UNT System HR is bringing UNT World experts directly to you with this periodic and always timely installation called "Ask An Expert." So, let's ask...
EXPERT: Jodi Duryea, UNT Hospitality Management
EXPERTISE: Professional food preparation & international cuisine
Chef Duryea is a former Executive Chef with more than 10 years experience working in New York City restaurants. Her passion is creating a menu and hosting a great dinner party -- so you know COVID-19 is putting a damper on her traditional holiday plans. Still, it is the holidays, and she has great advice for preparing a smaller meal -- or going big and delivering to relatives -- putting a global spin on your traditional sides and creating a super-tasty French pastry for dessert.
Happy holidays and bon appétit.
Q: Everyone has their favorite traditional holiday meal, but what if we want to change things up this year and possibly start a new tradition with a main or side dish?
Chef Duryea: One of my favorite things to do is travel and try new dishes, but since I am not traveling this year because of COVID-19, I am going to add something from where I would like to go. For instance, I may make my own tortellini en brodo. I love making homemade pasta, and with a couple of family members to help, it will be perfect.
Tortellini en brodo is a traditional dish from Bologna, Italy. It has been prepared for Christmas since the mid-16th century. It's a rich broth filled with small, stuffed pastas. There are women who still make a living in Italy by making the tortellini by hand and selling it to people and restaurants. Often for holidays, people make a roast of some kind. I have been using traditional spice blends to add flavor to the roasts. There are traditional Masala spice blends from India made for roast meats that can be found in local Indian markets and in the spice aisle of your supermarket. For a side dish, look to Iran or Persia for a traditional side dish called Tahdig. The name Tahdig literally translates as "the bottom of the pot" in Persian, and it is the crust that forms on the bottom of the pot. It can be done with the rice or with a thin layer of potatoes under the rice. A couple of options for flavoring the basmati rice are using baby lime beans and dill or dried fruit and saffron.
Q: We all know the holidays this year are different and that means keeping our celebrations (and feasts) much smaller. How can we make our holiday dinner feel special when we're missing our usual extended family?
Chef Duryea: I think making the meal with other people makes it special. Is it time for your kids to learn some of the family dishes? It is time to make new traditions? Depending on the ages of your kids, getting them in the kitchen with you will often make them more willing to try new things. Whether it is making tortellini, Chinese dumplings or samosa from India, or sugar cookies and decorating them, working together with your kids to produce these things will give them a feeling of accomplishment and hopefully make them more adventurous. There are many sources to take advantage of: Amazon, Serious Eats and The New York Times all have suggestions for where to find tools and recipes for your kids.
Q: While we will not be gathering with extended family for our holiday meal, we do have older family members in close proximity. Any suggestions to include them in our meal from a distance?
Chef Duryea: I personally like to make a big meal and divide it up into containers. Maybe have other family members contribute, too. I encourage dropping off food for relatives since it isn't safe to spend time with them. I got some to-go containers from a local restaurant supply place. Delivering a delicious meal that we would have otherwise enjoyed together can help to make the holiday feel special.
Q: Let's talk our favorite part of the meal -- dessert! As a patisserie, you must have some incredible ideas. What is your favorite French holiday dessert to make?
Chef Duryea: I have been slightly obsessed with the French Buche de Noel this year. I have been playing with different sponge cakes and just love their versatility. For Thanksgiving, I filled it with pumpkin and chocolate mousse and covered it with a chocolate Swiss buttercream frosting. I love the meringue mushrooms and frosted cranberries and rosemary. I have also filled it with a Nutella cream filling and covered it with chocolate ganache. Maybe a cranberry jam with an orange whipped cream filling will be next on the agenda. Buche de Noel, also known as a Yule log, goes back to Nordic times and was originally part of the winter solstice celebration. They would cut down Pine/Spruce trees and decorate them, and soon it was made into a dessert. It has been adopted as a traditional Christmas treat and gift since then. King Arthur’s, Martha Stewart and my favorite, Bo Friberg, all have wonderful pastry books. The next couple of weeks is my favorite time to bake cookies. I try to mix flavors and textures for variety. I think using good butter and pure flavorings makes a huge difference in the final product.