Three Decatur chefs serve up holiday traditions at home
By Heather Karellas, contributor
The holidays are upon us. Downtown Decatur is decked out with festive wreaths and twinkling lights, and the spirit of the season seems to be everywhere. This year, three Decatur chefs chatted with Decaturish to share their favorite traditions, their tips for making the season extra-special, and some easy recipes to help you relax, eat well, and impress everyone.
Chef/Co-Owner | Cakes & Ale
Cakes & Ale has been a down-to-earth, welcoming Decatur spot for more than a decade. Decaturites (among others.) flock here for the approachable atmosphere and delicious, locally sourced menu. Cakes & Ale aims to create a sense of community and friendliness in its dining room and its café next door. So, it’s only natural that creator and chef Billy Allin enjoys spending the holiday season with his community. His favorite holiday tradition is getting together with a big group of neighbors for a Christmas Eve potluck. While Allin cherishes his childhood memories of small family celebrations, he expressed how much joy he finds now in gathering with his whole neighborhood. “Growing up, we never did that…it’s fun to be in a big group and to see the children experience the magic of the holiday.”
Another tradition that Allin and his family partake in is going to see the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s “Garden Lights, Holiday Nights,” which features dazzling light displays throughout the garden.
When he’s not out and about or in the Cakes & Ale kitchen, Allin enjoys cooking for his family. His signature holiday dish? A cranberry relish with Valencia orange and other spices. “It’s tart and sharp, to balance out the rich flavors” that define our holiday feasts.
If you go to Cakes & Ale during the holidays, you’ll find plenty of standout autumnal dishes, including a short rib and potato ravioli, pork shoulder with cabbage and prosciutto cotto wrapped squash, and sticky toffee pudding – but the real treat comes after the holidays. A “grandma’s spaghetti” dinner will be served between Christmas and New Year’s (date TBA). The dinner will include heavy noodles with a hearty tomato sauce chock full of different meats. Keep an eye on Cakes + Ale’s social media for the date.
Billy Allin’s Cranberry Relish
Equipment needed: food processor
12 oz bag organic cranberries
1 organic Valencia orange, unpeeled (about the size of a baseball, if smaller may need a wedge or two more from second orange)
2/3 cup organic cane sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Couple cracks pepper
Wash all fruit and drain or dry. You will use the whole orange, so do not peel.
Cut orange in wedges and remove seeds. Put orange wedges in food processor and pulse a few times.
Add cranberries and purée until well ground but in no way smooth.
Scrape down the sides of food processor bowl a couple times while purring.
Add salt and pepper and with motor running, add oil.
Executive Chef & Partner | no. 246
No. 246, created by Ford Fry and Drew Belline, offers Italian-inspired cuisine with top-notch local ingredients and simple, classic cooking methods. Italian food, with its familiar ingredients and rustic comfort, is a natural go-to during the chilly months. Dishes like cacao e pepe; wood roasted half chicken with sweet potato, roasted apple, and bacon agrodolce; and orange polenta cake evoke visions of roaring fireplaces and crunchy leaves. Belline, who is executive chef, recommends a seasonal side that will appear soon on the no. 246 menu: roasted winter squash with candied nuts and a sage brown butter.
The holiday dish that Belline is most proud of, though, is the short-rib ravioli, which he describes it as a simple dish featuring a fatty, rich meat, house-made ricotta, toasted garlic, mushrooms, and seasonal spices. Herb-poached quints (a fruit that’s something of a cross between a pear and pineapple) help round out and balance the flavor. Belline looks forward to cooking the short-rib ravioli each year because “it’s a rich, hearty, warm dish for the winter.”
For Belline, those hearty winter foods are just part of what make the holidays so special. The right décor and atmosphere can help get even the Scrooge in your family humming along to holiday tunes. Fortunately, Belline has a special recipe for instant holiday cheer. He fills a big copper pot with Christmas tree trimmings and a few other special ingredients to make his entire home smell like the holidays all season long.
Once everyone is in the holiday spirit, Belline and his family have started a new tradition in recent years: helping the First Christian Church in Decatur with their annual Christmas tree sale. After helping unload the trees, they purchase their own tree from the church. “It’s great to support the local community,” Belline said with a warm smile. He and his family also enjoy attending the Avondale Estates Christmas tree lighting
Drew Belline’s Stove-Top Holiday Scent Medley, “Christmas Smells”
Christmas tree (just a few fresh sprigs trimmed from the tree)
2 cinnamon sticks
4 pieces of star anise
Quarter the apple and cut the tangerine in half.
Add all of the ingredients into a small sauce pot on the back burner. Slowly simmer over the lowest heat possible, and the whole house will fill up with the smells of sweet spice and fresh Christmas trees.
Don’t forget to continuously add water throughout the day as well as to turn the burner off at night. We like to keep a pot going at our house throughout the entire Christmas season, but we refresh the ingredients every 3-4 days. Enjoy.
Chef de Cuisine | Revival
At Kevin Gillespie’s Revival, Nicole Edwards serves up classic Southern cuisine with farm-fresh ingredients. Revival is all about tradition – from the warm and welcoming décor to the family-style service option – so it was a refreshing surprise to hear that at home, Edwards breaks from tradition entirely. “The past couple years, my husband and I have taken up ordering in for the holidays. Everyone assumes that because we’re chefs, we have these elaborate meals all the time.”
Edwards confessed that grocery store pizza is a holiday staple in her household, too.
She does embrace some traditions, though. Edwards said that one of her favorite childhood memories is driving up I-95 to her grandparents’ house in New Jersey for the holidays. The family drove a big van (“because my mom joked we couldn’t stand to sit next to each other”) and enjoyed the long drive by watching and listening to movies together along the way. Nowadays, her favorite holiday tradition is seeing a movie or two at a local theater on Christmas day with her husband. When it comes to gift-giving, Edwards keeps it simple and sweet: a mason jar cookie kit is her favorite gift to give – or home-baked cookies, if she has time.
It’s easy to see why Edwards keeps the holidays simple and stress-free at home: because at Revival, she’s whipping up all kinds of beautiful dishes that evoke our favorite holiday memories.
“Especially this time of year, all our trimmings are appropriate for a big holiday meal. Our mac and cheese is always a winner,” she said. “It’s just a really hearty, cheesy, gooey, heavy side…we have a Brussels sprout dish on the menu that’s deep-fried and tossed with apple cider vinegar, peppers, and cow’s milk feta cheese.”
Edwards also mentioned that many menu items are vegetarian-friendly or can be adapted for a variety of dietary needs. For those with a sweet tooth, she divulged, “We just added a couple of seasonal desserts – a sweet potato pie, which is very traditional. We’ll do more unique flavor profiles for some desserts, but it’s nice to have a go-to traditional option.”Edwards added that a special play off of a “Santa’s cookie platter” will be offered in December, along with hot chocolate.
Nicole Edwards’ Mason Jar Sorghum Cookie Kit
1 cup granulated sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp vanilla extract
⅓ cup chopped pecans
To pack your gift for gifting:
Place all of the dry ingredients in layers in jars (except the last 1/2 cup of sugar used to roll the dough in).
Place the pecan pieces in a small plastic bag at the top of the mason jar to avoid getting mixed in too soon.
Have fun decorating the jars with ribbons, stickers, or a colorful label.
Remember to give a printed copy of the recipe. It may also be a good idea to send a small, separate jar of sorghum syrup, as it may be difficult for some people to source.
Sorghum Cookie Instructions (to print on a recipe card for recipient)
Makes 2-3 dozen cookies
Additional Ingredients Needed:
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
¼ cup sorghum syrup (or molasses if you don’t have sorghum)
½ cup granulated sugar for rolling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the sugar and softened butter together until smooth and fluffy.
Add the egg and vanilla extract and continue to beat until incorporated. Slowly add the sorghum syrup and mix until evenly combined.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt and all of the spices. Once the dry ingredients are mixed well, slowly add the dry mix to the wet mix. Be careful not to overmix.
Once the dry and wet ingredients are combined, fold in the pecan pieces.
Cover and refrigerate the dough for an hour before using.
Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and roll them in the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar. On a greased baking sheet, place the balls, about 3 inches apart, and bake for about 10 minutes. The final product should come out golden and slightly puffed. Let the cookies cool down completely before storing them.
With so many delicious ways to enjoy the holiday, Billy Allin said it best: “You shouldn’t have to stress about cooking – it should be fun.”