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Food & Drink

Ask A Philadelphia Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

December 4, 2013 7:00 AM

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(photo credit: Thinkstock)

(photo credit: Thinkstock)

Planning a holiday meal can become overwhelming for even the biggest Christmas enthusiasts. You want to make a meal that will wow your family and friends, but you also want to make sure you enjoy the day yourself. To take some of the stress out of putting together your Christmas dinner, Philadelphia’s Chef Kevin Sbraga offers useful tips for pulling together a delicious meal. Plus, he’s offering a recipe of his own if you want to try something new this year.

sbraga kevin cbs Ask A Philadelphia Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

Chef Kevin Sbraga (Credit, Michelle Hein)

Chef Kevin Sbraga
Sbraga
440 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
(215) 735-1913
www.sbraga.com

Fans of Bravo’s hit TV show “Top Chef” will recognize Philadelphia’s Chef Kevin Sbraga as the winner of Season 7. Formerly the executive chef of Stephen Starr’s Rat’s Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture, Sbraga went on to open his eponymous restaurant in 2011 on the Avenue of the Arts in Philadelphia. Focusing on innovative American dishes, Sbraga takes familiar menu items such as meatloaf and reinvents them by adding elevated, creative elements like a veal mousse and bacon marmalade. In his most recent venture, Kevin Sbraga brings the traditions of Southern cooking to Philadelphia with his second restaurant, Fat Ham, in University City.

Tip 1: Plan Ahead

The holidays are about spending time with your family and friends. You don’t want to miss special moments because you’re tucked away in the kitchen, and your guests won’t feel comfortable knowing that you’re slaving away while they’re relaxing. Decide what you’re making at least a week in advance so you can have everything you need to cook or bake ready to go. Keep in mind which dishes require the oven, stove, etc. so you can develop a schedule of what you will make and when.

Tip 2: Prep In Advance

Chef Sbraga likes to start prepping for the big meal at least two days beforehand. If there’s something you can make before you’re hosting and you know it will keep well, make it in advance. Most soups are ideal for this. You can take your time preparing the dish when you make it before the holiday, freeze it, then simply thaw and heat it up on the day you have guests. Sometimes, just gathering the ingredients can help cut down on time. Organize the ingredients for each dish inside your refrigerator or on your counter so that you’re prepped and ready to go when it’s time to get started.

Tip 3: Stick To The Favorites

Chef Sbraga is known for his innovative twists on traditional dishes, yet even he says, “Since the holidays only come around once a year, I always stick to my favorites. Sometimes I try to switch it up, but I always come back to my favorites.”

That being said, there are certain recipes that your family will look forward to all year long. While it’s always fun to try new things in the kitchen, a big holiday meal is probably not the best time to go out on a limb with anything too far from the norm. If you’d really love to try a new recipe, you might want to start with something small like a new side or dessert — in addition to the usual favorites.

Related: Top Tasting Menus In Philadelphia

Tip 4: Don’t Worry About Calories

A holiday meal is not the time to worry about your diet. Of course you want to be aware of serious restrictions such as extreme allergies, and you want to make sure each guest has at least a few options to eat. Overall though, this is a day to enjoy good food and great company, and people can always eat smaller portions if they’re dieting. Don’t make yourself crazy by counting each gram of fat in each dish you prepare or by experimenting with new recipes just before the meal. This goes back to “Stick To The Favorites.”

Tip 5: Remember The Sides

While turkey and ham get the majority of the attention, it’s really the sides that make a meal great. Choose sides by breaking them down by category so you know you get a good mixture. For his own house, Chef Sbraga likes to have at least two potatoes, three vegetables, two breads, one stuffing and a salad. Sides are also a great way to get guests involved if they wish to contribute something to the meal. Just be sure to ask in advance what people will be bringing so you don’t end up with too many mashed potatoes and no stuffing.

Related: Top Restaurant Service In Philadelphia 

sbraga cbs kevin 2 Ask A Philadelphia Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

Chef Kevin Sbraga (Credit, Michelle Hein)

Chef Sbraga advises sticking to the favorites during your holiday meal, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t introduce a new starter in addition to your traditional dishes. Or, you might want to try this recipe during another holiday gathering this year. Chef Sbraga serves this soup garnished with toasted marshmallows and a pistachio oil drizzle.

Carrot Ginger Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 Thai chile peppers
  • 2 shallots
  • 3 pounds carrots
  • 2 pounds ginger
  • 5 ounces sherry
  • 7 ounces honey
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 quarts heavy cream
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Using a large pot or Dutch oven, sautee the vegetables over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the sherry and continue cooking until reduced by half.
  3. Add the honey, vegetable stock and heavy cream. Simmer for 45 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  5. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth.
  6. Salt to taste.
  7. Serves 6-10 people.
Michelle Hein is a copy editor for a women’s fashion company in Bucks County by day and a self-proclaimed food and drink fanatic by night and weekend. She enjoys attending wine classes, trying new recipes in the kitchen and going to old favorites and new restaurants alike in the Bucks County and Philadelphia area. If the writing gig doesn’t pan out, she constantly dreams of owning her own bakery…perhaps connected to the restaurant/bar that her lawyer boyfriend would love to open.
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