In the coming weeks, you're likely to gather with friends and family to eat and celebrate the holidays and another year come and gone. You could make the same thing you make every year — maybe marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes? Or cheese dip? Or Kroger's rotisserie chicken? We're not knocking it: There's something to be said for tradition. But sometimes you get tired of tradition. Sometimes you want to step out a little bit and make something special, a holiday feast to remember. If this is that year for you, here's how to shock and awe with recipes from a handful of local chefs and a bartender. All are easily doable at home, though in a couple of cases you may have to buy a few ingredients you aren't used to. Happy cooking!
Lisa Zhang has turned a passion into a career. After spending years in management in manufacturing, she's become a restaurateur, using her experience cooking and eating throughout China, where she was born and lived until she and her family immigrated to the United States in 1999. On Dec. 18, she's holding the soft opening of Three Fold, a fast casual, authentic Chinese restaurant specializing in handmade dumplings, steamed buns and hand-stretched noodles. Up until then, Three Fold is offering a catering menu that includes items like turkey dumplings and Wuhan noodles (see the full menu at arktimes.com/threefoldcatering).
"Red braising, or hong shao, is a traditional Chinese cooking method that involves braising meat in equal parts soy sauce, cooking wine and sugar until it is very tender and coated in a thick, caramelized sauce," Zhang said. "Used throughout the northern, eastern and southeastern regions of mainland China, it is a method that can be used to prepare a variety of meats, such as pork belly, duck and ribs."
Zhang also provided a method for folks without easy access to a store that sells Chinese products.
3 to 4 lbs. (12-15 pieces) pork ribs
1 piece of fresh 1 1⁄2 inch-long ginger, peeled and smashed
4 to 5 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
White parts of 2 scallions, roughly sliced
1 C. Chinese cooking rice wine
1 C. soy sauce
1 C. granulated sugar
1 T. dark soy sauce
1 bottle dark beer
2 C. ketchup
4 T. of brown sugar
1 T. salt
Fill a large bowl with cold water. Submerge the ribs and soak for 2 to 3 hours.
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Drain the ribs and dry thoroughly with a paper towel. Place the ribs in the pan and brown on all sides. Add garlic, ginger and green onions to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, being careful not to burn them.
Carefully pour in the cooking wine and, after about 5 seconds, pour in the soy sauce. After another 5 seconds, add the sugar to the pan and stir. Add boiling water to the mixture — the amount should be enough to just cover the ribs, about 4 cups. Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Skim the surface to remove the mixture of any impurities.
Once boiling, reduce the heat and bring to a simmer, then cover and continue cooking on the stove until the meat falls easily off the bone, about 1 hour.
Remove the lid from the pan and simmer the liquid and ribs over medium-high heat until the mixture is significantly reduced and is thick and bubbly. Turn off the heat and transfer the ribs and sauce to a serving dish.
To garnish: Sprinkle with roasted sesame seeds and finely sliced scallions (green part). For a different flavor, sprinkle with an herb of your choice, such as basil or cilantro.
For a little heat, chop two dried hot peppers and stir into the sauce when simmering.
Brian Deloney knows Louisiana-style cooking. The Little Rock native spent years as Emeril Lagasse's executive sous chef in New Orleans and Las Vegas, before returning home to help Lee Richardson, another vet of Lagasse's restaurant empire, reopen the Capital Hotel's restaurants. Deloney opened Maddie's Place in 2009, quickly earning a dedicated following for his from-scratch takes on Cajun/Creole-inspired comfort food. For our recipe round-up, he offers two gumbo recipes to pick from depending on how long you have and how big your crowd is.
Chicken stock (make night before making gumbo)
Bones from whole smoked chicken
1 large onion, chopped
1 C. medium diced carrots
1 C. medium diced celery
4 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
fresh thyme sprigs
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
8 C. water
Bake chicken bones at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Saute coarse cut onions, celery and carrots in oil in large stockpot over medium heat. Add bones and seasonings and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer 3 to 4 hours. Cool completely. Strain and set aside.
Roux (make night before making gumbo)
1⁄2 C. canola oil
1 C. flour
Crystal hot sauce
1 dark beer
Heat oil in cast iron skillet. Add 1 cup flour and stir until brown. Turn down heat and continue to brown roux 20 to 40 minutes. Remove from fire and take outside: Add Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, beer and creole seasoning. Be careful! Stir and let cool. Refrigerate overnight.
One 4- to 6-lb. smoked chicken (remove meat, save bones for stock)
2 lbs. andouille (or smoked) sausage, sliced 1⁄4 inch thick
2 T. canola oil
3 C. onion, diced ¼ inch
2 C. green bell pepper, seeded, 1⁄4-inch diced
1 C. celery, 1⁄4-inch diced
12 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
16-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1⁄2 C. chopped green onions
1⁄4 C. Worcestershire sauce
Crystal hot sauce
Tabasco hot sauce
1 dark beer
Into a small amount of canola oil add chopped onion and cook until translucent and tender. Add celery, bell pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Saute until tender, stirring frequently. Add drained diced tomatoes, Emeril's essence and let heat up. Whisk in 8 cups cold chicken stock. Cover and bring to boil. Add andouille sausage and chicken meat. Turn down heat and simmer uncovered 30 minutes. Skim to remove grease. Whisk in roux. Add Worcestershire, salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste. Cook roux out, 1 hour at high simmer. Serve over rice and garnish with chopped green onions. Serves 10-12.
½ C. oil
½ C. flour
2 boneless chicken breasts OR 1 Sam's chicken
2 T. oil
1 T. bacon fat
1 lb. andouille sausage, sliced
1 C. diced onion
½ C. diced bell pepper
½ C. diced celery
1 quart rich beef stock
¼ T. liquid smoke
¼ T. Tabasco
1 T. Worcestershire
½ T. Creole seasoning
½ T. black pepper
½ T. garlic powder
Make a roux with the oil and flour. Set aside. Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces. Brown the chicken in the oil about 5 minutes; add sausage and brown 5 more minutes. Stir in the vegetables and cook 5 minutes or until they are transparent. Add stock, liquid smoke and Tabasco. Stir slowly until thoroughly mixed. Stir in Creole seasoning, black pepper, garlic powder and roux. Simmer on low for 45 minutes. Serve over rice. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Some restaurants talk about sourcing local foods more from a marketing standpoint than philosophy. But local food truly is the reason for being for The Root Cafe. The homey, popular South Main restaurant almost exclusively uses local vegetables, meats and cheeses. Owners Jack and Corri Sundell offered two recipes that rely heavily on produce that's available locally this time of the year. Jack noted that Arkansas black apples, used in one of his recipes below, stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to five months. He recommends getting them from Drewry Orchard in Dover, which sells through the Arkansas Local Food Network at littlerock.locallygrown.net. Also, he suggests finding "beautiful" local collard greens at the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Saturdays. "Just look for Barnhill Orchard's booth and talk to Bob," he said.
5 lbs sweet potatoes, washed but not peeled (look for sweet potatoes about the size and shape of a russet potato)
2/3 C. dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 C. heavy cream
2 T. butter
1/2 C. peeled, chopped apple
1/4 C. cognac or brandy
Wash the sweet potatoes but do not peel. Boil in water to cover until barely soft, about 15 minutes. Drain, cool and peel. Slice 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch thick into a greased casserole, sprinkling kosher salt liberally on each layer. (Sweet potatoes can be boiled and refrigerated unpeeled for the next day).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan, bring to a boil the brown sugar, cream and butter.
Add the cognac and apples, simmer 1 minute, and pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes, making sure the apple chunks are evenly distributed over the top.
Bake uncovered 30 minutes, basting several times with the syrup in the casserole.
Garnish with a sprinkle of crushed toasted pecans.
For a lower-fat version of this recipe substitute 1/4 cup of milk, water or apple cider for the heavy cream.
2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 T. minced garlic (about 5 medium cloves)
2 to 3 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 tsp. curry or lemon curry powder
1 1/2 lbs. stemmed collard greens, washed and cut in approximately 3-inch pieces (you'll need about 2 lbs. of greens before stemming)
1/2 C. chicken stock
One 14-oz. can coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 T. lime juice
1 T. olive oil
Heat oil in heavy-bottom pan over medium heat. Stew onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt until softening, about 5 minutes.
Add garlic, ginger, and curry powder and cook until fragrant.
Add half the greens, lower the heat a little bit, and stir until the greens have wilted. Add rest of greens, coconut milk, broth and 1/4-teaspoon salt, cover pot, and reduce heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, about 30 minutes. Avoid overstirring.
Remove lid and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat, stir in olive oil and lime juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
This recipe also works with any variety of kale, which is also easy to find at the market. We prefer collard greens because they retain their texture a little better, but kale also makes for a great side dish.
For a vegetarian version just substitute a vegetable broth for the chicken stock.
Early next year, Chris and Samatha Tanner will open Samantha's Tap Room and Wood Grill in The Mann at 4th and Main streets, next door to Bruno's Little Italy. The owners of Cheer's in the Heights will be serving up their "No. 1s" from 18 years in the catering business and 14 years at Cheers. That'll include the likes of roasted cremini mushrooms with bacon and parmesan; Argentinean-spiced steak skewers; grilled shrimp and skirt steak, and crisp sweet waffles and fine ice cream. Plus, there'll be a massive bar with dozens of beers and wines on draft, big TVs and charging stations everywhere.
For his recipe submission, Chris Tanner submitted his take on that holiday standard: dressing and gravy.
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. oregano leaves
2 tsp. dried sage
3 T. butter
1/2 C. each diced celery, bell peppers and onion
1 C. finely chopped Andouille sausage
2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 C. flour
3 1/2 C. chicken stock
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
Mix and set aside the seasonings: salt, peppers, oregano and sage. Melt butter in saucepan, add vegetables, Andouille sausage, garlic and seasoning mix and saute for 8 minutes. Add flour and cook for 1 minute. Add chicken stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Then add chopped egg.
2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. oregano leaves
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 stick butter
1 C. each diced celery, bell peppers and onion
1 T. minced garlic
3 bay leaves
2 C. chicken stock
1 T. Tabasco
7 C. crumbled cornbread
One 13-ounce can evaporated milk
Mix and set aside the seasonings: salt, peppers, oregano, onion powder and thyme. Melt butter in saucepan. Add vegetables, garlic, bay leaves and seasoning mix. Mix and saute eight minutes, then add chicken stock and Tabasco. Bring to a boil, then add to cornbread. Add evaporated milk and three eggs. Put in 13- by 9-inch baking dish. Cook at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
With 20 years of experience in Little Rock kitchens, Tim Morton knows how to please a crowd. Here, he presents a variation on the ultimate comfort food, baked macaroni and cheese. Use Gruyere cheese and Pernod if available; otherwise, Swiss and white wine will work fine. Bechamel, the classic roux-based white sauce, binds together the seafood and the mac and cheese.
2 oz. chopped shrimp
4 oz. steamed lobster meat
2 T. butter
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 T. chopped shallot (or minced onion)
3 C. Bechamel sauce
5 T. butter
4 T. white flour
4 C. milk, heated
Salt and pepper to taste
1 T. Pernod (or white wine)
2 T. chopped basil
3 C. grated Gruyere (or Swiss cheese)
1 lb. cooked macaroni noodles
Bread crumbs (optional)
First, cook the macaroni separately (and the lobster, if it's not precooked).
Prepare the bechamel. Warm the milk on low heat until close to boiling. In a separate heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt 5 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir constantly until the mixture just begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Then, gradually stir in the heated milk and whisk the mixture continuously while bringing to a slow boil. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring or whisking constantly as the sauce thickens. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
In another large pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the shallot, garlic and chopped shrimp, and saute for three minutes.
Add the Pernod (or white wine) to deglaze. Then, stir in the bechamel sauce and the cooked lobster. Add the noodles, cheese and basil and let simmer over low heat for 2 minutes.
Spoon the mixture into a baking dish and top with optional bread crumbs, if desired. Bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees.
Sonia Schaefer, co-owner of Boulevard Bread Co. and head baker, feels your pain. "The holidays can seem overwhelming, and cooking isn't everyone's strong suit. That in mind, this is a simple holiday recipe that anyone can make without too much trouble and then put pictures of the results on Instagram to pretend they are festive and know what they are doing."
As for Boulevard, look for the addition to the restaurant and bakery mini-chain's flagship outlet in the Heights to open later this year or early next year. The expansion will include a new large dining room, a bar and more outdoor seating.
1 lb. butter
1 lb. plus 14 ounces of sugar
1 T. vanilla
2 ½ lbs. flour
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 T. plus 2 tsp. baking powder
4 C. eggnog
3 T. rum
Using a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together for approximately 5 minutes on high speed. Add eggs and vanilla to the butter and sugar mixture slowly on low speed and mix them until incorporated.
Sift the flour, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and baking powder together.
Finally, alternate the dry ingredients and nog-rum mixture into the egg-butter-sugar-vanilla mixture on low speed until completely incorporated.
Place in two greased loaf pans approximately two-thirds full.
Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
This spring, Lauren Harrison moved her sweets-baking establishment from an Airstream trailer in Fayetteville to a food truck in Little Rock. The Pie Hole quickly has gained a reputation around town as one of Little Rock's best new food trucks, and Harrison said the move has been nothing but good for business. She said she's been delighted to find an active, enthusiastic food culture here that has not yet developed as fully in Northwest Arkansas.
Serving a slice or two of sharp cheddar alongside warm apple pie isn't as common in the South as it is elsewhere — especially Vermont, we're told — but it's a sweet/savory combination that everyone should try. In this recipe, the cheese is baked right into a crumbly topping to form an upper crust.
One pie pan lined with pastry crust (frozen or homemade)
4 large pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/3 C. sugar
1 T. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 C. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 C. flour
1/4 C. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 C. butter, melted
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, combine sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add the pears and mix well, coating the fruit with the dry ingredients. Then, arrange evenly into the pie shell. To make the topping, combine cheese, flour, salt and sugar and mix well. Drizzle melted butter over the mixture and combine until crumbly. Sprinkle the topping over the pear filling. Bake at 425 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 20 minutes before slicing.
David Burnette knows how to mix a drink to get you into the holiday spirit. The South on Main bartender, who's regularly picked as one of the Arkansas Times' readers favorite bartenders in our Toast of the Town poll, has won the Historic Arkansas Museum's Nog-Off eggnog competition four years in a row. He's not competing, but his run of victories will be honored at the 10th annual competition on Dec. 12.
But when we asked for a holiday cocktail recipe, he had rum on his mind, namely El Dorado, a 12-year-old variety newly available in Central Arkansas. That's the base for the L'Optimisme, a new cocktail on South on Main's fall/winter menu. The name comes from the French title of Voltaire's "Candide, or The Optimist." The satire's titular character was happiest when he was in El Dorado, Burnette said.
"If a knowledgeable bartender were to read this recipe, he would probably write this one off as a simple rip-off of a basic Old Fashioned recipe, but I feel like these ingredients, when properly proportioned together, sing an interestingly unique song," Burnette said.
2 ounces El Dorado 12
1/2 oz. raw sugar syrup (1:1 ratio by volume sugar in the raw to hot water)
2 dashes Peychaud's Bitters
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters No. 6
3-5 drops Rothman and Winter Allspice Dram
Orange peel (a big fat one) for garnish
A good chunk of ice, preferably made with water from near Hot Springs
Combine the first five ingredients in a pint glass and stir with a spoon for 30 to 45 seconds.
Dash the Allspice Dram into your double Old Fashioned glass, and swirl around, making the glass smell like a cross between Christmas and a honeymoon in Jamaica.
Drop in the good chunk of Arkansas ice, strain your concocted Optimism over it, and twist the big fat orange peel for freshness and zest. Enjoy.
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