GLEN ARBER, Mich. — Carol Worsley has been teaching cooking classes for more than 50 years, so it’s hardly a surprise that she loves to put on a holiday spread that would impress even Julia Child.
That may be because not only did Worsley train at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, but she also worked for many years with Child and Simone Beck, the co-authors of the cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
“I learned so much from Simone,” recalled Worsley, who owns the Thyme Inn bed-breakfast in Glen Arbor. “She was the grand dame of cooking.”
Although Worsley’s holiday spread is certainly inspired by her training, she also pulls in recipes from her Scandinavian roots and inspiration from her mother, who she said was a wonderful cook.
Worsley has planned so many holiday parties over the years that it’s hard for her to recommend just one or two recipes.
But among the goodies she makes for her family every year are gougeres, or airy French cheese puffs. Often made with Gruyere, Worsley said she likes to use Emmenthal in her recipe.
“I also like to make a Camembert en croute, or you can use Brie,” she said of the pastry-wrapped cheese appetizer. “A lot of people use phyllo dough, but I prefer a cream cheese pastry that is very easy to work with.”
Worsley’s table also includes dishes with the “wow factor” like a caviar crown mold made with avocado and sour cream and a Croque en Bouche, a tower comprised of small cream puffs, bound with threads of caramel.
For a bit of color, she likes to include a cold raspberry soufflé.
“They are so easy. You can make it and throw it in the freezer, thaw it out and serve it with a pouf of whipped cream and chocolate curls,” she said.
Another must-have for her family is a Scotch whiskey cake — and Worsley always uses Simone Beck’s recipe.
Most holiday celebrations include at least one traditional recipe and for Cookie Thatcher, also of Glen Arbor, that would be tomato pudding.
“It’s a recipe that’s over 100 years old,” Thatcher said, adding that it was made by her great-grandparents. “The story is that it was served in a restaurant that was also an inn and stagecoach stop.”
The dish is a savory combination of bread, tomato sauce and sugar — and once people try it, they only want more, she said.
“We throw a huge New Year’s party every year, and people are nuts over it.”
Thatcher said the best part is when the sugar caramelizes on the side of the pan as it bakes.
“It’s that little burn around the edges that makes it special. Everyone is scraping the sides of the pan.”
If you’re looking for something to do with your leftover turkey, Thatcher has just the ticket.
“We take saltine crackers and layer on mayonnaise, turkey and caviar, and it is so good,” she said.
For those who don’t want to celebrate the holidays in the kitchen, talented chefs like Jonathon Dayton and Stephanie Wiitala can come to the rescue.
The husband-wife team owns the restaurant S2S/Sugar to Salt in Traverse City and caters numerous holiday parties. Their goal is for clients to have fun and enjoy their meal.
“You sit down to a dinner, and it equates to good memories of us and the people you’re with,” said Wiitala.
Whenever possible, the couple includes local seasonal ingredients in their dishes.
“It’s that time of year when you’re into chestnuts and cranberries,” said Dayton, who’s known for his candied cranberries.
“They’re like candy,” said Wiitala. “They’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.”
The chefs also loves to serve warm chestnuts in the shell or roasted chestnuts rolled in salt, which frequently inspires guests to break into a certain song.
Wiitala, a pastry chef, likes to pull out quintessential holiday flavors like peppermint and cinnamon in her dishes and to create the unexpected by thinking outside the box: “How can we give them something they recognize at Christmas like sugar cookies — and then we deconstruct them,” she said.
Dayton’s chef’s toasts are often on the menu as well. He starts with toasted housemade focaccia, then tops them with tidbits like housemade farmer’s cheese, mustards, sausage, fruit and fresh or preserved herbs.
It’s all about cozy and comfort at the Mission Table on Old Mission Peninsula. The restaurant hosts holiday parties of various sizes and because the restaurant is housed in a former 1880s house, it still feels very homey, said Barbara Olson, event director and managing partner.
“It might be a bit of a challenge to get here in the winter but once you do, it’s yummy and warm and cozy inside and it doesn’t feel like a restaurant,” she said. “It’s like inviting your company into a home without having to host.”
During the holidays the staff loves to serve comfort food like braised duck, short ribs and the coveted sous-vide Filet mignon with morel jus.
“And we put too much butter in the mashed potatoes,” Olson said with a laugh.