December 2020 is here, and I welcome it with open arms.
This has been a remarkably historic year for our world with a global pandemic that, after 11 months, is still rearing its ugly head. In spite of all the unknowns we are still facing, I am hoping December will, like in years past, bring a sense of calmness and joy to our otherwise stressful lives.
Whether you celebrate Kwanza, Christmas, Hanukkah or the Winter Solstice, I hope you can take to time this month to gives thanks, reflect and look forward to the coming New Year.
For me, Christmas is a very special time, especially with a 4-year-old running around screaming about reindeer on rooftops and asking when we get to open the next day on the chocolate advent calendar. My mother always made the whole month very special for my brother and me. From the parties with friends and family to making gingerbread houses with our neighbors, there was always a special holiday activity to enjoy.
During my tenure as the Executive Chef at a sprawling, iconic restaurant in Seattle, I had the pleasure of teaching a “Fresh Catch” class every month. These classes drew 40-plus guests who wanted to learn about ingredients and methods we used in our kitchens. Each class had a theme. For our Salmon class, for example, I taught pan-searing techniques, what flavor profiles pair well with salmon, and ultimately, how to present a cohesive plate of salmon.
When December rolled around, I had trouble coming up with a food theme. It’s hard to have a fresh “star” ingredient unless you turn to winter citrus.
Then it hit me: Gingerbread houses! This class sold out and was the first to offer spots at the table for kids.
In the class, we talked about the difference between “construction” gingerbread and regular gingerbread, why the icing is so important for the survival of the structure and crafting techniques that could raise a simple gingerbread house to a new level. (Mine had sparkling lights and swinging doors).
The recipes here were created for that class and include both types of gingerbread. As an extra Christmas treat, I am including a homemade hot chocolate recipe that will be sure to wow your guests and family this holiday season.
Gather your ingredients, set the oven to 375, get the kids and build your masterpiece!
Brett Gardner Howell grew up in Knoxville and now lives in Seattle with his wife, Olivia, and two children. He has been an Executive Chef for the better part of his career and continues to work in culinary arts across the country. Reach out to Brett with questions or comments on Instagram @tableside_chef.