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Sling the Sweet Potatoes and Chuck the Canned Cranberries: Boulder County Chefs Eschew Traditional Fare


Picture the typical North American holiday plate. Turkey or ham starring as the main with sweet potato and marshmallows, green bean casserole and stuffing stepping in as sides. Toss in a package of economy sized, palate cleansing, overly shiny dinner rolls and perfectly cylindrical cranberry slices and remember to leave room for the pumpkin or pecan pie.

The utilitarian composition of the holiday feast is undeniable. Consider how stuffing serves the dual purpose of keeping the meat moist while adding to the mix of flavors of the stuffing and the animal it is stuffed in. Dinner rolls help you mop up gravy and provide mini turkey or ham sandwiches for the week to come.

We already know what most Americans dine on for the holidays, but what about our favorite Boulder County chefs? How do they use their creativity to concoct something that reflects their training, experience, and penchant for a perfectly balanced plate?

We contacted local chefs and received recipes from Jessica Emich of Shine Sisters and Potion Bar, Michael Gjenvick of Frasca, and Amber Graff of Blackbelly.  Read on for the backstories, tips and tricks for each dish and recommended side dish pairings.

Jessica Emich

Co-Owner | SHINE Restaurant and Potion Bar

My sisters and I come from a big Italian family.  Food has always been a centerpiece to our lives. This recipe is one that my dad used to make once a week while we lived at home. It is an absolute comfort for me and my sisters. The tradition has trickled down to our families and extended families.  This recipe, no matter where I am, always takes me home.

Dad’s Meatballs

Yields: Approximately 20 meatballs


1 pounds ground beef (85%)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/3 cup Romano cheese

1/3 cup ground flax seeds

1 large egg

2 tablespoons olive oil

sea salt


1.  Combine beef, garlic, parsley, Romano cheese, flax, eggs and salt in a large mixing bowl.

2.  Use your hands to mix everything together.  Using a tablespoon measure out heaping tablespoons for each ball.  Form the mixture into approximately 10 balls.

3.  Heat a large cast iron pan to medium high.  Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

4. Sautee balls for approximately 4-6 minutes before flipping.  Toss to cook on a few sides for a total of approximately 15-20 minutes or so.

5.  Serve with Dad’s pot of sauce as appetizers or with your choice of pasta and Dad’s sauce.

Dad’s Pot of Sauce

Yields: Approximately 6 cups


1 medium onion, chopped

1 pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 -28 ounce cans diced tomatoes

1-16 ounce can crushed tomatoes

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 cup mushrooms, sliced

sea salt


1.  Heat a large saucepan to medium high.

2.  Add two tablespoons of olive oil.  Add onion and pepper. Lower heat to medium and sauté for 8 minutes until the onion begins to turn translucent.  Add the garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes.

3.  Add the crushed and diced tomatoes.  Add the oregano, garlic powder and salt.

4.  Let simmer for approximately 15 minutes.  Add the mushrooms to the pot. Stir often.  Cook for another 15 minutes.  Add the tomato paste.

5.    Add the fresh basil 10 minutes before you plan on serving the sauce.

6.   Keep the pot of sauce covered at all times.  The longer the sauce can cook the more the flavors will meld.

Shine Boulder and Potion Bar: 2480 Canyon Blvd, Boulder, CO 80302 | (303) 449-0120 | shineboulder.com

Michael Gjenvick

Chef de Partie | Frasca Food and Wine

This dish is a take on my mom’s boiled octopus and celery salad. Growing up East Coast Italian Catholics, we would celebrate Christmas with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Her salad, like this one, incorporates Italian staples like garlic and olive oil so this is my more savory version for the Holidays. My grandfather was a Sicilian pastry chef and he was committed to making specific dishes for Catholic Holidays.

This seems like a dish with many steps. Where could someone go awry in the kitchen?

A common mistake would be to pull the octopus before it is tender. The octopus will be rubbery and tough if it is taken out too soon.

You can’t just throw a tentacle at the kitchen wall and see if it sticks now can you?

No, but it’s funny you should say that. In the Mediterranean they tenderize it by beating it against rocks next to the sea. In Japan they painstakingly massage the octopus for hours. I did not go to those lengths, but you get the idea. Also, when buying the octopus make sure it smells like something that lived in the sea.

Crispy Octopus with Celery, Celery and More Celery | Serves 8


2 medium celeriac, peeled and cubed

1 pint whole milk

4 tablespoons brown butter, melted

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 pinch nutmeg, freshly ground

Kosher salt, white pepper

1) Warm half the butter in a shallow pan.

2) Add celeriac, season with salt and pepper, and lightly caramelize.

3) Add milk and nutmeg, and simmer until celeriac is completely soft.

4) Puree mixture in a blender adding remaining butter and heavy cream.

5) Puree until silky smooth. Add more milk if needed to achieve desired texture.

Celery Confit:

2 stalks celery, fine brunoise

1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, fine brunoise

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup olive oil

kosher salt

1) Place all ingredients in a small pot and bring to a simmer slowly on low heat.

2) Continue cooking on low heat until celery, leeks, and garlic are completely softened, approximately 30 minutes.

3) Season with salt.

4) Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Celery Vinaigrette

1/2 cup fresh celery juice, strained

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, strained

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 stalks celery

8 Castelvetrano olives, brunoise

8 white anchovy filets, brunoise

2 tablespoons preserved lemon rind, brunoise

1 pinch red chili flake

kosher salt

Warm a grill pan and blacken celery stalks completely. Remove and allow to cool. Brunoise celery stalks. (Brunoise is a culinary knife cut in which the food item is first julienned and then turned a quarter turn and diced again, producing cubes of about 3 mm or less on each side, or 1/8-inch dice. … The brunoise is used as a garnish in many dishes; it is often used to garnish consommé.

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl and season with salt.


2 pound octopus – Available at Whole Foods

1 quart red wine

1 quart water

1 onion, peeled and halved

4 sprigs oregano

4 garlic cloves, smashed

4 stalks celery

2 bay leaves

1 cup cornstarch

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon celery seed, freshly ground

1 pint olive oil, for frying

Maldon salt

Place octopus, wine, water, onion, oregano, garlic, celery, and bay leaves in a large pot. Bring up to a simmer and cook, keeping octopus submerged, using a small plate or pan if needed. Cook until octopus is tender, approximately 2 hours. Place pot in an ice bath and cool completely. Remove octopus and separate tentacles, slicing in-between with a knife. Mix corn starch, paprika, kosher salt, and celery seed together. Dust tentacles in mixture. Fry tentacles in oil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 2 minutes or until coating is crispy. Sprinkle with maldon salt.

To Serve:

24 celery leaves

1 stalk celery, cut into 2-inch lengths

24 petite potatoes, roasted whole

24 oregano leaves


Warm 8 plates. Thinly slice celery stalks on a mandoline slicer and place in ice bath to create small curls. Remove and pat dry. Warm celery root puree and place a large dollop on each plate. Top with freshly fried octopus. Scatter roasted potatoes and top with celery confit and oregano leaves. Scatter celery curls and leaves. Drizzle harissa on plate. Top octopus with celery vinaigrette.

Frasca Food and Wine: 1738 Pearl Street, Boulder, CO | (303) 442 6966 | frascafoodandwine.com | michaelgjenvick.com

Amber Graff

Chef | Blackbelly

Originally, I wanted to incorporate traditional holiday ingredients into a more modern dish. To give the cranberries a more robust flavor I added them to a pineapple salsa I had already created. I confess I am not a salmon fan, but I realize its health benefits outweigh my hesitation, so the salsa and the pomegranate glaze have made it infinitely more appetizing to me.

What would you serve as a side dish?

A cornbread cranberry stuffing or grilled asparagus would pair well with this dish. You also can’t misstep with a wild rice. Or potatoes au gratin with the milk, cheese and butter, are decadent but alongside the pomegranate and cranberries, you can achieve a plate that is anything but one note. I also feel like I should tell you I’m not above buying a box of Jiffy brand cornbread to use at home.    

Pomegranate Glazed Salmon with Cranberry Salsa

4 salmon filets, skin on

Pomegranate seeds for garnish

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

Salt and pepper to taste

For the glaze:

32 oz. Pomegranate Juice (100% juice)- this is about 3 ½ cups

½ cup brown sugar

Juice of one lime

Parchment paper

For the salsa:

10oz fresh cranberries, rough chopped

1 pineapple, small diced

½ red onion, small diced

2 tablespoons cilantro, minced

2 limes, zested and juiced

Salt and pepper to taste

1.) Prepare the glaze by combining the pomegranate juice, brown sugar, and lime juice in a small saucepan. Set the heat to medium high and allow to boil. Continue to boil for 1-1 ½ hours until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Remove from the stove and allow to cool.

**Cleaning hint. When the glaze boils, it will occasionally come up onto the sides of the pan. To prevent a tough clean-up, keep a glass of water with a pastry brush (or unused paint brush) near stove and occasionally brush the overflow with the water.

2.) Set the oven to 375 degrees. Place the diced pineapple on a sheet tray and roast for 20 minutes, or until the pineapple begins to lightly brown.

3.) In the meantime, combine the remaining salsa ingredients in a bowl. Add the pineapple directly from the oven and incorporate into the bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, and cover with plastic wrap to keep the salsa warm.

4.) Place a non-stick pan over medium high heat and allow the pan to heat. Add the butter and olive oil and allow the butter to melt and start to bubble.

5.) Generously salt and pepper the top of the salmon and place the salmon skin-side down in the pan. Gently spoon the pomegranate glaze over the top. Allow the salmon skin to get crispy, about 3-4 minutes in the pan.

6.) Remove the salmon from the pan and place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper, skin side down. Spoon additional glaze on the top, and roast in the 375-degree oven for 12-15 minutes.

7.) While the salmon is cooking, put the remaining glaze back on the stove top on low heat to warm.

8.) When the salmon is done, remove from oven and place fillet on a plate. Spoon the cranberry salsa over the salmon along with a bit of the warmed glaze. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. Enjoy!

Blackbelly: 1606 Conestoga St. #3, Boulder, CO 80301 | (303)247-1000 | blackbelly.com