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.

Thanksgiving Dinner

We celebrated our family’s Thanksgiving last night, and this year I hosted. Usually my mother makes Thanksgiving dinner (and all of the big family get-together meals, really), but my parents were supposed to be out of town. Well, plans changed last-minute, so I ended up scaling up my little family’s dinner to accommodate my parents as well. To be honest, when you’re making a meal this big it’s just a matter of throwing a couple of extra potatoes in the pot and doubling the batch of Yorkshire pudding, but still. I’m pretty sure that this was my first time doing the full Thanksgiving dinner all by myself. Mom even remarked how weird it was to come over to my house and watch me cook for everyone!

To get everything ready in time, cooking had to begin on Sunday night. The first thing I had to do was make some room in my fridge, which meant making up a big batch of Green Tomato Salsa (page 106, Preserving by the Pint by Marisa McClellan (2014), as well as a smaller batch of Blender Salsa (page 92, also Preserving by the Pint). Six and a half liters of salsa out of the way and I finally had a bit of room in my fridge — although I still have two large containers of green tomatoes to cook up.

Preserves out of the way, I got to the baking. I made my usual combination of the Purity Pastry crust (page 73, The All New Purity Cook Book by Elizabeth Driver, 2001) and the Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling (page 686, Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition, Rombauer & Becker, 2006). This time I was very careful not to forget the sugar.

Last thing that night, I ripped up two loaves of cheap grocery store bread and left it on the counter to dry out. One of the things my mother has taught me is that if you want good stuffing, you can’t start with fresh bread or it’ll become soggy once it’s baked in the bird. It’s actually better to start with stale bread, which will soak up the cooking juices and become quite flavourful without getting squishy.

When I seasoned my bread for stuffing, I used my mother’s traditional parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme… And summer savoury. I had Scarborough Fair in my head for about two days.

The next day I stuffed the turkey as densely as possible, shoved pats of butter under the skin, and put it in the oven. I was so afraid that it wouldn’t turn out well; the only other time I cooked a whole turkey, it was extremely dry.

However, I think it turned out really well! I had to take a picture before I scooped out the stuffing for serving.

Another trick I learned from my mother is that because everyone like stuffing (or at least everyone to whom we’ve served dinner), it’s a good idea to make extra stuffing in a casserole dish, and then mix it all together. This also helps alleviate the potential moisture problem; the stuff cooked outside the bird will be dryer, but mixed together it helps absorb the excess moisture from the other kind.

On top of the bird, there were all kinds of side dishes! Circling clockwise, that’s stuffing, Yorkshire pudding, turkey, gravy, potatoes, carrots, asparagus (which ended up being quite bitter, sadly), fresh bread (Bread Machine Fluffy Herb Bread, but with no herbs), and of course more gravy.

In the end, except for the asparagus, I’m really happy with how dinner turned out! I hope that you and yours had a lovely Thanksgiving as well — or that you will have one in November, if that’s when you celebrate.

Boxing Day

Boxing Day in our family is mostly a relaxing day where we play with our new Christmas toys and then head over to my parents’ place for the traditional turkey dinner. (I would have taken pictures of the food, but we all dug in so quickly that I didn’t have a chance!) Mom’s turkey dinner includes stuffing, gravy, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, butternut squash and apple casserole. Dad makes Yorkshire pudding that we either cover in gravy or spread with butter.

My contribution to the meal this year was my usual pumpkin pie. It’s usually one of my best desserts, but I was really disappointed with it this time. The consistency was good, the crust was reasonable (considering it was in the fridge for two days), but the filling was almost bitter. I distinctly remember putting sugar in the filling, but I doubled the recipe and I think what I did was double everything except the sugar. This also means that I have a second, bitter-tasting pumpkin pie sitting in my freezer that I might just throw out. What a waste. It was almost palatable smothered in whipped cream, but that’s not a ringing endorsement.

See, this is what happens when you bake for three days straight in preparation for a holiday: something’s bound to get messed up. I should have just thawed one of the berry pies that I’d frozen for future use back in the summer. I wanted to be traditional with pumpkin pie, but in retrospect it would have been better to lighten the cooking load a bit. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll have learned my lesson by next year.

Canadian Thanksgiving

Although today is technically Thanksgiving here in Canada, my family celebrated yesterday. I know that a lot of other people I know hereabouts do the same. Having Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday combines the tradition of a Sunday family dinner with the practical consideration of a stat holiday on the Monday. This means that out-of-town guests can travel in on the Friday night or Saturday, then go back home on the Monday, i.e. no traveling the day of celebrations and no need for most to miss any work.

Here in Canada, Thanksgiving is mostly a secular harvest festival, although some religions do incorporate thanks for a bountiful harvest into their liturgical calendar. Unlike Americans, we don’t have a tradition of the First Thanksgiving (our history is markedly different than our southern neighbours, with our first European settlers being predominantly explorers, hunters, and trappers). We also celebrate this holiday much earlier, i.e. the second Monday in October instead of the fourth Thursday in November. We used to celebrate Thanksgiving later in the season, but the earlier date keeps it from conflicting with Remembrance Day (November 11th) and, on a practical note about climate, is also when the bulk of the harvest has been brought in this far (and farther) north. Heck, the Prairies often see snow as early as September.

I started cooking the dishes that I was going to bring to Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday. I began with pumpkin pie, which was a combination of the Purity Pastry crust from page 73 of the Purity Cookbook (Elizabeth Driver, 2001 edition) and the Pumpkin or Squash Pie filling on page 686 of the Joy of Cooking (Irma S. Rombauer & Marion Rombauer Becker & Ethan Becker, 2006 edition). The filling pulled away from the crust since I had to store the pie in the refrigerator overnight, but it still tasted just fine. Due to food sensitivities in the family, I substituted coconut milk for the heavy cream/evaporated milk specified in the filling recipe. I have done this for years now, and I find that it tastes almost identical to using cow’s milk. That being said, I’ve learned that it takes much longer for the filling to set this way. To compensate, I don’t glaze the crust, as it causes it to burn over the long cooking time. Also, I put the pie plate on a baking sheet when I put it in the oven (something I do when making any type of pie), which both helps protect the bottom crust from burning and keeps any filling overflow from burning onto the bottom of my oven.

I cooked a small pumpkin to make the pumpkin pie instead of using canned (I like the flavour better that way), and I had some leftovers squash puree that needed to be used up, so I made Pumpkin Bread (page 628, Joy of Cooking) as well. I made this quick bread loaf with coarsely chopped pecans and golden raisins, as that’s what I happened to have in the pantry. It’s a rather lovely, dense loaf, as this kind of bread tends to be, and it smells divine. Unfortunately, since there are nuts in it, I won’t be able to send it to school as part of lunch for my girls in the upcoming week.

Since I had the time (which I never seem to when I’m carving Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween), I saved the pumpkin seeds and roasted them in the oven with a bit of olive oil and salt. These are one of my favourite fall snacks, and the smell of them cooking takes me right back to my childhood.

OF course, no family dinner around here would be complete without a batch of Nan’s Pan Rolls. It’s especially fitting this time of year, since Nan passed away four years ago this weekend. Making one of her signature dishes is a fitting way to remember her, I think.

This was Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ place (bottom to top): Yorkshire pudding, squash & pear casserole, roast turkey, gravy, bread stuffing, pan rolls, Brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus. This may seems like a huge spread, with all of that food for only six of us. However, traditionally you only have a little of each dish at the actual dinner, which is more than enough to feed you to bursting, and then you eat leftovers for the following week. Generally it’s an informal recreation of the dinner on day 2, then (depending on the size of the bird) some kind of casserole on day 3, then hot turkey sandwiches on day 4, then turkey soup or stew on day 5, and so on.

So happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians, and a happy Thanksgiving in advance to our American neighbours!