Essensia chef Julie Frans shares Thanksgiving recipes


Side dish

Millet and Roasted Squash ‘Dressing’

This vegan and gluten-free recipe is perfect served on its own or as a side dish or dressing with the turkey.

2 cups millet, rinsed

4 cups water

1 cup peeled, seeded and diced butternut squash

1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided

Salt, to taste

1 onion, diced

1/2 fennel bulb, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 cup grated carrot

1 green apple with peel on, diced

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup orange juice

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted

Chopped parsley, for garnish

Place millet in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes until all water is absorbed. Fluff with a fork and remove to a bowl.

Meanwhile, toss the squash with 2 teaspoons olive oil and salt. Place on a baking sheet with sides and roast in a 375-degree oven 20 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, fennel and celery; saute about 5 minutes until just tender.

Add ginger, carrots, apples, paprika, nutmeg and cinnamon; saute about 2 more minutes. Add orange juice and heat through. Transfer to bowl with millet.

Add squash, cranberries, pecans, salt and remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Mix well and garnish with chopped parsley. Makes about 20 (1/2-cup) servings.

Per serving: 205 calories (46 percent calories from fat), 10.8 g fat (1.3 g saturated, 6.7 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 3.1 g protein, 25.5 g carbohydrate, 3.8 g fiber, 12 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from chef Julie Frans, Essensia Restaurant, The Palms Hotel & Spa, Miami Beach

Side dish

Brussels Sprouts with Shiitakes, Sage, Bacon and Parmesan

11/2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt, to taste

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons fine-sliced fresh sage

3 shallots, sliced

1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

1/4 cup sherry

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Dash truffle oil or to taste (optional)

4 slices crisp-cooked apple-wood smoked bacon, crumbled (optional)

2 tablespoons shaved aged Parmesan (optional)

Minced fresh parsley, for garnish

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place brussels sprouts on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with oil and salt; toss to coat. Roast 35 to 40 minutes, shaking the pan periodically until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and gently heat until golden brown and nutty-flavored. Quickly toss in the sage. Add the shallots and cook until tender-crisp.

Add the mushrooms, thyme and sherry; cook until tender. Add the roasted brussels sprouts and toss well. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Remove to a serving bowl and top with your choices of truffle oil, chopped bacon and/or shaved Parmesan. Garnish with fresh parsley. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Per serving: (based on 6): 158 calories (57 percent calories from fat), 10.5 g fat (5.2 g saturated, 3.6 g monounsaturated), 20.2 mg cholesterol, 4.6 g protein, 13 g carbohydrate, 4.8 g fiber, 92 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from chef Julie Frans, Essensia Restaurant, The Palms Hotel & Spa, Miami Beach.


Redlands Mamey Cheesecake

For a topping, use soft-whipped cream mixed sour cream or sour cream sweetened with sugar. Add a dollop to each piece of this dessert; then sprinkle with cinnamon. Mamey sapote puree is available in the frozen-food case at South Florida supermarkets.


7 ounces whole almonds with skins on, toasted

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons melted butter


1/2 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1 pound 2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

11/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 eggs, at room temperature

1/2 pound mamey sapote puree

To make crust, process the almonds and sugar in a food processor until the nuts are a fine consistency.

Drizzle melted butter into the almond mixture through the feed tube while the food processor is running and continue processing until the mixture comes together and holds its shape.

Press to cover the bottom and a little up the sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan; set aside.

Heat the oven to 320 degrees

To make filling, sift the flour with the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves; set aside.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.

Scrape the sides of the mixing bowl and add the butter; beat until smooth. Scrape bowl again and add the flour mixture. Mix and scrape to ensure mixture has no lumps of flour

Place all the eggs in another bowl, and beat to combine. Add half the eggs to the cheese mixture, and beat to combine. Scrape the bowl down, and mix in the remaining eggs. Add mamey sapote puree and mix to combine. Pour into prepared crust and spread evenly.

Bake about 40 minutes, or until filling slightly rises. Let cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes 15 to 20 servings.

Per serving (based on 20): 307 calories (66 percent calories from fat), 23 g fat (11 g saturated, 7.8 g monounsaturated), 79 mg cholesterol, 5.2 g protein, 22 g carbohydrate, 1.7 g fiber, 110 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from assistant pastry chef Samantha Frei, Essensia Restaurant, The Palms Hotel & Spa, Miami Beach.

Special to the Miami Herald

This Thanksgiving, Julie Frans will honor the harvest holiday by leaving her stainless-steel kitchen at Essensia Restaurant in Miami Beach’s Palm’s Hotel & Spa. She’ll make her way out past the resort’s swimming pool to a sandy area favored by sun bathers.

She’ll pass through a green gate marked “Staff Only” to enter her own special retreat. It’s a garden where she’ll pick tender leaves of arugula and branches of fragrant rosemary as well as check the progress of her tomatoes growing in raised beds.

“A garden is something you have to be passionate about because it takes so much effort,” says Frans who visits her garden daily. But she knew even before she was hired at Essensia two years ago that a garden was a must if she was to be the resort’s signature chef.

It’s this garden plus her relationship with three local farmers that allow Frans to serve her farm-to-table cuisine. And it’s her recipes, along with one from Essensia’s assistant pastry chef, Samantha Frei, that we offer in celebration of this festive day.

“When you grow up in California, cooking seasonally and using farm-fresh produce is just what you do,” says Frans, 34, who is from San Diego.

She describes her food as “modern healthy American cuisine with lots of influences.”

One of her biggest influences was her father who, she sadly recalls, passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2000.

Although her mother was a good basic cook, turning out plenty of fried chicken and spaghetti sauce, it was her father who was the gourmet.

“We’d go to the markets together and shop. Then we’d come home. I was the official shrimp peeler,” she says proudly. Together they created paellas, risottos and Chinese dishes.

Ethnic cooking has continued to influence Frans’ culinary development, and many of the dishes she serves are flavored by ingredients she first tasted during a nomadic five years on the road.

“I traveled the world on my own with a backpack,” she says. She visited 15 countries including India, Thailand and Mexico.

Now that’s she’s settled down, her children are front and center. And at Essensia, she has a position that is uniquely suited to her family responsibilities.

Here she oversees the creative concepts of the hotels’ restaurants without the day-to-day management responsibilities of an executive chef.

“It gives me time to do my first job, which is raising two kids. I have really nice balance,” she says. Most days she is able to pick up John, 5, and Cassidy, 3, from school.

On Thanksgiving morning, she’ll head to the restaurant to harvest fresh vegetables and herbs from the garden and to be sure things are ready for guests. But then, unlike most chefs, she will head home to celebrate with her family, including her in-laws from Michigan.

She’ll keep the menu simple with a small turkey and a few interesting sides. “My kids are really good eaters. They are adventuresome with food,” she says.

They’ll enjoy her Millet and Roasted Squash “Dressing,” which fills the need for a starchy component at the holiday meal. Instead of a bread stuffing or mashed potatoes, she uses this healthful cereal grain in a dish that is perfect for vegans and those who avoid gluten.

She combines it with roasted butternut squash, fresh ginger and dried cranberries for a sweet-and-savory flavor.

“All vegetables taste better roasted,” she says adding that she “never, ever, ever, ever” steams or boils them.

This side dish gently accented with smoked paprika can be served warm or at room temperature so it’s perfect for our warm fall weather. Leftovers can be refrigerated and served as a flavorful salad.

For another side to the turkey, she roasts brussels sprouts that, when tossed with olive oil and a little salt, caramelize nicely. “I’m into clean, low-fat cooking but I think olive oil is really good for you,” she says.

She tosses the sprouts with shiitake mushrooms in browned butter that she accents with fresh sage. Then she uses garnishes to add layers of additional flavor: crisp bacon, shaved Parmesan cheese and a touch of truffle oil.

“The toppings can take it from kind of minimal to really gourmet and extravagant,” she says.

For dessert, we turned to the restaurant’s 27-year-old pastry specialist. Although Frei has been at Essensia for six years, she’s been baking since she was a child growing up in Milwaukee.

“I like the way baking lets you be creative,” she says. “You take raw ingredients like eggs and flour and they can become anything — a dough, a pie, a cookie or even ice cream.”

For your holiday feast, Frei offers her Redlands Mamey Cheesecake. It features mamey sapote, a tropical fruit grown on area farms. Although it ripens in the summer, any leftover fruit is peeled, removed from its seed and frozen as a puree.

It’s this puree Frei uses in her cheesecake bars. You’ll find it tastes surprisingly like sweetened pumpkin with a similar texture but richer orange color. It’s also in keeping with the restaurant’s philosophy of using what’s locally grown.

Like Frans, Frei will spend Thanksgiving morning at the restaurant and then head out to a feast with friends. And of course, she’ll bring dessert.

“Cooking and food in general bring so much joy to people,” she says. “And if the food is good and good for you, it makes everything so much better.”

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