My mother wasn’t a fan of day to day cooking. We lived on a steady diet of tinned spaghetti or Scotch mince – that’s boiled ground beef. It’s grey and pebbly, and only if she were feeling adventurous, would she add some onion and a bay leaf. Her mashed potatoes were the instant kind; and in winter, green beans came out of a can – Del Monte French-style – soggy slices with fancy bits of pimento. In fact, in the 1970s, when I was growing up, if you wanted to make anything fancy enough for company, you added pimento. Day to day food was uninspired, to say the least, but at the holidays, Mother went all out. She baked batch after batch of her one of a kind Christmas shortbread cookies. And she entertained family, friends, and neighbours with all that ‘70s stuff that’s come back in vogue: tinned oysters and shrimp, huge pans of paella, baba au rum. Father was in charge of the egg nog and booze and he had a heavy hand. Remember, this was the wild ‘70s, when a perfectly acceptable plea at the end of an evening was, “Have one more for the ditch!” Yikes.
As I write this, I’m the same age as my folks were then, but my life is very different; I don’t have a big family to cook for, nor do I eat enough meat to be interested in roasting a giant turkey or a standing rib roast. Don’t get me wrong, if someone cooked that for me, I’d happily dive right in, but at home, it’s just me, so veggies it is, plus one batch of Mother’s shortbread, because they’re the best in the whole wide world, and if I made more than one batch, I’d eat more than one batch. All. By. Myself.
So let’s call this an exercise in vicarious holiday feasting. I asked a few of my favourite Canadian culinary heavyweights about the one dish they simply can’t do without during the holidays, and they obliged, with stories, recipes, and even a how-to video!
Guelph-based cookbook author, Emily Richards, keeps community top of mind at the holidays. “With the help of my daughter, Adriana, we make my gingerbread cookie recipe every year and share it with friends, family, and my community. Last year we brought them to a local TV station for kids to decorate as they celebrated their local Toy Mountain toy drive. I also share them with a local group – The Live and Learn Center in Guelph – and they loved the candy and decorating; it was so awesome! I feel like it’s more than a recipe; it’s a food memory for everyone to share. Even Santa gets one!” The Harrowsmith team would not say no to a plate of these babies. Just sayin’… For more from Emily’s kitchen visit: emilyrichardscooks.com
Emily’s Gingerbread Cut-outs
The holidays are not the same unless the house is filled with the aroma of ginger. You can make simple shapes of stars and boots, but Santas, reindeers and Christmas trees are extra special!
1/2 cup (125 mL) butter, softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) shortening
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
2 free-range eggs
1 cup (250 mL) fancy molasses
5 cups (1.25 L) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon (10 mL) ground ginger
1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking soda
1 teaspoon (5 mL) cinnamon
½ teaspoon (2 mL) ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon (2 mL) ground cloves
½ teaspoon (2 mL) salt
- In large bowl, beat butter, shortening, and brown sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in eggs and molasses; set aside.
- In another bowl, stir together, flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Using wooden spoon, stir flour mixture into molasses mixture in 2 additions; mix well, using hands if necessary.
- Divide dough into 4 discs; wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 1 hour or until firm.
- Roll out 1 disc at a time between 2 sheets of waxed paper to ¼ inch thick.
- Remove top sheet of waxed paper and using cookie cutters cut out shapes. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in a preheated 350F oven for about 10 minutes or until firm to the touch. Transfer to cooling rack.
- Repeat with remaining dough.
- Allow to cool completely before icing and decorating.
Makes about 6 dozen
To decorate the cookies you can use your favourite icing or this Royal Icing:
2 tablespoons (30 mL) meringue powder
¼ cup (60 mL) water
3 cups (750 mL) icing sugar, you may use more or less
- In large bowl, beat meringue powder and water until frothy. Beat in icing sugar, 1 cup at a time, for about 3 minutes or until stiff. Add food colouring as desired. Cover with damp towel to prevent drying out.
Makes about 1 ½ cups.
Chef and culinary adventurer, Christin Cushing, surprised me with her holiday go-to dish. OK, call me a cliché, but I was expecting something, you know, from the book of My Big Fat Greek Christmas, but no, her must-make is Spanish paella! “Paella fits all my Christmas Eve criteria: it feels celebratory, looks very special, is perfect for sharing, and, although it’s a dish of many components, it’s done in one pan.” Dear Readers, let’s just hit pause for a moment and consider a holiday feast cooked in one pan! Ahhh ya, that’s the stuff. Okay, back to Christine’s story; “After the first time I made it, that was it, it isn’t Christmas Eve without paella and everyone loves it. Of course, this is my take on paella and since I visited Valencia and was schooled on the way the original is made, I can now add some of those techniques and hopefully there won’t be a Greek mutiny!” christinecushing.com
Watch Christine cook her paella right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KaOl0yH1-LY&feature=youtu.be
From Nettie Cronish, Culinary Instructor and Cookbook Author: “My daughter Mackenzie was seven-years-old when she came home from school and announced she wanted pie for dinner, in a spring form pan. It was easy for her to assemble. She took it out of the cupboard, put on her apron and said; “Let’s cook!” I of course, had no intention of making a dessert pie for dinner, and suggested we make a pie with a tortilla base with her favourite ingredient; black beans. She drew a picture of what she thought it should look like, and we started to slice our onions, grate our cheese and measure out the dark beer. This recipe is a favourite for our family, especially around the holidays. It can be vegan-ized very easily as well, using a grated vegan cheese or breadcrumb and good tasting nutritional yeast combo.” Check out more of Nettie’s flexitarian dishes here: nettiecronish.com
You know Chef Bruno Feldeisen as the take-no-prisoners judge with the creamy French accent on The Great Canadian Baking Show, but he’s also just a guy who really loves the smell of something buttery baking in the oven, especially at the holidays. “A warm buttery dessert, such as a financier is always a favourite in the winter months. The nutty aroma of brown butter, combined with the spiced mulled tipsy pear scent floating in the air is sure to create great memories. Even better if you top the dessert with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. I just love the scent of brown butter in the winter months!” Catch more of Bruno on Season Three and look for his first cookbook, out in late 2019. brunofeldeisen.com
Tipsy Pear Financier
In true French pâtissier fashion, this recipe calls for ingredients to be weighed on a kitchen scale, not measured in cups.
Ingredients for the Financier
80 g granulated sugar
100 g all-purpose flour
75 g ground almonds
55 g light brown sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch
½ a vanilla bean cut lengthwise
160 g brown butter (start with 220 g unsalted butter)
- Pre-heat your oven at 360F.
- With 160 gr. egg white and 30 gr. Sugar, whip up a soft peak meringue.
- Then fold gently the meringue, using a plastic spatula into the cake mix.
- Spoon the mix into 4 buttered ramequins or coffee mugs.
- Poor equally the tipsy pear mix on top of the financier batter.
- Place on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes.
Ingredients for the Tipsy Pears
3 Anjou pears
1 cinnamon stick
½ vanilla bean
1 ½ cups water
2 cups Pinot Noir wine
1 cup sugar
1 orange, cut in half
- Peel, core and dice pears into 1 cm. cubes.
- In a medium sauce pan, bring to a boil the water, red wine, sugar and cinnamon stick.
- Add the orange halves and the diced pear.
- Place again on the stove over low heat and simmer until the pears are poached soft.
- Remove from the heat and let cool at room temperature.
Ever the teacher, Bonnie Stern explains Hanukkah to the uninitiated; “Hanukkah is one of the most well-known of all Jewish holidays. It’s a happy holiday that celebrates good conquering evil and the miracle of the oil over two thousand years ago. When the Maccabees rededicated the temple in Jerusalem after defeating their enemies, the oil lasted eight days instead of just one. Symbolically we light candles, one per day for eight days, and eat foods fried in oil especially potato latkes (potato pancakes) in North America, or in Israel, sufganiyot (Israeli jelly donuts). Now many people here and in Israel celebrate with both foods.
Although Hanukkah is a perfect holiday for children, it’s also a perfect opportunity for families to get together. My mom was one of eleven children and so we have a large family Hanukkah party – about 80 people! – but I also host a smaller gathering of about 20, for my immediate family and friends. I rarely fry foods at home, leaving those items as the treats of restaurant dining, but when it comes to Hanukkah, I bow to tradition. Hanukkah = permission to fry. We do not keep kosher, so I can serve dairy and meat at the same meal, allowing me to set up a latke ‘bar’ with lots of toppings, such as the traditional sour cream and applesauce, but also smoked salmon, guacamole, thick yogurt, hummus, baba ganoush for appetizers, brisket and roasted vegetables for the main course and cheesecake and rugelach for dessert. It’s usually too much food but that’s also the traditional. To check out Bonnie’s classes, recipes, and book club, visit: www.bonniestern.com
Bonnie’s Middle Eastern Sweet Potato Latkes
I always make traditional potato pancakes but several years ago I started making these as well which have become almost as popular. These are particularly delicious with tahini and yogurt.
2 free-run eggs
1 tsp puréed chipotle chillies or harissa, optional
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cumin
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and grated (about 4 cups)
¼ cup vegetable oil, more if needed
- Beat eggs in a large bowl with chipotles, green onions and cilantro. In another bowl stir together flour, salt, baking powder and cumin.
- Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients. Stir in sweet potatoes.
- Heat oil in a large heavy skillet. Drop batter by tablespoons and flatten with the back of the spoon. Cook approximately two minutes per side or until browned and crispy. Add more oil in between batches if necessary. Drain on paper towels.
Makes about 20 latkes
For Chef Jonathan Gushue, the move from Ontario to remote Fogo Island, Newfoundland was something of a homecoming. Here, the Newfoundland-born chef heads up the internationally lauded kitchens of the Fogo Island Inn. “Salt cod with molasses buns and partridgeberry jam is something that’s eaten in Joe Batt’s Arm on Xmas Eve; this is my new tradition, sharing time with friends and colleagues.”
Francophile, chef, TV host, and cookbook author, Laura Calder, is a fan of all things fancy and French, but at Christmastime, it’s her mom and dad’s stuffing she craves. “If I don’t have my parent’s stuffing with the bird then it’s not Christmas. My husband, Peter, and I actually use the holidays as a time to try new things – a foie gras terrine or pickled quail eggs or dumplings – but the one dish I can’t live without is stuffing. The Calder family stuffing is bread, onion, sage, and summer savoury, which is like the herbes de Provence of the Maritimes. It’s bound with melted butter and then, of course, cooks in the bird soaking up all the juices – except for the choice bits that land in the roasting pan and crispen in the fat. That stuffing is everyone’s favourite thing on the Christmas table every year.” lauracalder.com
Calder Family Stuffing
Make this stuffing inside the bird or in its own pan. For the best stuffing, make good-quality bread crumbs. Break up dried bread slices and pulse in the food processor.
4 cups large, dried bread crumbs
½ cup melted butter, plus more as needed
½ tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large onion, minced
1 tbsp dried summer savory
1 tbsp dried sage
- Toss bread crumbs with butter until they feel slightly moist and sticky. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat.
- Spoon into baking dish and cover with foil. Place in oven for about 25 minutes, while turkey rests, until heated through.
Makes 4 cups
If you think you’re under pressure at the holidays, consider Culinary Professor and celebrity judge, Chef John Higgins, who, when just a lad of 21 was cooking for the royal family in Buckingham Palace. One of the dishes he added to the royal spread was Salmon Kedgeree. Chef Higgins explains; “It’s a dish consisting of cooked, flaked fish – traditionally smoked haddock – cooked rice, parsley, hard-boiled eggs, curry spices and butter.” Sounds like a tasty souvenir of England’s colonial past in India. georgebrown.ca/foodcourtsocial/celebritychefs/John-Higgins.aspx
Chef Higgins just before Christmas lunch for Queen Elizabeth ll, December 1980.
From Hudson, Quebec, now living in Port Hope, Ontario, Signe is a restaurant chef-turned-writer who tells award-winning stories and creates delicious recipes for LCBO’s Food & Drink, Manna Pro Hearty Homestead, The Harvest Commission, and Today’s Parent; she published her first book – Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs; Keeping Chickens in the Kitchen Garden with 100 Recipes – in 2015.