This holiday season, treat your friends and family to a holiday feast they won’t soon forget courtesy of the executive chef at the Stratosphere Hotel, Casino & Tower, Rick Giffen. No, he’s not going to cook your meal for you, but thanks to these five helpful tips (and a few easy-to-follow recipes), you might feel like you left the cooking to the pros when you prepare your stress-free feast.
Stratosphere Hotel, Casino & Tower
2000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89104
Executive chef at the Stratosphere Hotel, Casino & Tower, Giffen oversees the majority of the resort’s mouthwatering restaurants, including the award-winning Top of the World and the Buffet. Having opened more than 40 restaurants worldwide over the course of his career, Giffen definitely knows how to serve up the wow factor while keeping things manageable inside the kitchen. He realizes that preparing a memorable holiday feast shouldn’t be about the stress, but rather the “shared experience” with family and friends. By following these simple holiday tips—courtesy of Giffen—you’ll not only cook up a feast guests will be talking about all year long, but one that you’ll be able to enjoy, too!
“After Thanksgiving, people are burned out on turkey,” Giffen stated. “[When preparing your holiday menu], lean towards red meat—beef Wellington, rack of lamb, prime rib—and throw some seafood into the mix: shrimp cocktails or a smoked salmon platter. It’s sort of Old Vegas meets the holidays—think along the lines of prime rib buffets and 99-cent shrimp cocktails. You’ll want to have about eight ounces of each protein per person and plenty of sides: green asparagus, fruit ambrosia salad, buttered spaghetti squash…the buttered spaghetti squash is actually super simple to make.”
To make the buttered spaghetti squash, you’ll need two spaghetti squashes (cut in half and seeded), a half-pound of butter, salt, pepper and four tablespoons of water. Place the squash on a roasting pan with the cut sides facing up and sprinkle each half with salt, pepper, water and even amounts of butter. Wrap the squash tightly with foil and place in a 325-degree Fahrenheit oven for about 40 minutes, or until tender. Scrape the inside of the squash out with a fork and toss in a serving bowl to ensure that seasoning and butter is evenly distributed. The finished product should resemble vermicelli noodles.
While guests wait for the main event, a dish Giffen finds people “rave about” regardless of how simple it is to make is the festive cream cheese and jalapeño jelly Triscuits. You just need Triscuits or Wheat Thins, cream cheese, red jalapeño jelly and green jalapeño jelly. Spread the Triscuits or Wheat Thins out on a serving platter and smear them with cream cheese. Top with a dollop of red and green jalapeño jelly and enjoy. “Not only is the dish vivid,” Giffen remarked, “but it’s also great with prime rib or leg of lamb.”
“It’s crazy how busy grocery stores get around the holidays,” Giffen noted. “A couple of days out, I’ll always make a punch list with everything I need—from the tablecloth to the centerpiece to every item needed for each dish—so in one fell swoop I can hit all of the markets. This really is the key [to a stress-free dinner] and it only takes 20 minutes. Once I get back, I separate everything per recipe and if anything is missing or I’m running short on anything, I just send a text to someone to bring some more ice or some mixers. People don’t mind bringing things to a party.”
For a fun centerpiece that only takes about “15 minutes to throw together,” Giffen suggested a pineapple fruit tree for chocolate fondue. To make the centerpiece, you’ll need a 2×2-foot piece of plywood, a 2.5-foot pipe that’s a half-inch around, four 5/8-inch u nails, film wrap or foil, three pineapples with the top and bottom cut and the core removed, 5 tea leaves or palm leaves, 60 assorted fruit skewers, 3 pounds of chocolate and 3 cups of heavy cream. Lightly put a gradual bend in three-fourths of the pipe and then bend the bottom 4 inches of it 90 degrees in order to hammer in the u nails, securing the pipe to the center of the plywood. Wrap the base with film wrap or foil. Slide the pineapples down the pipe to form the trunk of the tree and then place the leaves into the top of the pipe. Stick the fruit skewers into the trunk of the tree however you like and place the chocolate (mixed well with the heavy cream and heated over low heat) next to the display in a bowl.
Since “martinis are always a mainstay” at holiday gatherings, a fun way to add a little flavor and festiveness to one’s drink according to Giffen is with bacon-wrapped jalapeño garnishes (“The salty-smoky flavor adds a little heat—they’re amazing,” Giffen stated). To make, you just need 6 fresh red jalapeños, 6 fresh green jalapeños, 12 strips of raw bacon and 12 5-inch skewers for 12 garnishes. Cut the jalapeños in half lengthwise and de-stem and de-seed. Put half of a red jalapeño matched up with half of a green jalapeño then wrap with bacon, leaving about a half-inch of the jalapeños showing on each end. Place skewer through diagonally and roast in the oven at 325-degrees Fahrenheit until the bacon is semi crisp. Cool and garnish martinis (or even Bloody Marys) with them.
“I always try not to use more than a couple of pans or bowls when preparing a meal,” Giffen said. “If I’m making a marinade, for example, when I’m done I’ll rinse the bowl out and use the same bowl for something else. That way you don’t have tons of pots and pans stacked in the sink. I also like to serve items, whenever possible, in the same bowls or pans I used to cook them. Just wipe the edges down, garnish with some herbs or lemon wedges and you can easily utilize the same equipment.”
“The hardest part of any big meal is dealing with the leftovers,” Giffen remarked. “I always make sure I have a ton of Ziploc baggies to fill up at the end of the night and give to guests as they go. You can always microwave the leftovers in the baggies as well, that way you don’t have to mess with containers.”
For that perfect holiday entrée, Giffen recommends a roast prime rib of beef with au jus and creamy horseradish. To make, you’ll need:
- 6-8 pounds of boneless prime rib
- A half cup of chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons of cracked black pepper
- 3 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 2 carrots roughly chopped
- 4 stalks of celery roughly chopped
- 2 onions roughly chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cups of red wine (save until prime rib is uncovered)
- 3 cups of beef stock (add at the end)
Evenly rub the prime rib with the garlic, salt and pepper, then place in a roasting pan with the other ingredients sprinkled evenly around in the pan. Cover with film wrap or wax paper and then tin foil (this prevents the garlic from eating through the tin foil). Roast at 325-degrees Fahrenheit for about 90 minutes and then uncover and deglaze the vegetables with the red wine. Place back in the oven uncovered to ensure a crisp coating to the prime rib. Remove from the oven when the prime rib reaches a minimum internal temperature of 115-degrees Fahrenheit (medium rare) or higher. Remove from the roasting pan and let rest on a cutting board for 10-15 minutes before slicing. Skim fat off of drippings in the roasted pan and add 3 cups of beef stock, then bring to a boil. Strain and season to taste.
For the creamy horseradish sauce, mix 2 cups of sour cream, a half cup of prepared horseradish, 1 teaspoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of chopped parsley together and season to taste. Happy holidays!
When she’s not interviewing some of Hollywood’s biggest celebs, Heather Turk can often be found visiting some of Las Vegas’ most popular restaurants and spas for Examiner.com. She also covers the Las Vegas market for a variety of other media outlets, including Allegiant Air’s in-flight magazine, Sunseeker. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.