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Friday, December 26, 2008

I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas

It will be of no surprise to anyone that in our house, food plays a big part in our Christmas celebrations. There are a few that come from my childhood, but most of those involve dishes that made an appearance at the Christmas Dinner table, and at no other time of the year. Dishes like "Golden Glow Salad" and "Potatoes Romanoff" will forever remain part of my Christmas, but will NEVER appear on any table I set. There is no place for Jell-O in my Yuletide.

Fortunately there are many new food traditions we have adopted and are hopefully passing on to my children. In the spirit of the season, I'd like to share a few of them here.

Good Beer: While there is always room for wine at the dinner table, beer is my drink of choice between meals. The good folk at Firefly have a terrific selection of craft brews from North America, as well as a wide variety of European brews. I love the Belgian beers, and often pick up 1/2 a dozen of the 750ml bottles. Pair this with a selection of cheese (Stilton and Compté are favorites) and you can hunker down during any winter storm.

Chinese Food: We're not talking some of the fine Chinese meals I've enjoyed with my good friend Lee. Christmas Eve dinner in my house has been Chinese delivery ever since I can remember. Beef Broccoli, Sweet & Sour Pork, Egg Rolls ... and of course the leftovers that accompany them. We have a favorite local joint that makes a killer Ma Paul Tofu and a Ginger & Spring Onion Chicken (bone in!) that has thankfully taken the place of the day-glo orange Sweet & Sour Pork.

Wife-Saver: Back in the late 70's, I was introduced to something called the "Wife-Saver Breakfast Bake." Essentially a savoury bread pudding, this dish was a staple at our Christmas morning breakfast table. My version features corn-bread in place of the Texas toast, bacon from J,N & Z Deli, and Gruyere instead of Cheddar. The original is good as well, but I'll be making mine with corn bread from now on.

The dish is assembled the night before, and left to "blend" in the fridge overnight. Christmas morning, while the rug-rats are opening their gifts, you simply pop the dish in the oven for an hour and relax with an eggnog latté. For the health-conscious you can also add a fruit salad.

Smoked Turkey: Easily my favorite new Christmas tradition, the smoked turkey actually made its first appearance on our dinner table a few New Year's Days ago. We didn't host Christmas that year and so we were without any turkey leftovers. Being of the "smoking brotherhood" the natural choice was to smoke. The results were beyond my expectations - perhaps my favorite recipe, next to Pastrami.

This year, my brother and his wife hosted the family dinner and asked me if I could contribute. I agreed, thinking it would be a simple process during the lazy days before Christmas, However, our recent snow-storm(s) changed that happy dream by complicating travel and fire-making. What the cold temperatures did do however was make brining the turkey much simpler. I brine for 24 hours in a mixture of apple juice, brown sugar, salt, cloves, ginger and bay-leaves. Because the brining period is so long, the challenge is keeping the temperature low enough for the duration. Nothing a cooler in a snow-bank can't solve.

I smoked the turkey on Christmas morning. The process is a little different than other smokes I've done. For one, the water pan in the smoker is left empty. This allows the temperature to get up to 325F which reduces the smoking time to about 3 hours. The other benefit of an empty water pan is drippings ... SMOKED turkey drippings which make a pretty amazing gravy.

But the undisputed star of the show is the turkey itself. The meat is moist and tender throughout. Even the traditionally dry breast is juicy and often mistaken for dark meat (I help this along by placing some back under the skin before I smoke). Your favorite turkey wine will pair nicely, but the added depth of flavour provided by the cherry smoke also works well with a Pinot Noir.  As an additional benefit, we'll take the carcase and simmer it with a couple onions and some carrots to create a rich smoked turkey stock. Turkey soup never tasted so good!

So while we dig ourselves out from all this snow and try to figure out what we're going to do with all the leftovers, I'd like to wish you the Merriest of Christmas's, and the peace and joy of the season to you and yours.

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