IN THE KITCHEN: Simplifying the holiday meal

We bring you tips on having a stress free, and delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas meal with your family.

Cooking for family during the holidays can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. Chef Thor Erlingsson has given us a few recipes to break up the monotony of holiday meals, while also making sure the dishes are easy to execute for the average home cook.

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By LaTria Garnigan *** Photography by Kathryn Ingall

And you can definitely take Erlingsson’s word for it. Originally from Iceland, he’s a master chef in his home country and also the head chef and lecturer of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality at Kennesaw State University.

  • Shrimp-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin with Fig & Onion Jam on a bed of cheesy Risotto
  • Seared Tuna with Balsamic Vinaigrette and a Mixed Salad
  • Chocolate Lava Cake

THE MAIN COURSE: Shrimp-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin topped with a Fig and Onion Jam on a bed of cheesy Risotto

Shrimp-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin


  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 4 slices bacon, choppedksu-chef_19rgb
  • 8 medium size shrimp
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 2 pork tenderloins (2 to 2 1/2 pounds total), trimmed

Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until crisp.

Add the shrimp, salt, and pepper to taste; cook until the shrimp are done.

Add the garlic. Take four of the shrimp out and set on the side for plating.

Remove from the heat and add everything to a food processor along with the breadcrumbs and parsley. Let cool.

Rinse the pork and pat dry. Make a 1-inch-deep incision down the length of each tenderloin; do not cut all the way through. Open the meat like a book so the tenderloins lie flat.

Spread the mushroom mixture inside the two tenderloins and close.

Preheat a pan to medium high; brush the tenderloins with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Put the tenderloins in the pan to sear on all sides and then place in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board to rest for about 10 minutes.

Fig and Onion Jam


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped
  • 4 cups fresh figs
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar

Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and add onion to the hot oil.

Lower the heat to medium-low, cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and caramel-colored.

Chop the figs and add to the pan. Cook and stir until figs begin to lose their shape and have softened into onion.

Add balsamic vinegar into the pan and mix. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated.

Serve warm or chilled.



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the chicken stock in a small covered saucepan. Leave it on low heat to simmer.

In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and sauté the onion on medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent but not browned.

Add the rice and stir to coat the grains with butter.

Add the wine and cook for two minutes. Add two full ladles of stock to the rice plus the saffron, one teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir, and simmer until the stock is absorbed, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Continue to add the stock, two ladles at a time, stirring every few minutes. Each time, cook until the mixture seems a little dry, then add more stock.

Continue until the rice is cooked through, but still al dente, about 30 minutes total. Once off the heat, add roasted squash cubes and Parmesan cheese.

Mix well and serve.

LIGHT BITES: Seared Tuna with Balsamic Vinaigrette and Mixed Salad

KSU Chef_12rgb.jpgIngredients:

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-cup olive oil
  • Salad mix or favorite greens
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • 2 (5-ounce) ahi tuna steaks
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper

Season the tuna steaks with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter with the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Place the seasoned tuna in the skillet and cook, 1 1/2 minutes per side for rare.

Beat the vinegar in a bowl with salt and pepper until the salt dissolves. Then beat in the oil by droplets, whisking constantly.

Add a few tablespoons of the dressing with the salad mix, and then add to a bowl.

Slice the tuna and place on top of the salad.

A SWEET FINALE: Chocolate Lava Cake


  • 16 ounces chocolate (56%) ksu-chef_5rgb
  • 16 ounces butter
  • 16 ounces sugar
  • 9 eggs
  • 2 ounces flour

Melt butter and chocolate in a double boiler. Mix sugar and eggs together in a stand mixer.

When the chocolate has melted, put it into the mixer and then add the flour.

Put the batter in small ramekins and bake for 8 to 12 minutes at 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Still intimidated? Don’t be. Here are some tips to help execute your holiday meal:

  1. Preparation is key: Erlingsson says the key is to mainly relax and enjoy your family.
    “Yes, we have to have food, but if the food is on the table an hour later than expected, what is it changing?”
  2. Stop striving for perfection: Things can and most likely will go wrong, but its no big deal.
  3. Have fun: By preparing and not being so stuck on making sure everything is in tip top shape, you can spend a little bit more time with family — which is what this time is all about.


Meet The Chef

ksu-chef_4rgbBorn in Iceland, Erlingsson decided at the age of 16 to get into the culinary profession — having never really shown any interest before in cooking. He went through the four year program to become a chef and then found his way to the University of South Carolina for his masters.

After returning back home and even running his own restaurant, Erlingsson found himself back in the U.S. and this time at KSU as a chef and lecturer of Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality.

“Our main focus is not to graduate chefs but people who can work in the industry and manage in the industry,” he said. “I believe that everyone who works in hospitality has to understand what’s going on in the kitchen.”

The program has been growing exponentially since it was introduced just a few short years ago. There are almost 300 majors and over 1,000 students. In the basic skills class alone, there are 200 students – which many take as an elective just to get some kitchen skills under their belt.

Having lived most of his life in a different country, Erlingsson has a different take on the holidays (mainly Christmas that is celebrated back home), and sees areas where everyone involved can take a simpler, less stressful approach.

Tradition is key and Erlingsson says not to lose sight of that. But while we all can maintain the tradition of what the holidays mean to each of our families, there are ways to spice things up in the kitchen. It can be as simple as replacing a dish with something new or simpler or just preparing a side in a different way.

If you want to have a taste of what Erlingsson is up to at KSU, the public has an opportunity to become “customers” in the pop up restaurants conceptualized by students in the culinary program. House 51 hosts the restaurants each Friday through Thanksgiving and tickets can be purchased on the school’s website —

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