Holiday Feasting

Probably my favorite cookbook (though it spends more time than on my bedside table than my kitchen counter) is Modern Priscilla Cookbook. Printed in 1924, it includes “1,000 recipes tested and proved at the Priscilla proving plant.”

I bring it up because the opening panel is a print of a Thanksgiving table. It’s enough to make Martha Stewart proud: miniature pumpkins carved into bowls to hold “nuts and bonbons” sit at each place setting. Still, even though Priscilla’s suggested Thanksgiving menus feature roast turkey, no such recipe is in the book. Which I guess goes to show that you don’t need another recipe for turkey.

So to bring some inspiration to your holiday kitchen, we’ve asked some of our favorite area chefs to share what they’ll be cooking this season. You won’t find green bean casseroles, or Priscilla’s uninspired but honest clam broth, and sweet potatoes appear only sans marshmallows. But you will find creative twists on seasonal flavors (try the cranberry and sage holidaytini), a few classics (mulled apple cider, for example), and some new traditions that are just as comforting as the old ones (like the pumpkin crème brûlée) and are as easy as, well, pie.

In case you don’t feel like doing it yourself this year, we’ve also found the best places to enjoy a cup of holiday cheer and where to pick up a ready-for-the-table meal.

Whether you end up cooking for two or for 20, we hope your holidays are filled with festive food.

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

There is perhaps nothing more quintessentially holiday than pumpkin. Although technically available year ’round (canned, at least) its warm flavor, which happens to combine so well with cozy spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, would seem out of place at any other time of year.

At Jade Restaurant (3132 State St., 563-2007), which is coming up on its first holiday season, co-owner Jeannine Green creates a pumpkin crème brûlée that is so good it will leave you never wanting pie again. “We’re all about the seasons here,” said Jeannine’s husband and Jade co-owner, Dustin Green. “Everyone has their own pumpkin tradition around the holidays, and maybe this one will become ours.”

Pumpkin Crème Brûlée Serves 6

2 c. heavy cream ½ vanilla bean stick ¾ c. prepared pumpkin pinch cinnamon pinch nutmeg 4 egg yolks ¾ c. sugar, divided

Combine cream, vanilla bean, pumpkin, and spices in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking occasionally, then remove from heat.

In a mixing bowl, mix together egg yolks and ½ cup of the sugar. Add in about ½ cup of the hot cream mixture to temper the eggs (the goal is to raise the temperature without “cooking” them), stirring constantly. Slowly add in the rest of the hot cream, and mix until incorporated.

Remove the vanilla bean, and pour mixture into six 6-ounce ramekins. Place ramekins in a large roasting pan and set in oven. Using a kettle, pour hot water into the roasting pan (not the ramekins) until the water level comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake at 325°F for about one hour, until centers are set. Remove from water bath and cool completely. (If making in advance, chill until ready to serve.)

Just before serving, sprinkle tops of the crèmes with remaining sugar in a thick, even layer, then use a crème brûlée torch to caramelize the sugar and form a crisp shell. If you don’t have a crème brûlée torch, set ramekins under the broiler briefly to caramelize the sugar top.

Holiday Drinks

If holiday shopping leaves you in need of something to warm you up, sip one of these seasonal treats.

* Java Jones pours both the requisite spiced apple cider and the sweet caramel apple version in a perfectly cozy coffeehouse atmosphere. 728 State St., 962-4721.

* Even though there are a lot of reasons we don’t like Starbucks, there are a few very good reasons we do like them: namely, the special holiday drinks. This year they’ll be serving up a maple macchiato in addition to the regular lineup of caramel apple cider and pumpkin spice crème. All of them are very rich, so I don’t recommend ordering anything taller than a tall. Numerous locations; visit

* There is only so much apple cider you can drink, so if you’re in search of an apple-free treat, stop by Pierre Lafond for a cup of super hot chocolate. Made with real dark confectioner’s chocolate, steamed milk, and rich whipped cream, it is super indeed. Various locations; visit

* Hot or ice blended, the pumpkin pie latte at The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf will satisfy your pumpkin cravings. Various locations; visit

* Because sometimes you’re looking to cool down, Blenders in the Grass whips up seasonal specials like the pumpkin pie and the eggnog. With nonfat milk and supplements, they’re on the healthier side of holiday treats. Various locations; visit

Holiday Trivia

• Native Americans put pumpkins to much better use than just pies. Aside from food and medicinal purposes, dried strips of the squash were woven into mats. Talk about seasonal décor.

• For most of American history, Thanksgiving had nothing to do with that now-famous 1621 harvest celebration. Thanksgiving was instead a New England Puritan holiday celebrating family and community, and was often declared by colonial (and later, state) governors. It wasn’t until 1841 that an historian read an account of that first Plymouth Thanksgiving and linked the two together.

• Stuffing vs. dressing? We all know that dressing is cooked outside the bird, but you can blame the nomenclature on the Victorians, who found the word stuffing far too vulgar to be used at the dinner table.

• It takes 4,400 cranberries to make a single gallon of cranberry juice.

• The bird that graced the first Thanksgiving table was just as likely to have been a swan, duck, or goose as it was to have been a wild turkey. There are also reports of Pilgrims eating eagle, although it apparently was too gamey for their tastes.

• Although cranberries are one of the few fruits native to North America, the first Thanksgiving did not include cranberry sauce, as there was no sugar in Plymouth at that time.

• Contrary to popular belief, popcorn was not eaten at the first Thanksgiving. Of the six types of corn, the only one that contains enough moisture to pop, zea mays everta, had not yet been introduced in New England.

Mulled Apple Cider

Mulled apple cider is, quite simply, just apple cider with the addition of mulling spices — allspice, clove, cinnamon; you can even add nutmeg or cardamom if you like. It actually seems like more trouble to make it from one of those dry mixes than to throw apple cider, spices, and maybe a slice of orange or two into a large pot. Plus the sense of domestic accomplishment, not to mention the unbeatable aroma that will infuse your home, makes it all the more worthwhile.

Mulled Apple Cider Makes 16 8-ounce servings 1 gallon apple cider (filtered or unfiltered, whichever you prefer) 1 T. whole allspice 1 T. whole cloves 4 cinnamon sticks (plus more for serving, if desired) Zest of 1 orange (use a vegetable peeler to get long strips of zest only, no pith)

Combine all ingredients in a large pot over medium-low heat, and simmer for at least 30 minutes. Ladle into mugs, leaving spices and orange zest in pot. Garnish with cinnamon sticks.

variations (add in as desired): ¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg; five or six slices peeled, fresh ginger; 1 or 2 star anise pods; or 1 T. black peppercorns. Some people insist on adding sugar, although most commercially available ciders are sweet enough already. If you do wish for something sweeter, stir in about ¼ cup brown sugar once cider is hot.

Holiday Take-Away

In all fairness, no matter how many wonderful recipes we come across this holiday season, it’s not surprising that many of us don’t have the time to hand-select produce from the Farmers Markets, carefully slow-cook a white bean cassoulet, and whip up a few pies for dessert. Thankfully, Pierre Lafond executive chef Joshua Keating does.

Once again, Pierre Lafond will be offering its take-away holiday meals, so all the preparation you’ll need to do is call ahead and reserve one. And this year the menu options are better than ever, with Keating’s passionate focus on organic and sustainable ingredients.

That means the turkey is free-range and organically raised, and with Farmers Market on their doorstep each Tuesday, you can guess where the restaurant gets the goodies for side dishes like arugula and pomegranate salad, or rosemary butternut squash soup.

The menu options include holiday classics — such as sage stuffing, green beans, and pecan and pumpkin pies — but also feature some creative twists on familiar flavors, like coconut-ginger sweet potatoes.

4·1·1 Thanksgiving orders should be placed by Friday, November 17; the deadline for December holiday orders is Monday, December 18. For more information, or to place an order, call or stop by Pierre Lafond Bistro Restaurant (516 State St., 962-1455) or Pierre Lafond Montecito (516 San Ysidro Rd., 565-1502).


As much as we love apple cider, every now and then we need something a little different. If you’ve ever tried one of her cocktails, it will come as no surprise that Jessica Castillo of Elements Bar & Restaurant (129 E. Anapamu St., 884-9218) poured this out of her martini shaker. More than just another twisted cosmo, the cranberry-sage “holidaytini” is at once comfortingly familiar and altogether new.

The drink’s creation was sort of a happy accident: “I wanted to do a festive martini,” she said, and was hunting around the kitchen when she came across some sage — and inspiration. “The white cranberry juice is less tart than the red,” said Castillo, so it doesn’t overpower the more delicate flavors of the sage. “The trend right now is to make cocktails using thyme and other savory herbs,” she said. “And cranberry and sage are perfect for the holidays.”

Holidaytini Serves 1 for cocktail: 3 oz. vodka 1 oz. white cranberry juice 1 oz. fresh lime juice 1 tablespoon sage syrup (see recipe below)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with crushed ice. Shake, and then strain into a large, chilled martini glass. Garnish with a red cranberry and sage leaf.

for sage syrup: 1 cup sugar 1 cup water ½ cup fresh sage leaves

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring mixture to a boil, and then reduce heat to low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain and chill.

Buttery Biscuits

Imagine a crisp autumn afternoon, the cool sun peeking through the lace curtains of a Victorian parlor, a warming pot of tea at your table, and the aroma of fresh shortbreads filling the air.

As grand as it would be to take afternoon tea at the Simpson House Inn (121 E. Arrellaga St., 963-7067) each day, that opportunity isn’t afforded to most of us. But this shortbread recipe from the inn’s chef Nissa Anderson can bring a bit of the Simpson House to your house.

“You could also serve them as a bedtime snack, offered on the nightstand for your overnight holiday guests,” suggested Managing Partner Nicholas Davaz, who is always a thoughtful host. That very thoughtfulness is why the Simpson House Inn just received its 10th consecutive AAA Five-Diamond Award.

Holiday Shortbreads (Three Ways)

Makes 1-2 dozen cookies (depending on size of cookie cutter)

¾ stick (6 T.) unsalted butter, softened 1 T. honey ¼ c. confectioner’s sugar 1 c. all-purpose flour ¼ tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. salt

infusions: 1 T. chopped fresh rosemary leaves; or 1 T. white sesame seeds and 2 T. chopped crystallized ginger; or 1 T. vanilla bean compound

In a bowl with an electric mixer, beat butter, honey, and sugar until light and fluffy. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the flour mixture into the butter mixture until just combined. Stir in one of the above infusions.

On a lightly floured surface, knead dough and press together. Separate dough into two balls, and then flatten into disks. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm.

Roll dough out to desired thickness and cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Transfer cookies to well-buttered cookie sheet. Garnish with rosemary sprigs, black and white sesame seeds, or granulated sugar (depending on the flavor you selected). Bake at 350°F for 5-10 minutes until edges are just golden.

Chanterelle Mushroom Soup

Once the rainy season starts, chanterelles are very common in the damper nooks of Santa Barbara. Nothing like those spongy crimini mushrooms sold entombed in cellophane and Styrofoam, they are rich, meaty, and brilliantly earthy. So it makes sense that Elements chef Paul Becking would highlight earthy elements like chanterelles, potatoes, and fresh herbs in this perfectly autumnal dish. Look for chanterelles at the Farmers Markets or in well-stocked groceries.

Chanterelle Mushroom Soup with Crispy Chanterelles Serves 8-10 1 stick butter 1 large yellow onion, diced ½ c. celery, diced ½ c. carrot, diced 6 cloves garlic (peeled, smashed, and chopped) 2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped lightly 2 tsp. fresh tarragon, chopped lightly, plus additional for garnish 1 lb. chanterelle mushrooms, sliced; reserving 2 medium chanterelles per guest ½ lb. button mushrooms, sliced 2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced 6-8 c. chicken or vegetable stock ¼ c. sherry 1 c. heavy cream 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce Juice of 1 fresh lemon Sea salt and white pepper to taste ⅔ c. flour ¾ c. beer Oil for frying

Melt butter in a stockpot, then sauté onions, celery, carrots, and garlic for 5-6 minutes, until browned. Add thyme, tarragon, chanterelles and button mushrooms, and potatoes. Sauté for another 5 minutes, and then mix in 6 cups stock, sherry, Worcestershire sauce, and cream. Simmer gently over low heat until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Puree soup in blender, then return to pot and reheat. (For thinner soup, add additional stock as desired.) Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

Using a fork, combine beer and flour in a small bowl. Heat 1 inch of oil in a frying pan or heavy skillet (to about 375°F). Coat reserved chanterelles in batter, and then fry until crispy.

To serve, top each bowl with crispy chanterelles, fresh tarragon leaves, and a dollop of high quality olive oil.

Sopa de Calabaza con Canela

“Mexicans don’t have Thanksgiving, of course,” Alex Castillo, general manager of El Cazador del Mar (731 De la Guerra Plaza, 965-5606), told me. “So in the U.S.,” he continued, “we celebrate Thanksgiving just like Christmas!” As far as food is concerned, at least. And that means tamales, mole, and plenty of pumpkins. Executive chef Roberto Lopez said this soup is his version of the traditional soup his mother and grandma used to make. “This time of year there are lots of pumpkins in the mercados,” he said. “My grandma used to have a little yard and grew pumpkins. She made pumpkin everything!”

Calabaza dolce (candied pumpkin) was common, but, he admitted, “the pumpkin dolce was always left over because the kids would eat flan or strawberries and cream instead. So this soup grew out of that. It has the same flavors — orange, canela, brown sugar — but made into a soup.” Look for sopa de calabaza, along with other Mexican holiday favorites, as nightly specials at El Cazador.

Sopa de Calabaza con Canela (Pumpkin & Cinnamon Soup) Serves 18-20 (recipe may be halved) 5 medium pumpkins 3 white onions, diced ½ lb. celery, chopped 8 cloves garlic 1 stick cinnamon, ground 2 bay leaves 3 cloves, ground 1 tsp. black pepper ½ c. oil (vegetable or a mild-flavored olive oil) 2 c. orange juice 1 gal. chicken stock ½ lb. piloncillo (compressed brown sugar, available in most supermarkets, or substitute regular brown sugar) 2 c. heavy cream (optional) Salt to taste

Cut pumpkins in half. Spoon out the seeds and place cut-side down in a roasting pan. Roast at 300°F for 1 hour, until tender.

In a very large stockpot, sauté onions, celery, garlic, cinnamon, bay leaf, cloves, and black pepper in oil until onions are translucent (about 4-5 minutes). Spoon cooked pumpkin into the pot, and then add orange juice, chicken stock, brown sugar, and cream. Simmer for 30 minutes over low heat, stirring continuously. Remove bay leaf and, working in batches, puree in a blender. (If necessary, strain to remove any remaining chunks.) Season with salt to taste. If desired, garnish with a dollop of cream (run a spoon through cream to create a decorative swirl) and a grate of fresh cinnamon.

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