Triangle Chefs Share Favorite Family Holiday Recipes

Villareal Rockytop

Holiday traditions add the special touch that helps make each festive season memorable and personal. And, of course, no holiday is complete without a special meal, dessert or seasonal treat to share with family and friends.

We asked chefs around the Triangle to share their favorite holiday recipes, many of which have been in their families for years. Each recipe promises delicious servings and smiles around the table. Choose one or two, or try them all, and start a new family tradition right in your own kitchen.

Chef Kevin Callaghan
Acme Food & Beverage Co., Carrboro

Kevin Callaghan, 44, lives in Carrboro and celebrates the holidays with his large family, which includes his wife, Ashley Atkins, and five kids between 9 and 17 years old. Callaghan’s recipe, Southern Corn Pudding, is a delicious dish that was his grandmother’s favorite, making it extra-special to him.

Southern Corn Pudding

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup yellow onion, chopped
¼ seeded Poblano (or green) pepper, chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
4 cups fresh white corn kernels
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
½ cup Madeira
¼ cup White Lily self-rising flour
¼ cup self-rising cornmeal
4 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup grated Sharp Cheddar cheese
4 strips bacon, cooked, drained and crumbled
½ cup green onions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2-quart baking dish and set aside.

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add corn, thyme, ¾ teaspoon of salt and the cayenne and cook, stirring until just tender and starting to turn golden (approximately 4 minutes).

Add Madeira to deglaze pan and cook for 3 additional minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, cream, sugar, thyme, remaining salt and black pepper until frothy.

Put half of the corn mixture with a little of the custard in a food processor and blend smooth. Add flour and cornmeal to the custard and mix until well combined. Add the pureed corn, whole corn mixture, cheese, crumbled bacon and green onions and whisk to combine.

Pour into the prepared dish and bake until set (knife comes out clean), approximately 50-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Chef Walter Royal
The Angus Barn, Raleigh

Walter Royal, 52, lives in Durham and works at The Angus Barn with approximately 300 employees, who he considers part of his family. He celebrates the holidays with his son and lots of grandchildren, eating together around a big table, talking and eating again. Royal’s recipes, Sage Sweet Potato Purée and Root Vegetable Gratin, have been in his family for years. The smell of the spices and herbs still reminds Royal of his grandmother’s kitchen.

Sage Sweet Potato Puree

2 pounds North Carolina sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon fresh sage
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and peel sweet potatoes. Cut into even pieces. Cook until tender. Strain.

Put potatoes into a food processor and puree until smooth.

Stir in all other ingredients. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Root Vegetable Gratin

4 potatoes, peeled
1 rutabaga, peeled
6 turnips, peeled
½ quart heavy whipping cream
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Slice the vegetables with the slicer set on 5.

Keep separate; potatoes should be sliced lengthwise, rutabagas should be cut in half and sliced into half-moons, turnips should be sliced into discs.

Spray a full size 2-inch hotel pan with pan release.

Place a layer of potatoes on the bottom. Lightly salt and pepper.

Place a layer of turnips followed by a layer of rutabagas. Lightly salt and pepper again.

Continue building up layers in this manner until halfway up the pan. Add the cheese at this point then continue to build layers in the same manner.

When done building layers, poke several holes through all the layers with a knife.

Pour the cream over top of the layers and let seep down (this may seem like a lot of cream but it is necessary to keep dish moist).

Cover tightly with foil and bake in 375 degrees convection oven for 55 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes.

Chef Amy Tornquist
Watts Grocery, Durham

Amy Tornquist, 46, lives in Durham with her husband, Jeremy Kerman, and daughters Elizabeth, 11, and Katherine, 7. She spends the holidays at home with family. Her recipe, Eastern Carolina Scalloped Oysters, was passed down from her grandmother. Growing up, Tornquist’s family had scalloped oysters every Christmas, and she has continued this tradition.

Eastern Carolina Scalloped Oysters

Serves 12-15 with 3-ounce servings

1 large box standard soda crackers
2½ pints oysters, with liquid reserved
1½ to 2 sticks of butter
1 pint milk or half and half
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Grease the bottom of an 8-by-12-inch casserole dish with butter.

Crush crackers by hand into very small pieces and cover the bottom of the dish.

Place a layer of oysters over the crackers and put a dot of butter on top of each oyster.

Salt lightly, depending on how salty the oysters are, and add pepper.

Add another layer of crackers and another layer of oysters and butter, salt and pepper. Cover with crackers. (Can be made this far several hours ahead of time and kept in refrigerator.)

Combine milk or half and half and reserved oyster liquid and bring almost to a boil. Heating this mixture helps the oysters cook more quickly once put in the oven.

Slowly pour the liquid over the oysters and crackers; make sure all are fully moistened, and liquid comes to the top, but the oysters and crackers are not soupy. Add more milk if necessary (does not have to be heated).

Bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes until top is golden brown. Check frequently to make sure you don’t overcook. Serve immediately. Can be reheated once.

Chef Robert Villareal
Rocky Top Catering, Raleigh

Robert Villareal, 35, lives in Raleigh with his wife, Jennifer; son, Dylan, 13; and daughter, Abby, 8. They spend the holidays enjoying good food with family and friends. Jennifer’s family passed down this Sweet Potato Casserole recipe, which Robert’s family now enjoys.

Sweet Potato Casserole

4 cups sweet potato, mashed
½ cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
½ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Put sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with water to cover. Cook over medium-high heat until tender, drain and mash.

In a large bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, white sugar, eggs, salt, butter, milk and vanilla extract. Mix until smooth. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In medium bowl, mix the brown sugar and flour. Cut in the butter until the mixture is coarse. Stir in the pecans. Sprinkle the mixture over the sweet potato mixture.

Bake in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until the topping is lightly brown.

Chef Jimmy Reale
Carolina Crossroads at The Carolina Inn, Chapel Hill

Jimmy Reale, 38, lives in Hillsborough with his wife, Leigh; son, Connor, 9; and daughter, Caroline, 7. He and his family always celebrate in town since Reale works at The Carolina Inn on holidays. His recipe, Grilled Sweet Tea Brined Turkey, is served with a chicken substitute on his fall dinner menu at Carolina Crossroads. Over the past couple of years, it has also become a holiday tradition for family. Reale serves it with Lavendar Butter and Goat Cheese Creamed Spinach.

Grilled Sweet Tea Brined Turkey

Turkey leg quarters, 6-8 pounds
1 gallon iced tea
4 cups sugar
4 lemons, quartered
1¼ cup kosher salt

In a pot, bring iced tea, sugar and salt just to simmer, stir occasionally. Remove from heat and stir well to make sure all sugar and salt dissolved.

Squeeze all lemons and add juice and lemons to the hot brine. Refrigerate until mixture is cold.

Wash turkey well and place in large container. Cover turkey with brine. Place something heavy on top of turkey so it is submerged in brine. Place in refrigerator for 12-14 hours. After 12-14 hours, remove turkey from brine and wash off lightly in sink.

Tie legs together with butcher twine. Place on rack and cook at 425 degrees to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Remove from oven and cool completely.

When ready, grill slowly and baste with lavender butter until you reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Lavender Butter

1 pound butter, softened
1 tablespoon lavender flowers

Place soft butter and lavender flowers in food processor. Run for 20-30 seconds until combined. It will not totally purée, which is fine. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Goat Cheese Creamed Spinach

1 each large onions, small dice
¾ pound bag of spinach, rough chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
¾ cup sherry
2 cups heavy cream
3 ounces goat cheese

Sauté onions until translucent over medium heat.

Add chopped spinach and wilt.

Add garlic and sauté, then deglaze with sherry.

Add heavy cream and bring to simmer. Continue to cook for about 10 minutes.

Remove and whisk in goat cheese.

Chef Beth LittleJohn
Coquette Brasserie, Raleigh

Beth LittleJohn, 30, (pictured second from right) lives in Durham and celebrates the holidays at her mother’s house cooking, laughing and eating. Her family includes her mother, Judy, and stepdad, Lloyd; her uncle, Paul; brother, Josh, and his wife, Casey; and three nieces: Hana, 15, Ela, 7, and Rose, 4. LittleJohn does not remember a holiday without serving her warm and comforting Russian Tea. “The kids love the sweet flavor and adults love the warm spices,” she says.

Russian Tea

1½ cups sugar
25 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 family-size tea bags
2 cups orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
1/3 cup lemon juice

Bring 5½ cups of water, sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.

In another pot, bring another 5½ cups of water to a boil, then add tea bags. Steep for 20 minutes.

Add both mixtures to a gallon container, straining out the cloves. (LittleJohn puts the cinnamon sticks back in.) Add orange, pineapple and lemon juices. Mix well. Serve hot or cold.

Makes more than a gallon.

Chef Matthew Scofield
Sitti, Raleigh

Matthew Scofield, 35, lives in Raleigh with his wife, Suzanne, and a baby on the way. They love eating sweets around the holidays, and Suzanne loves to bake. Matthew’s favorite holiday treat is Pistachio Sugar Cookies. The recipe is a variation of one of his wife’s cookie recipes that he combined with a recipe from his Lebanese family at Sitti.

Pistachio Sugar Cookies

Makes 24 cookies

½ pound, butter, unsalted and softened
½ cup sugar, granulated
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
48 unsalted pistachio halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place softened butter in a mixing bowl. Gradually add sugar, whisking until well incorporated. Gradually add flour, whisking until well incorporated.

Once the dough is well mixed, portion into 1-ounce balls. Using your hands, roll the portioned pieces until smooth.

Place on ungreased cookie sheet allowing 2 inches between each cookie. Using the palm of your hand, press down on each to flatten to about 1/4 inch thick. Press two pistachio halves into each cookie.

Place in center of oven and bake 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Remove and cool on rack for 30 minutes.

Chef Chris Stinnett
Pop’s Restaurant, Durham

Chris Stinnett, 37, is also the owner of Pop’s Restaurant in Durham. He mainly works at Pop’s but also works at Rue Cler and Pop’s Backdoor South. Stinnett lives in Durham with his wife, Lisa, and children: Charlie, 6, Ruby, 4, and Sadie, 2. His family spends the holiday visiting all of the grandparents’ homes. Every Christmas Eve his children wait for Santa at Lisa’s parents’ house. Stinnett’s recipe, Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, was passed down from his mom, and now he makes these cookies every Christmas.

Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups sugar
4 cups cocoa
1 stick butter
1½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup peanut butter
2 cups oatmeal

Mix sugar, cocoa and butter in a saucepan.

Bring mixture to a boil and cook 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and add vanilla, peanut butter and oatmeal.

Place spoonfuls on wax paper and cool.

Megan Finke is a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Categories: At Home, Food + Fun, Home, Lifestyle, Recipes