Friday, December 21, 2012

What’s on the holiday menu?

Valley cooks talk about Christmas eats

Express Staff Writer

Longtime Ketchum resident Mary Jane Conger prepares for Christmas by baking some fresh holiday cookies. Photo by Roland Lane

For the valley’s cooking enthusiasts—and their lucky families—celebrating the holidays revolves around the enjoyment of good eats. From traditional turkey dinners and secret family recipes from the Old World to more modern vegetarian feasts, the valley’s home cooks are gearing up to craft a variety of exceptional yuletide stomach-stuffers this Christmas season.

Pepin Corso-Harris, a Bellevue Triangle resident, said she likes to make traditional American foods, including turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.

“However, what everyone fights over are the Chantilly potatoes,” she said. “I make them with mashed russets and yams baked in a large, deep casserole dish with whipped cream and cheddar cheese on top. They are to die for.”

Corso-Harris said the dish is a festive food that her mother used to make, and she keeps the tradition special by serving the potatoes only twice a year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Lara McClain, a lieutenant in the Ketchum Fire Department, said she looks to the Old World for Christmas dinner inspiration.

“I’m Italian so I do pasta,” she said.

However, McClain said she also has Greek heritage, so she makes a hybrid Greek-Italian dish, based on a recipe that her “gia-gia” (Greek for grandmother) used to make.

“I roast two chickens and use the pan juices as the base for the sauce,” she said. “I add garlic and tomato, then I add cinnamon and it becomes awesome. I also add one secret ingredient that I won’t tell you. Every chef needs to add a secret ingredient.”

McClain said the dish’s aroma and flavor evoke many Christmas memories for her family.

“It has the odd, magical effect of not filling you up too fast, so you can eat twice as much!” she said.

Jena Greaser, a 26-year-old mountain bike racer who moved to the valley this summer, will spend the holidays—like many valley residents her age—working multiple jobs. However, she and boyfriend Ryan O’Hara plan on setting time aside to prepare some tasty homemade treats, which she said they’ll enjoy between work shifts on the afternoon of the 25th.

“We make lot’s of fun vegetarian dishes,” she said. “Whatever we make will be local.”

Greaser said that before she became a vegetarian, she grew up eating ham, scalloped potatoes and green beans for Christmas dinner.

“Maybe we’ll keep with the tradition of green beans and potatoes of some sort,” she said.

Rob Landis, outdoor program director at the Community School in Sun Valley and a former professional chef, said his family is going to keep it classic this year.

“Every time we’ve tried to do something a little less traditional, we’ve agreed that there’s a reason certain foods are traditional,” he said.

He said that this year, that means cooking up a turkey, and he let slip the hush-hush on how to roast it right.

“The key element here is the timing,” he said. “The beauty of a turkey is that it takes three to four hours to roast, which is about the amount of time it takes to get in your car, drive to Galena, ski for a bit and drive home. That’s pretty much the perfect day.”

Landis said he serves his gobbler with a cranberry and jalapeño chutney, mashed potatoes and stuffing, all homemade.

“Stuffing isn’t hard to make at all,” he said. “People should do it from scratch more often. It comes out much better than the stuff in the box. Plus, it’s a good use for stale bread rather than wasting it.”

Mary Jane Griffith Conger, grand marshal for the 2012 Wagon Days parade, a local history book author and granddaughter of Al Griffith—the second man to buy a lot in Ketchum—was born in 1925 and remembers eating holiday food in the valley as far back as the 1930s.

“My mother used to make hot cider with cinnamon, clove and slices of orange and lemon,” she said. “It just makes a delightful smell throughout the house. You can put brandy in it, but my family didn’t.”

She said her mother also used to make fresh rolls that they would eat with homemade jam. She said those also made the house smell wonderful.

“We’d tear them apart when they were still piping hot and steam would come out,” she said.

Conger said her mother used to roast a turkey in a coal oven that was much larger than today’s conventional ovens.

“My mother had a big roasting pan that wouldn’t fit in today’s ovens,” she said. “It really did a good job roasting the turkey and collecting the drippings for gravy.”

Conger said cranberries were harder to come by in the 1930s and 1940s, so they were special. Cranberry relish, she said, was always one of her favorites.

“Another of my favorites was mince pie,” she said. “But I don’t thing it’s too much in vogue now. You don’t hear much about it.”

Conger said she prepared many of her mother’s traditional holiday foods while raising her five children, but this year she plans to pursue a more modern meal.

“My daughter’s visiting and she’s a vegan,” she said. “We’re going to have a pretty simple meal more on the vegetarian side. I think I’m going to make a mince pie and a cherry pie.”

Conger offered some tasty advice on what to serve for Christmas dinner.

“It works out well to have a number of things people can munch on,” she said. “People like to nibble.”

Brennan Rego:

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