Mixing it up for the holidays

The traditional menu sees a transition

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If stepping out on a limb with holiday food this Thanksgiving or Christmas feels a little too unnatural but staying with traditional items seems too bland, try a variation with your favorite foods.

Patrick Lowe, Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel executive chef, said he thinks people are curious to try new variations of traditional holiday food. However, since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, people have returned to traditional or comfort foods.

"It's been a nationwide trend that people are switching from contemporary and unknown dining adventures to comfort foods," Lowe said.

Lowe said high-end restaurants in big cities are taking away feaux grais's and cheese fondues and replacing these menu items with meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

"We're seeing a big transition back to good old Yankee food," Lowe said.

Lowe said every family and every chef, for that matter, have deeply-rooted traditions with food. Lowe's been able to take some of the secret home recipes and give them to others.

Lowe sat in The Cabin, Steamboat Grand's fine-dining restaurant, revealing his secret methods to his favorite foods. He doesn't have any written recipes but flies by the seat of his pants to create a feast for those in Steamboat.

Jacques Wilson, Sheraton Steamboat Resort executive chef, said he thinks people eat holiday foods that are more typical of their geographical region.

"People are still going to eat what they're going to eat," Wilson said. "But tradition is not totally out the window."

Regional cooking means that people will create certain menu items depending on what grows closest to them.

For instance, people in California may use more artichokes or avocados. People in Maryland may use more crab and oysters, Wilson said.

People will eat more traditional foods for the holidays because they fall during autumn and winter. Comfort foods are based during those seasons, Wilson said.

"I really do think it's more regional than anything," Wilson said.

People don't have to give up green-bean casserole, turkey or cranberry. But the 21st century has brought old recipes to a new light.

For instance, the Sheraton's menu offers a traditional roasted turkey but has varied it with herbs and garlic. To accompany the turkey or as a substitute, people also have the choice of salmon or a pepper crusted roast beef.

"Roast beef is always nice being in a cow town," Wilson said, adding last year the Sheraton put turkey and lamb on the menu.

However, the Steamboat Grand also has added variation to a somewhat traditional menu.

The Cabin offers three different kinds of stuffing: wild mushroom and sage, cornbread and chorizo and wild rice with dried cherries and almonds.

The Steamboat Grand offers a butternut squash soup. The Sheraton offers pumpkin bisque.

Marty Woodbury, Tread of Pioneers Museum executive director, searched through bundles of recipes in the museum's archives and found a pamphlet that recommended three different menus for the holidays.

The menus she found consisted of basic items that were probably popular in one area during the 1940s: sweet potatoes, clam broth, beets, boiled onions, roast goose and red cabbage. All menus provided pickles with the holiday meals.

Benita Bristol said when she was a young girl in the 1920s and 1930s her family mostly ate traditional Thanksgiving foods right from their backyard outside of Steamboat Springs.

Her mother's garden and her father's farm fed the Bristol's, but every now and then they had a treat of noodles instead of mashed potatoes or candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows and brown sugar.

Bristol said she's varied her menu with the times. Instead of pumpkin pie, she may make apple pie and peanut brittle because many of her children don't enjoy the taste of pumpkin.

Regional menus

from Jacques Wilson

Southwest

Spicy pumpkin soup with toasted pepitas

Achiote butter-basted turkey with ancho chili gravy

Roasted turkey with a mole sauce

Corn bread and chorizo sausage stuffing

Medley of zucchini, chayote and yellow squash

Cumin rolls

Cranberry, orange and cilantro salsa

Pears poached in tequila with prickly pear-raspberry sauce

Almond cookies

Traditional Mexican rice pudding

Pumpkin custard

Lemon sopapillas

South

Blackeye pea soup with hamhocks

Roast turkey with cornbread stuffing and giblet gravy

Roast turkey with apple and prune stuffing and gravy

Baked Virginia ham

Potato, chestnut and celery root puree

Mustard greens with turnips

Green beans with smoked bacon

Glazed sweet potatoes with pecans

Cracked pepper buttermilk biscuits

Jellied apple cranberry sauce

Brandied pumpkin pie

Sour cream apple pie

Pecan pie

East Coast (New England)

Shellfish chowder with fresh thyme

Maple-glazed roast turkey with mixed-herb gravy

Herb crusted turkey with mushroom gravy

Herbed bread stuffing

Glazed root vegetables

Creamed green pea and pearl onions

Succotash

Parker house pan rolls

Cranberry relish

Mixed garden greens with apples and cider vinaigrette

Pumpkin pie

Apple cinnamon pie

Indian pudding with nutmeg ice cream

West Coast and the Northwest

Grilled turkey with cranberry gravy

Barbecued turkey with maple-mustard glaze

Cedar planked salmon with maple glaze and mustard mashed potatoes

Sourdough, apple and almond stuffing

Three-onion stuffing

Whipped chipotle sweet potatoes

Date, goat cheese and mesclun salad

Grapefruit, avocado and fennel salad

Spinach and lentil salad with Oregon blue cheese and tart cherry vinaigrette

Roasted pears with hazelnut syrup and candied hazelnuts

Warm pear and walnut cake with lemon custard sauce

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