16 Clever Holiday Cooking & Baking Tips from Chefs at ALHI Hotels

16 Clever Holiday Cooking & Baking Tips from Chefs at ALHI Hotels

By:Brittany Anas
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From how to create a wow-worthy gingerbread house to achieving the just-right crisp on the skin of your turkey, hotel chefs have all types of clever holiday baking and cooking tricks. With the holiday season approaching, we asked top chefs from across the ALHI portfolio to share their very best kitchen tips for home chefs and bakers. Here, they've dished out 16 tips that will help you do everything from perfect prime ribs to craft delicious sugar cookies that look as good as they taste.

Make a Better Turkey With Bourbon

Maybe you've tried injecting a turkey with a marinade or wine in the past to increase its flavor and moisture. This year, for a wild card, inject your bird with a bourbon or Cointreau, suggests Alfonso de la Dehesa, executive chef at Hotel Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Quintana Roo, Mexico. "It will provide a fuller, smoked flavor," he says. 

Here are more other turkey tips, courtesy of Chef de la Dehesa: 

  • Marinate your turkey at least one day before popping it in the oven
  • Season the bird with fresh herbs, garlic and olive oil. A thicker salt, he says, works better than a refined one because it releases the saltiness gradually. 
  • Turn up in the heat just when the baking time is coming to an end to tan the turkey perfectly and to make the skin crunchy. 

Factor in Resting Time for Your Meats 

Not only does letting your meat rest help get it to the desired temperature, but it keeps your dish tender and juicy by letting the natural juices disperse throughout the meat instead of leaking out onto the plate. So how do you go about this? Say you want to make a medium rare prime rib. Remove the prime rib from the oven at 130 degrees and let it rest for 15 minutes, says Executive Chef Joseph Almoguera from Prince Waikiki in Honolulu, Hawaii. The prime rib's temperature will continue to climb to 135 degrees, which is medium rare, while also retaining its natural au jus.

Make Friends With Your Local Butcher

It also helps to order ahead of the holidays, says Jeff Vucko, chef de cuisine at Travelle at The Langham, Chicago. "You will likely get a better cut of meat and won't risk them not having what you're looking for," Vucko says.

Save the Turkey Bones 

After you roast your turkey, don't toss out the bones. It can make an amazing stock in stews or chilis, says Chris Knouse, executive sous chef at The Wigwam in Litchfield Park, Arizona. 

Keep Nuts on Hand 

"During the holiday season, I love having candied nuts around, whether it's for snacking or add in to a salad," says Heskeith Flavien, the executive chef at Mason Street Grill at The Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Flavien suggests giving a savory kick to pecans by adding granulated garlic, cayenne and pepper to the sugar mix when you're making candied nuts. Blanch the pecans in a sugar water so they can easily be coated with the sugar mix, he says. Then, bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until they're nice and crispy.

The Trick to Extracting Pomegranate Seeds 

The slight tartness of pomegranate seeds make them a versatile and vibrant addition that can dress up salads, glazes, side dishes and even cocktails. But if you've ever tried out a recipe that calls for pomegranate seeds, you know how difficult it can be to get the seeds from the fruit. The best way to go about this is to first roll the pomegranate around in the palm of your hand or on a table, says Baasim Zafar, Executive Chef at the Peninsula Chicago. "Then, cut the fruit down the middle," he says. "Hold the fruit cut side down over a bowl. Use a large spoon to tap the back of the fruit and the seeds should pop out."

Shop the Farmers Market for Side Dishes

The Farmers Market isn't just for warm months. Some winter veggies that are great after the frost for holiday meals include leafy greens like kale and cabbage that can make hearty salads, says Scott Winegard, Executive Chef at CIVANA Wellness Resort & Spa in Carefree, Arizona. Also, roots like turnips and rutabaga are great to roast or mash like you would potatoes, Winegard says.

Add This Secret Ingredient for Instagram-Worthy Sugar Cookies

When you're decorating your sugar cookies, brush a little corn syrup on the baked cookies, suggests Danielle Marelli, pastry chef at The Langham, Chicago. This will help your sprinkles, sanding sugar and other decorations stick to the cookie, instead of falling to the bottom of the serving plate or tin, she says. 

Make a Variety of Cookies from One Batch

You can make one big batch of dough (say, sugar cookie dough or shortbread dough) and then flavor it with different extracts and zests, Marelli says, or mix in various nuts or dried fruits. That way, you've got a variety of cookies, but without all the extra work. Marelli also suggests making cookie dough ahead of time and stashing it in the freezer. That way, you can pull what you need when you need it. 

Try These Tricks for Better Pies 

When you're baking fruit pies, brush the unbaked, lined pie shell with egg white and sprinkle a 1:1 ratio of sugar and all purpose flour over the shell, Marelli says. "This mixture absorbs the juices of fruit pies and doesn't leave you with a soggy bottom crust.
" Also, add a little mascarpone cheese to your whipped cream, she suggests. It will help stabilize the cream throughout the part, preventing it from melting on your pies.

Keep Christmas Cookies Soft With This Easy Hack

If you're making cookies for a cookie exchange or to deliver to friends and family throughout the holiday season, keep them soft with a slice of bread, suggests Bill Hill, Executive Conference Center Chef with The Coeur d'Alene Resort in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

"All you have to do is pop a slice of bread into the container," he says. "It'll give the cookies the moisture they need. This trick works, too, if your cookies have gotten a bit too crispy or have dried out."

A Technique for Picture-Perfect Iced Cookies

Ever wonder how pastry chefs get the icing to stay bright white and smooth on cinnamon star cookies? Try applying the icing to the rolled cookie dough and freeze it before cutting out the shapes, says A.J. Thalakkat, executive pastry chef at Fairmont Washington D.C. Let the icing dry out for four to five hours at room temperature before baking. Then, bake in a moderately hot oven. Hot and short baking retain the color of the icing. 

A Boozy Tip for Gourmet Cookies

Soak raisins or craisins overnight in your favorite liqueur, suggests Christjana Goodwin, pastry chef at Lansdowne. Strain the fruit and add it to your cookie dough. You can save the leftover liqueur and make a simple powdered sugar glaze to drizzle over room temperature cookies, she says.

The Principles of Constructing an Elite-Level Gingerbread House 

Pastry Chef Anastasia Simpson from Pebble Beach Resorts in California creates renowned gingerbread house displays which take on a new theme and look each year. 
If you're eager to make your own display at home, Simpson suggests using cardboard as the base of a gingerbread house scene and cut a hole under where the house will sit. 

"Buy an inexpensive nightlight, remove the cover and poke the light through the hole underneath your gingerbread house for an illuminated effect," she says. 

Here's three more top-notch gingerbread house tips, courtesy of Simpson: 

  • Skip the wafers and use snickers for creating textured walls, like a brick chimney. Slice the candy bar thin for the best effect. 
  • Nerd Rope Candy in Christmas colors is a great way to create a stringed light effect on the roof.
  • Use different colored almonds for a dynamic roof tiling effect.

Use Parchment Paper for Perfect Cookie Dough

If your sugar cookie dough gets too soft during the rolling out process, try sandwiching the dough between two pieces of parchment paper on your work table and roll the dough out with a rolling pin to your desired thickness, suggests Pastry Chef Jason Reaves from Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. Leaving the paper on it, place the dough in the refrigerator until it's chilled, then peel off the paper and you're ready to cut out your cookie.

Avoid This Common Mistake When Making Holiday Breads

Oftentimes, when home cooks are baking holiday breads, they tend to add too much flour to the dough while handling it, says Jeremy Garcia, the pastry chef at Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley, Utah. Do this, and you'll end up with a dry and under-proofed roll or bread. For yeasted doughs, Garcia typically adds a little extra water to the dough so they are a bit tacky after resting. This not only gives the finished product some extra moisture, but it allows your bread to rise better while proofing and baking. Also, for scones and biscuits, give your dough a half hour to rest in the fridge before rolling out, Garcia suggests. This way, you'll have a more delicate and moist biscuit.