Today it is snowing … it rained for Christmas and that was a huge disappointment. When my daughters arrived, I had to find umbrellas to keep their perfectly wrapped packages dry. I had my trombone ready and bugled them in. My eldest daughter cringed and smiled at the same time.
So what does a chef prepare for the holidays? Just about everything. It is the busiest time of the year for me.
This is what was on my Christmas 2014 menu: On Christmas Eve I baked five cakes: Buttermilk Ginger Cake, Almond Cranberry Cake, Butter Rum Cake, Chocolate Cointreau Cake and Sour Cream Coffee Cake. I made a double batch of shortbread cookie dough. It turned out that I did not have enough oven space or time to get them baked until Boxing Day. That is what I did instead of running out to fight throngs of shoppers hunting for a bargain. In Canada, Boxing Day is like Black Friday.
I also baked a Quiche Lorraine, poached shrimp with cocktail sauce, goat’s cheese marinated with garlic and olive oil, and freshly picked rosemary from my garden, artichoke spinach and cheese dip, a cheese and relish tray, marinated olives, and guacamole with salsa canned last summer.
I had promised my daughter’s boyfriend that I would prepare duck – that was five years ago – and this year I finally got around to it. It was a huge success … only the men ate the duck. The seasoned and roasted duck was served with divine “confit” style of vegetables. Mini potatoes, carrots and onions were roasted alongside the duck. Every chef knows that duck fat is liquid gold … the French secret to delicious frying. I also served a green salad that is the dish the women ate. I was delighted with the leftover duck fat and used it the next day when braising the ham and roasting the turkey.
For Christmas morning it was farmhouse pancakes and fruit compote, my classic scrambled eggs, bacon and fresh fruit. There was plenty of hot coffee and eggnog or cider for those who wanted it. I, of course, had a wee bit of champagne as we opened our gifts. It was around 2 o’clock by the time everyone was fed. My youngest daughter and her boyfriend had stayed up for hours decorating the tree. They did a splendid job. I finally got the turkey in around 4 p.m. Dinner was served just after 9 p.m. Yes, I know, very late.
Christmas dinner was epic. I served Madeira braised ham, stuffed turkey, green beans, whipped potatoes, wild rice, green salad, homemade cranberry relish that no one seems to eat. There was no room left for dessert but I whipped some cream to serve with the cakes.
My company stayed for three days, and I continued to cook. We had guacamole again – no one ever gets enough of it … there had been a fight late the night before as my daughter’s boyfriend found the guacamole stored away in the fridge and ate it all by himself. Isabel had been counting on eating that herself.
On Boxing Day I finally got to the shortbread and that took about four hours. I made a video of how to cook shortbread. It is full of hints, and I am calling the upcoming video series “In the Kitchen With …”
For dinner, it was roast prime rib and Yorkshire pudding with broccoli and cauliflower gratin and all the leftovers, if anyone was inclined to eat them. We really enjoyed the prime rib with its garlic Dijon rub and the puddings were perfection. Yes, the house smoked up with the pudding cooking, but that is all part of the fun. Opening the kitchen door to let out the grease and let in the icy cold. No fire alarm went off.
It came time to leave and as family was gathering their presents and looking for lost ones, I made pumpkin blueberry muffins for them to take on the road. Farmhouse pancakes and compote were also waiting. My son loves them, and he took a stack to eat while playing his new game system in the game room.
The girls were busy getting their presents in order. The men sat and waited – impatient to get on the road. Although determined to get on the road by 1, the overly packed car left shortly after 3. Smiles were on everyone’s face as I serenaded them out with my trombone. Then I turned and walked back into the house with tears in my eyes. I was sad, very sad. I hated to see them go, I realized they all had lives that they were anxious to get back to. Things had changed and that made me wistful.
After my children left, I spent hours cleaning and repurposing food, and made stock and soup for a quiet fireside meal. In the winter I love to eat by the fire. I am always chasing heat, as this place is so large. I try and heat up one or two rooms and leave the rest to the cold. With my entire family here the whole house was warm.
I did not have too much time to be lonesome for the laughter of my children; I had my brother and his three children and their fairy godmother arriving for a late lunch.
I baked a chocolate Bundt cake, I deboned a double turkey breast and stuffed it, and also made bacon-wrapped pork loin with mushroom cream sauce. I served peas and broccoli, and a green salad with marinated tomatoes. While showing Shirley my farm, I left the wild rice with my niece to finish cooking. As I returned to the kitchen there was smoke and Annie was scraping the burnt rice out of the charred pot. No matter – there was plenty to eat and drink, and we had a wonderful time talking about Christmas memories.
Yesterday was another clean-up day. and I have lots of fresh memories to keep me company as I pack away Christmas 2014. Now I am looking back at my year and reflecting on my life lived and on lessons learned.
Happy New Year!
A biography of Chef Elizabeth
Classic Chicken Parmesan Recipe
Chicken Parmesan is a perfect dish for entertaining, especially on chilly evenings, and goes great with garlic bread, pasta, and even garden side salads.
Georgian Bay Farmhouse Granola Recipe
Who doesn’t love granola in some form or another? This winter I went in search of a perfect farmhouse granola to offer my guests.