The holidays are not always the time to bring out your newest wacky culinary experiments. Do you remember the Friends Thanksgiving episode? It was funny because we all want to have the comforts of a traditional bite around the holidays. It turns out that some of the most respected chefs and bakers feel the same way. That doesn’t mean you can’t find the best possible recipes of the classic dishes to feel like you’re at home, even if you may be living a transplanted life in BOCO. YS collected four dishes that won’t require years of practice but will deliver on nostalgia and the experimentation factor, assuming this is your first time seeing these secret chef recipes. They’ll also deliver your holiday feast, and the friends and family around your table, the flavors worthy of a once a year celebration.
Editor’s Note: All pictures inside Secret Chef Recipes are from our Food Writer, Matt Hess’, attempts to create the dishes at home, unless otherwise noted.
“Below is my cheesecake recipe, that I make every Thanksgiving and Christmas. My family demands it every year. I first made it when I was in 8th grade for an extra credit project and it’s been a favorite ever since. I grew up in the kitchen helping with whatever I could and just fell in love with the sweeter side. I love making people happy with food and I feel like that is what Thanksgiving is all about—people coming together to bring a piece of who they are to the table and everyone being thankful for everything they are. This cheesecake is what I love to bring to Thanksgiving.” – Jodi
Serves 12 to 16
1 ¾ C finely crushed graham crackers
¼ C finely chopped walnuts
½ tsp ground cinnamon
3 packages cream cheese, softened (8oz.)
1 C sugar
1 tsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg yolk
¼ C milk
- Combine crushed crackers, nuts and cinnamon
- Mix in margarine or butter (Reserve ¼ cup of crumb mixture for topping at the end)
- Press remaining mixture into the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of an 8-9 inch springform pan and set aside
- In a mixer bowl combine cream cheese, sugar, flour, and vanilla
- Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy
- Add eggs and yolk all at once, beating on low speed until just combined
- Then stir in milk
- Next, pour the mixture into the crust-lined pan and sprinkle with reserved crumbs
- Bake at 375o for 45-50 minutes for the 8 inch pan; 35-40 minutes for the 9 inch pan (or until center appears neatly set when shaken)
- Let cool for 15 minutes. Loosen crust from the side of the pan then let cool for another 30 minutes before removing the sides of the pan
- Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving
The Pumpkin Pie
Jeff used to make this pie when working back in San Francisco. It is simple and classic. One great thing about it is that you do not need to pre-bake the crust. Just dock the bottom (use a fork to poke holes in the bottom) fill and bake. There is plenty of spice in this cake but nothing that will make any of your guest feel like you are changing the game on them. The sweetened condensed milk used as the only method of sweetener keeps the pie from becoming too sweet and hiding the pumpkin, while also ensuring that you get a smooth consistent product. It is a great feat of culinary mastery to prepare a pie starting with whole pumpkins, and you can come out with a really tasty dessert, but getting this done consistently is a challenge, and remember the people want an excellent version of the pie they have been eating for the last few decades and that probably didn’t involve fresh pumpkin.
1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
- All ingredients are mixed together in a bowl, and poured into a pie shell. You can make your own dough using the recipe below or purchase a frozen shell.
- There are some high-quality ones available at some of the natural/gourmet grocery chains. A really good home made pie crust makes for an outstanding pie, but this is a simple nostalgic pie that can be put together quickly and having any pie is better than no pie so don’t feel shame about pulling a shell out of the freezer case.
1 C flour
1 C very cold butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
- Mix all these ingredients together in a food processor until the texture resembles coarse sand.
- Add 2-3 tbs of ice water until the dough sticks together.
- If the dough is getting too soft at this point you can put it in the refrigerator for an hour. Then roll out to fit your pie pan. The edge can be finished using your favorite texture, I would recommend a thin edge for most custard style pies, like pumpkin, a thick frilly crust doesn’t give you the proper crust to filling ratio. Don’t forget to dock your homemade crust too. Par bake your shell for 20 minutes if you prefer the shell to be extra crispy.
- The pie is baked at 325o to 350o for about 55 minutes. It is a good idea to place your pie on a rimmed baking sheet before you put her into the oven just in case the filling overflows it’s crust. You will know that your pie is ready to come out when the center of the pie has risen into a dome. The pie is then pulled from the oven and allowed to cool. Serve with freshly whipped cream. Again, if you don’t have time to make your own, grab a can of whipped cream out of the dairy case while you’re at the fridge. Homemade whipped cream is definitely worth the effort but any whipped cream beats no whipped cream.
Stam’s Like It Haute Chocolate
An all-male drum corps called the Madison Scouts played an important role in Matthew’s journey to open a confection shop. Through the Madison Scout Alumni association Matthew connected to Ton Stam in hopes of raising money for the group. Years later when he decided to move on from the tech world he originally was not thinking chocolate, but the numbers worked and the product was as high quality as he could find anywhere. The Stam brand shares an affinity for music with musical notes, and instruments on many of the bonbons. He shared with me how to make the perfect hot chocolate that can be shared with a crowd. This is the same treat they make in the store but can easily be recreated at home.
1 1/3c Heavy Cream
1/4 teaspoon of Sea Salt
1 Gallon Milk
- Combine all ingredients into saucepan or microwave safe bowl.
- Heat on low, stirring occasionally and being careful not to scorch the chocolate.
- When sufficiently heated, pour into the vessel you will drink from.
- Top with whip cream.
- Matthew recommends a good canned whipped cream. The lighter texture that results from this process is a better balance with this rich drink.
- Finish with a dusting of cocoa for an extra special presentation.
The Welch Cookies
Guy shared a recipe that brings extra levels of nostalgia. This classic cookie was passed down from his Great Grandma who emigrated from Wales. The small-town paper in Johnson City, NY, even ran a picture of his Great Grandma teaching his father how to make these treats. Since it ran in a paper a few decades ago, it’s not a true secret, but it counts for us here in BOCO, since it’s new to us. This cookie is a classic Welch recipe, stretching our concept of what a cookie is. The technique of cooking on a griddle predates the oven.
These cookies even pre-date the iron griddle, originally having been baked on a flat stone. Welch cookies are a cross between a cookie, a scone, and a pancake, but defy expectations of any of these treats. We’re just grateful this family recipe found its way to our pages in time for the holidays.
1 cup sugar
1 cup salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup dried currants
3 cups flour
½ to ¾ cup milk
- Cream the butter/Crisco and sugar
- Mix in egg
- Add dry ingredients while continuing to stir
- Pour in milk and continue stirring until the dough is consistent
- Roll out dough to ¼ to 1/3”
- Cut cookie shapes with a jelly jar
- Lightly grease a medium (300 degree) griddle
- Cook on both sides until brown (be careful: they go from raw to burned quickly)
- Sprinkle with granulated sugar while warm