Responsible for a veritable cornucopia of holiday buffets, catered company affairs, wedding rehearsal dinners and receptions, and the day-to-day operations of a number of seasonal and year-round restaurants at one of Georgia’s most popular vacation destinations, Chef Michael Klein is an excellent candidate to provide advice about how to compile the perfect holiday menu.
Chef Michael Klein
Lake Lanier Islands Resort
7000 Lanier Islands Parkway
Buford, Georgia 30518
From the time he was a child, Chef Michael Klein was a foodie. At the feet of both his mom and grandmother, he learned the value of one-dish meals and freshly baked pastries. From his dad, he learned the importance of a properly maintained grill to produce the best ribs and steaks in the neighborhood. Throughout his career, Chef Michael has shared his love of creating great food as both a chef and an educator to future chefs all over the continent. His focus on the guest experience is central to his current role as Executive Chef at Lake Lanier Islands Resort – whether serving up dishes to a steady stream of hotel guests, wowing wedding and meeting attendees with his culinary creations or delighting visitors with tasty treats at the resort’s beach and boardwalk destination, LanierWorld. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about not only cooking for a big crowd, but also celebrating the holidays through food. He has a few words of advice for those hoping to assemble a crowd-pleasing menu for their next holiday gathering.
Tip 1: There’s no Shame in Sticking to Tradition
“You can’t beat the favorites,” insists Chef Michael. “We all love to try new things during the holidays, but don’t forget to serve the traditional favorites like green bean casserole, cornbread dressing, roasted turkey, baked ham, etc. You can always add a ‘lagniappe’ (a little something extra and unexpected) such as a special new dessert (see recipe below) or stuffed beef filet.”
Tip 2: Dare to Prepare
“A little-known secret to preparing a great holiday menu is to cook and freeze certain dishes ahead of time,” explains Chef Michael. “When you have the time to make your pan dressing or fresh cranberry sauce in the days leading up to the holiday gathering, do It. On the day of, you never have as much time as you think, especially when cooking for an army. Even three weeks ahead you can do some baking. Cakes, pies and cookies all hold up well. Wrap them up and put them deep in the freezer. The day before, pull them out to defrost, finish icing the cakes and decorating the cookies. Pop the pies into a hot oven to crisp the crust a bit. Items such as casseroles, beans and soups actually taste better when made ahead. The bottom line – reduce the stress of same-day cooking wherever possible. Stretch it out and it will seem effortless.”
Tip 3: Never Forget – This is Your Holiday, Too!
“As one who focuses on the guest experience, I understand that being a good host or hostess extends beyond the preparation of a great holiday menu,” says Chef Michael. “Leave time to enjoy your holiday. All of the planning and execution of an amazing holiday get-together is a reward in itself, but you need to be able to step away from the kitchen to take it all in, and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back… and a piece of pie.”
Pear and Cranberry Crisp
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter cut into pieces
To make the topping: In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, oats and salt. With a pastry blender or two knives used in scissor fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
- 7 large pears – peeled, cored and each cut lengthwise into eight slices
- 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
To make the filling: Toss together all of the ingredients until well mixed. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish with 2-inch sides and spoon filling mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling. Set the dish on a baking sheet to catch any drips.
Baking Instructions: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake for about 1 hour or until the topping is golden and the filling thickens and bubbles. Cool at least 20 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream, if desired.
Kasie Bolling is a freelance writer covering all things Atlanta. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.