We sat down with three notorieties of Denver’s food world for the ultimate holiday meal trifecta. Drawing inspiration from each of their different cultures and backgrounds, this menu is woven together by each person’s traditions, deep-rooted culinary family stories and tied up with tips on entertaining and a delicious recipe for you to bring to this year’s festivities. So, grab your apron, pull up a chair, sit down and take note, because the holidays are about bringing people together—and we’ve got the perfect holiday meal to break bread over.

Daniel Asher – Hanukkah Highlights

Daniel Asher and latkes. Photos by Nisa Sedaghat.

“I think if everyone brought their cultural culinary heritage with them to a table, I think that a lot of present-day politics, and misunderstandings, and hatred, and anger, and ego would melt away within the context of sharing a meal and breaking bread together. That’s why I think that food transcends all boundaries with humanity, and that’s why I’ve been so inspired by it for over two decades cooking.”

To start off our meal, chef Daniel Asher shares with us a fusion take on a Jewish classic. This Boulder-based chef and owner of River and Woods got his start in the food world cooking at the ripe age of 14. He has spent more than two decades in the restaurant industry and worked as the Culinary Director of the Edible Beats Group for several years before going on to help open Linger, Root Down at the Denver International Airport and Ophelia’s Electric Soapbox. His “love affair” with Colorado began after several years of travel — when he was drawn to the Rocky Mountain region and Boulder. He described it as his “gateway drug to Colorado.” Named a “pioneer” in the natural foods movement in the Midwest, Asher’s dishes and menus focus on and only use organic, locally-sourced and sustainable ingredients. His recipes have been featured in Bon Appetit, Plate Magazine and Gourmet.

For the main dish of our melange holiday meal, this Jewish chef brings us his recipes for “Latkes Two Ways.” Latkes, a potato-based, fried pancake, are a traditional Jewish food served during the holiday of Hanukkah. Asher illustrates Jewish cuisine, as being symbolical—a “really beautiful, [a] cultural mash-up of many different influences of the centuries.”

The Recipe – Latkes Two Ways 

1. Potato & Kimchi

A fusion take on the traditional Jewish Latka.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium russet potatoes
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 cup of Ozuké kimchi – Napa & Garlic
  • 1 duck egg
  • Pinch of salt
  • Oil

For the garnish:

  • Soy reduction
  • Cilantro
  • Sambo
  • Diced scallion
  • Lime slices

Directions

  1. Grate potato and mix with flour, duck egg, a pinch of salt and cup of kimchi with a large spoon or with your hands.
  2. Pour about 1/2 centimeter of oil into a pan and bring oil to 350 degrees F.
  3. Take a spoon of batter and drop a circle of batter into the pan, about the size of your palm. Cook for about three-four minutes each side, or until golden brown and crispy.
  4. Place on a dish with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
  5. Plate and garnish with a soy reduction, cilantro, sambo, diced scallion, sriracha aioli and a slice of lime.

2. Autumn Root Vegetables

Asher’s play on swapping the traditional potato for in-season root vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. gold beet
  • 1/2 c. red beet
  • 1/2 c. sweet potato
  • 1/2 c. butternut squash
  • 1/2 c. purple potato
  • 1/2 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. white onion – chopped
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 local chicken eggs

For the garnish:

  • Apple butter
  • Sour cream
  • Pea sprouts
  • Pomegranate seeds

Directions

  1. Grate potato, beets and squash and mix with flour, chicken eggs and salt.
  2. Pour about 1/2 centimeter of oil into a pan and bring oil to 350 degrees F.
  3. Take a spoon of batter and drop a circle of batter into the pan, about the size of your palm. Cook for about 3-4 minutes each side, or until golden brown and crispy.
  4. Place on a dish with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
  5. Plate with apple butter, sour cream and garnish with pea sprouts and pomegranate seeds.

Asher’s Entertaining Tips

  1. “How to survive the holidays? Don’t be a dick.”
  2. Find your zen. If you’re not happy inside, you’re not going to be good company
  3. Be thoughtful, be kind. Open doors for strangers. Don’t take shit too seriously. Be grateful, humble and help out.

Adrian Miller – Soul Food Sides

Photo courtesy of Nisa Sedaghat 

For our side dishes, we sat down with James Beard Award-winning author Adrian Miller. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, this lawyer-turned-food writer and soul foodie grew up with Southern cuisine as his baseline to the food world — fed by the traditions and cooking of his Southern parents. Miller was set to help open a restaurant in Denver before a turn of pace that led him into the White House to serve under President Clinton and work on the President’s “Initiative for One America.” After completing his term, Miller worked in television for several years before starting his book that later would win him a James Beard Award.

Miller’s start and unconventional entrance into the food and food writing world began one day when he was browsing the food section of a bookstore and came across a book of Southern food. “’Southern Food at Home on the Road in History,’ by John Egerton, [was the book]” Miller started, “he wrote [in a section of the book that] ‘the tribute to African American cookery has yet to be written.’”

Miller, with no formal culinary training or writing qualifications at all — except eating soul food, and “a lot of it” — decided to dive in. “That’s what started the journey,” Miller confirmed. He later went on to write his book, “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine One Plate at a Time,” which would win him the James Beard Award for Reference and Scholarship. Miller sat down with us to talk about some of the deepest rooted traditions in Southern, soul food culture that he discussed in his book and which ones are used to bring in the New Year.

Miller shares with us his recipes for good luck in for the next year.

The Recipes

“On New Year’s Day, […] Southerners—black and white—will eat greens for prosperity, so it means folding money and then they had black-eyed peas for either good luck or coins, again for prosperity. […] It’s a mix of kind of old European beliefs that if you did something on the first day of the year, that it would carry forward for the rest of the year.” The full meal would also typically consist of a pork roast and other traditional Southern sides. For the recipes for your 2018 good fortune, see below.

Black-Eyed Peas

“This is one of the first recipes that I got from my mother, Johnetta Miller. Though this is a recipe for black-eyed peas, this is my standard approach for making any vegetable in ‘soul food style.’ If you want to give this recipe a “Hoppin’ John” feel, make some rice separately, mix together, and eat,” said Miller.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed or other field peas
  • 1 smoked ham hock or smoked turkey wing (about 8 ounces)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

1. Rinse the peas and pick through them to discard any small stones or broken peas. Pour the peas into a large saucepan and cover with cold water by two inches. Bring them to a boil and cook for five minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and let stand for one hour. (Alternatively, place the peas in a large bowl, cover with cold water, and let stand at room temperature overnight.)

2. Meanwhile, make a stock by placing the ham hock or turkey wing in another large saucepan. Cover with water by two inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the stock is flavorful, about one hour. Discard the hock or wing.

3. Drain the soaking liquid from the peas and add them to the stock. Make sure the peas are submerged. Stir in the onion and pepper flakes.

4. Simmer until the peas are nearly tender, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and continue simmering until the peas are tender and well-seasoned, about 10 minutes more.

5. Serve the peas warm.

6. If desired, you may pull the meat off the ham hocks or turkey parts and add it to the dish before serving.

Makes eight servings.

Johnetta’s Mixed Greens

“This is my favorite thing to make in the soul food genre. I didn’t grow up eating collards. My mother usually made a combination of mustard and turnip greens. Turnip greens seemed to be the popular option for greens as I traveled through Tennessee. I love the peppery aroma that mustard greens give off while they’re cooking. I’ve lately been using smoked turkey parts to season my greens because they give good flavor with less fat. Yet, every once in awhile, I go retro and put on a pot of greens with some ham hocks.”

Ingredients

  • 2 smoked ham hocks or smoked turkey leg or wings (about 1 pound)
  • 1 1//2 pounds turnip greens
  • 1 1//2 pounds mustard greens
  • 1 tablespoon granulated garlic or 2 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of baking soda
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Pinch of salt

1. Rinse the hocks, leg or wings, place them in a large pot, and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the meat is tender and the cooking liquid is flavorful, 20 to 30 minutes. Discard the hocks, leg or wings, or reserve to serve with the greens.

2. Meanwhile, remove and discard the tough stems from the greens. Cut or tear the leaves into large, bite-sized pieces. Fill a clean sink or very large bowl with cold water. Add the leaves and gently swish them in the water to remove any dirt or grit. Lift the leaves out of the water and add them to the hot ham stock, stirring gently until they wilt and are submerged.

3. Stir in the onion, pepper flakes, baking soda, sugar, and salt.

4. Simmer until the greens are tender, about 30 minutes. If cooking collard greens or kale, simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Check the seasoning and serve hot.

5.  Serve greens with shredded ham hock or smoked turkey meat, if desired.

Makes eight servings.

Miller’s Entertaining Tips

  1. “Prepare yourself for difficult [family dinner] conversations […] there’s a group called “Showing up for Racial Justice,” they’ve created a ‘difficult conversations hotline.’” Essentially, you can text the number “SOS” and it will prompt you with a variety of responses for any awkward or difficult points in the family conversation—politics, race, etc.—and it will give you helpful suggestions on how to guide the conversation.
  2. “Always go with sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin pie and that’s a soul food thing. And don’t tell a black person that pumpkin pie is better than sweet potato pie, that’s just asking for trouble.”

Jen Jasinski – A Christmas Cocktail

Jen Jasinski and Tom & Jerrys. Photo courtesy of Nisa Sedaghat.

We topped off our holiday meal with a boozy treat from Denver chef and restauranteur, Jen Jasinski. This Santa Barbara-bred chef and restaurateur has won the James Beard Foundation Award for Best Southwest Chef in 2013, is currently in the works opening her fifth restaurant in Denver and has also appeared on Bravo’s beloved series Top Chef. Jasinski’s culinary prowess started back in high school, in-home ECG cooking classes and attempts to make extravagant dishes like crown lamb roasts for the holidays. She attended the Culinary Institute of the Arts in New York, performed her externship at the Rainbow Room in N.Y.C. and went on to serve under Wolfgang Puck in California for 11 years as his corporate chef. After coming to Colorado several times for events with Puck, Jasinski was taken with the scenery and inviting nature of Colorado locals. She made the move to the Mile-High city back in 2000 and has been cooking up a storm ever since. This culinary female force of nature shares her fond memories of lavish Pasadena Christmases and the woman who contributed to her love of the holiday—her grandma Darling.

“I think I got this love of Christmas from her,” Jasinski tells us. “She’s one of those Pasadena mom’s who’d decorate every room of her house in a different theme.” Jasinski shares with us Grandma Darling’s recipe for Tom and Jerry’s, a nutty, warm and boozy holiday beverage that is perfect for the cold weather—or dealing with the family chaos of Christmas dinner. “It’s this kind of brandy, nutmeg-y, egg drink [and] you have this meringue on top […], it’s really good. We always made it with kind of a lot of brandy.”

The Recipe – Tom & Jerrys

Tom & Jerrys

The recipe is shared with us from Darling, Jen’s great-grandmother, Beulah Perthinia Millsaps Ross.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 3/4 to 1 lb powdered sugar
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • Hot milk (or water), approximately 1 gallon
  • Brandy, Bourbon or Rum to taste

Batter:  Beat egg whites until stiff.  Beat yolks until thick and creamy yellow.  Beat these together until well blended, and then gradually add powdered sugar until well blended.  (It will keep at this stage in the refrigerator for several days, but if you do store the batter, you must beat before using.)

When ready to serve, heat milk (do not boil). 

In a serving cup, put in one oz. bourbon, brandy, or rum.  Add two to three tablespoons batter and mix well.  Then add hot milk and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Serves approximately 12.

Jasinski’s Entertaining Tips

“I don’t have romantic notions of a lot of things but I feel I have some sort of romantic notion of Christmas when everybody’s nice to each other and everybody’s good to each other. […] So, I have this soft spot for Christmas because I always want Christmas to be super special,” Jasinski noted. Here are her tips for making the holiday special, smooth and delightfully ambient for your guests.

  1. Prep stuff ahead of time so you can “actually enjoy the day with your family and avoid the manic craziness.” Chop ingredients, make and freeze pie dough in advance, even make your scalloped potatoes the day before—“[they’re] better the next day,” Jasinski advises. “People don’t make stuff ahead of time.”
  2. Always make sure you have enough wine and cocktails, so you never run out—“a rookie move,” according to Jasinski. And keep some easy, light snacks ready.
  3. Decorate the table with fun flowers, low candles, little things that you can keep on the table during dinner. Put a plastic sheet under the tablecloth so don’t ruin your table. (Extra tip, white wine neutralizes red wine in case of spills).

We hope you’ve enjoyed this holiday melange of great food, colorful entertaining tips and stories from some of Denver’s best. We’d love to hear how you celebrate this food holiday, feel free to share with us your traditions, tasty recipes and food stories in the comments below.

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