Day after day chefs, cooks and restaurant owners scurry about preparing delightful meals for their customers.
When it comes time to feast, what do these experts feed their families?
A trio of Over the Mountain restaurant folks recently shared holiday thoughts and recipes for their favorite Thanksgiving food.
This year, leg of lamb, squash dressing and cornbread will top their tables. Since these restaurateurs graciously have divulged their recipes, you may want to add these options to your family’s celebration.
No matter what you cook, where you dine or what you eat this Thanksgiving, take time to reflect on your countless reasons to be thankful, remembering, too, that sometimes the greatest blessings are small blessings.
Turkey Gets a Reprieve in Krontiras Household
“In Greece, we didn’t have Indians and Pilgrims,” John Krontiras, general manager of Nabeel’s Cafe, mused when considering past Thanksgivings with his family.
Although Krontiras arrived in the U.S. decades ago, it wasn’t until several years ago that he and his family began celebrating the November day of thanks.
“Although we didn’t have the traditional Thanksgiving when I was growing up, we, like those in many other countries, each year set aside a time for feasting and counting blessings,” he said.
For Krontiras, his Italian wife, Ottavia, mother-in-law, three children and half-dozen grandchildren, the day’s feast revolves around leg of lamb, which his family prefers above turkey.
“We’ll begin the meal with a traditional Greek soup, avgolemono, an egg yolk-lemon juice consommé made with orzo pasta and chicken broth,” reported Krontiras, whose Homewood eatery is known for Greek, Italian and Mediterranean dishes made from family recipes.
After the soup, it will be onto the leg of lamb and heaping helpings of his mother-in-law’s lasagna. At 95, she’s still stirring things up in the kitchen.
Leg of lamb, he explained, “is a very traditional Greek dish that is flavored with garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil and basted with fresh lemon juice, which complements the flavor of the lamb meat.”
Cooking potatoes with the lamb allows them to absorb the meat’s flavors and juices as they become tender with crispy tops.
And, for dessert in the Krontiras home on Thanksgiving Day?
“Oh, it will be ice cream from Publix, for the children,” laughed Krontiras, who bought the restaurant in 1993, about 20 years after its opening.
Focused on serving customers “the food we would serve in our home to family and friends,” Nabeel’s Cafe has a trio of dining rooms plus sidewalk tables and a side courtyard that offers al fresco dining.
Details: Nabeel’s Café and Market, 1706 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, 879-9292, www.nabeels.com.
NABEEL’S CAFE ROAST LEG OF LAMB WITH POTATOES
(Serves 10 to 12)
7 to 10 pounds bone-in leg of lamb
1/2 pound Kasseri (or Parmesan cheese) cut in small cubes
14 garlic cloves, cut in half
Salt and pepper to taste
8 tablespoons oregano
6 to 8 potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise
4 to 5 lemons
1 1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups water
2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
Make about 15 slits with a sharp knife all over lamb and insert in sequence: cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, pinch of oregano. Repeat for each slit.
Cut peeled potatoes in half then cut the half potatoes in long slices and place in pan.
Squeeze 2 to 3 lemons over lamb and potatoes. Sprinkle oregano over lamb and potatoes. Pour olive oil over lamb and potatoes.
Pour water around base of lamb and potatoes. (Do not pour water over lamb.)
Separate sprigs of rosemary and place over lamb and potatoes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place lamb in oven in uncovered pan. Cook for 1 to 2 hours. Periodically check lamb and baste with the juices. With either a meat thermometer or a sharp knife, check to see if meat is done. When meat is done, turn oven to broil at 450 degrees, for about 5 minutes or until surface is deep brown and crackling; continue basting with juices. Remove from oven; carve lamb and serve with the potatoes.
Squash Casserole is a Newcomer to Horn Feast
Although David Horn has savored traditional foods during previous Thanksgivings, in recent years a new option has become a favorite.
“Usually, my mother, grandmother or aunt do most of the cooking, but I always try to pitch in and make one dish,” said Horn, owner/operator of Mudtown Eat & Drink and The Ridge Eat & Drink.
“In years past I’ve tried to make classics but go over the top with some of the elements,” he recalled, mentioning some of his previous contributions such as sweet potato casserole with candied pecans and marshmallow fluff. He also has concocted jalapeno cheddar sausage cornbread, he reported, admitting an affinity for “something traditional but with a special, semi-extravagant twist.”
A few years ago, his aunt outpaced his efforts when she introduced a new twist on a traditional favorite.
“For the past few years, my aunt, Claire Miller of Prattville, has been making squash dressing that’s really good,” he said. “She usually uses less cheese than it calls for,” he explained.
“Everybody makes the same things for Thanksgiving,” he observed, explaining why the dressing quickly became one of his favorites.
“I like adding a topping of either more cheese, or seasoned cracker crumbs, or a combination of the two,” said Horn, who these days has more than Thanksgiving on his mind.
“I’ve just recently signed a lease on a new restaurant,” he reported, announcing plans to open a new eatery with partner Taylor Hughes.
Hughes, who for the past few years has been overseeing the kitchens at both Mudtown and The Ridge, will head the project as majority owner at the Soho location that formerly housed PT’s.
“Called Soho Social, our new concept will be sort of a community bar and grill/gathering place focused on the neighborhoods of Homewood,” he noted, explaining that the eatery will have “a comfortable but eclectic menu that will probably change several times a year.”
“We’re in the early stages of remodeling and getting started, but we are hoping to open by January,” he said.
Details: The Ridge Eat & Drink, 3325 Suite 201 Rocky Ridge Plaza, Vestavia Hills, 917-5080, theridgealabama.com; and Mudtown Eat & Drink, 3144 Green Valley Road, 967-3300 or 908-5628/catering, www.mudtownalabama.com.
DAVID HORN’S SQUASH DRESSING
(Serves 8 to 10)
3 14.5 ounce cans squash with onions, drained, mashed
4 cups crumbled cornbread
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 10-ounce cans cream of chicken soup (you may substitute cream of mushroom for a vegetarian option, but it does change the flavor a bit).
2 sticks melted butter
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and pour into a greased 13×9 baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Nothing Corny About It: This Cornbread is a Favorite
Playing football in the front yard and watching gridiron clashes on television are part of the festivities when members of the Witherington family gather for Thanksgiving.
On tap throughout the year at Moe’s Original Bar B Que, cornbread is a favorite at Thanksgiving, according to Kevin Witherington, who with his brother Eric, owns four Birmingham-area locations of the popular barbecue restaurants.
During a typical week, diners scoff down 20 to 30 pans of the cornbread at each restaurant. Each pan serves 48, Kevin explains, adding, “You do the math.”
While most platters include an option of cornbread, some diners simply select the cornbread as a side, he said when sharing the recipe for cornbread that has become a regular option at family gatherings that include Witherington’s mother, four brothers, one sister, spouses and children.
“Eric and I got our love of cooking from our grandmother (who) made great dishes,” he added.
What makes the cornbread special, he observed, is being buttered and griddled after being baked.
While the brothers’ eateries will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, diners may pre-order such choices as: smoked turkey ($48 for 10 to14 pounds); smoked turkey breast ($13 per pound); pans of sides ($28.50, serves 20 to 25) with such options as mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing, collard greens and corn pudding. Mississippi Mud and banana pudding, staples on the menu, are dessert possibilities. Orders should be placed by Nov. 21.
On Thanksgiving, the Witherington family also enjoys mac and cheese, which is the restaurants’ leading side dish, according to Witherington, who explains that the day is a time when his family stops to count its blessings and appreciate good health and business successes.
It’s also a chance, he continued, to take a long, deep breath before the holidays, which are hectic in the restaurant business.
Details: Moe’s Original Bar B Que, Patton Creek, Lakeview, Trussville and Vestavia Hills, www.moesoriginalbbq.com.
MOE’S ORIGINAL BAR B QUE’S CORNBREAD
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup yellow onions, fine dice
1/4 cup jalapenos, filet and fine dice
3 7-ounce packages Martha White Sweet Yellow Cornbread Mix
Beat eggs, add jalapenos and onions.
Add milk and then mix in 3 packages of cornbread mix.
Spray with Pam heavily (if old pan, add parchment paper) onto large 4×10 loaf pan.
Preheat to 325. Bake 1 hour. When done, it should be firm to press. Do not overcook.
Use rubber spatula, slice into 12 slices at 3 quarters of inch each. It’s easier to cut cold, otherwise the bread will crumble.
Brush one side with margarine or butter. Place buttered side down on griddle.
A professional writer, Lynn Grisard Fullman is a longtime resident of Vestavia Hills.