Ask A Tampa Bay Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

December 6, 2013 7:00 AM

(credit: Thinkstock)

Holidays are supposed to be a time for scrumptious comfort food, more family time and fun and laughter. Unfortunately, sometimes we get too tied up with creating the perfect holiday dinner and stress overwhelms the good times. Luckily, culinary expert Ana Granucci, head chef of 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House, has some tips for creating the perfect holiday menu without losing your mind.

Ana Granucci
400 Beach Seafood & Tap House
400 Beach Drive N.E.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
(727) 896-2400

Granucci earned an AA in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Tampa. Before working her way up to head chef at 400 Beach, she worked for various catering companies, Raymond James Stadium and an Italian restaurant by the name of Bella Brava. She is passionate about using only the highest quality, fresh, local ingredients. Her philosophy includes using sustainable seafood sources, buying produce from local farms and including vegetarian and vegan items on the menu. The current menu at 400 Beach is a combination of recipes from head chefs past and present, and that includes some of Granucci’s own creations, such as coconut pumpkin bisque. She knows the importance of putting together the perfect holiday menu and has some fantastic tips for amateur chefs.

Tip 1: Shop for the freshest local products you can find.

There is no shortage of farmers’ markets in Tampa Bay. Instead of buying pureéd pumpkin in a can or blocks of frozen spinach, use fresh, local produce. “Make an experience out of it,” Granucci suggested. “Take the kids with you to the farmers’ market and let them pick out the pumpkin you’re going to use for the pie.” She also recommends buying fresh fish if you’re planning on serving any dishes with seafood. “We buy all of our seafood from Sammy’s Seafood in St. Pete,” she said. “They use a tracking system so you know exactly where your seafood is coming from. Grouper is coming right out of Medeira Beach, and stone crab claws are harvested right from the Gulf.” Buying quality ingredients will make your meal almost effortlessly delicious.

Tip 2: Do some preparation ahead of time.

“You don’t want to get stuck in the kitchen when everyone else is drinking wine and having a good time,” Granucci said. To avoid this unpleasant scenario, you can do plenty of food preparation ahead of time to save time on the big day. For example, things like soups, homemade salad dressings and desserts can all be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Or, you can even store some desserts in the freezer. The day before, chop up all of your vegetables that you will need and store them in zipper bags or storage containers so they are ready to go when you are.

Tip 3: Spice it up!

Too often, people seem to get stuck in a rut and serve the same thing for every holiday meal. You can still serve familiar dishes, but give them a twist. “Instead of serving regular old mashed potatoes, try mashed sweet potatoes. Or if you’re still using white potatoes, try adding some roasted garlic. Try putting something different in your stuffing, like artichoke hearts or chopped apples. It’s comfort food. People are still gonna love it,” she said. She also recommends always serving homemade desserts instead of buying store-made cakes or pies. “Sometimes, people get scared, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Make cupcakes with your kids and let them decorate them. Or make apple pies with your friend. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s more special if it’s homemade,” she added.

Related: Best Year Round Fresh Farmer’s Markets In Tampa Bay

Are you ready to create your family’s perfect holiday menu? Try starting with one of Granucci’s own recipes.

Pumpkin Coconut Bisque

  • 1 white onion – small, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds to garnish

Heat oil. Sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add ginger, salt and pepper; sauté two minutes. Add apple cider and let reduce by 1/4. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Stir in pumpkin puree. Let simmer. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. If it is too thick for your liking, add more coconut milk and/or cider. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Related: Best Pumpkin Treats In Tampa Bay

Amanda Mole has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil and cooking since she was tall enough to reach the stove. She believes that food provides more than just vital nutrients: it is an irreplaceable part of countless cultural and social activities. As a Tampa Bay resident for the past 21 years, she is well acquainted with the incredibly diverse range of restaurants, bars, and food festivals that the area has to offer. Her work can be found at

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