(credit: The Cellar)

(credit: The Cellar)

If you’re lucky enough to have a chef in your family, then you know you’ll get some really good food for the holidays. If you don’t, well Erika Tucker promises more than enough good food for Christmas dinner; and it is the kind of food that a) you will tell your friends about and b) will make your friends envious.

(credit: The Cellar)

(credit: The Cellar)

Erika Tucker
The Cellar
156 Avenida Del Mar
San Clemente CA 92672
(949) 492-3663

Erika Tucker is the executive chef at The Cellar in San Clemente, where she has worked for a little more than a year. When the place opened, it was a wine bar and cheese shop, but has since become a restaurant where food sales have tripled. She designs a seasonal menu that uses as many local and organic ingredients as possible. “We make everything with lots of love,” she said. One of the signature dishes at The Cellar is macaroni and cheese, made with raclette and piave cheeses. “People come in just for that,” she said. Another signature dish is the braised short ribs served with sage and rosemary grits and seasonal vegetables. If you’re eating out, snag these, but if you’re not, she’s got you covered with delicious recipes perfect for the holiday season. She’s doing it up for her family like her grandma used to, with more food than anyone could possibly eat. Here’s how she does it:

Related: Best Restaurants For Margaritas In Orange County

(credit: The Cellar)

(credit: The Cellar)

Pumpkin soup

5 large butternut squash, kabocha or any other fall pumpkin
Diced onion/garlic
Brown sugar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Halve the squash, remove any seeds. Place the squash on a sheet tray, sprinkle each piece with butter, brown sugar, honey, salt/pepper and olive oil. Roast in a 350-degree oven until completely soft, about one hour. Let cool until ready to handle. Scrape the roasted flesh of the squash from the skin, using a spoon. Take a large pot, slowly cook the diced onion and garlic in some butter or olive oil. Add the roasted squash flesh, add water to cover, and cook for about 20 minutes. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Taste and season accordingly. Note: The soup may be a little thick; thin it with water or cream. Garnish the soup with a little cinnamon whipped cream or mango honey.

Suggested beverage pairing: Pinkus Hefe-Weizen.

Rosemary cornbread with whipped goat cheese (in a cast-iron skillet)

3 large eggs
3 pieces of fresh corn on the cob (remove kernels and discard the cob)
1 small jalapeno, diced (seeds removed)
3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp soft butter
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 oz baking powder
1 cup of shredded cheese, cheddar or jack
Goat cheese, softened
Fresh rosemary, chopped

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a cast-iron skillet, and warm it up on the stove top or in the oven. In a mixer with a whisk attachment, fluff the eggs, sugar and butter. Mix together all of the dry ingredients and slowly add to the egg mixture. The batter should look clumpy. Pour batter into the warmed cast iron skillet. The batter should sizzle when it hits the pan. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until a knife inserted into the bread comes out clean.

For the whipped goat cheese:
Mix together the soft cheese with rosemary and a bit of water until nice and light/fluffy. Spoon dollops of this over the warm corn bread.

Suggested beverage pairing: Bear Republic Racer #5 IPA.

Related: Best Mac N Cheese In Orange County

Deconstructed huckleberry cheesecake parfaits:

For the crust:
3 cups toasted hazelnuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
3 to 4 short glass jars for the parfaits

In a food processor, puree nuts and sugar. Drizzle in melted butter until it resembles wet sand. You may need to add more melted butter.
Press this mixture into the bottom of three short weck jars or any glass parfait jar you have.

For the filling:
1 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mascarpone, softened
1/4 heavy cream
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, scraped
The zest of one lemon

Once the cheeses are completely soft, combine all ingredients. Taste, adjust sweetness by adding more sugar if preferred. Spoon the filling over the crust into the jars.

For the huckleberries:
1 cup fresh or frozen huckleberries
Large pinch of sugar
Juice of a lemon

Add all ingredients to a sauce pan, simmer until sugar is dissolved and is a nice syrupy consistency. Drizzle warm sauce over the parfait.

Suggested beverage pairing: Julian hard cider

Gary Schwind is a freelance writer covering all things Orange County. His work can be found on Examiner.com.