The thing I enjoy most about the Christmas season is the opportunity it brings for indulging in luxury. Before you accuse me of shameless materialism, or start to think that I’m wealthy or privileged, I’ll point out that I’m not talking about the sort of luxury that only a well-padded bank account or a high Visa limit can bring. When it comes to celebrating Christmas, I’m a shameless romantic, and stacking scads of bleeping, whirring, over-priced gadgetry under the tree does not fit in with either my preference or my budget. I’m talking, instead, about the luxurious indulgence in some of the finer things in life that are relatively affordable, and don’t wind up cluttering up your mantelpiece or toy box for years to come. I’m talking about food.
A few years ago I came across a book in the discard bin of my neighbourhood library called Madame Benoit Cooks at Home. I haven’t tried too many of the recipes, but one of them, the recipe for tourtiere tartlets, has become as much a part of our Christmas Eve tradition as my daughter’s opening of one present, my husband’s after dinner glass of scotch and my glass of sherry beside a crackling fire, and our family reading of A Child’s Christmas in Wales. For those of you who are not familiar with this delicacy, there tourtiere a savoury pie filled with pork, potatoes and onions and spiced with savory, garlic and cloves. It’s a truly Canadian tradition, rooted in Quebec, and truly delicious.
My husband is a roasted fowl lover, so turkey or goose are always on the Christmas day menu. I enjoy these too, as well as a modest sampling of shortbread, mince pies, etc., but for me it’s the side dishes that send my calorie and cholesterol count into Christmas overdrive. Green beans barely parboiled then soaked in ice water, and finally quickly sauteed with three or four crushed cloves of garlic. Velvety garlic mashed potatoes made with sour cream and cream cheese and a dash of truffle-infused olive oil. Baked squash with the cavities forming perfect wells for butter to collect in, just waiting for French bread to be dipped into it. Best of all, Brussels sprouts. No, I’m not talking about the mushy things that our moms used to make, or the hideous factory-produced boil-in-a-bag versions. I mean careful picked green jewels washed, with the outer leaves picked off, and tossed in good olive oil, seasoning salt, onion powder, a splash of Worcestershire, and then baked in a three-fifty degree oven for forty minutes. Finally, toss them in a wok or large frying pan with some more oil. Throw in some pine nuts and pancetta or prosciutto, and a glug of real maple syrup, and you’ll quickly get over those childhood phobias of poisonous-tasting shrunken cabbages.
I hope all of you have a terrific time this holiday, and a wonderful feast!
What’s the one special Christmas treat you can’t live without? For your editor, it’s Gaspesian Sugar Pie. There are dozens of versions, but the only one that will satisfy is the one I grew up with, my mom’s recipe. Everyone seems to have a special dish from their childhood that just has to be on the Christmas dinner table. Tell me yours and I’ll send the first three respondents a new Voice coffee mug!