Taste of the Holidays

December 23, 2017
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These recipes from local chefs will help you get dinner on the table this holiday season. Make them all as a meal or pick and choose throughout the season. These recipes are so good, they may end up in your repertoire. And when all else fails and you’re too tired to cook? Make reservations at any of these Two River area restaurants instead!

When you use only the best ingredients the preparation should be minimal, said Ama Ristorante’s executive chef Robert Burke. This Grilled Eggplant Tower has just a few ingredients and requires very few steps, so it makes a delicious and colorful appetizer to serve during the busy holiday season. Ama Ristorante sells its favorite extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the restaurant, which can be used in this recipe and also make great gifts.

 Ama Ristorante, 1485 Ocean Ave., Sea Bright, 732-530-9760, amaristorante.co


Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 1 (multiply as needed)

6 slices eggplant, about ½ inch thick
4 slices heirloom tomatoes
4 slices fresh mozzarella
2 handfuls of radicchio, arugula and endive, or your favorite mixed greens
Fresh basil leaves
Good quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

Coat eggplant slices with olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan to medium and grill eggplant slices until tender but still firm. Set aside.

Place half the mixed greens on a plate. Top with cooked eggplant slice, a tomato slice and a mozzarella slice. Repeat. Top the tower with an eggplant slice. Repeat on a second plate with remaining ingredients. Drizzle both towers with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and top with 2 or 3 basil leaves to serve.

(Recipe adapted from executive chef Robert Burke, Ama Ristorante)

Steamed mussels make the perfect start to any holiday meal, but this recipe from Kurt Bomberger, chef/owner of Belford Bistro, could also stand alone as a delicious, light, weeknight dinner for two, an antidote to the sometimes heavy indulgences of the holiday season.

Belford Bistro, 870 Main St., Belford, 732-495-8151, belfordbistro.com


Start to finish: 30 minutes

Servings: 2

1 pound PEI mussels
2 ounces applewood smoked bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 ounce celery root, julienned
1 ounce carrots, julienned
1/2 clove garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon Guajillo chili pepper, chopped
1/2 cup cream sherry
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
Juice of half small lemon
French baguette slices

On Your Mark, Get Set, Decorate!

Toast French baguette slices. Top with butter and a quarter of the parsley and basil.

In a medium sauté pan, render bacon with butter. Add the celery root, garlic and chili pepper and sweat. Add mussels and toss to coat. Deglaze the pan with the cream sherry. Cover the pan and reduce liquid by half. Add the heavy cream. Discard any unopened mussels. Add lemon juice and the remainder of the parsley and basil.

Serve in a bowl with a toasted baguette slices on top.

(Recipe adapted from Kurt Bomberger, chef/owner of Belford Bistro)

The Cauliflower Steak from executive chef Bob Belt at Salt Creek Grille can work as a side dish to any number of meat dishes but it’s also hearty enough to serve on its own as a vegetarian dinner. The oven roasted vegetable is layered with butternut squash puree, tabbouleh and chimichurri sauce. Chef Belt makes each component from scratch, but said substituting store-bought is perfectly acceptable during the busy holiday season.

Salt Creek Grille, 4 Bingham Avenue, Rumson, 732-933-9272, saltcreekgrille.com


Start to finish: 40 minutes

Serves: 2

One head cauliflower
1 cup chimichurri sauce (recipe below)
1 cup butternut squash puree, heated
3 cups prepared tabbouleh
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 pinches micro greens

Heat oven to 450 F.

Cut 2 1½” thick steaks from the center of the cauliflower head. Break remaining cauliflower into small florets. Brush the steaks on each side with 2 tablespoons of the chimichurri sauce. Toss the florets with the remaining sauce, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish. Place the steaks on a sheet pan and roast in the oven for about 5 to 6 minutes or until slightly tender. Keep warm. Place the florets on a separate pan and roast 8 to 10 minutes until tender. Mix roasted florets into the tabbouleh.

On a large plate, smear ½ cup butternut squash puree. Add half the tabbouleh over the puree, then top with one of the roasted cauliflower steaks. Garnish with the remaining chimichurri sauce, the cherry tomatoes and micro greens.

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½ cup parsley, stems removed
¼ cup cilantro, stems removed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon orange juice
1 teaspoon lime juice
Pinch red pepper flakes
Pinch paprika
pinch ground cumin, toasted for more flavor
pinch ground coriander, toasted for more flavor

Place all ingredients in a blender and process about 15 seconds or until slightly smooth. The sauce should still have some texture. Transfer to the refrigerator until ready to use.

(Recipe adapted from Bob Belt, executive chef at Salt Creek Grille)

This take on a cheesecake incorporates classic flavors of the season: eggnog and gingersnaps. It’s one of the favorites of the Delicious Orchards’ team because it’s “everything you love about the holidays combined into a delicious pie.”

Delicious Orchards, 320 Route 34, Colts Neck, 732-462-1989, deliciousorchardsnj.com


Servings: 8-12

12 ounces gingersnap cookies, crushed to a fine crumb
1/4 cup salted butter, melted
8 ounces whipped cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup eggnog
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon rum extract

For garnish:

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
gingersnaps, crushed
cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl add the finely crushed gingersnap cookies and butter, mixing well. Pour crumb mixture into a pie dish and press down and up the sides to form a gingersnap pie shell. To harden shell, bake at 350 for about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together cream cheese, eggnog, sugar and rum extract until creamy. Set aside.

In a mixer with the whisk attachment, add heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar and whisk until light and fluffy. Gently fold the whipped cream into the eggnog mixture, mixing until completely blended. Spoon mixture into the gingersnap pie shell and place in freezer until completely frozen.

Use gingersnaps and whip cream to garnish; sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.

(Recipe adapted from Delicious Orchards)

This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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