During the busiest time of year, and with little energy left over for celebrating, our local chefs share some of their "go to" holiday meals.
A special treat always served between Christmas and New Years in the Hinojosa house - dozens of raw oysters on the half shell and a magnum of grower's champagne, such as Pierre Peters Cuvee Reserve Grand Cru.
"I grew up eating oysters in south Texas, and it became a family tradition. Later, while working in France, I tried Balon oysters, which made me understand what a real oyster is," said Rich Hinojosa, executive chef at Larkspur Restaurant, who serves his oysters with a simple mignonette made from rice-wine vinegar and fresh apple juice with some chopped pieces of apple and French sorrel that he freezes and serves as a granite.
For his friends who don't eat oysters, Hinojosa serves king crab legs with a buerre fondue or poached New Caledonia prawns with cocktail sauce (see the poached prawn recipe).
People tend to eat more desserts over the holidays, so Mark Metzger, the pastry chef at Larkspur Restaurant, is making more than the average number of Larkspur's trademark Saigon cinnamon doughnuts and chocolate truffles.
"My go-to holiday tradition? Reservations," said Metzger, who, when pressed, said, "If I'm feeling creative, I might whip up some spiced chocolates or nutmeg caramels or make bread pudding with some of my pumpkin spice bread and croissants - it depends what moves me."
The centerpiece of a holiday meal, roasted meat is always part of Michael Parker's family tradition. Parker, the executive chef at Terra Bistro, goes on a family hunt in Scottsbluff, Neb., every December to hunt geese.
"I created a Christmas goose recipe to celebrate the hunt and another year of family time spent together," said Parker, who adapts the recipe for any fowl (see the roasted goose recipe).
If you don't have a chance to hunt for your holiday meal, "it's good to know a hunter," said Shawn Simard, sous chef at Larkspur Restaurant, whose uncle is an avid hunter and always has a freezer full of elk.
"For our holiday meal, I like to sear elk tenderloin or sirloin in butter with salt, pepper, thyme and garlic and then roast it. It's great with a sweet, sticky sauce of blueberries or blackberries simmered down with some sherry vinegar."
At The Bookworm of Edwards, co-owners Nicole Magistro and Kristi Feichtinger serve Christmas Eve dinner to their staff.
"We're too busy to cook at home for Christmas, so I spend the 23rd making meatballs and bring the meal to the store," Feichtinger said.
Magistro and Feichtinger are both from Midwest Italian families whose fathers (both named Tony) claim to have the best meatball recipe.
"We argue about whose meatballs are better - your dad's or mine," said Feichtinger, who uses her family recipe since she's also the chef at The Bookworm Cafe.
"It's a big deal," Feichtinger said. "Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, my family would rent out a hall for 60 to 80 people and make meatballs for days."
The secret ingredient?
"It's all in hand massaging the meatballs," said Feichtinger, who may have won the meatball war, but she brags about Magistro's secret family eggnog recipe, which is also a Christmas Eve tradition at the store.
"Nicole's eggnog recipe is amazing - it's made from scratch and is so rich it's like dessert; we eat it with a spoon," Feichtinger said.