Flavors of the Holidays

by Victoria Bourne | photography by Rich-Joseph Facun | illustrations by Walt Taylor | chalk art by Jordan Trotter

The appreciation of the holiday meal starts long before the table is set – first with the nose, then the eyes, and finally the tongue. When we have finished indulging, we have sated more than our appetites. Our souls are filled by family – relations of blood or our own making – celebrating bounty and love.  Here at Distinction we know what those who merely savor the meal may never realize: the joy of building the perfect menu. In that spirit, we bring you five holiday recipes from five wonderful local chefs.  Please, enjoy.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound small cremini mushrooms

¾ cup thinly sliced shallots

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1 pound whole chestnuts (from a jar or bag)

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

cup dry sherry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

 

Preparation

Melt butter in sauté pan over medium-high heat.

Add mushrooms and sauté till tender and browned.

Add shallots and garlic, and cook until shallots are softened.

Add chestnuts, thyme, dry sherry, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until sherry is evaporated.

Add heavy cream; simmer until cream is thickened to a light sauce.

Re-season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Erick Heilig
Executive chef & owner
of Eat: An American Bistro
Virginia Beach

 For Erick Heilig, family holidays are a time of camaraderie, not obligation.
“A lot of families say they get together and they see people they don’t want to see,” Heilig says. “That’s not it at all with us. We’re always stoked about the food, and excited about seeing each other and hanging out.”  “My favorite thing in the world is turkey. I love Thanksgiving turkey – it’s the highlight for me.”  Many dishes dot the holiday table: his mom’s stuffing, which is famous among his friends and frequent dinner companions; a creamed corn dish his sister can’t do without; and “over toasted” rolls, which manage to get burnt every single year, he says.
But the defining dish is his mom’s mushroom and chestnuts – “It’s so us,” he says.

Serves 8

“Start the recipe with the croutons first,” McGann says.  “Croutons, then sausage, then vegetables, then oysters and herbs.”

 Ingredients

Fresh Toasted Croutons

8 cups french bread, cubed (¾ inch)

and toasted

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

½  teaspoon poultry seasoning

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, toss the bread cubes with olive oil, seasoning and salt, coating evenly. Toast the bread on a sheet pan for 12-14 minutes or until golden brown.  Set aside.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 cup onions, small dice

1½ cups celery, washed, peeled and medium-diced

½ cup fennel, medium dice

½ cup carrots, small dice

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

1 pint oysters in their liquor (whole, shucked and chilled). McGann suggests Shooting Point Oyster Company from the Eastern Shore.

½ cup chicken stock, white wine, or some combination of both

½ cup chopped fresh herbs – use parsley, sage, thyme and rosemary

6 ounces Southern breakfast sausage, rendered (optional)

Fresh Toasted Croutons (recipe above)

½ stick salted butter, cubed

Preparation

Render the sausage in a skillet and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 F .

Grease 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic casserole dish at least 2 inches deep.

Heat the olive oil in a medium-wide sauce pan over medium-high heat.

Sauté the vegetables, stirring frequently, for 6-7 minutes until they are just soft. Season with salt and several turns of fresh-ground pepper.

Add oysters and liquor, plus chicken stock, wine or mixture. Simmer oysters on medium-high heat in stock until just cooked through – about 8-10 minutes.

Fold in herbs and let the mixture cool to room temperature.

In a mixing bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients, fold the wet mixture quickly in with Fresh Toasted Croutons, adding rendered sausage if desired.

Place in casserole dish and dot top with butter.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Sam McGann
Executive chef & co-owner
of Blue Point Grill
Duck

For Sam McGann, holiday gatherings in the Norfolk home his grandfather built inspired a passion for Southern hospitality.
“I’ve always felt the most honest food you cook is the food you cook yourself at home – that either has memories from when you were growing up or something that you just do for your friends when you’re at home.”
His stuffing recipe originated as a whim-sical garnish for The Blue Point’s oyster stew, but it reminded him of those holiday gatherings in Norfolk. Its origins are traditional, but “the vegetables, the wine-poached oysters, the butter dolloped on top, the splash of stock of some sort adds a personal touch to it.” The fresh, just-toasted homemade
croutons make this stuffing special, he says. The delicate seasonings and the fresh herbs give a flavor profile that makes the difference in a personal sense, that this is “my stuffing,” and not a prepared one.

This recipe is written as a traditional baking recipe. Make sure you have an accurate kitchen scale.
Start sponge a day before making the kugelhopf.

Ingredients
SPONGE Grams Ounces
Bread flour 145 5.13
Water 87 3.08
Instant dry yeast pinch pinch
Total 233 8.21
Mix ingredients until incorporated. Let sit covered overnight at room temperature, preferably in a glass bowl.

Final Dough                                                          Grams                           Ounces
Bread flour                                                            400                                14.11
Cold milk                                                                61                                    2.15
Cold eggs                                                                102                                 3.60 = 2 large eggs
Granulated sugar                                                22                                   0.77
Salt                                                                          12                                    0.42
Instant dry yeast                                                 3                                      0.10
Sponge                                                                     233                                 8.21
Butter at room temperature                            117                                  4.12
Ham/prosciutto – diced                                     146                                 5.15
Shallots – small dice                                           146                                 5.15
Fresh minced parsley                                         9                                      0.32
Swiss/Gruyere cheese – shredded                  146                                  0.52
Total                                                                        1,397                             49.2

Preparation
Put sponge, milk and eggs into the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook. Add flour, sugar, salt, yeast and butter. Mix on low speed until ingredients are well incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Mix on medium until the dough comes together in a smooth mass, about 10-12 minutes. If the dough does not come together around hook within 3 minutes, slowly sprinkle with flour until it does. Return the mixer to low speed and add in ham/prosciutto, shallots, parsley and cheese. Mix until incorporated. Remove dough from the bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Place into an oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
Press the dough lightly to de-gas and form into a ball again. Use your fingers to open a hole in the middle of the ball large enough to fit over the cone/center of the kugelhopf/bundt pan.

Place the dough into a sprayed kugelhopf/bundt pan and let rise covered in a cool place for 1-1½ hours.

Preheat convection oven to 335 F, a standard oven to 375. Bake for 30 minutes (convection), 40 (standard). Remove from oven, invert onto a cooling rack and remove the pan. Brush with melted clarified butter or sprinkle with shredded cheese and place under broiler until cheese melts, being careful not to burn the kugelhopf.

Alternate recipe, for 11 individual “muffins”
Preheat oven to 335 F (convection) or 375 F (standard). Divide the dough into 11 equal pieces of 4.5 ounces (125 grams) and lightly ball. Place balls on a floured surface and cover with a towel to rest (20-30 minutes). De-gas balls; shape into balls again and place into greased muffin tins. Let rise for
1-1½ hours. Top with shredded cheese and bake 25 minutes. Once cooled, remove from pan and serve.

Georg Seyrlehner
Baker & c0-owner
of Artisans Bakery & Cafe
Olde Towne Portsmouth

Born to German and Austrian parents, baker Georg Seyrlehner (pronounced “Sire-liner”) fondly recalls large, Europe-infused holiday gatherings that reflected New and Old World traditions.
“As a typical German family, we would celebrate Christmas on the 24th. It was always a big dinner,” he says, and his grandmother was often at the helm.
Alongside ham and turkey, there was koteletten (pork cutlet with fried onions); varenyky (dumplings stuffed with meat, cheese or sauerkraut); rouladen (a meat roll with filling); and a fish dish of orange roughy.
“It was always about people coming together around the table,” he says – slowing down, catching up, just visiting.
Seyrlehner’s savory kugelhopf recipe is inspired by a sweet kugelhopf made by an Austrian relative for special occasions. His version is more breadlike than its marble cake cousin, and can be served with a holiday meal, he says – if it makes it to the table.
“It is too darn easy to snack on.”

Yields a dozen 3-inch cake pans with removable bottoms or one casserole dish lined with Meers’ Simple Sugar Dough (recipe follows).

Ingredients
3 large or 4 medium sweet potatoes, Beauregard orange
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
4 ounces butter, unsalted
3 ounces white sugar
3 ounces light brown sugar
3 extra-large eggs
1 ounce sweet bourbon
(like Ancient Age, 12 year)
4 ounces tart dried cherries

Pecan Topping
6 ounces chopped pecans
3 ounces light brown sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

Preparation
Preheat oven: Convection to 300 F or still oven to 350 F. Line the pan. You can use butter and sprinkle some crushed pecan or granulated sugar and dust like when dressing a cake pan with flour, or use his Simple Sugar Dough.
Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces, toss with salt and pepper, and place in a sauté pan or stock pot. Barely cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.
Soak cherries in bourbon that’s been warmed in the microwave for 40 seconds (or brought to a boil on stove top).
When the sweet potatoes are fork tender, drain the pot. Add butter, white sugar and brown sugar to potatoes while they’re hot. Using a hand masher or food processor, blend to smooth.
Beat eggs until light and pulled together, then stir into sweet potato mixture until blended well.
Stir/fold the bourbon cherry mixture into the sweet potato mixture and place in preferred cooking pan.
Mix pecans, brown sugar and butter and spread on top of casserole.

Bake 20 minutes in a convection oven or 35 in a still oven. Let rest for 20 minutes. Eat now or let cool completely. Don’t refrigerate.

Syd’s Simple Sugar Dough
This recipe is written for a mixer but can also be done by hand.
1 pound unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
6 cups pastry or all-purpose flour

Preparation
Cream butter and sugar together on high speed until soft and sugar begins to dissolve a bit. Stop mixer and scrape down sides.
Add flour all at once. Mix at the lowest speed until it just pulls together – don’t over-mix. Dough is now ready to use and will have to be patted out; it’s too rich in butter and doesn’t have the structure to be a roll-out dough. When patting out, the dough should follow the shape of the pan and only be 1/4 inch thick. If thinner it won’t hold together; any thicker and you’re eating a brick.

Sydney Meers
Chef & owner of Stove
Portsmouth

For Sydney Meers, holidays in his rural Mississippi home were made from scratch.
As Thanksgiving approached, he says, his mother and grandmother would go and shoot down mistletoe out of trees. “They would get pine cones and pine needles and they would decorate  fireplace mantels and all around the house so we knew it was holiday time,” he says.
They’d shoot their own turkey, too, and right before Christmas, his grandmother would get busy baking pies.
“Where we were, sweet potato pie you didn’t make,” says Meers. “That was always a casserole.” His grandmother’s recipe included cherries soaked in mystery liqueur from her “private stock under the sink,” he says. Meers uses whiskey that, if time allows, he boils on the stove. When the heat is turned off, what’s left behind is a syrup that’s oaky, sweet, slightly alcoholic – and divine.

Serves 6
Ingredients
6 egg yolks
1 whole egg
6 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ quart heavy cream
1 cup pumpkin pack
5 ounces white chocolate

Preparation
Preheat oven to 325 F.
Whisk eggs and sugar into a bowl until the sugar dissolves and the mixture starts to lighten in color.
Add vanilla and heavy cream, and whisk together.
Add pumpkin and whisk until smooth.
Melt white chocolate in a metal bowl over a pan of simmering water. When chocolate has melted, pour brûlée mixture into it and whisk thoroughly.

Pour into desired ramekin molds and bake in a water bath until the custard sets – usually about 45 minutes, depending on the depth of the ramekin. The water bath is very important; “otherwise you’re going to end up with sweet scrambled eggs,” Williams says. Water in the bath should come three-fourths of the way up the mold.
After cooling, the brûlée should be left in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours before bringing out to sugar and torch. A bonus: It can be made in the morning and refrigerated until ready to serve after dinner.

When ready to serve, cover the custard evenly with a generous amount of granulated (white) sugar. Shake off excess and carefully torch until the sugar darkens and forms a glaze. You can also freestyle a bit, he says – in the past he has added cranberries or strawberries as a garnish.

Alvin Williams
Executive chef & co-owner
of Cobalt Grille
Virginia Beach

Alvin Williams remembers his parents cooking every day during his childhood in Leeds, England.
At Christmastime, Williams’ favorite was a plum pudding and white sauce, plus a morning meal of Caribbean flavors honoring their Jamaican heritage. “They’d always have a big breakfast with ackee and salt fish,” he says, as well as “callaloo, which is somewhat similar to spinach, and fried dumplings.”
Though roast turkey and roasted potatoes are commonalities between Williams’ upbringing and his adopted American home, pumpkin pie was not, he says. He created his creme brûlée recipe at Cobalt a few years ago, bringing European flair to a classic dish.
“It’s light and creamy, full of pumpkin and holiday flavor,” he says. “You get a little extra sweetness because of the white chocolate.”
“It’s ‘more-ish,'” he adds. “You always want a little bit more.”