Local Chefs Share Tips for Making Masterful Holiday Dishes

Wow your guests with dishes that look hard to make, but aren’t.

Photos by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

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Let’s face it: Holiday cooking can be stressful. When you’re looking to impress your family and friends with an intricate dish, it can add to the intimidation. So, we tracked down experts and asked them for tips and tricks on how to prepare seemingly complex meals with ease.

Below, two culinary chefs and a pastry chef offer step-by-step instructions on three dishes that will make your holiday menu shine.

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Joe Monnich

Chef/Owner, The Bercy

The Bercy owner and chef Joe Monnich./Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

Dish: Roasted duck breast with Brussels sprouts and a brown butter Grand Marnier sauce

What’s intimidating: Preparing and cooking a duck breast

Chef’s quick tips: Visit specialty markets and higher-end grocery stores for the best duck selection, Monnich says. He noted that it’s important to remember the bigger the duck, the richer the flavor, but that also means cooking is more complex.

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Monnich plates roasted Brussels sprouts./Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

Monnich went with a crescent duck breast that’s smaller but still has plenty of flavor. When it comes to preparing the duck, Monnich says to trim, take off the silver skin and square off the fat, because the goal is to have the duck render down. “You enable more surface area for the fat to render out,” he explains.

Season with salt and pepper, and slowly render down the fat in a pan on low heat for seven to eight minutes. Then, place the duck breast in the oven at 400 F. Checking the doneness of a duck breast is similar to checking a steak. “I like my duck medium,” Monnich says.

After about eight to nine minutes in the oven, let the duck rest for five to 10 minutes as it continues to cook. The meat thermometer should read 122 F if it is cooked perfectly.

The completed dish of roasted duck breast with Brussels sprouts and a brown butter Grand Marnier sauce./Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

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Finish the dish: Monnich halves Brussels sprouts, seasons them with salt and pepper, and bakes them in butter and olive oil in the same oven as the duck. After they’ve caramelized, Monnich drains the sprouts. Using the same pan the duck was cooked in, Monnich drains a majority of the fat and prepares a sauce with butter, lemon juice, Grand Marnier and orange segments. It’s a simplified take on the traditional Duck à l’Orange sauce.

Visit The Bercy: 7E Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, Pennsylvania, 610-589-0500, thebercy.com

Leah Steinberger

Executive Pastry Chef, Spark’d

Spark’d executive pastry chef Leah Steinberger puts the finishing touches on her Yule log holiday dessert./Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

Dish: Yule log

What’s intimidating: Rolling a cake into a log shape

Chef’s quick tips: The recipe typically takes up to a day to prepare, as it involves resting time between baking the cake, letting it cool, filling it and letting it chill before rolling it up. Steinberger prepared a chocolate cake baked in a long, square layer pan. She says you can flavor the cake with whatever you’d like, but she chose a soft whipped cream and melted chocolate filling.

“I went super simple,” she says.

The completed Yule log./Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

To achieve the perfect roll-up, Steinberger says to avoid overbaking the cake so it stays soft and flexible. After icing the cake, use parchment paper or a tea towel to help slowly roll the cake into a log shape.

To create the log-like look on the outside, cut the log to put one piece up against another, and use a piping bag filled with your icing to create lines. (Steinberger uses a spatula to create the bark-like lines.)

“It’s carved to look like a branch or a log,” she says.

Finish the dish: After the log is iced and shaped, Steinberger advises decorating it with rustic, edible ingredients like rosemary sprigs and fresh cranberries.

Visit Spark’d: Inside DE.CO, 111 W. 10th St., Wilmington, 300-4962, sparkdcreativepastry.com

Bryan Sikora

Chef and Owner, La Fia

Chef Bryan Sikora of La Fia prepares his holiday dish./Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

Dish: Curry roasted sweet potatoes with wild rice, sausage and golden raisins served in a roasted mini pumpkin

What’s intimidating: Gathering all the ingredients. Finding a mini pumpkin to present the dish can also be difficult, but the chef says a platter works for presenting.

Chef’s quick tips: Sikora recommends looking for ingredients at specialty markets, high-end grocery stores and nurseries that sell pumpkins. Fairy Tale Pumpkins are the perfect size for this dish, he says.

Use a simple flavor profile for the sausage, he says, as it will be prepared with curry roasted potatoes. Sweet Italian sausage is “very straightforward,” he says.

La Fia Chef and Owner Bryan Sikora’s final holiday dish of curry roasted sweet potatoes with wild rice, sausage and golden raisins served in a roasted mini pumpkin./Joe del Tufo, Moonloop Photography

Take the sausage out of its casing and render with onion and garlic in a pan. The potatoes should be chopped into one-quarter- to half-inch cubes and dusted with curry powder. Bake at 350 F for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, place the golden raisins in water, cover and allow to bloom. Prepare rice as you normally do.

Finish the dish: Gather the cooked sausage, potatoes, rice and raisins and “just toss it all together,” Sikora says.

Visit La Fia: 421 N. Market St., Wilmington, 543-5574, lafiawilmington.com   

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