Don’t fear the feast

Do you want to assume the fetal position at the thought of entertaining family and friends? By the time Christmas Day arrives, I sometimes just want to hibernate. Life can be so busy and our to-do list never seems to let up.

Whether it is a large family gathering at Christmas, an intimate dinner party with close friends or drinks and appetizers with colleagues, entertaining can be overwhelming.

Fear not. Here are some great tips to help you face the feast.

Stop being a perfectionist: We are not all Martha Stewart with a team of minions at our disposal. The focus of your event is to connect with guests and have fun.

Define the feast: Consider that a five-course dinner party might be unrealistic and maybe appetizers, drinks or dessert and coffee or potluck are more feasible. Potluck suppers, pizza or toboggan parties are fun and they let you enjoy yourself.

Choose a menu: Pick family favourites or recipes that you are familiar with to ease the stress. Include some recipes you can make ahead of time.

Ask quests with dietary restrictions to bring a dish they enjoy.

Ready to serve help: Homemade is great but with busy lifestyles it sometimes is not realistic to make everything yourself. Many grocery stores and restaurants have excellent ready-made menu items. You could also buy dessert or bread from a bakery or farmers market. I have ordered meatballs, cabbage rolls and perogies from a local lady to be delivered just before Christmas. I also buy local preserves like jalapeno jelly and serve it over cream cheese and crackers for an easy appetizer.

Delegate: Most guests will offer to bring something. Say yes and be specific about what you would like. Even two or three guests bringing appetizers or a salad will lighten your load.

Self-serve bar: Set up a self-serve bar with wine, beer, non-alcoholic beverages and maybe one specialty drink, such as a martini. If you are having a lot of people, ask a close friend to act as the bartender.

Start the day before: Set the table, assemble serving bowls, and make room in the refrigerator. Desserts are an easy thing to make ahead.

Choose decorations and tableware that fit your lifestyle. If you collect crystal or antique china, you could use holiday gatherings to show off your treasures. I love to serve everything buffet style to make more room at the table.

Guest list: Don’t try to repay your social obligations all at once. Include a variety of people and a good mix of listeners and talkers.

Have fun. Your guests will follow your lead. Here are recipes for a slightly more elegant turkey dinner. Enjoy and happy holidays.

Porcini muchroom gravy

  • 1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms 15 g
  • 2 tbsp. warm water 30 mL
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. cooking oil 7 mL
  • 6 tbsp. white whole wheat flour 90 mL
  • 2 c. fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth 500 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. salt (optional) 4 mL
  • 1 tsp. onion powder 5 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper or to taste 1 mL

Soak mushrooms in warm water for five minutes.In two quart saucepan, heat canola oil over medium heat. Whisk in flour until blended and continue stirring until roux is lightly browned and develops nutty aroma.Whisk in broth, optional salt and onion powder. Bring to a gentle boil until just thickened, stirring. Cook and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and season with pepper. Add softened mushrooms and any soaking liquid.Puree gravy in food processor or food mill. Return mixture to saucepan. Heat just to a simmer.

Yield: Two cups (500 mL), eight servings. Serving size: 1/4 cup (60 mL). Source:

Pumpkin flan

This flan allows you to showcase pumpkin in a new way.

  • canola oil cooking spray
  • 3 eggs, omega-3-enriched
  • 1 1/4 c. pumpkin puree 300 mL
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup 125 mL
  • 2 tbsp. cooking oil 30 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract 7 mL
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon 4 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. salt 1 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. low-fat milk, heated until very hot
  • Boiling water, about 1 quart 1.13 L
  • ground nutmeg (garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Adjust oven rack to centre position. Coat eight six-ounce custard cups or ramekins with cooking spray and set them in 13 X 9-inch (33 x 22 cm) baking pan.
In large bowl, beat eggs slightly, add pumpkin purée, maple syrup, canola oil, vanilla, spices and salt. Beat with mixer until blended thoroughly. Mix in hot milk until blended. There will be about four cups of liquid. Pour 1/2 cup (125 mL) flan mixture into each prepared ramekin.Carefully pour boiling water into baking pan around ramekins. Water should come up to level of custard inside ramekins.
Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until set around the edges but still a little loose in centre. When centre of flan is just set, it will jiggle a little when shaken. Remove from oven and immediately remove ramekins from water bath; cool on wire rack until room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Serve cold and garnish with ground nutmeg. This dessert can be made up to three days in advance. Keep refrigerated until serving.
Yield: Eight servings. Serving size: One flan. Source:

Turkey Roulade

If your Christmas gathering is fewer than eight people, try this elegant turkey entree with stuffing as a unique choice for the traditional holiday combination.

  • 1/2 boneless, skinless turkey breast, about 1 1/2 lb 750 g
  • 1 1/2 c. cornbread and dried fruit dressing 375 mL
  • kitchen twine
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika 1 mL
  • 1/4 pepper 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. marjoram 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme 1 mL
  • 1/4 tsp.sage 1 mL
  • 1 tbsp. cooking oil 15 mL
  • plastic wrap

Preheat oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Place large piece of plastic wrap on countertop. Place turkey breast half on plastic and cover. Cover with additional plastic wrap. Using meat mallet, pound turkey to rectangle about 9-10 x 6 inches, about 1/4-inch thick.
Remove plastic wrap from top of turkey and spread dressing evenly lengthwise over surface, almost to edge. Roll turkey lengthwise. With kitchen twine, tie roulade lengthwise once and in several places across turkey. Discard plastic wrap. In small bowl, mix together spices. Rub oil over all surfaces of roulade and rub spice blend evenly over roulade. Put roulade in shallow roasting pan and place in oven.
Roast for 45 to 60 minutes or until internal temperature measured with an instant-read thermometer reads 155 F (68 C).
Remove roulade from oven and let rest 15 minutes before carefully removing twine and slicing into 16 half-inch slices. Serve with porcini mushroom gravy,
Yield: eight servings. Serving size: two slices (4 ounces).

Cornbread and Dried Fruit Dressing

  • 4 c. cornbread cubes, dried 1 L
  • 4 oz. lean Italian turkey sausage, casing removed 125 g
  • 1 tbsp. cooking oil 15 mL
  • 1 c. chopped yellow or white onions 250 mL
  • 1/4 c. chopped celery 60 mL
  • 1/4 c. chopped carrot 60 mL
  • 1 small garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme 2 mL
  • 4 each dried apricots and pitted dried plums, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 tsp. dried sage 4 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. dried marjoram 1 mL
  • 1 c. fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth 250 mL
  • 1/4 c. minced fresh parsley 60 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper 1 mL
  • canola oil cooking spray
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). Place cornbread cubes in large bowl and set aside.
In small nonstick skillet, cook sausage over medium to high heat, crumbling and stirring until brown and cooked through. Drain well and set aside.

In large nonstick skillet, heat canola oil over medium heat. Stir in onions, celery and carrots; cook five minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook for one minute longer, but don’t allow garlic to brown. Stir in sausage, apricots, plums, thyme, sage, marjoram and 1/4 cup (60 mL) broth. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer three minutes. Remove from heat; pour vegetable mixture over cornbread. Add parsley and stir well. Season with salt and pepper. (Dressing may be prepared to this stage a day ahead and refrigerated, covered.)

Whisk together egg and remaining 3/4 cup (175 mL) broth and pour over cornbread mixture, tossing well.

Spray two quart (2.25 L) baking dish with l cooking spray (use larger baking dish if not reserving dressing for turkey roulade) and transfer all but 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) of dressing to baking dish. Cover dish with foil and set aside. After turkey roulade has been in oven 30 minutes, place covered baking dish of dressing in oven.

After 15 minutes (or when internal temperature of roulade, measured with instant-read thermometer, is 155 F), remove roulade from oven and remove foil from baking dish with dressing. Continue baking dressing for about 15 minutes or until top begins to brown. Yield: Six cups (1.5 L); enough for turkey roulade and eight side dish servings. Serving size: 1/2 cup (125 mL).

Dorothy Sandercock is a home economist in the agrifood trade and former greenhouse grower from Lloydminster, Sask. She writes a blog at Contact: [email protected].

Dorothy Sandercock is a home economist in the agrifood trade and former greenhouse grower from Lloydminster, Sask. She writes a blog at Contact: [email protected]


You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>