Season’s Eating’s~ Christmas Dinner Preparation Guide

christmas dinner

Have you ever watched the show “Come Dine with Me”? Where regular home cooks battle it out with other contestants to host the best dinner party. I cringe and often scream at my television wondering why people eschew the importance of a prep list; I also wonder out loud, why people choose to make items they have never made before, in a pressured situation? Christmas is like the every man’s “Come Dine with Me”, so before we proceed, let me reiterate, DO NOT attempt dishes you or someone in your family has never made; who needs the stress?!

The following is my timeline for my Christmas dinner prep; I understand that your meal may look very different from mine; so use this as a guide!

December 22nd
Ideally all your groceries have been purchased, and this is the day to get yourself organized. Gather everything you need to make Christmas dinner come together; for example, I wash all the dishes and pull out any roasters, baking pans etc. that I’ll need on Christmas day.

I also make all the dessert components on this day. Dessert is often able to be frozen and thawed with ease. On the 22nd, I bake my cakes and cookies and any adornments they require; in addition to making my cranberry sauce. NOTE unless you are really confident with dessert, skip the fussy stuff. Trust me on this one.

If your turkey is frozen, you want to thaw it in the refrigerator today.

December 23rd
Set the table. It seems early, but again, it’s just one less thing to have to do. I stale my bread and cook my quinoa for stuffing on the 23rd; in addition to weighing out spices and seasoning. I do this because it eliminates the amount of stuff on the counter when I’m cooking Christmas dinner; I’m very sensitive to kitchen mess.

December 24th
The 24th is the day when things start to pick up. I get an early start on the 24th because I always have a family gathering in the evening. One year, I imbibed slightly too much on the 23rd and got a very late start on the 24th- I paid when making Christmas dinner the next day.

Today is a HUGE prep day. I peel my carrots, peel and cube my celery root and potato (storing them in water until Christmas day); I suggest you prepare all your vegetables today- minus the actual cooking of course. The morning of the 24th, I place my thawed turkey in brine; but I want to note, in Edmonton a garage is cool enough for me to store my brining turkey until Christmas day, 0C-4C is the ideal refrigeration range; be sure that wherever you’re brining your turkey that you adhere to refrigeration temperatures.

Don’t forget to thaw your desserts!

Right when I wake up, before opening gifts, I take the turkey out of the brine, rub it liberally with organic butter, season, stuff with rosemary, orange, onions and garlic; and then wrap with parchment paper (parchment paper turkey).

Then it’s time to open presents and pop bubbly; I’m generally all set up so I can relax and enjoy the lazy pace of Christmas morning!

4 hours before guests are set to arrive, I ice my cakes, and get my dessert finished and plated; if they aren’t temperature sensitive, I put them on the buffet. Once I finish the desserts, I start on my stuffing; with generally around the 3 hours left.

Once the stuffing is baking, I get my celery root and potato boiling- which takes about 20 minutes. While this is happening, I season my carrots, get them spread out onto a roasting sheet and set aside until there’s 30 minutes until guest arrive; I do the same for the Brussels sprouts!

By this time, the stuffing is finished. I am lucky to have a warming drawer at my disposal, so I put 2 generous globs of organic butter (it’s Christmas dinner after all) on the stuffing, cover it and keep it in the warmer. If you do not have a warming drawer, simply add butter, cover, and before serving, fire it in an oven to warm through; the butter will keep it moist.

After the potatoes and celery root are finished boiling, I drain them and while they are still hot, I mix them with my coconut oil reduction until they are smooth and effortlessly creamy. I do the same process of butter and cover.

By this time, the turkey is ready to rest before carving, click HERE to find out how to know your turkey is done; once the turkey is out of the oven, and there is about an hour until guests arrive, I place my carrots and Brussels sprouts into the oven to cook.

In the meantime, I heat the cranberry sauce on the stove top.

When the turkey is being carved, and guests are arriving, I pour myself a drink because the hard part is over!

Once the turkey is carved, it’s time to feast, I always put the side dishes on the buffet first, and when everyone is salivating about the imminent feast, that’s when we WOW them with the bird. Then we break bread over a lovingly prepared Christmas dinner, enjoying a beautiful evening with family and friends.

In Summary
I hope this guide helps you navigate the waters of Christmas dinner preparation. The key to remember is BE PREPARED, and stick to what you know; it’s your day to enjoy too!

I wish you all the happiest of holidays and a tasty and stress free Christmas dinner; thank you so much for reading, liking, sharing and being so supportive to the Vitality Kitchen in 2013. I wish you health and abundant wealth in 2014!

Looking forward to 2014? Cleanse with the Vitality Kitchen 7 Day NOURISH Cleanse- click here to learn more!

Top 3 Ways to Know When the Turkey Is Done

turkey doneness

The Christmas feast is a week or so away; and I want to talk about the bird.

The very first Christmas where I took over the turkey, I didn’t cook the turkey properly; it was pink inside, but crispy and deceivingly done looking on the outside. Nevertheless, we ate around the pink parts and fired the turkey in the oven the next day for leftovers; to say I was embarrassed, as a culinary arts student, is a gross understatement. I vowed to conquer the turkey; because I REALLY wanted the “oohs” and “ahhs’ as I set it down on the holiday table. After getting off to a puttering start, I can now affirm, loudly, that I know when the turkey is done.

In recounting this tale to many people, I came to understand that this “bird doneness” business strikes fear through the hearts of many Christmas meal makers; so today I want to share with you the Top 3 Ways to Know When the Turkey Is Done.

The Plate Test
This many seem old school, true it’s an oldie but it’s a goody. Hold your bird over a white plate, if the juices are running clear, you’re laughing; however, if there is even a whisper of red or pink, that birdie needs some more time. This method has NEVER failed me.

Hot Lips
Cute names aside, this is also a time tested doneness tip that I’ve used on whole chickens as well. Take a large meat fork, and pierce it deeply into the thickest part of the bird, in the meatiest part of the thigh. This is where the turkey cooks the slowest and is also one of the thickest. Pull the fork out after 15 seconds, and place on your lip; if the fork is too hot to leave on your lip, chances are the bird is finished! As a note, if you take the drumstick of the bird are able to easily pull it away from the bone, this is also a very good sign that your turkey is ready to rest.

Technology for the Win
You may have asked why I’ve yet to mention the meat thermometer, it’s simply because I’ve saved the best for last; although, I stand behind the aforementioned tips, who can argue with the accuracy of a meat thermometer. When a meat thermometer is in good working order, this is hands down the best method to test the doneness of turkey; look for a temperature of 165F-180F.
TIP Always wash your meat thermometer by hand; the high heat temperature of a dishwasher throws off the calibration of the thermometer.

Ok, so now you have 3 effective ways to test the doneness of your turkey. Be sure to note that your average holiday turkey needs to rest for at least 30-45 minutes before it should be carved; otherwise all those carefully crafted juices will be lost to the gravy.

Pumpkin Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms

pumpkin soup

Yesterday was Halloween, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I didn’t dress up. The usual excitement over all the fanfare of Halloween just wasn’t there for me this year; with planning the new Vitality Kitchen taking up whatever is left of my creative energy at the end of the day, I couldn’t find it in me to wrangle my Halloween spirit. But as the day began and photographic evidence of the holiday began to pop up everywhere, I kinda wished I had made the effort- but all was not lost; I had a pumpkin in the fridge and damn it I was going to make a delicious soup to wash down my Halloween FOMO (fear of missing out).

Why Pumpkin?
Aside from its obvious festive nature, pumpkin boasts many health benefits. Pumpkin is a foremost source of healthy carbohydrates, magnesium and the antioxidant carotenoids (found in most orange coloured veggies ie. carrots); and unlike summer squash, pumpkin and other winter gourds are hearty and robust and store very well for months at a time.

Pumpkins for a Healthy Pitter Patter
For the ladies out there who wish to hear the pitter patter of little feet, pumpkin has got your number! Pumpkin contains heaps of folate, which help guard against birth defects, especially those in the neural tube.

Two for One
Pumpkin is one of those amazing ingredients that keeps on giving; not only is the flesh and skin of the pumpkin life giving and delicious, but the seeds are too, containing healthy fats, protein and fibre, which have been used traditionally to treat prostate and urinary problems. Now in order to get the best from your pumpkin feast, please buy organic; pumpkin and most other winter squash, absorb heavy metals from the soil and these metals get into our system. So unless you want a side of pesticides with your soup, go organic!

This pumpkin soup came together in minutes and as the aroma of the soup began to fill the air, it started to feel like Halloween. Instead of the traditional cream thickened soups, which are SCARY to me, I thickened this soup with cashews, but any nut will do; and to add a level of texture and depth of flavour, I sauteed some mushrooms and toasted some pumpkin seeds to take this soup to the next level.

A day late and DAMNED delicious, Pumpkin Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms.

1 sm pumpkin, peeled, deseeded and cut into cubes
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
2 sm yams, peeled and cubed
1/4 cup cashews (sub almonds, pecans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds)
1/2 tsp cumin, salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg, pepper
5 cup vegetable broth
1/2 tbsp coconut oil

1 lb shiitake mushrooms
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
1 tbsp organic butter
1/2 tsp salt

In a large pot, heat the coconut oil on medium heat; add the onions and cook, stirring consistently, for 15 minutes or until onions are fragrant and transparent and the caramelization has begun to occur. Add the pumpkin, yams, cashews, cumin, nutmeg, salt and pepper; cook for 7 minutes, stirring consistently. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then simmer for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a dry saute pan on medium high heat, toast the pumpkin seeds; shake the pan throughout to ensure the seeds do not burn; remove from heat and cool. In the same pan, melt the butter and cook the shiitake mushrooms for 7 minutes; sprinkle with parsley, remove from heat and set aside.

Once the pumpkin and yams are tender, remove from heat and with a hand blender buzz until smooth. To serve, garnish with pumpkin seeds and shiitake mushrooms.


Cauliflower Mash


Canadian Thanksgiving is this coming weekend, and with thanksgiving comes post holiday meal exhaustion; it could be the hullabaloo surrounding the holidays, but likely it’s the carbohydrate laden meal. White bread stuffing and heavy mashed potatoes are a thing of the past in the Vitality Kitchen, because all those foods do are spike our blood sugar, slow our digestion, make us sleeeeeepy after eating.

Early Rising
This am I was on CTV Morning Live extolling the virtues of berries, green tea with lemon and foods like cauliflower. And seeing as the holidays are upon us, I knew a recipe for smooth “just like potato” cauliflower mash was in order.

Like Potatoes but Better
Cauliflower mash is a vegetable that, in this case, behaves like a starch, perfect for meeting our daily vegetable requirement during a very  indulgent time; not to mention, it stops your grandpa/uncle/dad/brother/aunt etc. from nodding off after dinner!

Make cauliflower mash this holiday weekend; you’ll be THANKful you did.

Cauliflower Mash
1 head of cauliflower (if it is very small you may need 1 1/2 to 2 heads)
2-3 Tablespoons butter, coconut oil or goat’s butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 1/2 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (sage, parsley, mint, basil, chives, rosemary, thyme etc)
Coarse Sea Salt (don’t be shy) and pepper to taste (a must for great flavor)

Fill a medium sized pot with water and 1 tbsp of salt and bring to boil. Cut the cauliflower into small evenly sized florets, trimming off the thick ends. You will have a fluffier mash if you cut them all the way off. Add the cauliflower and boil for about 1o minutes. While the cauliflower is boiling prepare your coconut oil and herb infusion.

In a small saute pan add coconut milk and fat/oil of choice; once the fat is melted, add the herbs and remove from heat.

Drain the cauliflower, place in a blender or food processor; add the warm coconut oil herb infusion, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth.

Important: DO NOT OVER COOK! It may seem like the cauliflower isn’t cooked through enough, but it most likely is. The cauliflower should be soft enough to break up if pressed with a wooden spoon,but it should not be mushy at all. If you let the cauliflower get too soft it will just end up as a runny mess instead of a fluffy mash once pureed. If it is under-cooked it will be grainy. Twelve minutes works every time for me. However, times could very ever so slightly from stove to stove or steamer to steamer.


Happy Holidays with Love

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyeux Noel…however you say it, I wish you a very happy holidays. I will be spending the next 10ish days with friends and family reminiscing about the year that has passed; and looking toward 2013.

I will be caroling and ringing in 2013 with this Kombucha Wine Spritzer; which is an exercise in balance. Cheers to a great 2012 and to a prosperous 2013.

See you next year!