Checking in with local foodies to discover old and new Christmas traditions
Chef Marysol Foucault, the effervescent French-Canadian owner of Gatineau’s Chez Edgar, recalls Christmases when she was growing up as being a little overwhelming. “My father’s side of the family would host very large, loud gatherings that didn’t really appeal to me,” she says. Later, toiling in the restaurant business meant she just didn’t have time to celebrate Christmas, as she was always working.
“I started liking Christmas a lot more when I could do it my way in my own restaurant,” she notes. “My staff’s enthusiasm for the festive season has rubbed off on me and now as a team we derive great pleasure from offering very traditional holiday foods that families don’t necessarily prepare anymore, usually for lack of time.”
The treats that Marysol enjoys making – many for preorder – include the savoury meat pies cipaille and tourtière, ragoût de pattes de cochon (a hearty stew), fruitcakes, Yule logs and more. “I feel so much joy as people tell me these dishes bring them comfort and evoke wonderful, fond memories.”
Marysol spends Christmas snuggled in a chalet with her partner’s family. “We have a réveillon on Christmas Eve and then on the 25th I put on a new pair of pyjamas and sit with a big pile of books, undisturbed for two days. They won’t let me cook, which is a lovely treat.”
A traditional French-Canadian dessert that Marysol says would be perfect for a holiday meal is grand-pères au sirop, which is dumplings cooked in maple syrup. She likes to add fruit for an extra special treat.
Blueberry Grands-Pères au sirop
This dessert is best prepared in a large stovetop-safe cocotte or Dutch oven with a tight lid, which provides steady, even heat to the dumplings as they cook in the blueberry syrup.
5 cups (1.25 L) wild blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup (250 mL) water
1 cup (250 mL) maple syrup
1/4 cup (60 mL) bourbon (optional)
1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 mL) baking powder
1/4 cup (60 mL) cold unsalted butter, cubed
3/4 cup (180 mL) whole milk
2 tbsp (30 mL) molasses
1 cup (250 mL) heavy (35%) cream
In a large pot or cocotte, over medium heat, simmer the blueberries, water, maple syrup and bourbon until the blueberries have softened and released their juices (about 15 minutes).
While berries cook, prepare the dumplings. Put the flour and baking powder in a large bowl, then blend in the butter with your fingertips until it resembles coarse meal.
With a wooden spoon, mix in the milk and molasses until you have a smooth dough.
Using two soup spoons, carefully drop the dumpling batter in uniform portions into the bubbling blueberries. Cover the pot and leave to simmer on low heat for 10 minutes – the dough will cook through and expand.
Scoop dumplings and sauce into individual serving dishes and serve warm with a drizzle of cream.
Australian-born Bianca Coldrey, owner of Manotick café and catering company Take Another Bite, fondly recalls her first Canadian Christmas 15 years ago. “I was missing my family but absolutely loving the snow and cold. In Australia, it’s the middle of summer in December, but we embrace the same wintry holiday images as the rest of the world. Christmas finally made sense to me for the first time. Tourtière, turkey and cranberries were delightful new tastes for me as well.”
Growing up, Bianca’s Christmases were big family affairs. “We’d often have a barbecue, usually including lots of seafood. There was always a plum pudding with money in it and we’d drink champagne all day. We always had cherries which were only shipped to Australia once a year, so that made them very special.”
Bianca and her Canadian husband now have three children and are developing their own Christmas traditions. “We always do Christmas at our house and invite everyone who has no place to go as I love having lots of people around. My husband is very traditional and likes to have his turkey, but I’ll sneak in a pavlova along with the apple pie. We love our blended Christmas and yes, we still drink champagne all day.”
Bianca’s favourite way to prepare her holiday bird is in roulade form, deboned and rolled prior to cooking, making it so easy to carve and serve. She recommends serving this with creamy mashed potatoes, caramelized brussels sprouts, roasted beets and gravy.
1/2 cup (125 mL) unsalted butter
1 onion, finely chopped 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) salt
1 clove garlic, minced
6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
4 fresh pork sausages, casings removed
1 whole turkey breast, breast bone removed, butterflied (ask your butcher
to do this for you)
20-25 thin slices double-smoked bacon
1-2 tbsp (15 – 30 mL) unsalted butter
Salt & pepper
METHOD: Make stuffing by melting butter in small pan. Add onion, celery and salt, and cook gently until vegetables are softened, but not coloured. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Remove from heat and let cool.
When onions are cool, add to bowl with sausage meat. Add thyme and sage, and mix well. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place turkey breast, skin-side down, on your cutting board. Open up the butterflied wings. If necessary, cover the breast with plastic wrap and using a rolling pin, flatten evenly to about 1 inch all over. Remove plastic and discard.
Lightly season turkey with a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and evenly spread stuffing mixture over breast.
Starting at one side, roll breast tightly to form a log. Place rolled breast into your roasting pan, cover with slices of bacon, and dot with a little extra butter.
Roast at 350 F for approximately 45-50 minutes, centre temperature should reach at least 165 F when tested with a digital thermometer. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Recipe developer and food blogger at The Gouda Life Kelly Brisson readily admits that the Christmas season is her absolute favourite time of year. “The second Halloween is done, I’m in full-on Christmas mode. It can’t happen soon enough for me!”
As a child, Christmas always felt magical in her home. “My mom and dad would leave a note from Santa each year, divulging details about our lives that made us certain he was real. We’d leave carrots for the reindeer and to our utter joy, there would always be teeth marks in them. We always got new pyjamas on Christmas Eve and took the same photo on the stairs each year. We had great traditions that I hope to bring into my own new family.”
Kelly says that for her and her partner Allan, Christmas is the one holiday where they don’t do any cooking as they spend it with their immediate and extended family. This will be the first year for them to share their family traditions with their new baby.
“As Ruthie grows, I imagine we’ll shift our plans a little to celebrate in our own home and start forging our own traditions. I hope to be able to make it as magical for her as my parents made it for my sister and me. We’ll likely start hosting Christmas dinner at our place and having Ruthie take part in the festive food preparations.”
This eggnog-gingerbread pudding with brandied maple-eggnog sauce is one of Kelly’s favourite holiday treats. As soon as she spots locally made Cochrane’s Dairy eggnog in stores, she gets busy whipping it up. This is best eaten the same day it’s made, right out of the oven. It comes together quickly so makes a great dessert for Christmas dinner, or even a luscious brunch on Boxing Day.
Eggnog-Gingerbread Pudding with Brandied Maple-Eggnog Sauce
8 slices sourdough or favourite crusty bread, sliced 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick
1 cup (250 mL) eggnog
2 tbsp (30 mL) brown sugar
2 tbsp (30 mL) molasses
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) vanilla extract
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) ground cinnamon
pinch of both ground allspice and cloves
1 tesp (5 mL) ground ginger
2 large eggs Turbinado or raw sugar, for topping
Brandied Maple-Eggnog Syrup:
1 1/2 cups (375 mL) eggnog
1/2 cup (125 mL) good quality maple syrup
2 tbsp (30 mL) brandy
Pinch kosher salt and nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place sliced bread on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted. This works best in two batches, especially if you have an apartment-sized oven like I do. Tear or cut each slice into 1-inch piece and place in a large bowl. Keep oven on. In a medium mixing bowl, add the rest of the ingredients (except turbinado sugar) and whisk until combined. Pour over the bread cubes and toss until everything is nice and soggy.
Pour into a lightly greased baking dish and sprinkle generously with turbinado sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until set. It should be crisp on top and somewhat soft in the middle (but not uncooked). While the bread pudding bakes, place a heavy saucepan on the stove over medium heat and add the eggnog and maple syrup, whisking constantly until thickened. Do not let it boil! It should be thick enough to heavily coat the back of a spoon and the colour will be deep amber. Whisk in the brandy, salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Let cool slightly and spoon over the bread pudding.