County Comforts: Easy Holiday Cooking

By Cynthia Peters

Living in Prince Edward County is magical in winter. From fresh fields of snow, wood burning fires and scrumptious aromas from the kitchen, it’s a setting fit for the holidays. With many family and friends gracing our doors this time of the year, entertaining is a welcomed, but busy activity at our heritage farmhouse.

While entertaining can be challenging anytime of the year, holiday entertaining raises the bar. I find guests are looking for something special and memorable. And it all starts with the food. While I prefer serving family style platters at my harvest table, during the holidays I look for something a bit more unique and refined, both in flavour combinations and presentation. I love taking traditional recipes and giving them a unique twist – both in form and ingredients.

Cooking Bags
As well, it’s a great time to experiment with different cooking methods. One of my favorites is the en papillote technique that is ideal for intensifying and combining flavors, like my Turkey Rolls stuffed with Pine Nuts, Caramelized Apples & Onions recipe using Culinary Parchment Cooking Bags. This is a great way to prepare turkey without the time commitment and inconvenience of cooking a whole bird, and to create one-portion individual servings that present a unique taste experience and presentation on the plate.

Baking Cups
Here's another creative twist. Instead of baking a pan of scalloped potatoes, try using baking cups for individual portions as I have with my Sweet Potato Cups au Gratin recipe.

Parchment Paper
A baking tip - lining your cookie sheets with Culinary Parchment Multipurpose Paper prevents burning and makes for easy clean up. Two of my favorite holiday cookie recipes, Holiday Cranberry Coconut Chews with Walnuts and Sesame Seeds and Gingerbread Cookies with Crushed Almonds and Dark Rum, are featured here on the PaperChef website.

Creating an intimate setting is also a key ingredient for a memorable evening. When it comes to decorating the table, I look to nature for inspiration. The fragrance and texture of fresh pine, spruce and holly berries coupled with the soft glow of short candles in sparkling containers adds to create a magical ambience. Decorative napkin rings, with preferably cloth or linen napkins, can also enhance your place settings. Small name cards provide a nice personal touch and eliminate the sometime awkward shuffling of seats at the start of your dinner party.

Timing and planning are the main ingredients of easy entertaining. That’s why “make ahead” dishes that you can assemble during the day are helpful to allow you more time with your guests.

At the end of the day it’s the entire package that creates the festive mood – from the food & wine pairings and presentation, to the room décor. So whether it’s two or twenty, the extra efforts you invest upfront will pay off both for you and your guests.

When you think about stuffing during the holidays, most of us conjure up a vision of a traditional stuffed roasted turkey. Actually, for centuries cooks have been reinventing the word “stuffing” from “forcemeat” to “dressing.” The word dressing actually came into fashion during the Victorian times with the polite society. Recipes incorporating even oysters were used for stuffing a turkey along with lemon peel, parsley and rice. (from “The Improved Housewife, 1846”)

Beyond my Turkey Roll stuffing, here are two unique side-stuffing alternatives that are great with poultry or pork:

Baked first on parchment paper, then cubed and stuffed into baking cups, this fruit packed dressing will be a winner every time. VIEW RECIPE

The meat is the star of this stuffing with smokey bacon and farmers sausage. Baked in a loaf pan lined with parchment, it’s a meal unto its own. VIEW RECIPE