Samir Daher, of Sweet Dreams bakery in Warren, stands by his famed Yule Log cake.

Samir Daher, of Sweet Dreams bakery in Warren, stands by his famed Yule Log cake.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki

Local chefs share recipes for the perfect holiday dinner

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published December 18, 2017

 Executive chef Chris Franz, of Atwater in the Park restaurant in Grosse Pointe Park, said his risotto recipe is simple to make, but packed with flavor.

Executive chef Chris Franz, of Atwater in the Park restaurant in Grosse Pointe Park, said his risotto recipe is simple to make, but packed with flavor.

Photo by Sean Work

 Ken Lucia, owner of Barrels & Vines in Royal Oak, said “big” cabernets are a good fit for the holidays, but those who don’t want a dry wine can opt for a red blend.

Ken Lucia, owner of Barrels & Vines in Royal Oak, said “big” cabernets are a good fit for the holidays, but those who don’t want a dry wine can opt for a red blend.

Photo by Tiffany Esshaki


METRO DETROIT — We’ve all been there: After flipping through grandma’s recipe book a few times, you settle on a couple of tried and true recipes to prepare for your big Christmas dinner. 

Sure, you’ve had the same dishes every year since you were just a tot, but it’s not like you have a professional chef — much less four of them — to curate a perfectly updated holiday meal for your family.

Or, maybe you do. We’ve asked chefs from some of metro Detroit’s favorite restaurants for their thoughts on what makes a perfect Christmas dinner. We even asked them to share a recipe, so you can recreate the menu for your guests. 

You’re welcome.


Oysters Casino

Chef Lewis Sawyer, of O’Mara’s Restaurant in Berkley, said a truly Midwestern hors d’oeuvre is the classic shrimp cocktail. So why not take it up a notch and surprise your diners with Oysters Casino?

“In New England, oysters are a holiday staple. You see a lot of turkey stuffing recipes with oysters in them,” he said.

And preparing the oysters is a cinch. Sawyer included his quick and tasty recipe here:

• 2 dozen oysters

• 1 each, large red, green and yellow bell peppers

• 1/2 medium onion

• 8 strips bacon

• Olive oil as needed

• Salt and pepper to taste

Finely dice the bell peppers and onion, and sauté in olive oil until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Fry or broil the bacon until it’s just short of fully cooked, then slice each strip into approximately 1.5-inch portions.

Over an aluminum pan with rock salt, place the opened oysters on the pan, where the salt will keep them from tipping over. Add a half-tablespoon of the pepper and onion mixture to the top of each oyster, and place it over a piece of bacon.

Put the pan in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven for about five minutes or until the oysters are hot. Serve immediately. Serves eight guests.


TESTABARRA’s deconstructed pear salad

J. Baldwin’s new venture, TESTABARRA in Macomb Township, hasn’t been open long, but its seasonal wine classes are already extremely popular, according to Rosemarie Baldwin, chief marketing officer for the Baldwin Restaurant Group. 

During one of those classes, chefs Gabriella Rodriguez and Mike Baldwin prepared a deconstructed pear salad that was a hit with students.

“(The chefs) love the soft flavors, and the presentation is modern and contemporary,” Baldwin said.

• 1 pear

• 10 juniper berries

• 3 star anise

• 2 bay leaves

• 3 peppercorns, cracked

• 1/4 cup shallots, minced

• 3 cups pomegranate juice

• 1/2 cup red wine

• 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

• 3 ounces apple cider vinegar

• 4 thyme sprigs

• 2 quarts arugula

• 9 ounces goat cheese

• 1/2 cup pistachios, ground

• 7 ounces olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

• 1/2 lemon, juiced

In a medium sauce pot, combine the red wine, red wine vinegar, pomegranate juice, star anise and juniper berries and bring up to a light simmer. Then, add the pear.

Mince the shallots and crush the peppercorns.

Try to keep your poaching liquid at 165-180 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8-10 minutes until the pears become tender.

Reserve the pears and set aside with a little bit of poaching liquid so the pears do not get dry.

Reserve the poaching liquid, reduce and set aside.

Place the apple cider vinegar in the blender with the poaching liquid and gradually add olive oil on medium speed.

Toss the arugula with olive oil, salt and pepper with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Roll the goat cheese into 3/4-ounce balls and combine how you please.

Dust the plate with pistachio dust and serve. Serves six guests.


Rosemary and garlic crusted prime rib, with a wild mushroom and leek risotto

It’s Christmas dinner; there’s no messing around. The main course needs to be something rich, luxurious and memorable.

Chef Chris Franz, of Atwater in the Park in Grosse Pointe Park, has got you covered. His recipe for rosemary and garlic prime rib paired with a wild mushroom and leek risotto is an elevated version of the traditional holiday “roast beast,” as Dr. Seuss would say.

“This dish is one of my favorite things to serve for the holidays because while it’s easy to prepare, it’s special enough to serve for a celebration with family and friends,” Franz said. “Prime rib is always a showstopper, and the leftovers make great sandwiches.”

He added that while mashed potatoes might be the normal side for such a meal, this risotto is just as comforting but packed with even more flavor.


Rosemary and garlic crusted prime rib
• 4- to 5-pound beef rib roast 

• 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

• 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary 

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• 1 teaspoon Tellicherry peppercorns, cracked 

• 2 to 3 cups beef broth

• 1 sprig fresh rosemary

• 1 cup red wine 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and set the roast, fat side up, on a rack in a large roasting pan.

Cut deep slits all over the top and sides and push a slice of garlic into each slit.

Strip the rosemary from sprigs — set the sprigs aside — and chop. Combine with salt and cracked peppercorns and pat mixture all over the roast.

Add rosemary sprigs and 2 cups of beef broth to the bottom of the pan. Roast the beef for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and roast another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the roast reaches 125 degrees Fahrenheit for medium rare and 135 degrees Fahrenheit for medium.

Remove the prime rib from the oven, transfer to a large cutting board or serving platter, and tent with foil to rest.

Set the roasting pan with any juices on the stove set on medium heat. Add 1/2 to 1 cup of broth and scrape up any browned bits. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, then strain through a sieve to remove solids.

Thinly slice beef against the grain and serve atop the risotto, then drizzle with sauce. Serves six guests.


Wild mushroom and leek risotto
• 2 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved, thinly sliced crosswise, about 2 cups

• 3/4 cup whipping cream

• 1 pound shiitake mushrooms, baby portabellas or morels 

• 1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced lengthwise 

• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

• 1 tablespoon white truffle oil

• 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves 

• 6 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided 1 large onion, chopped

• 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

• 1/2 cup dry white wine 

• 5 cups hot vegetable broth

• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• 2 teaspoons white truffle oil 

Bring the leeks and cream to boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the leeks are tender and the cream is thick, stirring often, for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss all mushrooms with truffle oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast until the mushrooms are tender and light brown around the edges, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. Set aside when finished.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until they begin to soften, for about five minutes. Add rice and stir one minute. Add wine and stir until almost all liquid is absorbed, for about one minute.

Add 1 cup of hot broth and simmer until the broth is almost absorbed, stirring often, for about four minutes. Add more broth, 1 cup at a time, allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is tender and the mixture is creamy, for about 20 minutes longer.

Stir in the leek mixture, mushroom mixture, remaining 4 tablespoons of butter, cheese and truffle oil. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper as needed and serve. Serves six guests.


Yule Log

If you’ve still got room, you’re in luck: Samir Daher, founder of Sweet Dreams bakery in Warren, has the final course all rolled up for you. 

His famous Yule Log — basically an elaborately decorated traditional Swiss roll — is selling like, well, hotcakes right now. The reason it’s so popular is pretty simple, according to Daher: His recipe includes all of the good stuff.

“Whatever you (bake), try not to do it low fat, low cholesterol or anything like that. Do it the old-fashioned way,” he said. “We use real cream, real butter, real sugar. They all work together, and if you take away or substitute anything, the flavor falls apart.” 

• 4 large egg yolks

• 2 large eggs

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 tablespoons water

• 2 teaspoons canola oil

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 cup cake flour

• 1 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• Confectioners’ sugar

• 1 cup heavy whipping cream

• 1 tablespoon sugar

• 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh strawberries

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of a greased 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan with parchment paper, then grease the paper also.

Beat the egg yolks and eggs on high speed for three minutes. Gradually add sugar, beating until thick and lemon-colored. Beat in water, oil and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt, then fold into the egg mixture. Spread evenly into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top springs back when lightly touched, for 10-12 minutes. Allow it to cool for five minutes, then invert onto a tea towel dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Gently peel off the paper, then roll up cake in the towel jelly-roll-style, starting with a short side. Allow it to cool completely on a wire rack.

For filling, beat the cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, then gently fold in the strawberries.

Unroll the cake and spread the filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges. Roll it up again, without the towel, and trim the ends. Place on a platter, seam side down. Refrigerate covered for one hour. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving. Serves eight guests.


Now that you’ve got dinner settled, you can figure out what’s going in your glass. Ken Lucia, owner of Barrels & Vines in Royal Oak, said that while everyone’s taste for wine is different, there are certain bottles that will safely satisfy everyone at the table.

“For prime rib, you want to pick a nice big cabernet to cut through those fats. It will cleanse your palate so you’re ready for that next bite,” Lucia explained. 

If a strong cabernet sauvignon is too bold for some of your guests, you can always opt for a red blend that will have just enough bite — or tannins — to pair with your meal without being too dry.

For white wine fans, buttery and bready chardonnays are popular right now, as is the crispness of a sauvignon blanc or white Bordeaux. 

When you bring that Yule Log out, you can also be the hip host and pour a glass of Pineau des Charentes instead of coffee, or even port.

“It’s just hit the market in the United States in the past 10 years. It’s really good, and it’s served cold. It has some really intense fruit notes; it’s totally different and you won’t forget it,” he added.