For the first seven years that I ran my company, Alberta Food Tours, I used to create a day long food tour each November that was all about holiday shopping for food lovers. We did themes like Christmas commandoes, an Italian Christmas, International Festivities, a Country Christmas, a Cowboy Christmas and an Angelic Christmas. I’d plan the whole day with deals for my guests at great locally oriented food and kitchen stores and we’d always have a splashy lunch to fortify our efforts.
At the end of the tour, everyone got a copy of a collection of Holiday Feasting recipes that I had gathered according to each theme. I added a chapter every year. It’s important to note that, while many of the recipes are my own or my family’s, many more are from favourite cooks and magazines. I’ve strived to give proper credit here.
Many of my neighbours were on those early tours and they still cook from that recipe collection. Now, the next generation, my friend’s grown children, are also asking for their own copies of these fun tried and true treasures. I had a look at the recipes, gave them an overhaul and thought it’d be fun to share them with you too. Here on Savour It All™ blog, the recipes will find a permanent home and since the holidays – and life in general – are all about sharing, this seems the perfect solution.
The chapters you can look forward to as we lead up to Christmas and the New Year include the following:
Chapter 1 – Talking Turkey – The traditional meal
Chapter 2 – Desserts – from easy to sophisticated, great endings to great feasts
Chapter 3 – Getting Sauced – Festive drinks for all to enjoy
Chapter 4 – Italian Christmas Insights
Chapter 5 – Homemade Holidays – Gifts from your kitchen
Chapter 6 – International Celebrations – A taste of the world
Chapter 7 – An Alberta Cowboy Christmas
We’ll start here with Chapter 1 – Talking Turkey. I hope you gain some new ideas to round out your own families traditions whether, like me, you’ve been making turkey dinner for decades, or you’re just starting to take on that responsibility and joy. Let’s get to it. Let’s talk turkey!
A Traditional Holiday Feast Menu
These are the basic components of our meal. Trends and treats vary yearly.
Free-range turkey with Mushroom Stuffing on the side
Make-ahead Mashed Potatoes or Golden Light Potatoes
Green Beans with Herbs
Making the turkey. This can be fowl.
Cooking a turkey is easy if you brine it but, heads up, you need to start this the day before you want to cook your bird. I’ve tried a few brines but this is my favourite recipe because the bird turns a deep bronze and the gravy is amazing. Both the brine, the turkey and the gravy recipes that follow come from Bonnie Stern’s Essentials of Home Cooking – a cookbook I highly recommend.
For the maple brine
4 litres water
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup maple syrup
¾ cup sea salt
10 cloves garlic, smashed
8 bay leaves
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
Heat all of the above in a large stock pot until it boils then turn it off and let it cool completely. If your pot is big enough you can slide your turkey in. Otherwise find a container to hold the turkey and pour the brine over it. It should be covered. Store in the refrigerator overnight. When it’s time to cook the turkey, remove it from the pot, rinse it, pat it dry and proceed as indicated below.
For the turkey
Obviously, 1 – 15 to 25 lb turkey
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons summer savoury
1 orange, quartered
1 lemon, quartered
1 onion, quartered
3 sprigs, fresh rosemary
3 sprigs, fresh thyme
1 cup port or water
For the gravy
½ cup white port
2 cups chicken stock
3 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
For the Turkey
Remove the neck and giblets from the turkey and reserve for the stock. Rub the turkey inside and out with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and summer savoury. Fill the cavity with the orange, lemon, onion, rosemary and thyme. Tie the legs together to close cavity and truss the bird if you wish.
Place your turkey in a roasting pan in a preheated 350ºF and add the port to the roasting pan.
Roast until a thermometer inserted into meaty part of thigh reads 165ºF – about 15 minutes per pound.
When the turkey is ready, remove it to a serving platter or carving board. Remove the fruit and vegetables from the cavity and discard. Place a piece of foil over the turkey and allow it to rest while you are making gravy.
For the gravy
Pour any juices in the roasting pan into a large measuring cup. Place the pan on medium-high heat and once hot, add the Port and scrape the bottom of the roasting pan to loosen any flavourful morsels, then add all this liquid to the cup with the juices.
Skim off and discard any fat from surface of juices. You should have about 1 cup liquid. Add the chicken stock to make 3 cups.
Heat the butter in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned. Add the hot juices and bring to a boil. Add the soy, lemon juice, Worcestershire and hot pepper sauce. Cook for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Carve the Turkey and serve to your waiting fans.
Faking it – This Can be Fun
How far do you want to take this? If you don’t feel like messing up your kitchen and you have the money, then pick up your whole meal from a reliable and trusted vendor. You have my permission. Just do it and go skating on Christmas day or play with all your toys or take a nap.
Get Stuffed (on the side) Stuffing
Baking your stuffing separately helps you have a moist turkey because you only have to cook the turkey to 165ºF. If the turkey is stuffed, the stuffing must get to 165ºF and by then the turkey is an overdone 185ºF. My stuffing is always on the side.
⅓ cup butter or olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, sliced
2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
1 lb mushrooms (mix of wild and cultivated) trimmed and sliced
10 cups crusty bread cubes
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Melt the butter in a large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the celery and leeks. Cook for 5 minutes until softened.
Add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes, or until any liquid evaporates.
Add the bread cubes, stock, parsley, sage, thyme, salt and pepper and combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Place the stuffing in an oiled 13X9 inch baking dish. If you want the top crusty, leave uncovered. If you want it moist, cover with foil.
Bake in a pre-heated 325º F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until thoroughly heated. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Make Ahead Mash – aka – Freezer Friendly Mashed Potatoes
You can make these weeks ahead. Maybe by the time you serve them you’ll forget all the calories that go into them…. Maybe.
½ lb cream cheese
¼ cup butter
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup sour cream
½ cup minced fresh parsley
Pinch dried marjoram
To taste salt and pepper
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
Peel and boil the potatoes until tender but not mushy. Drain and mash until smooth.
Blend in the cream cheese and butter until melted. Mix in onions, sour cream, parsley, marjoram, and salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer to a baking dish. Smooth the top and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to 2 weeks. Let thaw in the fridge for 24 hours and add 10 minutes to the baking time if cooking from frozen.
Bake in 400ºF oven for about 20 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serves 10 happy turkeys…oops, people.
Bless our cousin Sue. She found out what was in the Make-ahead Mash and came up with this much lighter solution. It is so tremendously delicious I don’t miss all the fat in the others.
5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and halved
1 litre of chicken stock
4 cloves of garlic
Cook the potatoes in the chicken stock with the garlic cloves until soft. Drain and reserve the liquid. Mash the potatoes and add the reserved liquid as needed to make them smooth and creamy.
I didn’t fall off the Turnip Wagon yesterday – Rutabaga Puff
This smells really good while you are making it and you can freeze it for up to a month.
¼ cup butter
1 onion, chopped
1 large turnip, chopped into 2” cubes
4 big carrots, chopped into 2” pieces
1½ cups chicken stock
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
2 Tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs, beaten slightly
To taste salt and pepper
1cup pecans, chopped
Brown sugar to sprinkle
Melt the butter in a large saucepan; add the onions and sauté until softened.
Add the chopped turnip, carrots, stock, and sugar and cook uncovered until very tender.
Transfer the veggies to a food processor with a slotted spoon.
Boil the remaining liquid until only 1 Tablespoon remains.
Add that reduced liquid to the veggies and process until smooth.
Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, salt and pepper and puree until smooth.
Transfer to a buttered casserole dish.
Sprinkle the top with the nuts and a dusting of brown sugar.
Either freeze or store in fridge until you are ready to cook. Bake for 30 minutes at 350℉ – once thawed.
Green Bean Machine
I had these with a roast chicken in the South of France and they were such a nice complement I always make them with my turkey now.
2 lbs green beans
2 Tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Boil a pot of water and cook the green beans for 3 or 4 minutes or until tender-crisp. Drain and refresh under cold water.
Wrap the beans in paper towel and place in a plastic bag in the fridge.
Just before dinner, melt the butter in a large skillet and add garlic cooking only long enough to allow it to become fragrant – about 30 seconds.
Add the green beans and thyme and toss until coated and heated through, around 2 minutes. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Crazy Easy Cranberries
This is an old Canadian Living inspired recipe and it is so easy, it’s crazy not to have fresh cranberries with your turkey dinner. Of course, I still need the can of jellied cranberries for my husband.
1 package fresh cranberries
1½ cups cane sugar
Zest of one lemon
Combine all ingredients in a large microwave-able dish.
Cover and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Stop and stir.
Microwave for another 3 to 5 minutes or until cranberries pop.
Let cool before serving.
This can be refrigerated in an air-tight container for up to a week.
Spice is Nice Cranberry Sauce Variation
In the fall of 2011, I took 50 people for a turkey dinner at Heartland Café in Okotoks. Chef Bev Pell used the same technique as above but added 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of cloves and left out the lemon. It was a delicious twist on classic cranberry sauce and so nice of her to share. After making this version for several years, I also add 1 star anise.
The Adams Family Cabbage Salad
My husband’s maternal grandfather used to hand chop this for every holiday. He would have really enjoyed a food processor.
1 head of cabbage
1 celery stalk
Salt and Pepper
Pulse the cabbage and carrots in a food processor using the regular blade and highest setting until finely chopped. Pour into a large bowl.
Hand chop the onion and celery to a very fine dice. Add to the bowl.
Add mayonnaise and sour cream in equal amounts until you get the mix to the desired creaminess.
Season with salt and pepper to taste and then sprinkle paprika over the top.
What’s Christmas without at least one jelly mould food item on the buffet? My mother-in-law Gail Anderson always makes this for our big dinners. Her recipe is tart and compliments the cool cabbage and sweet cranberries and all the other fixings that make your turkey meal complete.
1-16 ounce can of tomato or clamato juice
1 envelope unflavoured gelatin
1 chopped green onion
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Place all the ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
Pour the hot liquid into a mould or serving dish and chill until set. Tip: You can make this a day ahead.
Still concerned about cooking for the holidays? Check out this piece I wrote for Avenue Magazine Calgary, How to Enjoy Family Food Time This Christmas a few years ago with ideas to help you not only survive, but savour it all.