Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

A Spice Finch Christmas, with a journey from Northeast Philly to the Mediterranean

Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle both grew up with big family Christmases. They drew inspiration from those memories to create a vibrant holiday feast.

A Christmas feast prepared by chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle at Spice Finch in Philadelphia.
A Christmas feast prepared by chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle at Spice Finch in Philadelphia.Read more--- Jessica Griffin / JESSICA GRIFFIN / Staff Photographer

When chef Jennifer Carroll was growing up in Northeast Philly, Christmas was often a mad scramble. A warm and happy day of chaos with ham and turkey, children running around, someone dressed as Santa, a parade of flaky-crust pies lovingly prepared by her grandmother.

Carroll’s father is one of 11, and her mother one of six. “It was wild,” said Carroll, who has two sisters. “We’d all try and sit down at once at the kids' table. We had multiple. We had, like, three kids' tables.”

About 80 miles away in Rising Sun, Md., chef Billy Riddle’s childhood Christmases unfolded in much the same way. His father is one of six, and his grandmother cooked feasts to satisfy any craving. There were always ham and turkey, but also meatballs and General Tso’s chicken — so much food there wasn’t room for people to sit at the table.

“She’d make strombolis, because we all loved her pizza, but we didn’t have room to put out pizzas,” Riddle said, adding that he probably inherited his passion for hospitality from his grandmother. “It was about making everybody happy at all costs.”

For the two chefs, who in July opened the Mediterranean-inspired Spice Finch in Rittenhouse Square after years of working together in Washington, family traditions were the driving influences as they dreamed up their version of Christmas dinner. They started with holiday classics, then infused those dishes with exotic spices, bursts of citrus, and bright herbs.

“This is kind of what we would eat,” Riddle said of himself and fiancée Carroll. “There’s healthy stuff; there’s bad stuff.”

“This would suit everyone’s palate, from the basic to the adventurous,” Carroll added.

Spice Finch is a homecoming not just for Carroll, who worked under Eric Ripert at 10 Arts and competed on Top Chef in 2009, but also for Riddle, who worked at Lacroix, Ela, and Townsend.

In addition to their large family, Riddle’s grandmother often hosted people for holiday dinners that she met through her church group. Carroll, who grew up in the Somerton section of the Northeast, estimated her number of cousins at “a million.”

“I always tell the front of house, if someone comes in and says they’re my cousin, they probably are," she said.

For their Christmas meal at Spice Finch, Riddle and Carroll started with a fresh shrimp cocktail served over ice with wedges of lemon and sauce made from harissa paste and horseradish to give it heat, and blended just enough that a bit of chunkiness remains. “You want it to almost be more like a vegetable when you bite into it,” Carroll said.

At Carroll’s house, the ham was always accompanied by yellow and brown mustard, flavors they incorporated into their Spice Finch version by glazing it with mustard, honey, and brown sugar.

The pair also roasted what Riddle called their version of a Peking duck, rubbing the bird in a Lebanese spice blend with warm autumnal notes that bring out its flavors. The meat ended up juicy and wrapped in crispy, sweet-salty skin.

Carroll’s mother always made beets for holidays — but only for herself and Carroll, the ones who liked them. Carroll and Riddle marinated theirs in kefir lime leaves, shallots, and fennel that give them vibrancy, then salt-roasted them. They served them alongside a garlic yogurt that adds salt and creaminess.

Instead of marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, Carroll and Riddle tossed theirs with sumbala, a West African fermented condiment similar to miso paste. Baked with cilantro, parsley, ginger, shallots, garlic, and canola oil, the potatoes taste rich and addictively tangy.

Spice Finch beverage manager Michael Haggerty prepared a festive red punch to accompany the holiday meal. Made from dried hibiscus steeped in simple syrup and offset with garnishes of lemon or lime, the drink is sweet at first, then pleasantly acidic. Drink it as-is, he said, or spike it with gin or a dry white rum.

Carroll makes pies each year using her grandmother’s crust recipe. She and Riddle made a pecan pie in the style of a shoofly pie, with molasses, condensed milk, and corn syrup as a nod to the Amish communities both were familiar with as children.

“It’s important that you toast the nuts so they will pick up that flavor,” Carroll said. “Just baking them on the pie won’t do it.” They added whiskey and a touch of salt flakes on top to balance the sweetness.

They also made lemon cardamom cookies, a recipe Carroll has been baking for the two of them for years. They eventually added them to the menu of their catering company, Carroll Couture Cuisine.

“There’s a bright, clean flavor to these, and a little crackliness on the outside," she said. "It’s almost like a funnel cake, but so much lighter.”

As adults, their holidays aren’t necessarily any quieter than those spent as children. Now that they’re so close to home, they try to split their time between both sets of parents. Last month, they helped cook two Thanksgiving dinners in two different states.

“We’re here all the time,” Carroll said of their long days in the restaurant. “So we try and make the most of our off hours.”

Lebanese Seven-Spice Roasted Duck

Serves 6 to 8


For the glaze:

2¾ ounces garlic

3¾ ounces ginger

1 cup date molasses (available at Whole Foods and online)

5 tablespoons baharat (available online and in spice shops)

2 tablespoons salt

For the duck:

1 duck, 3 to 5 pounds, plucked and gutted

Salt, for seasoning


  1. For the glaze, using a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.

  2. For the duck, fill a tall pot with water and season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil.

  3. Holding duck by neck, dunk into boiling water for three seconds and pull out. Repeat until skin tightens. With a fattier duck, dip for slightly longer.

  4. Dry duck with a towel. Place it  on a roasting pan lined with a rack. Rub duck with glaze.

  5. Air-dry in refrigerator, uncovered, for 2 to 3 days.

  6. When ready for roasting, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add a pint of water to roasting pan. Cover duck wings, neck, and legs with foil. Cover rest of duck with additional foil.

  7. Bake for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature hits 115 degrees, using the spot between the thigh and body.

  8. Remove foil from duck body, leaving foil in place over wings, neck, and legs. Continue baking until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees.

  9. Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch

Honey-Glazed Ham

Makes one 5 -to 10-pound ham


1 5- to 10-pound spiraled ham

¾ cup chicken stock

¼ cup honey

½ cup Dijon mustard

1 cup light brown sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ham in roasting pan lined with a rack. Add chicken stock to pan.

  2. Cover with foil and roast  for 20 minutes.

  3. While ham is cooking, whisk together honey, mustard, and brown sugar in a bowl. 

  4. Remove ham from oven, uncover, and glaze with  a brush.

  5. Continue cooking, basting with glaze occasionally. Cook until internal temperature of ham hits  150 degrees.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle

Pickled Beets

Serves 4 to 6


3 pounds beets

1¼ pints pomegranate vinegar

3 kaffir lime leaves (available at Whole Foods and online)

1 nub ginger, grated

¼ cup granulated sugar

1½ tablespoons salt, plus more for seasoning

Zest from 2 limes

Zest from 2 lemons

1 pound shallots, sliced

1 pound fennel, sliced


  1. Add beets to a large pot and cover with water. Season with pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer.

  2. Cook until beets are tender, use a fork to determine when done, about 30 minutes. When tender, remove from heat and let cool.

  3. Using gloves, peel off beet skin.

  4. Chop beets to desired size.

  5. Using a separate pot, add vinegar, kaffir lime leaves, ginger, sugar, and 1½ tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.

  6. When cool, add citrus zest, shallots, fennel, and cooked beets.

  7. Serve with garlic yogurt (see recipe below).

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle

Garlic Yogurt Sauce

Makes about 3 quarts


3 ounces garlic

1 egg white

4¼ ounces lemon juice

1 tablespoon salt, plus more for seasoning

4 cups canola oil

4 cups high-fat Greek yogurt


  1. Using a food processor, combine garlic, egg white, lemon juice, and salt. Blend until smooth. Add oil slowly. 

  2. Transfer contents to a large bowl. Add yogurt and whisk together.

  3. Adjust seasoning as needed with salt. Store in refrigerator.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch

Shrimp Cocktail with Harissa Cocktail Sauce

Serves 6 to 8


For the harissa cocktail sauce:

1 2/3 quarts ketchup

1/3 quart prepared horseradish (fresh can add too much heat)

¼ cup harissa

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

¾ tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon lemon zest

¾ teaspoon Mousa (available at

¾ teaspoon Cataluna (available at

For the shrimp:

3 pounds large shrimp, heads off, cleaned, and rinsed with cold water.

1 gallon water

1 cup salt

3 lemons, halved, plus more wedges for garnishing.


  1. To make the harissa cocktail sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

  2. For the shrimp, bring  a gallon of water in a large pot  to a boil. Add salt and juice from lemons, squeezing directly into water.

  3. Place shrimp in a bowl large enough to contain all the water. Pour liquid over shrimp. Using a long spoon, stir shrimp so they cook evenly. Let sit for 3 minutes or until shrimp is cooked.

  4. Strain and lay shrimp on a pan. Place in fridge or freezer to cool shrimp as quickly as possible.

  5. Serve on platter on top of crushed ice to keep shrimp cold. Garnish with lemon wedges and harissa cocktail sauce.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Serves 4 to 6


3 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into wedges

½ cup miso

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup water

Fresh cilantro and parsley, for garnish


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, toss sweet potatoes with miso and olive oil.

  2. Lay potatoes evenly in a casserole dish. Add water to pan to prevent scorching and help potatoes  steam. Cover potatoes with foil and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender.

  3. Place in serving bowl and add cooking juices and oil. Top with fresh cilantro and parsley.

  4. Optional: Finish with pepper relish (see recipe below).

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch

Pepper Relish

Serves 4 to 6


2 red bell peppers, diced small

2 shallots, diced small

2 cloves garlic, grated

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Zest from one lemon

1 teaspoon salt

¼ bunch cilantro, chopped

¼ bunch parsley, chopped


  1. Mix peppers, shallots, garlic, oil, zest, and salt in a bowl. Adjust seasoning if needed.

  2. Fold herbs into mixture.

  3. Serve on top of sweet potatoes.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch

Lemon Cardamom Snowball Cookies

Makes 18 to 26 cookies


9 ounces all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

½ cup powdered sugar, plus extra for garnish

8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest from 4 lemons, plus extra for garnish


  1. Using a sieve, sift flour, baking powder, sea salt, and cardamom into a bowl. Set aside.

  2. Using a standing mixer  with a paddle attachment, combine powdered sugar, butter, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. On a medium setting, blend  until mixture is light and fluffy. Slowly add dry ingredients until fully incorporated. Do not over-mix.

  3. Chill dough in refrigerator, letting it rest for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

  4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  5. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, roll dough into one-ounce balls. Space them 3 to 4 inches from one another.

  6. Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, turning halfway through.

  7. If desired, garnish with more powdered sugar and lemon zest. Dust balls with powdered sugar.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch


Makes two 9-inch piecrusts


6 ounces unsalted butter, cold and cubed

2 cups pastry flour

4 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

2 tablespoons salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

4½ ounces cream cheese

2 tablespoons heavy cream


  1. Combine butter, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cream cheese in a food processor. Mix  until they form a crumbly texture. Slowly drizzle in cream until dough forms.

  2. Remove from processor, flatten into a disk shape, and refrigerate  30 minutes.

  3. Roll dough to ¼ to 1/16 of an inch and cut to desired shape for pie pans.

  4. Line pie pan and crimp edges. Refrigerate until filling is ready.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch

Pecan Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie


8 ounces light corn syrup

8 ounces molasses

7 ounces condensed milk

1 vanilla bean

4 eggs

½ pound pecans, halved and toasted

1 teaspoon sea salt

(Note: for a deeper pie, double the ingredients.)


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a sauce pot over low-medium heat, warm corn syrup, molasses, condensed milk, and vanilla bean. Do not allow to  boil. Add salt when warm.

  2. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until very frothy and set aside.

  3. Once molasses mixture is  warm, temper eggs by slowly adding mixture. While whisking, slowly add tempered eggs to the pot and whisk until well incorporated.

  4. Fill pie shell about ¾ way and add pecans.

  5. Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, then lower temperature to 325 degrees.

  6. Let cool and serve with whipped cream if desired.

— Chefs Jennifer Carroll and Billy Riddle of Spice Finch