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A&E >  Food

Spokane-area chefs share their ideas for winning Christmas dishes

They make fancy foods day in and day out. So it makes sense to expect that their favorite holiday recipes feature the trendiest techniques and ingredients.

But, even Spokane’s most sophisticated chefs, Christmas dinner isn’t about wowing everyone at the table but recreating family favorites, old standbys that not only satisfy but also offer up a serving of nostalgia, dishes that their own kids can often help them make.

What are some of Spokane’s top chefs cooking for Christmas dinner?

From mains to desserts, some of their answers might surprise you.


From Cody Winfrey

“I love December because there’s always an excuse for Champagne,” said Luna bartender Cody Winfrey. “Around Christmas I’ll break out Poinsettia cocktails – simply Cointreau, cranberry or pomegranate, and top with Champagne.”

It’s basically a cranberry or pomegranate mimosa. Winfrey prefers cuvée. But Champagne can be expensive. You can substitute Prosecco, cava or brut sparkling wine.

Winfrey doesn’t measure when it comes to Poinsettias. “It’s an eyeball situation,” he said.

You can add more or less juice, orange liqueur or bubbly as desired. And consider garnishing this lovely rosy red-colored cocktail with frozen cranberries – they help keep the cocktail cold – and maybe a sprig of rosemary for more Christmas color.

1/2 ounce orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Triple Sec)

1 ounce cranberry juice

4 ounces dry sparkling wine

Frozen cranberries, for garnish (optional)

Rosemary spring, for garnish (optional)

Place orange liqueur and cranberry juice in a chilled Champagne flute and stir. Top with bubbly.

Tropical Cheese Ball

From Adam Hegsted

This “underrated cheese ball” comes from Adam Hegsted’s mother-in-law, and “it’s delicious. I actually had never really eaten a cheese ball until I had one at a holiday party after my wife and I had gotten married.” And now he’s a fan.

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

8 ounces pineapple, minced

1 tablespoon jalapeño, seeded and minced

1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1 ounce pineapple, dried and chopped

1 roasted sweet onion, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt

2 cups walnuts, toasted or chopped (macadamia nuts work, too)

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Stir in pineapples, peppers, onion, seasoning and 1/2 cup walnuts. Place on a sheet of plastic wrap; shape into a ball. Refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, roll cheese ball in remaining walnuts. Serve with grilled bread or crostini.

Christmas Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing and Gravy

From Molly Patrick

Turkey at Christmas? Isn’t that a Thanksgiving main? Well, chef Molly Patrick said, “We were Italian and didn’t know any better. We were Italians trying to be Americans.”

Her grandparents came to Canada from Sicily and prepared turkey for Christmas dinner. This is Patrick’s take on her family tradition. “I just add more butter. And I do the herbs differently.”

She stuffs and prepares the turkey Christmas Eve. “I set my alarm and get up at 5 a.m. and put it in the oven and go back to sleep.”

1 (15- to 20-pound) turkey

2 pounds Italian sausage

Cornbread dressing (see recipe below)

Fresh sage, rosemary and thyme

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pads

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup roasted and smashed garlic

1 can condensed milk

Stuff the back end of the bird with sausage and the front and main cavity with cornbread dressing.

With a paring knife, detach the skin from the meat without tearing the skin. Place the fresh herbs and butter all over under the skin. Rub the skin of the turkey with salt, pepper and roasted garlic. Make sure to get the wings and legs.

Place a few pads of butter around the legs and wings. Cover with foil and place in a 350 degree oven. Baste turkey every 30-40 minutes with the drippings. Remove foil the last hour to brown the turkey.

When turkey is done, let rest for 30 or so minutes. Skim fat from the drippings and use for the roux. Make the roux by whisking equal parts fat and flour in a skillet over medium heat until well combined and cooked and the mixture reaches the color you’re after.

Transfer drippings to a sauce pot and bring to a soft boil. Add 6 ounces of condensed milk, bring back to a soft boil and begin to add the roux. Let gravy thicken and starch cook out before adding more roux.

Note: You will have some roux left over.

Cornbread Dressing

From Amanda Hillmann

This is the cornbread stuffing Modernist Cooks chef Amanda Hillmann’s mother makes for the family. “She likes to make food for anyone and everyone who needs a warm plate,” Hillmann said. “I look forward to this stuffing because I am able to get both my obsession with cornbread and stuffing in one shibbang.”

1 cup celery, diced fine

1/2 cup carrots, diced fine

1/2 onion, diced fine

1 teaspoon celery salt

4 cups cornbread, dried and cubed

1 cup warm chicken stock

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon garlic paste

1 ounce raisins

Saute vegetables, mix them with the bread, add the stock and spices, and mix.

Savory Mushroom Gorgonzola Bread Pudding

From Ricky Webster

1 (1-pound) loaf crusty country-style or sourdough bread

1/4 cup olive oil

4 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 large garlic clove, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

6 tablespoon ( 3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1 1 /2 pounds assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, button, portobello, and stemmed shiitake), thinly sliced

1 cup finely chopped onion

1 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery

1/2 cup finely sliced leeks

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flake

1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 1/ 2 cup heavy whipping cream

8 large eggs

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 cup gorgonzola cheese crumbles

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass baking dish. Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread and discard. Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in very large bowl. Add oil, thyme and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Return toasted bread cubes to same very large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, leeks and red pepper flakes. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes.

Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg in large bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Add gorgonzola crumble just before transferingmixture to prepared dish. Sprinkle Parmesan over.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Bake uncovered until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes.

Yield: about 12 servings

Note: This recipe can be prepared a day ahead. Cover and refrigerate until time to bake.

Corn Cake

From Eva Roberts

Eva Roberts called her daughter to ask what she would consider their family’s go-to holiday comfort food. She quickly said, “Corn Cake!” It was the same recipe Roberts was thinking of, too.

“My father was career military, and we were fortunate enough to meet people from all over the world,” Roberts said. Her mother had a co-worker whose husband was from the South. Her in-laws shared the recipe with her, and she shared it with Roberts’ mother. “Cornbread can be dry and tasteless, but this recipe is moist and has a touch of sweetness. It’s delicious, fool proof and easy. Once you have it, it will be a mainstay as one of your family favorites.”

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup yellow corn meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 cup milk

Cream butter, add sugar and beat until fluffy. Add eggs and beat well. Sift flour, corn meal and baking powder. Add to butter mixture alternately with milk. Pour into well greased 8-inch-by- 8-inch pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes.


From Taylor Siok

Luna pastry chef Taylor Siok updated his grandmother’s trifle recipe, which was “very similar to options that would be listed on a graham cracker box or cherry filling can.” He loved it when he was a kid. Today, his updated version is corn syrup-free and, unlike his grandma’s, includes a bit of brandy.

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided

2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs

3 cups frozen cherries

2 tablespoons brandy

8 ounces cream cheese

1/3 cup powdered sugar

2 cups cream

1/2 cup sliced almonds

About 10 Luxardo cherries (dark cherries served with an old fashioned, found by the mixers in the grocery store)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter and combine with 2 tablespoons sugar, salt and graham crackers. Spread thin onto a baking sheet and toast for 8 minutes. Remove and cool.

In a medium sauce pan combine frozen cherries, 1/4 cup sugar and brandy. Bring to a full boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and cool in refrigerator.

With paddle attachment, mix the cream cheese and half of the 1/3 cup powdered sugar until smooth. Using a whisk, whip the cream and remaining powdered sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream into the smooth cream cheese and mix until combined. Fold in remaining 2/3 of cream.

In a glass bowl about 6 inches wide begin building your layers with the graham cracker crumble. Add a layer of cherries, then a layer of cream, then a layer of almonds. Repeat.

Top with Luxardo cherries and refrigerate until serving.

English Toffee

From Ricky Webster

1/2 pound unsalted butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons light corn syrup

3 tablespoons water

2 cups chopped toasted almonds or other nuts, divided

1 pound semisweet chocolate chips

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in sugar, corn syrup and water. Return to heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat, stir in 1 cup almonds and pour out on buttered 11-by-17-inch or 12-by-18-inch jelly roll pan or marble to cool and harden.

Meantime, melt 1/2 the chocolate on low in the microwave in intervals (until completely melted and warm to the touch) and then add the remaining chocolate, stir and let melt. This will temper the chocolate in an easy and pretty effective way so that the chocolate has a nice sheet and snap when hardened.

Spread chocolate on one side of the buttercrunch and sprinkle with half the remaining chopped nuts. Allow to set, and repeat coating on other side. After both coatings have set, break into coarse pieces and store in a tin.

Eggnog Panna Cotta with Buttered Rum Sauce

From Travis Dickinson

For the panna cotta

4 cups eggnog

4 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons honey

2 vanilla beans, scraped

1 cup yogurt

1 1/2 cups sugar

4 ounces bourbon

1 tablespoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon whole clovers

3 cinnamon sticks

10 gelatin sheets, bloomed in cold water until soft.

For the sauce

6 ounces butter

2 cups brown sugar

2/3 cup cream

2 ounces corn syrup

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 teaspoons nutmeg

2 ounces Meyers rum

Make the panna cotta: Heat all ingredients except gelatin over medium heat until they just reach a boil. Don’t boil more than 30 seconds.

Ring out excess water from gelatin sheets and add to hot mixture, then whisk over medium heat until sheets are completely dissolved. Strain through a fine China cap strainer and pour into 18 (5-ounce) glasses. Chill at least 12 hours before service.

Make the sauce: Melt butter in sauce pan. Add in all ingredients but the rum. Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes until sauce starts to thicken. Add rum. Cool for service. Yield: 1 1/2 quarts.

To serve: Top each serving with 2 tablespoons of sauce. Additional optional serving suggestions include chocolate sauce, whipped cream, a dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a couple of gingerbread cookies.

Ugly Jello Salad

From Molly Patrick

You don’t want to over-stir this simple dessert that chef Molly Patrick said is so ugly it “looks like Freddie Krueger’s face.”

Its looks might remind of her of the villain in Wes Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” series – something very un-holiday-like. “But it’s so good,” she said. “It’s tart, and it’s sweet. My favorite is when you get little pockets of sour cream.”

Plus, it’s super-easy to make.

1 package raspberry Jello

16 ounces strawberries, chopped

16 ounces sour cream

Prepare Jello per instructions on the box. Pour Jello in a 13-inch-by-9-inch cake pan and let chill. When Jello is 3/4 of the way set, after approximately 1 hour, fold in strawberries and sour cream. Return to the fridge and let set 1 hour.

Peanut Butter-Banana Crunch

From Adam Hegsted

Adam Hegsted’s mother makes this every holiday.

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup honey

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 cups corn flakes

2 cups dried banana chips

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, honey and peanut butter. Cook over medium-high heat until center starts to boil, make sure to stir constantly so the sugar doesn’t burn.

As soon as the sugar mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract, banana chips and corn flakes, and mix until corn flakes are evenly coated in sugar mixture. Use an ice cream scoop to drop cookies onto wax paper as quickly as possible before mixture starts to cool and harden.

Let cool on wax paper for 20 to 30 minutes before enjoying.

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