These suggestions make Christmas fresher and easier

Winter is here. The days are short, and the nights are crisp and dark. On a clear night it seems as though the stars are extra bright and twinkling. We have seen our first snowflakes gently falling, giving us a blanket of white.

Without guilt, we can now curl up on the couch in the evenings instead of endlessly riding the lawn mower or pulling weeds in order to keep the yard in top form.

Once those big flakes start gently falling, a certain quiet sensation is experienced. Kids love this first snow, and cannot wait to go outside and catch some crystals on their tongues. And in the lights, the glistening frost gives us an illusion of being surrounded by diamonds, just a little departure from reality. Perhaps this peaceful time is nature’s way to prepare us for the busy holiday season that lies ahead.

In the holiday season, do not spend time alone in the kitchen doing endless food preparation. Instead, make meal plans very simplistic, using fresh ingredients when possible. This type of menu planning puts you back with your people, enjoying the social aspect of the season.

Give yourself permission to make changes to your food traditions if necessary. Bring colours into your home and plates by using food that presents red, green and orange colours. Often by choosing colorful food, you will be choosing more nutritious food as well.

When I see the mandarin oranges hit the grocery store aisles, I immediately think Christmas. Biting into a cold juicy orange is sweet, thirst quenching and healthy.

This little orange ball is loaded with preventive vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, folate and fibre. When I was a child it was a treat to get a Christmas orange in your stocking, and now the kids are used to eating them in November.

They are so easy to peel and pop into your mouth, a nutritional bombshell.

Oranges are also an essential part of many recipes, providing just enough citrus zing to give a dish that perfect flavour. They are often used in salads, desserts, sauces and dressings, over sliced fruit to prevent browning or just as freshly squeezed juice.

A bowl of oranges displayed in your home is appealing, and the scent of orange brings refreshment and renewal.

I love diffusing essential orange oil in my home. It’s very uplifting and much better for us than synthetic scents. If you don’t have a diffuser, simply shake 10 drops into a steaming pot of water and let simmer.

A diffuser-humidifier combination with some orange essential oil would be a great gift idea. My pick is the Relaxus Ionizing Diffuser & Humidifier, with Co-op Gold Pure Sweet Orange oil.

This home appliance is whisper quiet, produces healthy indoor air and is attractive. It’s nice in any room of the house, and it’s very beneficial for winter when our furnaces are running frequently, which reduces indoor humidity.

You could even switch to orange dishwashing liquid for the season. I love the new essential clean orange tangerine by Palmolive.

As well, put some orange in your personal care items, such as the Good Stuff Shower Gel and Hand Soap. The Good Stuff takes grease off hands like no other and is gentle enough for kids. It’s a win for all ages.

Everything I recommend is available at local drug stores, the Co-op or online.

Now on to the menu.

Oven roasted meals are my preference at this time of year. We need warmth and simple meals that are easy to prepare, easy to serve, easy to clean up and get a five star rating from the critics. I have chosen a menu that all roasts together in the oven. The salad and sweets can be made ahead of time and then pulled out just before serving.

One pan chicken and stuffing

This main course dish does use some processed ingredients, but sometimes I think it is OK to get some preparation help.

  • 1 pkg. of Stove Top Stuffing Mix for Chicken 120 g
  • 1 1/4 c. boiling water 300 mL
  • 1/4 c. butter, in chunks 60 mL
  • 6 boneless chicken or turkey breasts, thawed
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup 284 mL
  • 1/3 c. sour cream or milk 75 mL
  • salt, pepper and paprika for seasoning

Mix the seasoning packet, hot water and butter in a large mixing bowl until the butter is melted. Stir in the stuffing crumbs to moisten. Let stand.

Place the chicken or turkey down the centre of a nine by 13 inch baking pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt, pepper and paprika. Mix the soup and sour cream, pour over the chicken and cover the top and sides of the chicken with the stuffing mix.

Bake at 350 F (180 C) for approximately 50 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and dollops of cranberry sauce if desired. Serves four to six, depending on guests.

Pair this meat entree with a combination of vegetables, also oven roasted.

Dedicate another nine by 13 inch pan as a vegetable pan. Use a combination of vegetables for a flavourful menu offering.

  • 4 peeled and cubed medium potatoes
  • 4 peeled parsnips, cut into fingers
  • 4 peeled carrots, cut into fingers
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 1 c. whole brussels sprouts, fresh or frozen 250 mL
  • 1 c. cauliflower 250 mL
  • 4 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil 60 mL
  • salt, pepper and seasoning salt to taste

Place the potatoes, carrots, parsnips and onion in a baking pan. Drizzle with the oil, mix and cover. Bake at 350 F (180 C ) for about 30 minutes, and then add the brussels sprouts and cauliflower and roast for another 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Toss with some butter and sprinkle with salt, pepper and seasoning salt to taste. Makes four large servings. Side with sour cream and bacon bits if desired.

Note: You can use any vegetables you desire; just substitute equivalent amounts cut into similar sizes so that the roasting time is similar. Shredded cheese is also an option.

Romaine greens with oranges and pecans

Make this meal complete with this green salad.

  • 2 heads fresh romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1/2 c. pecans halves 125 mL
  • 2 oranges, peeled and sliced or segmented

Add in a handful of red berries of your choice or dried cranberries to accent the salad.

Dressing:

  • 1/4 c. vinegar 60 mL
  • 1/2 c. oil of your choice 125 mL
  • 1/4 c. sugar 60 mL
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard (substitute liquid mustard if necessary) 5 mL
  • 2 tbsp. water 30 mL

Place the lettuce, pecans and oranges in a large salad bowl. Combine the dressing ingredients in the blender. Make ahead of time and store in the refrigerator until ready to toss.

Moist chocolate Bundt cake

The season is not complete without a rich chocolate dessert. Side with some ice cream, whipped cream and some fresh or frozen berries and voila — dessert is served. Plate with a few fresh or frozen raspberries. Again, this pop of fruit boosts our fibre and antioxidants.

  • 2 c. sugar 500 mL
  • 1 3/4 c. flour 425 mL
  • 3/4 c. cocoa 175 mL
  • 2 tsp. baking soda 10 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking powder 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 c. strong brewed coffee 250 mL
  • 1 c. buttermilk (you can use regular milk with a squeeze of lemon or a few drops of vinegar) 250 mL
  • 1/2 c. oil 125 mL
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract 5 mL
  • 1 tbsp. icing sugar 15 mL

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).
In a large mixing bowl, combine the first six ingredients. Then add the eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for two minutes (batter will be thin). Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool before removing from pan. Once cooled and plated, dust with icing sugar if desired or use a glaze for presentation. Source: Quick Cooking Magazine.

Glaze:

  • 1/4 c. butter 60 mL
  • 2 c. icing sugar 500 mL
  • 2 – 4 tbsp. milk or warm water 30 to 60 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla 7 mL

In a mixing bowl, combine until smooth and pour over cooled cake if desired.

Rich chocolate sauce

Perhaps you do not want a glaze but rather a sauce. This recipe is one that I remember from my childhood. My Aunt Alma used to make it and, combined with a fresh scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was like a gourmet hot fudge Sunday right at home. It was most fun to stir the sauce and ice cream together until it was like soft, chocolate ice cream.

I recently shared this recipe with my kids over ice cream, but it is also a great addition to a slice of the above chocolate cake.

It can also be made ahead of time and heated on the stovetop just before serving. Garnish with a few berries and a delectable dessert is ready to serve. You will get an A+ in presentation.

I just love simplicity, and having some sauce on hand is great for last minute desserts.

  • 4 c. sugar 1 L
  • 1/2 c. flour 125 mL
  • 1/4 c. cocoa 60 mL
  • 4 c. water 1 L
  • 1/4 tsp. salt 1 mL
  • 1/4 c. butter 60 mL

Combine the ingredients in a saucepan. When mixed thoroughly, stir often over medium heat until bubbles form. Reduce heat and let simmer until the mixture thickens. Continue to stir often while thickening. Once complete, serve with desserts or over ice cream. Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Cranberry crumb cake

This showy cake is great with hot coffee or tea on a winter afternoon. Pairs perfectly with a fresh fruit salad.

  • 1 c. flour 250 mL
  • 1/2 c. plus 1/3 c. sugar, divided 125 mL plus 175 mL
  • 2 tsp. baking powder 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 c. milk 125 mL
  • 1 tbsp. orange juice 15 mL
  • 1 tbsp. oil 15 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract 1 mL
  • 2 c. fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped 500 mL

Topping:

  • 1/4 c. flour 60 mL
  • 3 tbsp. sugar 45 mL
  • 2 tbsp. cold butter 30 mL

In a large bowl, combine the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder and salt. Combine the egg, milk, orange juice, oil and vanilla; stir into dry ingredients. Spoon into an eight-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine cranberries and remaining sugar; spoon over batter.

For topping, combine flour and sugar in a small bowl; cut in the butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over cranberries. Bake at 350 F(180 C) for 35 to 45 minutes or until edges begin to pull away from sides of pan. Refrigerate leftovers. Source: Light and Tasty Magazine

Jodie Mirosovsky is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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