Talking Food, Wine and the Perfect Meal // Celebrate the Season With Tips From the Pros

By Vicki Wilson

No matter how you celebrate the holidays, one thing’s for sure: everyone will be hungry! But if you’ve ever experienced gloppy gravy, gluey potatoes, or—gasp!—a dried-out turkey, you know that the season’s eatings can be served with a healthy side of stress. Wouldn’t it be the greatest if you could just hire a professional? That may be a bit far-fetched, but we’ve got the next best thing. We’ve gathered the island’s top chefs to share their tips and collaborate on a holiday meal that will have everyone clamoring for seconds.

Kevin Warren Café NOLA

What he’s made of: “I got the food bug at an early age canning fruits and vegetables every year.” After attending culinary school, Kevin began cooking back in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of 19. He moved to Seattle in 1992 and took over Café Nola in 1999. “From day one, I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

What he can teach you: Go with your gut and feel free to improvise. “Get rid of the measuring spoons and go for it. Look at the recipe, understand the ratios, and close the book! Cook the way you like to cook.”

Hot tip: Stick with the tried and true, but add one experimental dish that will either result in a funny story or a new tradition.

Holiday treat: Christmas quiche, followed by a simple antipasti, “help yourself” platter that frees up the kitchen so he can delve into cooking the big meal.

The dish on his dish: It’s a vegetarian twist on a recipe he’s been doing since culinary school. “I did zucchini fritters, instead of traditional cod. The combination of the crunchy fritters and the smooth, sweet squash can’t be beat.”

Cherie Levan Simply Bainbridge

What she’s made of: With degrees in French and Italian and experience as an event planner, Cherie was also an experienced home cook. “Our dinner guests always encouraged me to go into catering.” She started as a personal chef in 2007, and moved into full-service catering in 2010.

What she can teach you: Eat local! “We are lucky to have so many amazing farmers in our ’hood!” Cherie loves Sol Farm, as well as Persephone Farm and Farmhouse Organics.

Hot tip: Lay out your platters and serving ware beforehand, and label them with sticky notes so you know what goes where.

Holiday treat: Eggnog French toast— challah bread soaked overnight in eggnog. The dish on her dish: “For the appetizer, I chose gougères, or cheese puffs, for their simple elegance. They are just sublime right out of the oven!”

Brendan Mcgill Hitchcock

What he’s made of: “I started working in restaurants at the age of 14, washing dishes, bussing tables, etc. One day I realized I was probably going to be doing it for the rest of my life, so I’d better get serious and apply myself.” After cooking at several well-known Seattle restaurants, then cooking his way across Spain, France and Italy, Brendan opened Hitchcock in 2010.

What he can teach you: Techniques are more important than recipes. “If you spend some time trying to figure out why a braise works the way it does, read a little food science to figure it out, then you’re not blindly following a recipe, ultimately wondering why it didn’t work. You learn how to fix things because you studied the process.”

Hot tip: Mise en place. Get all your stuff ready and in place—prep carefully, then make sure all of your prep, tools, wine, music, etc. is right where you need it. Holiday treat: Scotch or cognac, and his annual holiday cigar.

The dish on his dish: “We’re re-examining the holiday classic, roast turkey. I’ve cooked a lot of birds, and found that two factors make this turkey special: one is the brine, which is crucial. The other is to cut the bird into thirds strategically so you can pull it out of the oven as it’s done. No more dry white meat!”

Greg Atkinson Restaurant Marché

What he’s made of: “I’ve always loved to cook, but I didn’t exactly choose this as a career path. I worked my way through college in restaurants and when I graduated, I found I was more qualified to work in restaurants than I was to do anything I learned in college.” Greg’s vast experience includes culinary instruction, food writing and years of experience behind the line. He opened Restaurant Marché with his wife, Betsy, in the spring of 2012.

What he can teach you: Just because the Farmers’ Market is closed doesn’t mean you can’t eat local. “Many local foods—the proteins in particular—are available year round. I’ll continue to cook with the sustainably raised beef, pork, chicken, eggs and seafood I use in the warmer months. And in our climate, many vegetables are available in the winter. Squash, kale, chard and a variety of root vegetables remain viable throughout the winter to add color and flavor.”

Hot tip: Find recipes that can be made ahead and freeze well.

Holiday treat: Flexibility. “Sometimes, we’re content with a quiet family gathering at home. Other times, we’ve traveled to enjoy a change of scenery.”

The dish on his dish: It’s a French classic infused with a shot of Seattle: Greg adds strong coffee to his silky buttercream.

Savory Gougères 

Yield: About 40

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Pinch nutmeg (or cayenne)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, such as Shepherd’s Grain
  • 4 extra-large eggs
  • ½ cup grated Gruyere, plus extra for sprinkling
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 2. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg or cayenne over medium heat until scaled. Add the flour all at once and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for two minutes. The flour will begin to coat the bottom of the pan. Dump the hot mixture into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Immediately add the eggs, Gruyère and Parmesan, and pulse until the eggs are incorporated and the dough is smooth and thick. 3. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip. (You may also use a simple zip top bag and cut the corner off.) Pipe the mixture onto the cookie sheet in golf ball-sized puffs. (Alternatively, use two spoons to scoop out the mixture and shape the puffs with damp fingers.) Brush the top of each puff lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a pinch of the Gruyère. Back for about 15 minutes or until the gougères are golden brown.

Zucchini Fritters With Roasted Butternut Squash & Fennel Confit

Serves 8 to 10

FenneL Confit

  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted and smashed
  • 1 tablespoon Pernod

1. Preheat the oven to 275°. 2. Place the fennel bulb and fennel seeds in a shallow ovenproof dish. Pour oil over fennel. Cover with foil. Bake fennel for 2½  hours or until fennel is softened. Remove from oven, add Pernod and stir. Season with salt and black pepper and allow to cool. transfer to a glass jar, seal and refrigerate. (Note: Fennel confit can ve prepared and refrigerated 3 to 4 days ahead.)

Roasted Butternut Squash

  • 2 butternut squash, halved and cored
  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and halved
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch paprika
  • 1 pinch cumin
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Place the squash flesh side up in a shallow roasting pan. Place the apple halves into the void of each squash. Drizzle and sprinkle remaining ingredients over squash. Pour ½ inch into the bottom of the pan and cover with foil. Roast squash in the oven for 1½ hours or until squash is very soft. Remove squash and allow to cool.
  3. Carefully remove the skin from squash. Place squash and apples in food processor and puree. transfer the pureed squash to a mixing bowl. Fold in the heavy cream and the melted butter. Season if needed. Place the squash in a 200° warm oven while you fry the fritters. (Note: Squash puree can be made two days ahead. Bring to room temperature and warm in 200° oven before proceeding.)

Zucchini Fritters

  • 2 zucchini, shredded
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup red onion, finely diced
  • ½ cup red bell paper, finely diced
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 eggs
  • 1½ cups soda water
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 1 pinch cayenne
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped Sour cream or creme fraiche, for serving

Directions

  1. In a mixing bowl combine all of the ingredients to form a thick pancake-like batter. Fold in the shredded zucchini. Place the fritter batter in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, warm oil in an electric skillet or a small fryer to 325°. Using two spoons and working in batches, form the fritters and carefully drop into the oil. Fry until golden brown and turn out onto a paper towel-lined platter. Place fried fritters into a 200° oven to keep warm while you fry the remaining better into fritters. (Note: Battery may be prepared and refrigerated up to two days in advance. Fritters may be fried up to one hour in advance of serving and kept warm in a 200° oven.)
  3. Serve fritters atop the warm squash puree. Garnish with strained fennel confit, and offer sour cream or creme fraiche on the side.

Brined & Roasted Holiday Turkey

1 naturally raised turkey, 1½ to 2 pounds per person, hindquarters separated from body (see below)

Brine

  • 3 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar
  • ½gallon filtered water
  • ½ bunch thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon whole allspice
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 5-pound bag of ice

Seasoning For Roasting
Kosher salt, Cracked black pepper, Extra virgin olive oil, Fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, chive and tarragon

Directions

  1. For the brine, combine all the ingredients except the ice in a large stockpot to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Pour the prepared brine into a container large enough to hold a gallon of liquid plus your turkey. Add enough ice and cold water to the brine so that you have one gallon of cold brine.
  2. Next, prepare the bird. to separate the hindquarters from the body, slice the skin connecting the thighs and the breasts. “Pop” the thigh bone out of the hip socket, and then cut down the spine to separate the thigh from the back. Finally, tuck the wings back up behind the body, as if it were in a full nelson. (You can find a video demonstration at bainbridgeisland.com/turkey.)
  3. Submerge the three turkey parts fully in the brine. You may have to weight the parts with small plates to keep them from floating. Bring birds up to 15 pounds for five hours, larger birds as long as eight hours.
  4. Remove the turkey parts from the brine and allow them to sit in the refrigerator, uncovered, for at least three hours. You want the skin to absorb the brine and become tacky, forming what is known as a pellicle.
  5. Preheat the oven to 400°. Arrange turkey on two roasting racks. Allow turkey to sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes before seasoning and roasting.
  6. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil on the skin, rubbing it vigorously into the nooks and crannies. Season the turkey parts generously with salt and cracked black pepper.
  7. Roast the turkey to an internal temperature of 155°. Begin checking at 30 minutes of cooking time. The legs will be done first, then the breast. Remove the pieces as they reach 155° and allow them to rest under a loose tent of aluminum foil or in a warm oven. All pieces will continue to cook once out of the oven; final desired temperature is 165°. Allow at least 20 minutes of rest before carving. Sprinkle fresh herbs on carved bird and serve. is 165°. Allow at least 20 minutes of rest before carving. Sprinkle fresh herbs on carved bird and serve.

The Yule Log Cake

Serves 12

Cake

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • ½cup butter (one stick), melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup flour

Coffee Buttercream

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons strong coffee or espresso
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate Bark

  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into bits
  • ¼ cup canola oil

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350º. Butter an 11-inch x 17-inch jelly roll pan and line it with baker’s parchment.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks with half the sugar and beat until light, then whisk in the melted butter and vanilla extract.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until they hold soft peaks; with the motor running, stream in the remaining sugar and continue beating until the egg whites are quite stiff. Fold one-third of the egg whites and half of the flour into the yolk mixture, stirring just until lumps are gone. Add another third of the egg whites and the remainder of the flour and fold in. Fold in the remaining egg whites.
  4. transfer the batter to the prepared jelly roll pan and bake until the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center, about 20 minutes. turn the cake upside down on a tray lined with additional baker’s parchment and while it’s still hot, roll it into a log shape with the baker’s parchment. Allow the rolled-up cake to cool to room temperature while you make the buttercream.
  5. To make the coffee buttercream, stir the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring and let the syrup cook undisturbed until a bit of the syrup makes a soft ball when dropped into a cup of cold water, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the egg and egg yolks with the salt in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. With the motor running on low speed, stream in the hot syrup then the butter a little at a time. Continue mixing until the buttercream is smooth and spreadable.
  6. When it has completely colled, unroll the cake, spread half the buttercream over the cake and roll it back up. Spread the remaining buttercream over the surface. Chill the filled cake while you make the chocolate bark.
  7. Line an 11-inch x 17-inch jelly roll pan with single sheet of strong plastic wrap. Put the chocolate and oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until the chocolate is just melted. Spread the melted chocolate mixture over the plastic wrap and chill until the chocolate is beginning to set, about 10 minutes. Lay the filled cake on top of the chocolate covered plastic wrap and bring the wrap up and around to cover the cake with the chocolate. keep the wrap in place and refrigerate the cake wrapped in chocolate for several hours or freeze it for up to one week. (If the cake has been frozen, let it thaw in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.)
  8. At serving time, carefully peel away the plastic wrap to expose the chocolate bark. Cut one and end off the cake and plant it one the side of the cake to represent a sawed-off limb. Decorate the platter with a few sprigs
    of holly or evergreen boughs if desired.
Do You 💛 Bainbridge Island?We hunt down the best stuff on BI and deliver them to your inbox weekly.

Sign up for the best of Bainbridge Island, right here 👇