Four Washingtonians Share Their Favorite Holiday Recipes

Turns out Mary Timony makes a pretty great macaroon.

Four Washingtonians Share Their Favorite Holiday Recipes
Food and prop styling by Lisa Cherkasky. Flatware courtesy of Something Vintage Rentals.

Macaroni and Cheese From Kwame Onwuachi

The life of a chef doesn’t allow for many holidays. Still, Kwame Onwuachi—the white coat behind Kith and Kin and the late Shaw Bijou—manages to make a festive meal happen for both family members and cooks who don’t have relatives in town, even if it’s the day after Christmas. His extra-cheesy mac is a hybrid of the baked recipe his stepfather relies on and the stovetop version his personal-chef mother has perfected. It’s become a favorite of his fiancée, Mya Allen.“She tries to get me to make it every week, but I just don’t have time,” he sighs.

Serves 15

½ cup butter

½ cup flour

3 cups milk

3 ounces cream cheese

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon minced garlic

5 ounces grated white cheddar, divided in half

5 ounces grated yellow cheddar, divided in half

3 ounces grated Gruyère, divided in half

3 ounces grated provolone, divided in half

14 ounces macaroni

2 cups bread crumbs

Salt, as needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Set a large pot filled with salted water on high heat and boil pasta until tender. Strain and cool.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the flour and fold together with a rubber spatula, cooking 5 minutes more. Slowly whisk in the milk until fully incorporated. Add the cream cheese, pepper, and half of each of the other cheeses.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and season with salt. Add the remaining cheeses and place in a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and cook for another 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Spinach-and-Ricotta Calzones From Sunlen Serfaty

Christmas Eve isn’t just Christmas Eve for CNN correspondent Sunlen Serfaty—it’s also her parents’ wedding anniversary. For more than three decades, her family in Richmond has celebrated in the exact same way: over a calzone recipe her mom, Denise Miller, happened upon in The Moosewood Cookbook back in the ’80s. (She was looking for something both out of the ordinary and kid-friendly.) Every year, Miller rolls out the dough and takes orders from each family member about his or her preferred filling—spinach and ricotta for Sunlen—then pricks each person’s initials into the crust. “I didn’t realize they were an Italian thing until I saw them on a takeout menu in college,” Serfaty says. “I was like, in my family that’s a nice meal.”

Serves 6

For the filling

1 pound spinach, washed, stemmed, and finely chopped

½ cup minced onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound ricotta

2 cups grated mozzarella

½ cup grated Parmesan

1 dash nutmeg

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the dough

1½ teaspoons dry yeast

1 tablespoon honey

1 cup warm water, plus more as needed for folding the calzones

1½ teaspoons salt

2½ to 3 cups flour

Melted butter, as needed, for brushing

Make the filling

Quickly steam the spinach over medium-high heat. (You don’t need to add any extra water.) When it’s wilted and deep green, remove to a bowl. Sauté the onion and garlic in butter over medium-low heat until it’s soft and translucent. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, onion, and garlic with the remaining filling ingredients, mix well, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Make the dough

In a large bowl, mix together the yeast, honey, water, and salt. Add the flour to make a soft dough. Knead for 10 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic, adding flour if it gets too sticky. Cover the dough in the bowl and let rise until it has doubled in size—about an hour. Punch down the dough.

Bake the calzones

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll into ¼-inch-thick rounds. Place ½ to ¾ cup filling onto half of the dough circle, leaving a ½-inch rim. Moisten the rim with a little water, and fold the plain side of the dough over the filled side. Crimp the edges with a fork. Prick the calzone with a fork to allow steam to release. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Bake on an oiled sheet pan or stone for 15 to 20 minutes, or until crisp and lightly browned. Brush the calzones with melted butter when they come out of the oven.

Almond Macaroons From Mary Timony

Mary Timony—the guitarist in bands including Helium, Ex Hex, and Wild Flag—isn’t much of a holiday person, especially now that her parents have moved from DC’s Wesley Heights to Florida for the winter. Some years, she’s on tour. Other times, she has friends over to the Glover Park home she shares with her partner, furniture designer Jonah Takagi. “If it were up to me, we’d make the same thing every year,” she says. “But Jonah is really into researching recipes online.” Still, there tends to be one constant: these chocolate-studded almond macaroons, which Timony learned to make from her mother.

Makes about 24

12/3 cups blanched slivered almonds, plus more for topping the cookies

1 cup sugar

2 large egg whites

1 teaspoon almond liqueur or extract

1 3½-ounce bar Trader Joe’s Belgian bittersweet chocolate

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a food processor, grind the almonds and the sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Add the egg whites and almond liqueur or extract and process until well blended.

Using 2 teaspoons to shape them, drop ½-inch balls of dough onto the parchment paper. Press 2 or 3 slivered almonds into the top of each cookie and flatten slightly.

Bake about 18 minutes, until they’re light golden. Meanwhile, cut the chocolate into about ¼-inch chunks.

When the cookies are done, pull them out of the oven. Lightly press a small chunk of chocolate into each cookie. (It should melt slightly.) If desired, you can put the cookies in the fridge for a few minutes so the chocolate doesn’t melt all the way, then continue to cool them on the counter.

Floating Islands with Rompope From Pati Jinich

For Pati Jinich, the cookbook author and host of Pati’s Mexican Table on PBS, the holidays are all about the food. Born into a Jewish family in Catholic-dominated Mexico City, Jinich now celebrates Christmas and Hanukkah—at least when it comes to eating. Each December, she makes the floating-island recipe her “Lali” (grandmother) carried with her when she moved from Austria to Mexico to escape the Holocaust. “The way they survived and thrived was by making a bridge between what they brought and what they found,” Jinich says. Thus, Lali always dressed her meringues not with traditional crème anglaise but with rompope, a Mexican eggnog spiked with agua ardiente, a sugar-cane liqueur. This recipe makes extra rompope—drink it on its own or pour some over fresh mango or berries.

Serves 12

For the caramel

1½ cups sugar

1 tablespoon water

For the floating islands

12 egg whites, at room temperature

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

¾ cup sugar

Rompope, for garnish (recipe follows)

Make the caramel

Set 12 six-ounce ramekins or flan molds on a sheet of parchment. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Swirl the pan occasionally, and use a wet pastry brush to brush any sugar from the sides back into the mixture. Do not stir. Once the sugar has melted, simmer over the lowest heat until the caramel is golden-brown. (Don’t let it foam.) Turn off the heat and immediately pour a thin layer of the caramel into the molds. Let cool.

Make the floating islands

Preheat oven to 250 degrees, with the rack positioned in the middle.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the egg whites, salt, and cream of tarter and beat at medium speed until soft peaks begin to form, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vanilla and almond extract, then the sugar one tablespoon at a time. Increase the speed to high and beat until the meringue is glossy and holds sturdy peaks, 6 to 8 minutes. Spoon into the caramel-covered molds. (The meringue should rise an inch above the top.)

Place the molds in a large baking pan. Pour ½ inch of boiling water into the pan to create a water bath. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. The top of the islands should be lightly browned, and the islands should look spongy. Turn the oven off, prop open its door, and let the islands sit inside for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool slightly.

Once the molds have cooled, unmold the islands. (Dip the bottom of the molds into boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds to loosen the caramel.) Use a knife to go around the edge of the molds, and turn them onto serving plates. Drizzle the caramel over the islands. Pour ¼ cup rompope on top and serve.


6 cups milk

3 whole cloves

1 three-to-four-inch cinnamon stick

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon baking soda

11/3 cups sugar

12 large egg yolks

¾ cup agua ardiente, rum, cachaça,or brandy

Fill a large bowl with ice. Combine the milk, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and baking soda in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once it starts simmering around the edges, reduce the heat to the low-est setting and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the sugar (don’t stir). Let cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, beat the yolks in a medium bowl until they have thickened and turned pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes.

Whisk the sugar into the milk. Once the sugar has dissolved, slowly whisk the yolks into the milk. Rinse and dry the yolk bowl and place in the ice bath. Set a fine sieve over the bowl.

Return the saucepan to low heat and stir until creamy. (Do not let the mixture boil.) When you run your finger down the spatula, it should leave a canal. Remove from the heat and whisk in the alcohol. Strain into the bowl and cool over the ice bath, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate until ready to use.

This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Washingtonian.

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.