas” seafood stew, but you can opt for anything from the Italian repertoire, and even give menus an American spin. For example, Pannetone, Italy’s fluffy, yeasty holiday bread, makes an amazing bread pudding that can be served with an Italian Espresso Zabaglione. Or, use crusty ciabatta bread as a base for an Italian sausage and fennel stuffing that pairs with any holiday meat. Of course, there’s no reason not to enjoy straight-up Tuscan comfort food, such as Atlanta private chef Emilee’s classic Chicken scaloppini with Marsala sauce, wild mushrooms, soft polenta, and sauteed rapini. Paired with Italian wines and spirits such as montepulciano, or a shot of amaretto with dessert, the holidays take on an entirely new dimension.
Great memories are made at holiday gatherings with friends, family, or colleagues. Whether you follow these make-ahead tips for yourself or you prefer to hire a private chef for the day, you’ll be sure to enjoy the party instead of manning the kitchen.