Thanksgiving Part 1: Turkey & Co.

This was my first time cooking turkey dinner at home since…I can’t remember, and I got off to a terrible start. Do these things happen just to me? Read on.

Normally I am a big planner; life with two babies is just much more negotiable when I am organized and able to plan ahead for event such as holidays. However, when plans to dine elsewhere for our Thanksgiving dinner went awry, I decided to host it here–with five days to go.
I managed to hunt down a fresh turkey and get some Sweet Onion Dinner Rolls in the freezer, but that was the full extent of my dinner prep, due to an especially jam-packed weekend.

With Thanksgiving dinner planned for 3 PM Monday afternoon, I found myself in my kitchen around 10:30 PM on Sunday with every intention of getting started on the preparations.

My ears were still ringing from a lively and thoroughly enjoyable Indian engagement party we had just returned from and my shoulders ached from that wedding I photographed on Saturday (who knew that six hours of continuous shooting could take their toll?). I should have listened to my body and hit the sack, but as many of you know, I can be rather hard-headed, and it seemed perfectly logical to start cooking at that time of night. I at least wanted to get my cranberry sauce made so it could set all night in the fridge, so I juiced a few oranges, tossed the ingredients in a small pot, cranked my stove and went to check my blog feeds. (Can you see where this is going?)

A minute or two later I was squealing with excitement upon discovering that I had won a giveaway from the fabulous Michele over at Fine Furious Life. You would be excited too! All thoughts of cranberry sauce evaporated rapidly from my brain as I lost myself in the fun of discovering what I had won. It turns out the cranberry sauce evaporated too.

I didn’t smell the smoke, and I really don’t know what ejected me from my chair with a smothered shriek, but as I skidded into the kitchen I could see the smoke billowing from the pot.
I yanked the pot from the stove and like a true die-hard, thrust my finger into the molten mass and tasted it. That motion was enough to confirm what I feared, this wasn’t just a first-degree burn, where the top can be scraped off and used, this was scorched through and through. I’d be lucky if the pot survived.

Update: It didn’t.

Time to talk turkey! I had so much fun cooking this dinner and the burnt cranberry sauce–which I blame entirely on Michele–was the only bad part of the menu. As you can see from the photo at the top of the post, I had some cranberries reserved and was able to use them for a second batch of sauce.

Now, recipes you want and recipes you shall have. I am giving you this menu in three parts: 1) Turkey & Co, 2) Les à’côtés (or sides) and 3) Desserts, to give myself a chance to write up the recipes and remember what I did for each dish.

OK, the turkey is obviously the star of the show, although I admit, mine looks a bit like a washed-up has-been. How do they get them to look so great on those magazine covers?
In the past I’ve done it all to try and keep the turkey moist: the 24 hour brine bath, the wine-soaked cheese cloth wrap, and the heavy butter basting. This time I just kept in simple and was happy with the results. This isn’t a recipe, per-se, but here’s the method I used.

Basic Roast Turkey
Note: this is for an unstuffed, 10-12 Lb fresh turkey.

Remove turkey from it’s wrap and rinse under cold running water. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Allow to sit for about 2 hours to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350F. Season the bird inside and out with plenty of salt and pepper and place in the oven. Roast for about 2 hours, turning as needed to allow for even coloring.

In a small heat-proof bowl, melt 1/4 cup of butter and combine with 1/4 cup of maple syrup. Brush over turkey to coat completely and continue to roast another half an hour or so until an instant-read thermometer reads 165F when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh. Remove from oven and let stand, covered loosely with foil for a half an hour before carving.
Reserve the drippings in the pan for your gravy.

Ah, la farce or stuffing. I was drooling over different recipes featuring chestnuts, fennel, sausages and other tantalizing ingredients, but didn’t have time to get out shopping and so this one came together at the last minute out of items I already hand on hand. Surprisingly it was fabulous and a lovely balance between old-fashioned heavy-on-the-savory stuffing and an updated, fruity stuffing. Fresh thyme, sage and parsley from the garden certainly worked their magic in this dish, while several apples from our apple picking outing sweetened up this stuffing.

Aimée’s Fruit & Herb Stuffing

1 cup butter
1-1/2 cups celery, chopped

2 cups sweet onions, chopped

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 large loaf of crusty Italian-style bread, cubed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 teaspoons, chopped fresh sage, loosely packed

1/2 teaspoon dried savory, ground

1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups chopped apple

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a large skillet, melt 3/4 of a cup of butter over medium heat. Add onions and celery, stirring often to sweat. Add thyme, sage, savory, salt and pepper and continue to cook until vegetables are tender. Add apples and cook gently for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with bread cubes. Plump cranberries and raisins in hot water for about ten minutes. Drain and add to bread mixture. Add parsley and toss well. Melt remaining 1/4 cup of butter and pour over stuffing. Mix well to combine. Butter an ovenproof dish and pack stuffing into it. Bake at 350F for about 45 minutes of until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Stuffing can be assembled the day before and baked off with the turkey.

The last item to be included in Part One of this series is my favorite: the cranberry sauce. You already know how the first batch turned out, but the second fared a little better! Of course you don’t have to make it in a mold and I even wonder why I did… AsI was serving dinner I made the mistake of setting the pretty cranberry sauce, pink plate and all, in front of Noah. I turned my back to get something and–chop, chop, chop–with three swift motions of his spoon, he had flattened the entire thing. Oh well, I had to laugh.

Orange-Anise Cranberry Sauce
serves 6

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 orange, in suprêmes
1 whole star anise

3/4 cup sugar

1 leaf of gelatin

Roughly chop orange suprêmes and combine in a small pot with cranberries, star anise, sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring often (do not leave the stove and go check your email!). Reduce heat and simmer gently for about 10 minutes until berries have ‘popped’. In a small bowl of cold water, soften gelatin until limp. Whisk into hot cranberry sauce. Line a small bowl with plastic wrap and fill to the brim with sauce. Allow to chill thoroughly in the fridge. Just before serving, place plate on top of the bowl and swiftly invert. Remove bowl from on top of the cranberry sauce and peel away the plastic wrap. Garnish with another star anise, fresh cranberries or whatever you desire.

Stay tuned for Thanksgiving Part 2 and see some wonderful recipes for side dishes!

Sneak Peek: Thanksgiving Dinner at UtHC

From Prep…

to Plate

Coming soon!

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner: Summer Inspiration

Potato, Sage and Pancetta Gratin with Fresh Garlic

Consider this post my own little TasteSpotting.

I’ve got several dishes- from breakfast to dinner and dessert-that I have been wanting to post about for a while, but because of time constraints they will never boast their own individual posts. So here they are in picture form with a few recipes to boot.

Perhaps you can glean a little inspiration for your lunch today, or maybe you’ll just scroll through and say “Had it. Had it. Made it. Over it.” Whatever you choose to do is fine with me, what do I care? Hey, I’m off to do some cooking over an open fire, have tickle fights in the family tent, build some sand castles and enjoy getting back to nature without a battery operated toy for miles around.
Ta Ta!

Breakfast: Blueberry Baked French Toast

I haven’t showcased many berry recipes yet this summer, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been scarfing them down by the bucket fulls. We’ve enjoyed them many ways like Mango-Blueberry Lassies and Chocolate-Raspberry Ice Cream Sandwiches (recipe coming soon!) I loved this breakfast dish because it is made up the night before and all you have to do in the morning is bake it off and whip some cream. Don’t leave your mixer beating the cream and go check your email, like I did, or your whipped cream will more resemble butter than a creamy topping. Tisk-Tisk.

Baked Blueberry French Toast
Adapted from
Fabulous Fairholme: Breakfasts & Brunches Serves 2

4 slices day old Italian bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup fresh blueberries (or raspberries)

2 oz cream cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

3 eggs

1 cup milk

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

The night before: Grease two 8 oz ramekins. Line bottom half with bread cubes. Cover with blueberries and cream cheese cubes and top with remaining bread. Mix eggs, milk and syrup together and pour over bread. Cover and let soak overnight in refrigerator.

In the morning: Preheat oven to 350F. (Make your coffee and wake yourself up) Bake for 25-30 minutes or until puffy and golden. Remove from ramekins and serve with your topping of choice and plenty more of that coffee.

Lunch: Smoked salmon and fixings

If you are lucky enough to get to one of Montreal’s fine bagel shops, those bagels are all you really need to enjoy your smoked salmon and cream cheese, but all the other fixings are pretty sweet to spoil yourself and your surprise lunch guests with, too.

Lunch Side Dish: Tempura Zucchini Blossoms

I know, I know, I couldn’t let these beauties from my own garden go to waste, so I overcame my fear of ingesting bugs and slugs (happened to me IN a restaurant), gave the blossoms a good clean and was so happy I did. They were amazing, as was the sherry mayo I made to go with them. Heavenly.

Dinner Appetizer: Slow Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

Everyone’s favorite snack, these ones are my Aunt Jenny’s specialty: crusty rounds of baguette, oven-roasted, über-ripe sliced tomatoes, sprinkled with fresh herbs and drizzled with olive oil and salt. Serve warm and make lots.

Appy Number Two: Pancetta-Wrapped Grilled Asparagus

For the bacon-lovers in your family. Toss asparagus in olive oil and season, then wrap with panchetta. Group into rows of about 5 spears each and run a skewer through them to bunch together for easier grilling. Grill over a low flame and serve warm.

Dinner: Grilled Lamb Chops with Salmoriglio, Young Courgettes and Purple Carrots

Thanks to copious amounts of oregano in my garden, Salmoriglio is a fresh herb sauce I whip up all the time to accompany grilled meats, especially lamb. These chops benefited from an overnight marinade of olive oil, tons of oregano, a touch of rosemary, some lemon zest and plenty of black pepper. The vegetables are picked from my little kitchen garden.

Salmoriglio Oregano Sauce

Recipe comes from the fabulous River Cafe Cookbook

4 level tablespoons fresh oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

8 tablespoons olive oil

fresh pepper

In a mortar and pestle pound the herb leaves and salt until completely crushed. Add the lemon juice. Pour the oil slowly into the mixture. Add a little pepper. Drizzle over grilled meats such as lamb or beef.
Variation: Marjoram, thyme or lemon-thyme can be substituted for oregano.

Dinner Side Dish: New Potato, Sage and Pancetta Gratin with Young Garlic

I’m enjoying immensely the crop of garlic I planted last fall. If you’ve never tried growing garlic, you are missing out on one of the easiest and rewarding gardening experiences to be had. I forget exactly which month I planted the little cloves (guessing late October) but they were the first thing to poke up out of the ground this spring and now there are hardly any left because I can’t stop pulling them up and adding them to everything! You can see the tight, juicy bulb sliced in half in the photo above. It’s hard to buy garlic this fresh.

OK, this potato dish really deserves it’s own post, but lucky you are getting it now.
Seriously, don’t you feel like this post is a virtual Christmas stocking of great recipe ideas?? And there’s still more to come!

Every once in a while I come across a potato recipe that stops me in my tracks–the last one being Tartiflette–and this dish is a favorite in my repertoire. I’ve been making it for ages and meaning to share it…but you know how it goes, it usually gets gobbled up before I can snap a photo.
Oh, and would you believe it? This recipe is also from the River Cafe Cookbook. If you don’t own it already, put it on your Christmas List. The garlic and fresh sage is from my garden, the potatoes are not as I am patiently waiting for the plants to flower before I drop on all fours and furrow into the earth to collect my bounty.

Potato and Pancetta Gratin
The recipe suggests Roseval or similar yellow waxy potatoes, but I have made it with pretty much every kind of potato. Of course, new potatoes are ideal.

Serves 6

100g pancetta, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

20 sage leaves

850 g Roseval potatoes

225 ml double cream

sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Parmesan, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 375F. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the pancetta over a medium heat. Stir in the garlic, add the sage, cook for a minute and remove from heat. Slice each potato lengthwise (or in 1/2 inch wedges if you are using large potatoes). Place in a large bowl and add the pancetta and oil mixture and the cream. Season with salt and pepper and toss together. Put in a baking dish, making sure that the potato, pancetta and sage are evenly distributed, cover with foil and cook in the oven for 40 minutes.

About 20 minutes before the end of cooking, remove the foil so that the surface of the potatoes become brown. Add a little Parmesan 5 minutes before the end. Enjoy!

Dessert:Vanilla-Bean Panacotta with Quebec Strawberries

We haven’t been eating a lot of sweets around here (shocking, I know) but I am showcasing two of my favorite summer desserts from previous posts.
Picking a favorite recipe is like asking which of your children you love more, but these two recipes sprang to mind when I was thinking about fresh summer flavors in desserts. The best part is that they are both minimal effort as well as gorgeous!

So the first dessert is this pretty panacotta with strawberry coulis and fresh strawberries. In the original post I didn’t gush overly about my love of panacotta, but it’s a love affair that hasn’t wavered in many, many years. Originally created by the pastry chefs at Restaurant Toque! many years ago, this cute cone-shaped panacotta was my dinner party dessert of choice for some time. The tops bow and jiggle when you bring them to the table in a comical and inviting way. So cute! Of course any fresh berries would be lovely with this dish and I remember a cherry compote I once made that was a hit, too.

Dessert Number 2: Rustic Peach Galette

It is nice to have options and here is the second dessert that sums up the lazy days of summer. I created this peach galette to round out a fabulous dessert table for a party my siblings and I threw for my parents last summer. (Read all about it, see the sweet table and get the galette recipe) This rustic dessert was up against some big names in dessert show-biz like Dark Chocolate and Wild Strawberry Cupcakes and Citrus and Cointreau Cheesecake, but at the end of the evening was declared the favorite by many.
Of course, the accompanying whipped cream was in perfect peaks, so that helped!

So there you have it. Now go get cooking and if your tummy isn’t rumbling yet, you need help!

WFD? Southern Pulled-Pork Sandwiches

My parents returned to British Columbia this week and I returned to blogging catch-up, an overgrown garden, a neglected house, and piles of laundry! We are recovering from the non-stop action that ensued while they were here, not to mention a nasty cold for Yours Truly, and trying to get back to a normal routine, whatever that is!

It is always fun to play tourist in your own town and we had a great time soaking up the culture of the city together: visiting art galleries, catching a few shows at the Jazz festival, window shopping, and of course, dining out. Quebec’s beautiful countryside didn’t go unnoticed either as we managed to spend three days touring rural Quebec, visiting wineries, local farms, quaint towns and relaxing by lakes. Such fun!

But mostly during their visit we ate!
We feasted on grilled lamb, fresh seafood, BBQ-ed steaks and a cheese fondue and plenty other delicious dishes as I was determined to put a few pounds on my svelte parents.
As usual I was too busy hosting, cooking and mothering to take any photos of our dining enjoyment, let alone half a brain to remember what ingredients I put together, but there was one exception that managed to get partially captured and that was a Sunday afternoon garden party where we stuffed ourselves with pulled pork sandwiches.

Inspired by the cover of Gourmet magazine’s June issue,I thought pulled pork would be a great way to go for a hungry group of twenty-five or so close friends and family. This was a very homey menu, perfect for a backyard party, with plenty of comfort food favorites like potato salad and brownies. Guests helped themselves to a table full of food and made their own sandwiches, while paper plates made for easy clean-up.

The menu:

Tortilla chips with guacamole

Southern Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Cole Slaw and Pickles
Potato Salad with Hard-boiled Egg, Baby Cucumber and Radish

Salad of Endive, Pecans, Cheddar and Granny Smith Apple

Homemade Refreshers:
Raspberry Limeaid
Earl Grey Lemon Iced Tea

Brownie Bar

I was determined to keep the menu simple, and almost everything was made the day before. I had to talk myself out of making the recipe for buns in Gourmet and saved time and energy by buying several dozen. I also had a few people bring brownies, so we would have an assortment without me having to bake all afternoon. That helped a lot and so a big “thank you” to those who made brownies!

It was a sweltering hot day, but we kept cool in the shade with the help of some homemade beverages. I made my iced tea with Earl Grey, then added thin slices of lemon and lots of ice just before serving. The day before the party Danny squeezed oodles of lime juice to which I added simple syrup. I stored that concentrated mixture in my fridge and then added cold water, ice and raspberries when I served it. The berries turned it a pretty pink color.

The pulled-pork sandwiches were the highlight of the meal, though: crusty buns, crunchy coleslaw, tender sweet and sour pork. I had tried a few recipes previously and found this one from Martha Stewart to be best suited to my busy schedule. While the Gourmet recipe takes over 8 hours on a charcoal kettle grill with plenty of basting and babysitting, this recipe turned my 12 pounds of pork shoulder into fork-tender shreds in about three hours in my oven. Perfect!

This recipe, together with my simple coleslaw and some buns, you are set to entertain this summer!

Southern Pulled Pork Sandwiches (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Serves 8. 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Coarse salt and ground pepper

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt), cut into 4 equal pieces

1 cup cider vinegar

4 garlic cloves, minced

8 soft sandwich rolls, split

Store-bought barbecue sauce, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with racks in lower and upper positions. In a small bowl, combine sugar, cayenne, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Place pork in a 5-quart Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot; rub with spice mixture.

In a medium bowl, combine vinegar, garlic, and 1 cup water; pour over pork. Cover pot, and place in oven on lower rack. Bake until pork is very tender and separates easily when pulled with a fork, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Transfer pork to a work surface, reserving pan juices. With two forks, shred meat. Transfer to a large bowl, and toss with pan juices to moisten (you may not need all the juices). Pile pork on rolls, and top with barbecue sauce, if desired.


1 1/2 lbs green cabbage, shredded
1 lb purple cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, grated
7 large radishes, grated
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
salt and pepper

Toss cabbage, carrots and radishes with salt and pepper in a large bowl.
In another bowl combine mayo, vinegar and sugar. Toss mixture with slaw until well combined. Cover and chill for at least one hour.
May be made up to one day ahead of time and kept chilled.

Musings on Mealtime and Maple-Pepper Glazed Pork Chop

Maple-Black Pepper Glazed Grilled pork Chop with Asparagus and Herbed Potatoes

If my life were a movie, mealtime in our home would be the gory part.

I didn’t know how good I had it before kids came along; I would prepare a nice meal, set the table, sit down with my husband or a friend and eat, simple as that. I would be able to use two utensils at the same time for such mundane tasks as cutting my steak or twirling my pasta on a spoon. I would get up from the table when I was finished and for no other reason.
No, I had no idea what a luxury those casual meals were.

Life is different now.

For starters, we eat every dinner as a family. Our children are young and need that time with Daddy in the evening, plus it’s a family time that we cherish and structure that is healthy for a family.
So we eat together–even if it kills us.

Unfortunately, these days moments of domestic bliss around the table are very seldom. In fact, those of you future parents may not want to read on, as the picture I am about to paint is not a pretty one!

There are many things that drive me batty, but I’ll just list a few, so not to bore you too much!
I always have to eat with one hand, and usually my left (that’s right, I am not a lefty). This makes eating rice is a losing battle, cutting food impossible, and just forget about soups or cereal with milk.

I am generally always bouncing baby Mateo or nursing him, and although he’s sat contentedly while I prepared supper, he is now ready for some serious attention. Oh, and there is generally one diaper change per meal. If you are a parent, you will understand when I say that it can NOT wait until after the meal; we eat first with our nose, right? Or is it the eyes…

If Danny has the baby instead of me, then I am dealing with Noah, who, on average, has one “time out” per meal for a repeat offense I needn’t mention, but only a 2 1/2 year old can come up with.

It feels like I am up from the table about twenty times: getting a cloth for a spill, rinsing a fork that has been flung on the floor, fixing a sandwich because Noah hates what I’ve cooked, and microwaving my dinner, which has grown stone cold because I haven’t had a chance to touch it. Of course, that means it usually end up overcooked, dry or rubbery.

But all that isn’t even the hardest part.

I put love into my meals, you know I do, and it shows. Yet I find myself wondering “why bother?” when I can only consume a fleeting bite here and there (perhaps even while standing to bounce the baby) and my efforts are so seldom appreciated by Noah.

I can’t look at this pork chop dish without remembering that particular meal. As Noah repeatedly spat out chewed pieces of pork from his mouth -after all the maple had been sucked off, of course- onto his tray, I muttered to Danny:

“I may as well just be feeding him poo.”

I don’t mean real poo, of course, but the food equivalent like Hamburger Helper or Kraft Diner.

So to those of you without small children yet, take time to enjoy your meal and maybe even make a toast to me. Savor the luxury of holding a fork and a knife; I’ll be here, wearing out the side of my fork.

In re-reading this, I think I sound a little bitter. I’m not. My kids are good kids, and what three-month-old sits though a meal anyway? This is just me accepting the good with the bad in life. I can’t complain, we are all healthy, have a fine roof over our heads, clean water to drink and good food to eat. Don’t worry, I’ll get over it. Then my kids will grow up and I’ll wish they were home for dinner more often.

Still, I wonder, does this only happen around my dinner table? Am I alone in all of this?? Hmm.

Pork Chops in brine

Moving on to the pork chop!
It’s not even a recipe per se, just a regular grilled chop that I’ve glazed with a reduction of maple syrup and a generous amount of fresh pepper; BUT, what makes it so juicy and succulent is the brine it soaked in for a few hours prior to grilling.

I am a fan of brining, which basically means soaking meat in a very salty-sweet water mixture to improve flavor and moisture content. I play around a lot with spices and sweeteners (maple syrup, honey, brown sugar) depending on what I am brining, but my brines always have garlic, black peppercorn and bay leaves.

Maple-Pepper Glazed Grilled Pork Chop
Serves 4

For the Brine:

1 litre cold water
1/2 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup sugar
3 garlic cloves, peeled,
5 whole pepper corns
2 bay leaves
1 whole star anise
5 whole cloves

Combine ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat and cool completely.

For the Pork Chops:

4 pork chops
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
brine (recipe above)

Place the pork chops in cold brine and refrigerate for 4 hours and up to 8. Remove from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry. They are now ready for grilling.

Combine the remaining ingredients (syrup, pepper and vinegar) in a small, heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and let the mixture cook slowly until it is reduced by half. Cool the syrup; it should be thick, but runny enough to drizzle.

Grill chops, basting once with maple glaze toward the end of the cooking. Let rest a few minutes. Place on serving platter and drizzle with maple pepper glaze. Serve.

This recipe also works well with a pork roast. I like to wrap mine in bacon. Yum!