The holiday season’s here, and no matter what you celebrate, there’s typically one common denominator: food.
Whether it’s cooking a Thanksgiving meal for 20 or trying to spice up old family favorites for a small Christmas dinner, prepping a holiday spread can be tricky. But the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA) has some recipes and tips that can make the holidays (or at the least the meal parts of them) go a bit smoother.
The chefs at CSCA like to put new spins on traditional favorites and seasonal flavors, like a pumpkin gnocchi or a warm apple, kale, and fennel salad.
“We’ve been having holidays, most people, since we were kids, and a lot of people are still making the same old glazed carrot dish,” says Jerrod Perry, manager of recreational programs and private events at CSCA. “Which is awesome, it’s there for a reason, but do you know how to do an oblique cut? Get some rainbow carrots, do an oblique cut, and all of a sudden you have these cool-looking carrots. Those are things that we kind of get a kick out of—how to shake it up just enough for people, because a lot of people don’t want their holidays to be too different.”
Of course, the recipes are only half the battle. There’s the actual cooking—the prepping and broiling and baking.
Perry says one concept can make all the difference in your holiday cooking: mise en place. Mise en place, or the strategy of preparing everything you’ll need to cook a dish ahead of time, is one of the core teachings among chefs, according to Perry. The CSCA staff emphasizes mise en place in its classes, too, as the school offers courses on everything from baking techniques to quick holiday appetizers.
Another game changer is your knife set. Perry encourages cooks to have good, sharp knives, and says injuries happen more often with a dull blade. “Knowing how to use your knife correctly will make your holidays so much more efficient,” he says.
His final piece of advice is to get creative with how you cook your dishes. If you’re cooking nearly everything on your stove, the burners fill up fast. Use your oven and broiler, he says—you can even cook your turkey on a grill.
Here are three make-at-home, seasonal recipes from CSCA. You can make these recipes ahead of time, which means more time to spend with family and friends during the actual celebration.
Maple-Pecan Sticky Buns (makes 24 buns)
INGREDIENTS FOR BASIC SWEET DOUGH
• 1 package active dry yeast
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• 1/4 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
• 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1. In large bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in water. Let stand until foamy, approximately 5 to 10 minutes. Add 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, butter, sour cream, vanilla extract, salt, and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of flour. Beat at medium speed for two minutes, or beat 200 vigorous strokes by hand. Stir in enough of the remaining our to make a soft dough.
2. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for four to six minutes or until smooth. Dough will feel soft and buttery, but not sticky.
3. Place dough into a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover with a slightly damp towel. Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until it doubles in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Punch down dough. Knead for 30 seconds. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
5. Butter an 18” length of waxed paper and generously grease a 13 x 9” baking pan.
INGREDIENTS FOR MAPLE TOPPING
• 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
• 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
• 1/3 cup unsalted butter
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 cup pecans, toasted and finely chopped
1. In a small saucepan, combine maple syrup, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture begins to simmer.
2. Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans.
INGREDIENTS FOR CINNAMON-NUT FILLING
• 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
• 1 cup raisins (optional)
1. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to a 24 x 12” rectangle. Spread with melted butter, leaving 1/2” border on the long side. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon-nut filling. Starting on the long side, roll up tightly, in a jelly-roll fashion. Pinch seam to seal. Cut roll into 24 equal slices. Arrange rolls cut-side down in prepared baking pan. Cover with buttered wax paper. **At this point you can wrap the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to bake in the morning.**
3. Let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in bulk, approximately one hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand in pan for one minute. Invert baked rolls onto a platter or wire rack set over waxed paper. Spoon any topping remaining in pan over rolls. Let stand for five minutes. Separate rolls by gently pulling apart with two forks. Serve warm.
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Apple Cider Reduction
• 2 cups apple cider
• 1 1/2 pounds pumpkin puree
• 1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
• 2 large egg yolks, beaten
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 4 sage leaves, coarsely chopped
• 1 teaspoon grains of paradise, crushed with mortar (or ground through a pepper mill)
1. In a small saucepan, simmer apple cider over moderately high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, approximately 20 minutes. Set aside.
2. Transfer pumpkin puree to a large bowl. Gently beat in our and egg yolks to create a dough. Season with salt and black pepper.
3. Spoon the pumpkin dough into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip. **At this point you can store the dough in the fridge to use the next day. You may also freeze the dough for up to a week without affecting quality.**
4. Working in three batches over a large saucepan of simmering water, pipe the dough, cutting it into 3/4-inch lengths, directly into the water.
5. Cook the gnocchi for 45 seconds or until they float on the surface. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to a sheet pan.
6. In each of two large skillets, melt 1 tablespoon of butter.
7. Add half the gnocchi to each pan and cook over moderate heat until golden, approximately two minutes without moving, until caramelized.
8. Add the garlic, sage, and grains of paradise, and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in reduced cider and serve.
Spatchcocked Crisp-Skinned Turkey with Gravy
Adapted from Kenji Lopez (Serious Eats)
• 1 gallon water
• 2 cups salt
• 1/2 cup sugar
• Zest of one orange
• 5 to 6 cloves
• 3 to 4 garlic cloves
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 gallons ice cubes
• 1 whole turkey (12 to 14 pounds), Spatchcocked (save the backbone, neck, and giblets for gravy)
• 3 large Vidalia onions, roughly chopped (about 1 1/2 quarts)
• 3 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 quart)
• 4 stalks celery, roughly chopped (about 1 quart)
• 12 thyme sprigs
• 8 to 10 sage leaves
• 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 quarts chicken or turkey broth
• 2 bay leaves
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 4 tablespoons our
Day 1: Brine Turkey
1. In a 4-gallon pot, bring 1 gallon of water, salt, sugar, orange zest, cloves, garlic, and bay leaves to a boil. Once boiling, turn off heat and dump in ice to chill. Liquid must be very cold before adding turkey (chunks of ice after five minutes is a good sign).
2. Transfer chilled brine to a large container big enough to hold the liquid and turkey (Chef Jerrod Perry uses heavy-duty garbage bags—double bagged) and place into a cooler surrounded by ice. This makes it easy to brine when you don’t have room in your refrigerator. Just keep that bird surrounded by plenty of ice! Brine for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours.
Day 2: Dry Turkey
3. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry. Discard brine. Place a cooling rack on a sheet tray and lay the turkey skin-side up on the pan and transfer to the refrigerator. You want to expose the skin to the cold fan of the fridge. This causes a drying effect that will help create the crispy skin you so desire. If time allows, let this sit overnight (if you don’t have the time, skip this step and go straight to oven).
Day 3: Roast Turkey
4. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss two-thirds of the onions, carrots, celery, sage and thyme sprigs in a broiler pan. Place slotted broiler rack or wire rack directly on top of vegetables. Pat turkey dry with paper towels if still wet from brine. Rub very lightly with oil. Season liberally on all surfaces with salt and black pepper. Tuck wing tips behind back.
5. Arrange turkey on top of the rack so that it does not overlap the edges. Transfer to oven and roast, rotating occasionally, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast registers 150 degrees and the thighs register at least 165 degrees (watch out for bones—which can give you a false reading), approximately 1 hour and 20 minutes.
6. While turkey roasts, make the gravy. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a 3-quart saucepan over high heat until shimmering. Add reserved neck, backbone, heart, and giblets (do not add the liver) and sear, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, approximately five minutes. Add remaining onions, carrots, and celery and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften and brown and caramelize, approximately five more minutes.
7. Add chicken or turkey stock, remaining thyme, sage, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce to a bare simmer. Cook for 45 minutes and then strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart liquid measuring cup and discard solids. Skim off any fat from the surface of the broth.
8. Make a roux by melting the butter over medium-high heat in a 2-quart saucepan. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly until roux is golden brown, three to four minutes. Whisking constantly, add hot broth in a thin, steady stream until completely incorporated. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until reduced to about 1 quart, approximately 20 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
9. When turkey is fully cooked, remove from oven and transfer rack to a new sheet pan. Tent turkey with aluminum foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before carving. Carefully pour any collected juices from out of the roasting pan through a fine-mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup. Skim off excess fat and discard. Whisk juices into gravy.
10. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.
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