Friday, December 20, 2013

Face the Feast - Preparing to Cook for Friends and Family

Do you want to assume the fetal position at the thought of entertaining family and friends? Frankly, by the time Christmas day arrives I sometimes just want to hibernate. Life can be so crazy busy and our to do list never seems to let up. Whether it is a large family gathering at Christmas, an intimate dinner party with close friends or drinks and appetizers with colleagues entertaining can be to say the least overwhelming. Fear not - here are some great tips to help you FACE the FEAST!

Quit being a perfectionist:  We are not all Martha Stewart with a team of minions at our disposal. I wish! The focus of your event is to connect with guests and to have fun. Everything after that is just trimmings. Let go and push the easy button when you can.
Define the feast:  Consider that a 5-course dinner party might be unrealistic at this point in your life and maybe appetizers and drinks or dessert and coffee or potluck are more in tune with your current lifestyle.  As a working mom I know the dinners my husband and I used to host are a bit out of reach.  Potluck suppers, pizza or toboggan parties with hot chocolate are more our speed these days.  Being realistic at this point might mean you can actually enjoy the task!
Choose a menu:  Pick family favourites or recipes that you are familiar with to ease the stress.  Trying too many new recipes can be nerve-racking and end up making more work.  Include some recipes that you can make ahead of time. Do any of your guests have dietary restrictions?  Ask them to help out by bringing ingredients or something that they enjoy eating. Choose seasonal foods—strawberries aren’t cheap in December and probably don’t taste as great as they do in the summer.  Also, if I am making a lot of salads I try to prepare all the similar vegetables at once.  So, if I need tomatoes in three salads I chop them all at once.
Ready to serve help: Homemade is great but with busy lifestyles it sometimes is not realistic to make everything yourself. Many grocery stores and restaurants have excellent ready-made menu items like salads, lasagna and even sushi to help you out.  Why not buy dessert or really great bread from the bakery or Farmers Market. I have ordered meatballs, cabbage rolls and perogies from a local lady to be delivered just before Christmas. I also buy local preserves like jalapeno jelly and serve it over cream cheese and crackers for a super easy appetizer.
Delegate:  Most guests will offer to bring something.  Say yes and be specific about what you would like them to bring.  Even two or three guest bringing appetizers or a salad will lighten your load. Or maybe you have a friend who loves music; why not ask them to provide the dinner music.  Not only will you have delegated a task but also complimented your friend on their special talent or interest. Hire a babysitter for the afternoon or ask Grandma and Grandpa to come early to entertain the kids so you can focus. Remember delegating also applies to family members. 
Self Serve Bar: Set up a self-serve bar with wine, beer, non-alcoholic beverages and maybe one specialty drink, such as a martini.  If you are having a lot of people maybe ask a close friend to act as the bartender.
Start the day before:  Preparing food is not the only task that can be done the day before.  Setting the table, assembling serving bowls, making room in the refrigerator and tidying up are all things that can be done ahead of time. Desserts are also an easy thing to make ahead.
Choose decorations and tableware that fit your lifestyle. If you collect crystal or antique china, you could use holiday gatherings to show off your treasures. Or if informal is more your style, considered environmentally friendly paper plates and cups. I love to serve everything buffet style to make more room at the table.  It also makes it easier to clean up!
Guest list. Don't try to repay all your social obligations at once! Include a variety of people and a good mix of listeners and talkers. Try to contact everyone on the same day, so no one feels his or her invitation is an afterthought.
Have fun! Your guest will follow your lead so don't forget to have a fabulous time! I hope this helps. Here are recipes for a slightly more elegant turkey dinner!  Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Turkey Roulade
If your Christmas gathering is fewer than 8 people try this elegant turkey entrée with stuffing as a unique choice for the traditional holiday combination.
Plastic wrap
1/2 boneless, skinless turkey breast, about 1 1/2 lb (750 g) 1/2 
1 1/2 cups Cornbread and Dried Fruit Dressing 375 mL 
kitchen twine
1/4 tsp smoked paprika 1 mL 
1/4 tsp black pepper 1 mL 
1/4 tsp marjoram 1 mL 
1/4 tsp thyme 1 mL 
1/4 tsp sage 1 mL 
1 Tbsp canola oil 15 mL 
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F (175 °C).
2. Place large piece of plastic wrap on countertop. Place turkey breast half on plastic and cover. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Using meat mallet, pound turkey to rectangle about 9-10 X 6 inches, about 1/4-inch thick.
3. Remove plastic wrap from top of turkey and spread dressing evenly lengthwise over surface, almost to edge. Roll turkey lengthwise. With kitchen twine, tie roulade lengthwise once and in several places across turkey. Discard plastic wrap.
4. In small bowl, mix together spices. Rub canola oil over all surfaces of roulade; rub spice blend evenly over roulade.
5. Place roulade in shallow roasting pan, then place in oven. Roast for 45 to 60 minutes or until internal temperature measured with an instant-read thermometer reads 155 °F (68 °C).
6. Remove roulade from oven and let rest 15 minutes before carefully removing twine and slicing into 16 half-inch slices. Serve with Porcini Mushroom Gravy, Warm Apple and Cranberry Sauce and extra Cornbread and Dried Fruit Dressing.
Yield: 8 servings. Serving size: 2 slices (4 ounces).


Cornbread and Dried Fruit Dressing
This colourful dressing has layers of flavour that allow for a delicious side dish on its own as well as blend well in the Turkey Roulade entrée.
4 cups cornbread cubes, dried 1 L 
4 oz lean Italian turkey sausage, casing removed 125 g 
1 Tbsp canola oil 15 mL 
1 cup chopped yellow or white onions 250 mL 
1/4 cup chopped celery 60 mL 
1/4 cup chopped carrot 60 mL 
1 small garlic clove, crushed 
4 each dried apricots and pitted dried plums, coarsely chopped 
1/2 tsp dried thyme 2 mL 
3/4 tsp dried sage 4 mL 
1/4 tsp dried marjoram 1 mL 
1 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth 250 mL 
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley 60 mL 
1/2 tsp salt 2 mL 
1/4 tsp ground black pepper 1 mL 
Canola oil cooking spray
1 egg, lightly beaten 
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Place cornbread cubes in large bowl and set aside.
2. In small nonstick skillet, cook sausage over medium to high heat, crumbling and stirring until brown and cooked through. Drain well and set aside.
3. In large nonstick skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Stir in onions, celery and carrot; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer, but don’t allow garlic to brown. Stir in sausage, apricots, plums, thyme, sage, marjoram and 1/4 cup (60 mL) broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes. Remove from heat; pour vegetable mixture over cornbread. Add parsley and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. (Dressing may be prepared to this stage a day ahead and refrigerated, covered.)
4. Whisk together egg and remaining 3/4 cup (175 mL) broth and pour over cornbread mixture, tossing well. Spray 2-quart (2.25 L) baking dish with canola oil cooking spray (use larger baking dish if not reserving dressing for Turkey Roulade) and transfer all but 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) of dressing to baking dish. Cover dish with foil and set aside.
5. After Turkey Roulade has been in oven 30 minutes, place covered baking dish of dressing in oven. After 15 minutes (or when internal temperature of roulade, measured with instant-read thermometer, is 155 °F), remove roulade from oven and remove foil from baking dish with dressing. Continue baking dressing for about 15 minutes or until top begins to brown.
Yield: 6 cups (1.5 L); enough for Turkey Roulade and 8 side dish servings. Serving size: 1/2 cup (125 mL).     

Porcini Mushroom Gravy
While it sounds luxuriously rich, this gravy is light on calories and fat so you can enjoy all of the flavour with none of the guilt. 
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms 15 g 
2 Tbsp warm water 30 mL 
1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
6 Tbsp white whole-wheat flour 90 mL 
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth 500 mL 
3/4 tsp salt (optional) 4 mL 
1 tsp onion powder 5 mL 
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper or to taste 1 mL 
1. Soak mushrooms in warm water for 5 minutes.
2. In 2 quart saucepan, heat canola oil over medium heat. Whisk in flour until blended and continue stirring until roux is lightly browned and develops nutty aroma.
3. Whisk in broth, optional salt and onion powder. Bring to a gentle boil until just thickened, stirring. Cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat and season with pepper. Add softened mushrooms and any soaking liquid.
4. Purée gravy in food processor or food mill. Return mixture to saucepan. Heat just to a simmer.
Yield: 2 cups (500 mL); 8 servings. Serving size: 1/4 cup (60 mL). 


Warm Apple and Cranberry Sauce
Nothing beats cooking with apples and cranberries for the holidays and this homemade sauce combines the two fruits for a show-stopping side dish.
1 Tbsp canola oil 15 mL 
4 large Fuji apples, about 2 lb (1 kg), cored, quartered lengthwise and cut into half-inch pieces 
1/4 cup water 60 mL 
1 Tbsp lemon juice 15 mL 
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract 2 mL 
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon 1 mL 
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries 60 mL 
1/8 teaspoon salt (optional) .5 mL 
1. In large, heavy saucepan, heat canola oil and add apples. Sauté over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until apples are lightly caramelized. Add water and lemon juice to pan, cook and stir briefly to deglaze pan.
2. Carefully transfer apples to bowl of food processor and pulse just a few times to chunky consistency. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon and cranberries. Serve warm.
Yield: 2 2/3 cups (650 mL); 8 servings. Serving size: 1/3 cup (75 mL)
Holiday Rapini Sauté
Combining red and green vegetables is both festive and healthful. 
2 Tbsp canola oil 30 mL 
3 bunches rapini (broccoli rabe), about 3 1/4 lb (1.5 kg), rinsed, trimmed and cut into 3-inch (7.6 cm) pieces
3 large garlic cloves, minced or crushed 
1/2 tsp salt 2 mL 
1 1/2 (375 mL) cups diced roasted red bell pepper, from one 12-oz jar (341mL)     
3 Tbsp slivered almonds, toasted 45 mL 
1. Heat very large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add canola oil to pan; add rapini, garlic and salt. Toss well, reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes or until rapini are tender, turning a few times while cooking.
2. Add roasted pepper and toasted almonds, toss and serve.
Yield: 8 servings. Serving size: 1 cup (250 mL).
Cook's note: Sometimes rapini can taste a little bitter. If your rapini is on the bitter side, drizzle a tablespoon or so of balsamic vinegar on top of it.


Pumpkin Flan
Nothing signals the holiday season more than pumpkin and this flan allows you to showcase it in a new, delicious way. 
canola oil cooking spray
3 eggs, omega-3-enriched if available 
1 1/4 cup pumpkin purée  300 mL 
1/2 cup maple syrup 125 mL 
2 Tbsp canola oil 30 mL 
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract 7 mL 
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon 4 mL 
1/4 tsp ground ginger 1 mL 
1/4 tsp ground cloves 1 mL 
1/4 tsp salt 1 mL 
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk, heated until very hot 375 mL 
Boiling water, about 1 quart (1.13 L) 
ground nutmeg (garnish)
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F. Adjust oven rack to center position. Coat eight 6-ounce custard cups or ramekins with canola oil cooking spray and set them in 13 X 9-inch (33 x 22 cm) baking pan. 
2. In large bowl, beat eggs slightly; add pumpkin purée, maple syrup, canola oil, vanilla, spices and salt. Beat with mixer until blended thoroughly. Mix in hot milk until blended. There will be about 4 cups of liquid. Pour 1/2 cup (125 mL) flan mixture into each prepared ramekin.
3. Carefully pour boiling water into baking pan around ramekins. Water should come up to level of custard inside ramekins.
4. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until set around the edges but still a little loose in center. When center of flan is just set, it will jiggle a little when shaken. Remove from oven and immediately remove ramekins from water bath; cool on wire rack until room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. 
5. Serve cold and garnish with ground nutmeg. This dessert can be made up to 3 days in advance. Keep refrigerated until serving.
Yield: 8 servings. Serving size: 1 flan.
Cook's note: Use leftover pumpkin purée in a smoothie with yogurt, milk, sweet spices (cinnamon, ginger, cloves) and a drizzle of agave nectar, honey or maple syrup. 

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