Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Holiday Menu Time!

Dave and I celebrate with our big feast and present exchange on Christmas Eve (leaving me free to have dinner with my parents on Christmas Day), so tomorrow is the big food work day for me. I'm very excited!

It's always important to plan ahead regarding the big dinner, whenever you serve it. You want things to go smoothly, of course, and so it is really useful to write out your whole menu (including things like dinner rolls and salad, etc.). Then write down the approximate cooking times for all of these dishes, so that on the big day, you can note what time you have to start each dish in order for everything to be done at dinnertime. Some people seem to have an innate ability to time everything perfectly, but I am not one of them. It's helped me a lot to write out the times, and best of all, if you make a complete list of all the dishes, you won't end up forgetting to serve anything! (We've forgotten dinner rolls, salad, cranberries & more over the years, that we've only found in the refrigerator AFTER dinner's over!)

This year, we're having:

• Sage, Rosemary & Thyme Turkey
• Mushrooms in beef gravy
• Green Bean and Chestnut casserole
• Mashed potatoes
• Turkey gravy

More on each dish below:

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We got a nice looking turkey this year, and I'll be using home-grown sage in the seasoning this year. As to my choice of spices, just keep in mind Scarborough Fair: "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme". I usually omit the parsley, but the rest of the spices are just perfect for turkey or chicken (and full of medieval symbolic meaning). :) Need help with your turkey? Call the great people at Butterball Turkey if you have a turkey problem or question (phone help available to US and Canadian customers) - there's also lots of great info on the website, including video showing how to dress a turkey, etc. Very useful, I've used their info for many years, and it helped me get through my very first turkey several years ago. :)

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The last couple of years I've added Ukrainian-style mushrooms in gravy to my Christmas dinner menu - they're really tasty, with a wine infused beef gravy (get the recipe here). I found several variations of this classic recipe on the web, but I put together the parts I liked best from each variation to come up with my own unique version.

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I first made this recipe in '98, and have made it almost every year since then - Sugared Onions. If you like onions, you will LOVE this recipe. A great one from the Company's Coming recipe book series by Jean Pare (an iconic series of books that are hugely popular here in Canada - I think every household in the country has at least one in the series - I myself have several! They're full of easy to make recipes, delicious but using easy to find ingredients.)

Start by placing 4 large onions (prepared as described below) in large frying pan.

Peel your onions.

Cut the top off the onion (the part that the green tops grow from, the opposite end from the "hairy" rooty one)

VERY CAREFULLY, trim off the "hairy" root bits, still leaving the end intact. This will be the part that holds the onions together.

Cut the onion in half carefully, and then in half again. The root part of the onion will help hold the onion together when it's boiling. If they separate a bit though, it's okay, it's not the end of the world. :)

Add salted water, enough to cover bottom of the pan, about 1/4 inch deep. Cover. Simmer 20 minutes. Monitor the amount of water, if it gets low, add more.

Next, combine the following ingredients together in a bowl:

• 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
• 1/4 cup vinegar
• 2 tbsp cooking oil
• 1/2 tsp prepared mustard
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/8 tsp pepper

Pour over onions in the pan. Continue to cook covered. Baste often. Cook until liquid is almost gone. Transfer to serving platter. Spoon any remaining sauce over top. Serves 8.

If your onions are really strong, soak in lots of cold water for about 1/2 hour to an hour before cooking.

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I'll also be having Stove Top dressing/stuffing. It's really tasty, and most important on a busy day, really quick and easy to prepare.

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Mashed Potatoes, always a classic.

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A wonderful side dish that was a hit last year, I'll be making again this year, is the Green Bean Chestnut Bake, again from Company's Coming.

10 oz. can of condensed cream of mushroom soup
5 oz water chestnuts, sliced
4 x 1 oz processed cheese slices, broken up (or 1 cup (250 ml) grated Cheddar cheese)
1/4 tsp hot pepper sauce, or to taste

French cut green beans, drained (2 x 14 oz)

3 oz Canned French fried onion rings for topping (I used dry chow mein noodles, it's the sort of casserole topper I grew up with and prefer - but if you like the onions, by all means use them!)

Heat first 4 ingredients in saucepan.

Stir in beans. Scoop out into 2 L (2 qt) casserole dish. Bake uncovered in 350 deg F oven until hot, about 20 - 30 minutes.

Cover with onion rings, or chow mein noodles, bake additional 5 minutes. Serves 6 - 8.
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I'm so excited about tomorrow!

Merry Christmas everyone!!!