Kitchen Gifts

Of course, because my friends and family know that I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, a lot of my Christmas gifts this year centered around that.

One of my friends gifted me with some delicious Chex Party Mix and a lovely loaf of Makivnyk (a Ukrainian style poppy seed tea roll) from the Black Walnut Bakery. Oh, and Thing 1 gave me the Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix In A Jar that she’d made, thus ensuring that she would get to eat some of them too.

I also acquired a number of cookbooks over the holidays, some as gifts, others from thrift stores or as bargain books.

The Perfect Pie Book by Anne Marshall, 1984 (thrifted)
Hershey’s 1934 Cookbook, Hershey Chocolate Company, 1971 (thrifted)
Anita Stewart’s Canada by Anita Stewart, 2008 (thrifted — and I’ve wanted my own copy for quite a while)
Bread! Simple and Satisfying Recipes for Your Bread Machine by Kathrun Hawkins, 2006 ($4.00 at Dollarama)
Pumpkin Butternut & Squash by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern, 2000 (gift)

My parents gave me an Instant Pot and a handmade apron, my brother gave me a copy of Jamie Cooks Italy (since I’m a huge Jamie Oliver fan), and a friend gave me a Paderno tamagoyaki pan.

I can’t wait to try out all of my new toys!

Christmas Dinner

Christmas dinner is traditionally hosted by my parents. It used to be served on Christmas Day, but after the gigantic breakfast that often lasts until lunch, it seemed kind of overkill. A few years ago by consensus we moved it to Boxing Day, and it has just made everything so much more relaxed.

One of the things that I love about Christmas at my parents’ house is how their brilliantly-lit tree fills up the front window. From the street outside, as you’re pulling in to the driveway, it really welcomes you in. While my parents do have lights strung up outside, the tree outshines them all. I’m told that there are 600 or more lights on there. To compare, our tree only has 200 lights, and it seems positively dim by comparison.

Mom is generally the one who is responsible for the roast turkey dinner, although Dad’s specialty is the Yorkshire pudding. They used to only serve Yorkshire pudding with roast beef dinners, but enough pestering by my brother and I (and then by my kids) over the years convinced them that they were appropriate to any meal served with gravy. Mom’s turkey dinner this year included stuffing, whipped potatoes, mashed potatoes almondine, carrots glazed in my carrot jam, squash with orange juice and walnuts, and of course lots of gravy. It was all delicious! My contribution to the meal was dessert: homemade apple and dairy-free pumpkin pies, baked in advance and reheated in the oven. It always seems a shame to me that a meal that takes all day to make can be scarfed down so quickly, but there is always lots of chatting after the meal as we all digest.

Christmas Breakfast

Yesterday I hosted Christmas breakfast at our house, which is generally a cold meal with a lot of selection. There were a variety of cheeses (including two kinds of Balderson cheddar, a couple that were actually lactose free, and a spreadable goat cheese), smoked salmon, crackers, Nan’s pan rolls, mini banana muffins, Cookie Monster’s Famous Cookies, cold cuts, an assortment of crackers, and Little Shop of Lobsters’ crab and lobster mousses. To drink there was milk or juice, or the more festive apple cider or eggnog.

This meal is generally served buffet-style, everyone munching away while we open gifts in the living room beside the Christmas tree. This meal represents the last of my cooking for about a week, since I’ve gone into overdrive to get everything ready — not just for breakfast, but for my contributions to Christmas Eve dinner, Christmas dinner, festive baking, and Christmas parties the week before. This spread isn’t just meant to feed us for the day; the leftovers will become meals in their own right for the week to come, so we can all relax a bit and play with our new toys.

The Stockings Were Hung by the Chimney with Care

Candy Cane was found checking out the music box on top of the china cabinet in the living room this morning.

(Please ignore the fact that the elf is out of focus. I didn’t notice until after she had moved to her next location.)

More importantly, I managed to get all of the Christmas stockings done! It only took every spare minute of my time for a number of weeks. Left to right, they belong to Thing 2, Thing 1, my husband, and me. I finished the last one (mine) during my husband’s family’s Christmas Eve get-together, which meant that it was done with only a few hours to spare before it was hung in preparation for Santa’s arrival… But it was done!

Merry Christmas!

Faster Than Takeout

This weekend we found Candy Cane sleighing down the side of the staircase:

And petting the reindeer in the Little People Christmas train:

This morning we found her taking pictures of the family as they walked down the stairs:

Yesterday was a very busy day filled with Christmas visits, Christmas shopping with a good friend, and knitting (I’m finally on Stocking #3). All that didn’t leave me with much time to cook, but I didn’t want to eat out, so I compromised with some quick fixes from the grocery store.

That’s pork schnitzel from the butcher section; I’ve had schnitzel before, even had it in Germany, but I’ve never had the pre-made pork version from the grocery store. I didn’t have high hopes, but it wasn’t half bad! In an effort to keep in quick and simple, I served it with eggs over easy and a prepackaged spinach salad with clementine wedges, strawberries, cucumber, goat cheese crumbles, and sliced almonds. Overall, it was quicker than ordering takeout, and also both cheaper and healthier!

Chestnut Roasting Fail

This morning we found Candy Cane hiding in with the Christmas stuffies:

While I’m still spending most of my time trying to finish up the Christmas knitting, we still have to eat! On a recent grocery store expedition, Thing 1 insisted that we purchase some chestnuts to roast at home — then promptly forgot about them. So I figured I should do something about that.

Now, around here we tend to think of roasted chestnuts as kind of quaint and old-timey, mostly because of the Christmas carol. But when I was in Istanbul some years ago, fresh-roasted chestnuts were sold on every second corner in the old city, alongside roasted corn on the cob and stacks of chewy pretzels. One of my big regrets is that I never tried any while I was there, despite their tantalizing aroma!

So I Googled how to roast chestnuts in the oven, and while everyone seemed to have a slightly different take, all of the methods seemed pretty simple. I more or less used the Howcast method. Basically, I preheated the oven to 375°F, rinsed and dried the chestnuts, and tried to make an X incision on the skin of the nut. It was here that I started to realize that things may not be going to according to plan, since if I’d used anything smaller than a butcher’s knife I would have snapped the blade.

Then I baked the chestnuts in the oven on a cookie sheet, and followed that by taking them out of the oven and putting them in a casserole dish, which I covered with a towel and let rest for ten minutes. At this point I was pretty sure that there was something not working, since the BBC says the skins should open and the insides should be tender — and the skins remained defiantly closed.

When I tried to peel them, my suspicions were confirmed. The shells were hard and the nutmeat was even harder; an experimental taste test threatened to chip a tooth. They were hard as a rock.

So either I got the wrong kind of chestnut for roasting (and in my inexperience I don’t know the difference), or the ones I bought were ridiculously old and dried out. I’d like to try this again, because I still regret not eating the ones in Istanbul, but where can I be sure to buy the right kind and age of chestnuts around here?