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Chef-inspired Ideas to Make Holiday Meals More Inclusive


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Delicious dishes that accommodate dietary restrictions so everyone can enjoy a seat at the table

At Yellow Scene, our holiday food tradition is taking a deep dive with a handful of our favorite area chefs and talking to them about what they love to cook at home for celebratory meals. These aren’t always the things you’ll see on their menus. It’s what you get when they hang up the towel in their restaurant kitchen and dial up the knobs on their stove at home. It’s what they cook when they entertain friends, families, and in one case, others from the area’s hospitality industry.

This year, they’re generously sharing their home recipes with us and using their culinary expertise to show how these dishes can be altered for those with dietary restrictions. With just a few changes and some knowledge, everybody can be included at the table. These chefs will show you what to do.

 

Lucile’s Chef Michael Micek. Photo: Judi Morell

Unexpected Holiday Side Dishes
Chef Michael Micek, Lucile’s Creole Cafe

This past year, Erie’s Old Town was lucky enough to score a brand new Lucile’s Creole Cafe, the beloved area chain known for Cajun breakfast and lunch with red beans and collard greens, benedicts you can linger over, chicory coffee, and beignets. Since Day One, lines have been out the door.

We connected with Chef Michael Micek, who has brought Lucile’s favorites to the new location. He began cooking for the themed set of eateries in 2005 when he opened the outpost at South Logan St. and Alameda Ave. in Denver. He studied under Chef Mickey Samuels who worked with the chain from the late 1980s for more than 30 years and upheld its quality standard. Micek is one of two staff members who had worked with Samuels and learned about making Cajun cuisine, becoming executive chef after he left.

Micek told us that he typically cooks two holiday meals at his home each year. The first one is at Thanksgiving and features a deconstructed turkey. It includes a turkey leg confit, cured with salt and seasonings overnight and then submerged in duck fat for 12 hours. On Thanksgiving Day, he crisps the legs in the oven and serves them on a platter. Next, he filets the turkey breasts, rolls them back in the skin and cooks them in a sous vide bag before browning them. He then crisps them in the oven before serving.

“Guests I have at my house have told me that they’ve never had a turkey any better than what I cook,” he said.

On Christmas Eve, Micek, who is Polish, makes kapusniak, a sauerkraut and sausage soup. The preparation starts just after Thanksgiving, when he makes the sauerkraut and allows it the weeks needed to ferment. Then it is added to a savory beefy tomato broth and becomes the centerpiece. “It has an incredible flavor. Absolutely stunning,” he said.

When asked to describe his gatherings, he said they’re fairly traditional, with about 25 friends and family at Thanksgiving and 15 on Christmas Eve. He hosts a casual, self-service affair where his kitchen island is filled with delectable dishes and people eat when they’re hungry.

If there was one item from Lucile’s he would add to his holiday cooking, Micek said it would probably be collard greens. He said they’re very popular in the South, and they’re often on the table at Thanksgiving. “It’s one of my favorite things. We included smoked, cured ham hocks, and we also use Marmite. Marmite can add the same, smoky flavor to it without having to add the meat if someone is interested in a vegetarian version.”

When we asked him about cooking for people with dietary restrictions, he quickly talked about his vegetarian friend for whom he makes veggie broth, veggie stuffing, and a gravy with the vegetable stock.


RECIPE: Vegetable Stock (suitable for gravy, soups, and stuffing)

As we see with most made from scratch stocks, Micek wasn’t specific about ingredient amounts. He did share that the components of his stock include dried shiitake mushrooms and a variety of carrots, onions, fresh mushrooms, and possibly tomatoes. He said it makes a huge difference if you roast these items first.

Once your water is at a rolling boil, add the mushrooms and vegetables along with bay leaf. Boil it for hours until the stock reduces significantly and the flavors are concentrated. To finish it, he adds a dash of Worcestershire, parsley, and peppercorns to taste. He also noted that since Worcestershire contains anchovies, that would not be suitable for vegan guests, so soy sauce or Mirin could be used instead. Once it has been cooked down, strain the hard items out and use the stock as needed.


 

West Side Tavern’s Chef Andy Kaufman and Owner Wes Isbutt. Photo: Judi Morell

Holiday Meals for Other Chefs, Servers in Longmont
Chef Andy Kaufman, West Side Tavern

For our holiday prep research, we talked to West Side Tavern’s Chef Andy Kaufman and Owner Wes Isbutt. Both men spoke about what it’s like to be Jewish during the holidays. “Liquor stores, gas stations, and grocers close on Christmas. It feels different when you aren’t celebrating,” said Isbutt. “But at least the Asian restaurants are open. Last year Sumo, the restaurant at Harvest Junction in Longmont, was open, and they sold a ton of sake.”

Kaufman, who has worked in fine dining after going to culinary school in the Boston area, spent time at kitchens in Boston and Washington state where he fondly recalled time spent at Pike Place Market. He moved to Colorado where he spent time at L’Atelier in Denver and at The Fork in Lyons.

Some of what Kaufman appreciates about cooking in Longmont at West Side Tavern is that it’s smaller. “You have the run of the mill in terms of what you can make and do, as opposed to a larger place where people are telling you what to do. And it’s a friendly place. I’ve made more friends in Longmont than I made in any other place my entire life.”

He told us that, uniquely, a lot of friends in the restaurant industry choose West Side for the holidays, something that Kaufman celebrates, saying, “We’ll bend over backwards for them.”

Kaufman said that he normally doesn’t cook during the holidays, but the menu he described is based on the Christmas Eve dinner he makes for the other restaurant staff. During that time, he typically brings a traditional meal to the restaurant. “We cook off a big prime rib, the Roast Beast, if you will. It’s delicious, and it can serve 15 to 20 people.” He seasons his beef traditionally, slow roasted for about four hours in the oven, and serves it with a horseradish crème fraîche.

Kaufman’s sides are the part of the meal where he ensures his food will work well for people with dietary restrictions. Sides include green beans with onion and garlic and a little vinegar or puréed yams with maple syrup and cinnamon and baby carrots, roasted in the oven with honey and agave. He roasts his vegetables first, laying them out on a sheet pan where they get just the right amount of char.

Overall, these sides and the main dish are just what their guests are looking for during the holidays . It leaves their stomachs full and their spirits satisfied with the friendships and good food they experience at West Side Tavern.


RECIPE: Mock Horseradish Crème Fraîche for Roast Meats

While traditional crème fraîche calls for cream left out overnight, Kaufman knows that this isn’t the safest practice. Instead, he’s developed a recipe for a mock version of the beloved condiment that’s a must-have for roasted beef rib and prime rib.

He shared that it’s a ratio of 2/3 sour cream to 1/3 heavy cream. Start with a dash of horseradish and lemon, add salt and pepper, season to taste.


 

Casian Seafood’s Chef-owner Dovi Xiong. Photo: Judi Morell

Hmong Holiday Eating
Chef-owner Dovi Xiong, Casian Seafood

We’re fortunate to speak with Chef/Owner and James Beard Award Semifinalist Dovi Xiong of Casian Seafood in Lafayette about the foods inspired by his heritage.

As a second-generation Hmong-American, Xiong, who goes by the name Dovi, said he’s grown more Americanized over the years and that this is reflected in how he celebrates the holidays. But when his family arrived in this country, things were different. His parents didn’t always celebrate the traditions, but that eventually changed. “With their jobs in corporate America, they were offered a free turkey, and they didn’t turn it down. Now it’s part of the holiday, though they’ve added egg rolls, the same ones I make in the restaurant,” Dovi said with a laugh. He added that meals may also have two other soups, khao piak with a chicken base and kapoon, which can be made with either chicken, pork, or fish.

Dovi described the feel of his holiday gatherings: “It’s a very tight-knit inner circle that we really do keep. In our custom, we call everyone aunts and uncles, but at the holidays, we focus on our actual aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. That’s who we share time and our meal with.”

He said his gatherings have been bigger than what his parents hosted. “Sometimes there are neighbors and co-workers. It’s a huge contrast between what we do now and the way my parents have held their celebrations.”

When we asked him for a holiday memory that stands out, he answered quickly: “Hmong New Year. It’s right around Thanksgiving time ahead of the traditional Chinese New Year. It’s celebrated then because it is more convenient. Households have to host small gatherings to welcome the new year and usher in prosperity. Ceremonies and specific blessings by the head of the household are a key part of the festivities.”

This year, Dovi plans to go to his father’s home. “I still consider him a key part of my family, even though we live in separate houses. It’s the one main holiday tradition that I’ll always remember, and my kids will always know that too.”


Recipe: Traditional Larb

Dovi told us that the standout recipe he prepares at the holidays is larb — a raw beef salad with lots of green — green onions, cilantro, basil, and minced lemongrass. He declined to share exact proportions  but did explain how the thinly sliced raw meat was combined with the greens in proportions that he enjoys and that he knows work for his guests. (Here’s a version we found online to give you some perspective.) Dovi makes a cooked, less spicy version each year for the kids and teenagers.


 

Snarf’s Owner Jimmy Seidel

Leftovers: Sandwiches that Don’t Hold Back
Owner Jimmy Seidel, Snarf’s Sandwiches

As we work on this article every year, we’ve tried to be sure we don’t leave out some restaurant goers’s favorite part of a holiday meal: leftovers. For this edition, we turned to Jimmy Seidel of Snarf’s Sandwiches, the beloved sandwich shop that started in Boulder and now has more than 30 locations throughout Colorado, Missouri, and Texas.

Before talking to us about his sandwich, Seidel shared how he celebrates. “You better be ready,” he said before describing a lengthy affair that’s two days of work. He personally handles kitchen duty during the holidays and cooking for his family means there’s going to be both a turkey and a prime rib. There’s also all the fixings and fruit pie to finish things off. “It’s a two-day affair but ultimately it means I’m surrounding myself with my friends and really enjoying myself.”

However, one two-day affair isn’t enough for him — each year he typically does two Thanksgivings. The following weekend he invites 40 to 50 friends over for what he lovingly calls a “second giving” with two turkeys and a prime rib. “I need to rest up for that,” he admitted.

With all of this cooking, Jimmy’s got a lot of experience creating leftover sandwiches. “Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite things of the year. I look forward to it all year. I make a big mess of food. But my favorite thing the next day is to make this.”

He gave us some of his tips: “I have a favorite sandwich, and it’s got turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas, and gravy that I put on my bread. I can put cranberries on it too. The gravy substitutes for an aioli.” He uses their Snarf’s white bread when he makes the sandwich, and he’s also not afraid to mix it up, dipping it in gravy like a French dip for a less messy experience or substituting the prime rib for turkey.

When it comes to making the sandwich for people with dietary restrictions, one of the biggest things he does is use different bread, as the gluten in traditional bread has been known to cause a lot of issues for some individuals. One of the beautiful things about sandwiches is how easily it can be customized. It’s possible to have a vegetarian version of a leftovers sandwich, particularly if a group cooked a turkey alternative the night before.

Seidel also considered alcohol pairings for Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches. He pairs either the formal turkey dinner or a turkey or vegetarian sandwich with a beer or white wine. As a wine drinker opting for turkey, he said he suggests a white burgundy or a Chardonnay from the Willamette Valley. “The acid of the wine cuts through the richness of the gravy and pairs really well,” he explains.


RECIPE: Seidel’s Savory Gravy

Seidel knows that gravy is perfect with a warm sandwich, and everyone who cooks a roast likely has their own technique to make the gravy their own. When Seidel is in front of the stove, he removes much of the liquid and leaves turkey fat and butter in the pan. He then adds flour directly into that and swears that this is how he never has to deal with lumps. Once incorporated, he adds the liquid back in and may add additional chicken stock if it’s needed.


 

Author

Deborah Cameron
Deb brings a passion for community journalism and for the local food scene. She started out as an intern and over the years grew into our current Cuisine Editor. She has appeared in multiple publications including the Longmont Leader, The Left Hand Valley Courier, Ms. Mayhem, Finance101, and Ask.com. When not writing she's eating, road tripping, dog-parking, or watching high school softball. She moved to Colorado from Seattle in the early 2000s after spending a year traveling the U.S. in a teal Ford Escort hatchback. She lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a rescue dog named Charlie.

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