Nostalgia is “in” at this time of the year, especially in the kitchen where holiday cooking is deeply connected to years of family traditions.
The dishes served at holiday gatherings express this best. Classics like a saucy and crunchy green bean casserole, herbed cornbread stuffing, or even a 1960’s-era jello salad (we once hosted a Thanksgiving guest who insisted we serve a wobbly molded construction he called “Purple Surprise”) have been a part of some tables for generations.
But just because things have a history doesn’t mean they can’t change. In fact, maybe they should change. Carefully.
If you’ve reached the point when the food you’ve served each year has become more boring than beloved, we dare you to try something new. We’ll even help you get there.
We talked to four of our favorite Boulder County chefs to see what they make for the holidays. Boulder’s Manal Jarrar of Arabesque; Longmont’s Sean Gafner of Swaylo’s Tiki Bar, The Roost, Jefe’s Tacos and Tequila, and Smokin’ Bowls; Erie’s Kevin Kidd of 24 Carrot Bistro; and Longmont’s Daniel Flores of Lunada Eatery and Cantina gave us samples and recipes of secret, off-menu dishes so we can share with you.
These chefs got creative but they didn’t turn away from the past entirely. Instead, what they make embraces their culinary training, personal taste, family traditions, and a knowledge of how people like to eat at this time of year.
Put your old recipes away and try something fresh. Your guests will thank you for it and you may even inaugurate a new holiday tradition.
Lunada Eatery and Cantina | Longmont
Dan’s choice for a holiday meal is a one-pot meal that takes time to construct, hours to slowly simmer so the flavors meld, and is available to offer company that stops by for the holidays.
“You don’t make this every day, but when people come it’s ready to go. It’s hot, spicy, filling, and something I make for family, for guests, for anyone that stops by,” he said. “It can also feed a lot of people, and be part of a bigger spread, right on the table next to tamales.”
Flores said that when he makes the recipe, it brings him back to his childhood. He has memories of his mom making it, feeding everyone with it. And he relishes how much they all enjoyed the dish on a cold day.
- 5 lbs of pork shoulder, bone-in
- 10 quarts of boiling water
- 10 oz guajillo
- 5 oz puya
- 2.5 oz pasilla
- 2.5 oz chile de árbol
- 1 garlic bulbs
- 1.5 onions
- 4 bay leaves
- 1/2 cup chicken bullion
- 1/8 cup salt
- 1/4 cup oregano
- 1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
- 1/2 bunch cilantro
- 1 large can of hominy
- Shredded cabbage
- Diced onions
- Red pepper flakes
Brown pork. Fill a large 24-quart stockpot with 20 quarts of water. Set on heat to bring to a boil then simmer pork in it for two hours, skimming impurities through the process.
Remove and discard the stems, seeds, and large veins from the chili pods. Heat a cast iron pan on medium high and heat the chili pods for a couple minutes, until they begin to soften. Do not let them burn. Cover chiles with boiling water and let sit for 15 minutes.
In a blender add chiles, garlic bulb, onion, cilantro, and all the spices. Then add fresh water to the blender. Strain red sauce, add red sauce to boiling water and cook for one more hour. Rinse the hominy, add to the pozole, and simmer for a half hour more. Serve with multiple garnish offerings.
Swaylo’s Tiki Bar | Longmont
Three existing Longmont restaurants and a fourth on the way in February will be keeping Sean Gafner busy during the holidays. But on a bright Friday morning, he made time to share one of his favorite recipes: Hawaiian Fried Rice.
The version we tried reflected Sean’s first attempt at making the dish—ever. He used ham, Fresno chilis, ginger, and his own stir-fry sauce. While he may tweak it for use in his restaurant (possibly swapping Spam for ham or adjusting the spices) overall it worked well with a heat at the end that balanced the sweet.
While the dish is an obvious choice for his new restaurant, Swaylo’s Tiki Bar in the old Outback Steakhouse space, Gaffner said it’s surprisingly good for the holidays. He’s even making it for his own Thanksgiving table this year. “No one expects but it works because it’s versatile. Sure, everyone’s had it with Asian food, and I’ve even had it a lot for breakfast, but it compliments a holiday meal, too.”
Swaylo’s Dark Sauce
Yield: one quarter gallon
- 1/4 cup minced ginger
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup Sambal Oelek chili paste
- 1/2 cup sesame oil (pure, not blended)
- 1 1/2 cup Tamari (gf soy sauce)
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cups rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 cups water
Puree the first six ingredients in a large container (Sean suggests a 12-quart container) with an immersion blender until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and puree until thoroughly combined. Store under refrigeration for up to a week.
Surprise! A dish that tastes great at a Hibachi restaurant, during late nights, or even for breakfast, also works well at Thanksgiving dinner.
Hawaiian Fried Rice
Yield: 4 side dish portions
- ¼ cup high heat cooking oil
- 1 cup diced ham
- ¼ cup julienned red bell pepper
- ¼ cup julienned carrot
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 4 cups of cooked, long grain white rice
- 1 cup of medium diced, fresh pineapple
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chiffonade cut
- ¼ cup Swaylo’s Dark Sauce
- ¼ cup biased-cut scallions
Maintain the cooking temperature on high for the duration of the cooking process. Once the wok or frying pan is smoking hot, swirl cooking oil in the pan to heat. Then add ham and fry until golden brown. Follow by adding the bell pepper, carrot, and garlic, frying those for 30 seconds.
Slightly stir the egg into these ingredients. Before the egg cooks fully, add the rice and smash it vigorously into the egg, allowing everything to brown. Then add the pineapple, basil, and dark sauce. Smash and flip the rice until all is mixed thoroughly. Let rice sit 10 seconds in the pan before plating. Garnish with scallions.
Arabesque | Boulder
Manal welcomed us into Arabesque, her bright and cheerful restaurant on Walnut Street in Boulder. She quickly urged us to try her holiday favorite, a potato casserole with summer smoked beef sausage. She said she loves to make this because it’s decadent, rich, and filling, with a base made of cream and real butter. “It’s not hard to make,” she said, “but don’t make it ahead of time. It’s best made and enjoyed on the same day.”
Jarrar showed us, rather than told us, why her heart might be close to this dish. It’s perfect for gathering people to eat, talk and enjoy a moment together.
Between forkfuls, we discussed food, with a pinch of politics, and stories of family. She told me that she used to dance in the ballet and that cooking at an elevated level was a strong family tradition. She shared her daughter’s wedding day pictures from her phone, and I showed her photos of my kids and family pets. We talked about parenting tips and how quickly teenage girls grow older. Then we ate some more and she sent me home with a hug and leftovers.
I left with the warm feeling of being well fed and having made a friend; the perfect effect of a holiday gathering.
Manal Jarrar’s cuisine is guided by a principle of balancing each dish with contrasting elements.
Potato Casserole with Summer Smoked Beef Sausage
Yield: 20 portions
- 9-10 medium potatoes
- 1½ lb smoked beef sausage
- 3 cups whipping cream
- 1 1/2 sticks of butter
- 1 cup of parmesan cheese
- 1 whole garlic head
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parsley (for garnish)
Peel and cut potatoes in any desired shape. Cut sausage into diagonal slices and fry to achieve a darker color. Mix the potatoes and sausage in a rectangle-shaped baking pan and combine with the rest of the ingredients.
Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 90 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve.
24 Carrot Bistro | Erie
Kevin’s recipes paid homage to leftovers, arguably one of the best parts of any holiday meal. Large scale cooking often means that there’s plenty of food guests can’t finish during the main meal. Although turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sandwiches dipped in warm gravy are a great use for extra food, cooks can get more creative.
Kevin paid homage to his east coast roots (his father is a fisherman from Fall River, Massachusetts) and his deep love of chowder. He shared with us a turkey chowder that includes bacon, wild rice, and cashews. He also provided a recipe for leftover cranberries and, to go along with that, gave a tip for holiday food garnish: rolling slightly wet, whole cranberries in sugar is a simple, stunning, and tasty accent to a range of desserts, including his tart.
Kidd challenged himself to get creative with holiday leftovers. These recipes prove you can do more with them than a beloved but ordinary next-day sandwich.
- 1 lb cranberries
- 1 ¼ c sugar
- ½ c water
- Or 2.5 cups leftover cranberries
- pinch salt
- 3 egg yolk
- 2t cornstarch
- 4 tbsp butter, softened
- 1 c flour
- ½ c cornstarch
- 1/3 c sugar
- ½ t salt
- 6 tbsp very soft or melted butter
- ¾ almond extract
If not using leftover cranberries, bring cranberries, sugar, water, and salt to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes. While cranberries are cooking, whisk egg yolks and cornstarch together until smooth.
In food processor, blend hot cranberries or warmed leftover cranberries (warm on the stove while constantly stirring, take care not to scorch them) and egg mixture until smooth. Let the mixture cool in the food processor while you make the crust. About 1 hour.
For the crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt together. Add in the butter and extract. Stir until a dough forms. In a nine-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, crumble two thirds of the dough and press into even thickness. Crumble the other third around the edge and press around evenly. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake until the crust is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Rotate once during cooking.
Add the softened butter to the cranberry puree and blend until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing all the liquid out of the mixture. Pour mixture into tart crust (it’s ok if crust is still warm), let sit at room temperature for at least 4 hours. To serve, remove from metal tart pan, cut into six or eight slices and garnish with whip cream.
Roasted Turkey Chowder
Yield: 6-8 servings
- 2 lbs roasted turkey, diced
- 1 lb pancetta, diced
- 4 stalks celery, small dice
- 2 carrots, small dice
- 2 onions, small dice
- ½ cup wild rice, cooked
- 4 oz toasted cashews, chopped
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 lb unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
- 1 qt milk
- 1 qt chicken stock
- Dash Worcestershire sauce
- Dash hot sauce
- Salt & pepper
- Parsley leaves
In a large pot, render pancetta over medium heat until crispy. Strain out the fat and set pancetta aside. Then, melt butter in the same pot, add celery, onion, and carrot and cook until translucent.
Add chopped sage, thyme, and cook for 2 minutes. Add flour and cook mixture until it thickens, scraping the bottom of the pan.Add chicken stock and milk, stir to combine, and bring up to a simmer.
Simmer for 5-10 minutes to cook out the flour. Add in pancetta and wild rice. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Add a dash of Worcestershire and hot sauce if desired. Stir in cubed turkey and adjust seasoning if needed. Garnish with chopped cashews and parsley leaves.