Holiday Recipes From Washington DC Chefs

December 12, 2012 8:00 AM


Holidays mean spending time with family and cooking up a great meal. Don’t stress if this is your first go ’round, or if you’ve just never mastered apple pie. Two of D.C.’s hottest chefs — Mike Isabella of Graffiato and Bandolero and Dennis Marron of Poste Moderne Brasserie — share the recipes that they prepare for their family during the holidays to guarantee your family a meal to remember this year.
mikeisabella Holiday Recipes From Washington DC Chefs


707 6th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 289-3600

As many “Top Chef” fans will remember when Mike Isabella connected with his Italian roots during one of the challenges. Since then, he’s opened Graffiato in Gallery Place to showcase his Italian heritage. Naturally, his holiday meals consist of gathering together for some homecooked Italian cuisine. A three-course meal at his house starts with homemade baked ricotta served with scallions and cured meats including speck with saba, a thick syrup made from grape juice. For the main course, enjoy a pan-seared pork chop served with a side of roasted seasonal squash and topped with a red wine onion sauce. Finally, nothing says holidays at Isabella’s house like cookies. Isabella said he prefers the vibrant colors of rainbow cookies. Here’s how to make some of his favorite family dishes.

For the easy ricotta, you’ll need a gallon of whole milk that you’ll heat in a large pot with an herb bundle of three sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and a slice of lemon peel. Stir two teaspoons of citric acid into the milk and bring the mixture to 185 degrees. Be sure to scrape the bottom so that the mixture doesn’t stick. Once the mixture is ready, remove it from the pot and let stand for 10 minutes before straining out the curds with a cheese cloth. Refrigerate for 45 minutes and discard the liquid that remains at the bottom.

To make the baked ricotta appetizer, mix two cups of the ricotta with thin strips of 1.5 ounces of speck, four sliced scallions, half a cup of grated parmigiano-reggiano, one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, two teaspoons of lemon zest and half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Spread the mixture into an eight-inch square baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then drizzle two teaspoons of saba on top and serve with warm Italian bread.

For the entrée, start by roasting a halved butternut squash with a bit of butter and rosemary in the oven. When tender, scoop out the pulp and sauté it with a tablespoon of butter for about seven minutes. For the red wine onions, combine one cup of peeled red pearl onions and red wine with half a cup of red wine vinegar and one tablespoon of sugar in a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat and allow it to become a thick syrup, which takes about 30 minutes. In a large sauté pan, sauté two boneless pork chops and serve over the butternut squash with the red wine onions on top.

For dessert, Isabella harkens back to his childhood with his favorite rainbow cookies, which are a multilayered red, white and green almond cookie with apricot and raspberry jam in between, covered with a chocolate top. They require a little more detailed instruction than most of the other recipes listed here, so here’s your ingredient list and how to make these happen, as adapted from Isabella’s book.

Rainbow Cookies

8 ounces almond paste, finely chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
2 cups all-purpose flour
10 drops red food coloring
10 drops green food coloring
1/3 cup raspberry jam
1/3 cup apricot jam
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line three 9 by 13-inch baking pans with parchment paper and a baking sheet with plastic wrap that is twice the width and length of the baking sheet. Cream the almond paste, butter, sugar and egg yolks on medium speed. With the mixer on low speed, gently add flour until a thick dough forms. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg whites they form soft peaks. Fold them into the dough using a silicone spatula. Split the dough into three equal portions. Stir red food coloring into one and green into the other, leaving the third batch plain. Spread each portion into its own parchment-lined baking pan. Each layer should be about a half inch thick. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cake is lightly browned and a toothpick come out clean. Invert each cake onto a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and allow to completely cool. Using the back of a spoon or silicone spatula, pass both jams separately through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl to remove any larger pieces and seeds. Place the green cake layer on the baking sheet lined with plastic wrap. Evenly spread raspberry jam onto the cake and top with the white layer. Evenly spread the white layer with apricot jam, and top with the red layer. Pull plastic wrap up and over the layers. If it does not fully cover the top, just cover with a separate piece of plastic wrap. Place a heavy pan or cutting board on top to press the layers together. Chill in the refrigerator for eight hours or overnight. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Top the red layer with melted chocolate and refrigerate for an hour. Trim an eighth inch from all of the edges. Slice the cake lengthwise into one-inch strips, then slice each strip into two inch-wide pieces.

All these recipes may be seen in full in Isabella’s new cookbook called “Mike Isabella’s Crazy Good Italian.”

About Chef Mike Isabella
Mike Isabella began his career training at The Restaurant School in New York. After cooking in NYC, he then moved to Philadelphia where he worked with culinary geniuses including Douglas Rodriquez of Alma de Cuba, Stephen Starr and Jose Garces at El Vez before becoming executie sous chef at Marcus Samuelsson’s Washington Square. Isabella then added Greek cuisine to his culinary repertoire when he moved to Atlanta to work as the chef de cuisine at Kyma before coming to D.C. as the executive chef at Jose Andres’ Zaytinya. He opened his first restaurant Graffiato followed closely by Bandolero. Named The People’s Best New Chef by Food  & WineMagazine, it’s no wonder Isabella will launch a Greek restaurant named Kapnos and an Italian sandwich shop called G. in 2013.

Related: Best Top Chef Restaurants in D.C.

dennismarron Holiday Recipes From Washington DC Chefs

(credit: Poste Moderne Brasserie Facebook page)

Poste Moderne Brasserie
555 8th St. NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 783-6060

Executive Chef Dennis Marron said he likes to spend his days off with family and friends. The last thing he wants to do is be stuck in the kitchen on his day off, which is why he prepares a red wine-braised lamb shank for the holidays. The dish needs nearly five hours in the oven, allowing for the holiday event to be spent either doing last-minute tasks or hanging out with friends. It fills the home with that delicious aroma of roasting lamb, which Marron, and his dogs, really enjoy. Alternatively, if you know that your day will be filled with errands, this dish can be prepared the day before and heated for one hour before serving.

The red wine-braised lamb shank starts with four domestic lamb shanks from your local butcher. Next chop two carrots, three celery stalks, an onion, and four cloves of garlic into bit sized pieces. In a large pan with a heavy bottom, add oil and heat to the point where the oil is smoking. Generously season the shanks with salt and pepper and sear on all sides. Then add your carrots and onion to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. When the carrots start to caramelize, add in the celery and garlic until all of the veggies are brown. Add in two ounces of tomato paste and cook for 1.5 minutes before deglazing the pan with one bottle of red wine. Remember, the tastiest parts are usually stuck to the bottom, so be sure to scrape the pan with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until half of the wine has disappeared, then add in four sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage plus two bay leaves. Return the lamb shanks to the pot and add one quart of salt-free beef stock. Bring the stock to a boil, then cover and place in a 300-degree oven for 4.5 hours. When a small knife can be easily inserted, pull the pan from the oven and allow it to cool completely. Remove the shanks and then strain out the vegetables. The liquid should then be reduced to a sauce until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season to taste and serve with lemon zest and chopped parsley. This recipe makes enough for four people and takes approximately six hours.

About Chef Dennis Marron
Chef Dennis Marron is committed to utilizing the season’s best ingredients, which is why he was the perfect chef to replace Chef Robert Weland at Poste Moderne Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco in Gallery Place. Poste sources many of its ingredients from the garden in the courtyard as well as local farmers. Prior to Poste, Dennis was the executive chef of both Jackson 20 and The Grille at the Morrison House. With more than 20 years of restaurant experience, Chef Marron has a repertoire of cuisine experience from fine-dining French to American tavern that he brings to Poste.

Related: The Best Bloody Marys in D.C.

Jamie Hardin is the counter-culture
Washingtonian in the know. Inspired by food, sustainability issues, and public health, she prides herself on finding DC’s off-the-beaten path treasures. When she isnt enjoying organic food or reducing her carbon footprint, Jamies traveling on her scooter or walking her two pitbulls. Her work can be found at

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