Easy Holiday Tips from the Georgia Governor’s Mansion

Holly Chute was expecting 1,000 people for cookies and cider last night. And with more guests over the next two weeks, she will be baking 20,000 cookies this holiday season.

Holly is the Executive Chef of Georgia’s Governor Nathan Deal. And Sunday was the tree lighting ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion, with cookies and hot and cold cider for all. Whether it’s for a large public function as this or an official state dinner, Holly knows a thing or two about entertaining.

She has cooked for royalty including Prince Philip and Princess Anne of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Prince Hassan of Jordan; Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; many governors; and entertainers like musician Joe Cocker and comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

Nothing fazes this talented chef, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who began her career as the Governor’s Mansion in 1981. She has worked for six different Governors.

I met Holly at the annual conference of Les Dames d’Escoffier International last month in Atlanta as we bagged commemorative 25th Anniversary LDEI chocolates prepared by Peter’s Chocolate for our gala dinner. Fascinated by her work, I made a date to call her after I got back to San Francisco, to pick her brain about entertaining ideas that I could share with you.

Holly’s menus and meals may be quite a bit more elaborate than what the rest of us might make to entertain, but we can all learn from her organization and planning.

“I’m a list maker,” Holly explained. “I start with how many people are coming, the menu and how much I have to make. Then I write up a grocery list. I think through what can be done in advance and what has to be done in the last minute.”

For a simple party, she suggests “a cocktail party for 20 to 30 people with wine and beer and put out some munchies. Definitely have some kind of protein – chicken skewers or marinated chicken of some kind and some type of crostini or bruschetta,” she said.

For very simple and inexpensive décor she suggests picking greenery from your yard. Mix the greens with shiny Christmas balls to dress up a table. Or mass the balls in a pretty bowl as a table centerpiece. Surround with lots of votive candles to create a festive glow.

Here are some suggestions for easy appetizers:

  • Always keep a loaf of French bread in your freezer. Mix up a spread to put on it if people pop in.
  • Keep a package or two of puff pastry in your freezer. It will thaw in about 15 minutes at room temperature. As soon as the puff pastry will unfold, lay it flat, spread with mustard, layer with ham and cheese, roll up and slice into ¼- to ½-inch pieces. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets at 400°F about 15 minutes until golden. Or make the roll and freeze. Slice and bake from the frozen state, allowing a few extra minutes to bake. For even faster preparation, make and slice the roll, re-form into a log, wrap and freeze. Then simply separate the slices and bake.
  • Keep premade pesto in your freezer. It’s a good filling for puff pastry.
  • Hummus is easy to make; keep ingredients in your pantry. Serve with pita chips.
  • Easy herb garlic cheese spread freezes beautifully so you can make it ahead – serve with gingersnaps or crackers.
  • Nuts always are good at cocktail parties and pecans are prevalent in the South. Serve them toasted and flavored with seasoned salt and angostura bitters.
Try these easy and delicious recipes from Executive Chef Holly Chute for your next holiday party.

Herb Garlic Cheese Spread

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces butter, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
¼ teaspoon dried dill
Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a mixer, beat smooth. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze. You can line a mold with plastic wrap and mold the cheese if you like. This can be served with crackers or ginger snaps for a fun combination.

Makes 1 ½ cups.

Recipe from Holly Chute, Executive Chef of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.

To get the Herb Garlic Cheese Spread recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.

Toasted Aromatic Pecans

3 cups large pecan halves
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
1 ½ teaspoon seasoned salt

Preheat oven to 300° F.

Place pecans in a 9- x 13-inch pan. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan. Add bitters and salt to butter and stir to blend. Pour butter mixture over pecans and bake an additional 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of the pecans. Stir pecans occasionally.

Makes 3 cups.

Note: Angostura bitters is available in the wine and spirit section of grocery stores

Recipe from Holly Chute, Executive Chef of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.

To get the Toasted Aromatic Pecans recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.


1 15-ounce can chick peas
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini
¼ cup onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano

Drain chick peas, reserving liquid. Combine chick peas and tahini in the bowl of a food processor and puree until smooth, adding reserved liquid as necessary.

Add remaining ingredients and mix smooth. Adjust seasoning. Serve with baby carrots and pita wedges.

Other flavor options for hummus are: 1) roasted red pepper 2) fresh herbs 3) pesto 4) Thai red curry.

Makes 2 about cups.

Recipe from Holly Chute, Executive Chef of the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.

To get the Hummus recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.

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Posted: Dec 4th by Sandy_Hu