December 19, 2016
It’s Christmas week! I love spending extra time in the kitchen, but having a few tricks to simplify things can cut back on unnecessary holiday stress.
Everyone is scattering to spend time with friends and family over the holiday season, and many of us are planning a big turkey dinner - often more than one! In our family, my mom cooks the turkey (I always opt for one from Winter’s Turkeys, out in Dalemead) and everyone brings the sides and dessert, but after getting the butcher at the Calgary Co-op Midtown Market to deconstruct our Thanksgiving turkey, which we then roasted over a bed of stuffing, our method has changed. A deconstructed turkey cooks more evenly, and far more quickly - a 12 lb bird took an hour and twenty minutes (!!) which means a) freeing up your oven for other things, and b) not having to get up at 6 am to get the bird in. The butcher broke it down in five minutes while I shopped, packaging up the inner carcass and giblets so I could still make stock. I stuck it (along with the wings, which don’t have much meat on them anyway) in another pan and roasted them in a skillet alongside the pieces and stuffing to get browned bits for the gravy. Rather than struggle to strain the pan juices, I took the roasted bones out of the pan, stuck it on the burner, and proceeded to make the gravy. Bonus: roasted bones make for particularly dark and flavourful stock. Best of all, there’s TONS of stuffing, and lots of crispy bits with the increased surface area. (I am a fan of stuffing cooked in contact with the turkey!)
As for the rest, I like planning plenty of dishes that can be made ahead, so I can chip away on the days leading up to Christmas, making the cranberry sauce, salad dressings, spiced nuts and a pureed soup - we usually have some sort of winter squash soup, and this year I’ll make it with maple roasted butternut - to keep in the fridge for up to a week - all that needs is reheating. My dad loves my grandma’s braised purple cabbage with cherries - I use frozen ones - which is also perfect for making in advance, simmering away on another night while dinner is in the oven.
Mashed potatoes are simple enough, and can sit on the back burner until we’re ready for them, but you can also make mashed potatoes in the slow cooker - peel and cut 4-5 lbs of russet potatoes into chunks and put them in the slow cooker with a cup or two of milk, a couple cloves of garlic and a big pinch of salt and pepper, cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours, until the potatoes are very soft. Mash them right in the pot, adding butter and a little more milk or cream if you like, and keep them warm until you need them.
For the cranberry sauce, all I do is upend a bag of frozen berries into a saucepan with a splash of apple cider or orange juice - or even water - add about half as much sugar as there are berries, and bring it all to a simmer until the berries pop. Sometimes I toss in a cinnamon stick, strip of orange zest, or even a chopped up mandarin orange. Cool and keep in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze. I always make sure I have extra for turkey sandwiches the next day.
My sister always makes her ham, mushroom and gruyere tart, and it’s amazing served in slivers along with the rest of the dishes. I usually make a bunch of pastry in the fall and keep a stash in the freezer, which streamlines things somewhat - but hey, there has to be something on the table that’s a little more involved! and there’s room for it to bake alongside the deconstructed turkey, if need be. But I like it best when my sister just shows up with one.
Happy holidays, everyone!
unsliced white loaves from the bakery
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I’m a fan of the roast chicken. Not only is it simple, versatile and delicious, it makes the best leftovers.