The spirit of Christmas past

Recalling memories of childhood holidays, our contributors share the special flavours from their celebration tables.

Hanukkah Sameach

by David Grossman

Hanukkah. It’s like no other time of the year.

Lighting candles that commemorate miracles. Those marvels and revelations of a Biblical past, a time to sing songs and stuff your tummy with jelly donuts and a special kind of fried potato pancakes called latkes.

It’s also a moment for recalling a lifetime of memories – those that just never go away.

A traditional Jewish holiday, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. For me, it’s a time of dedication, reflection and recollecting thoughts of being a toddler growing up in downtown Toronto. It’s mindful of a lifestyle that links, in many ways, back to my widowed mother.

Hannukah was a time when my mother went all out – even while her priorities were on raising two children and operating a small haberdashery in Parkdale.

And when she made latkes, in an antiquated pan over a gas stove that started with a flick of a match, that’s when a sudden urge overtook me: eat them, and fast. There are also fond memories of exchanging Hannukah gifts – while even grabbing a few latkes that, when no one was watching, I stuffed into my pant pockets. It’s true.

When I retrieved them later, yuk!

My mother was an astute woman. Making personal sacrifices was something she did, regardless of the shaky financial restraints of the 1950s. To her, Hannukah was always a time for gift-giving. With the festival occurring close to Christmas, always on my mind was whether Santa Claus was Jewish. There was no internet to check. Computers? Nothing back then.

But there would always be a gift for me, for the Jewish kid, from Santa!

As I grew, I came to realize that my mother was really Santa Claus. My mother was aware that people of different faiths and customs would celebrate their holidays and she wanted her children to respect other people’s beliefs. She was way ahead of her time.

Wow, that was a long time ago. Dare I say, back to the future?

But those latkes! The delicious crunchy pancakes with the crispy edges. Add a topping of apple sauce or sour cream with berries, it’s like a trip to heaven.

Latkes are a favourite at our house. My wife, Carol, tends to get ticked off with me for grabbing them right from the frying pan. Sometimes, I just make them myself to avoid the hassles.

Devouring latkes brings back many fond memories, emotions and tears. Oh, those flashbacks!

While other kids played with dreidels, a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters outlining the acronym for the miracle that took place, I would sneak away to deal with my addiction.

You guessed it, latkes.

Living in rooms behind the men’s store decorated for the festive season, I was so lucky to get some toys and clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs from my brother as Hannukah prizes. But there was one treat that I couldn’t get enough of – a mesh package of gold-wrapped coins. They were really milk chocolates.

Great to eat, they were also a problem. Like the many times I had stuffed latkes in my pant pockets, and then forgot they were there, the same happened with the chocolates. Only they left gooey brown stains.

Oh, those memories – and the miracles of Hannukah!

Carol’s Scrumptious Latkes

Ingredients

• 5 russet potatoes, peeled, washed and quartered

• 1 onion, quartered

• 1 tsp (5 ml) onion soup mix

• 1/4 cup (60 ml) flour

• 2 tsp (5 ml) baking powder

• 3 eggs

• Chopped parsley, dill or basil

• 1 tsp (5 ml) salt

• Ground black pepper to taste

• Vegetable oil

• Sour cream and/or apple sauce for topping

Optional ingredients

• Grated carrots, grated garlic, sweet potato, zucchini

Instructions

• Place all ingredients (except oil) in a food processor. If mixture is too thick, add another egg.

• Process for 6-8 seconds, mixture should be course.

• Heat oil in frying pan over medium-high heat or coat an air fryer basket.

• Spoon mixture – about 2 tbsp (10 ml) per latke – into skillet, spreading into 3-inch rounds.

• Cook until edges are brown, then turn over carefully.

• Add more oil if needed.

• Drain on paper towels and then enjoy.

David Grossman is an award-winning communicator and storyteller with a career in broadcasting, journalism and public relations.

Happy Christmas

by Gale Beeby

Growing up, the Christmas cheer really started when my mother took out the cookie press and started preparing the batter for her ever-addictive butter cookies. An old family recipe, she would say, handed down by generations of British mums.

But really, the recipe for her spritz cookies – as I discovered they were called – is really quite simple. The only special equipment you need is the aforementioned cookie press, although you can squeeze the batter out through a pastry bag (or a plastic bag with a hole cut in a corner).

My younger sister possesses our family heirloom and continues to press out cookies shaped like trees, wreaths, flowers and stars – all colourfully hued with food colouring – for her children and grandchildren.

Some family traditions are worth carrying on!

Another staple in our house was the venerable deviled egg, making their appearance at most holiday gatherings and always at bridal and baby showers. But hold the mayo! The Egg Farmers of Canada has another fabulous recipe for deviled eggs inspired by turkey stuffing.

Ready, set, eat!

Mom’s Butter Cookies

Yield: About 12 dozen cookies

Ingredients

• 1 1/2 cups (355 ml or 3 sticks) unsalted butter

• 2 large eggs at room temperature

• 1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla extract

• 1 cup (235 ml) sugar

• 4 cups (950 ml) all-purpose flour

• 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) salt

• Food colouring (red, blue and green were our favourites)

• Candy sprinkles

Instructions

• Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

• In a large mixing bowl, cream butter, sugar and salt and beat until light and fluffy with a hand or stand mixer.

• Add vanilla and eggs and continue to beat.

• Gradually add flour, beating until mixed well.

• Add food colouring of choice.

• Place dough in cookie press and press onto a lightly greased baking sheet.

• Bake for four to five minutes and rotate baking sheet.

• Continue baking another four to five minutes until cookies are brown around the edges.

• Decorate with sprinkles.

Holiday Inspired Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

• 6 hard-boiled eggs

• 1/4 cup (60 ml) mayonnaise

• 1 tbsp (15 ml) Dijon mustard

• 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) ground sage

• 1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) salt

• 1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) salted butter

• 3 tbsp (45 ml) panko breadcrumbs

• 1 clove garlic, grated or minced

• 12 sage leaves

• Canola oil for frying

• Sea salt

Instructions

• Cut the eggs lengthwise and scoop out the yolks.

• In a medium sized bowl, whisk the yolks, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sage and salt until smooth. Spoon into a piping bag or plastic bag with the tip cut.

• Melt the butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the panko breadcrumbs and toast, stirring frequently until golden grown. Stir in the garlic and toast for another 30 seconds. Set aside and cool.

• In a medium non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Fry sage leaves in batches until crisp, about two to five seconds. Transfer to a paper towel and sprinkle with sea salt.

• Fill egg whites with yolk mixture and then sprinkle with panko and garnish with the sage leaves.

Gale Beeby is a veteran journalist and the managing editor of Here With Colin and Justin.

Joyeux Noël

by Marc Atchison

To most people, it looks like a simple meat pie wrapped in golden pastry. But for those, like me, who were born and bred in Quebec, tourtière is as much a Christmas tradition as Midnight Mass and tinsel trees.

No respectable French-Canadian table would be complete without tourtière at Christmas – it’s to Quebecers what fish and chips are to the British, haggis is to the Scots and hot dogs are to the Americans.

With multiple recipe variants, even poutine has been unable to replace it as Quebec’s national dish.

Normally made with pork, veal or beef, the one I had in the Lac-Saint-Jean region a few years back made with wild game may have been the best ever.

Tourtière is even popular in U.S. states like Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts where French-Canadians fled during Colonial times.

If you’re looking to give yourself a special Christmas gift this year, make this tourtière recipe for your family – it will be the best present they get.

Mom’s Tourtière

Ingredients

• 2 1/2 lbs (1 kg) ground pork

• 1 1/2 cups (355 ml) cold water

• 1 cup (235 ml) finely diced onion

• 1/2 cup (120 ml) finely diced celery

• 1 tsp (5 ml) pepper

• 2 bay leaves

• 1 tsp (5 ml) savory

• 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) rosemary

• 1/2 tsp (2.5) nutmeg

• 1/2 tsp (2.5) cinnamon

• 2 medium-sized potatoes

• Salt to taste

• Pastry for two double crust 9-inch pies

• 1 egg beaten

Instructions

• In a heavy frying pan, combine pork with cold water and heat to boiling point.

• Peel and grate the potatoes and add to the mixture.

• Add onion, celery, pepper, bay leaf, savory, rosemary, nutmeg and cinnamon. Cover and cook for about an hour, stirring often. If the mixture dries out, add more water.

• Add salt to taste.

• Remove bay leaf and allow to cool completely.

• Preheat oven to 425F (220C).

• Line two 9-inch pie plates with lard-based pastry (my mom used Tenderflake’s frozen pie shells but you can make your own).

• Divide the meat mixture between the pie shells.

• Brush outer edge of pie shell with the beaten egg, place the top crust on and press gently around the edges to seal. Trim the extra pastry, crimp edges and cut steam vents in the top of the crust. Be creative!

• Bake for 15 minutes then reduce heat to 375F (190C) and bake for another 25 minutes or until crust is golden.

Marc Atchison is a seasoned traveller and the editor-in-chief of TraveLife magazine.

Щасливого Різдва

by Vera Mitchell

Growing up in a Ukrainian family, Christmas Eve was the time for our celebration and a 12-course dinner (on Jan. 6 according to the Julian calendar). The meal was always meatless and followed a day of fasting, at least for the adults.

My mother started meal preparation early in the day, when wheat berries, which had been soaking overnight, were cooked. When these were tender, honey and sugar were added, along with crushed poppy seeds and chopped walnuts. That would be our dessert, called kutya.

Wheat was a vital crop in Ukraine, and each Christmas Eve the head of the family would toss a spoon of the kutya onto the ceiling. If it stuck, there would be a good crop the next year. My mother did not approve of this custom and it wasn’t followed in our home, except for once, and that did not end well.

Dishes included a fruit compote made from pears, plums or peaches that mom had canned during the summer; three soups, mushroom, sauerkraut and borscht; three types of pyrohy (a type of pierogi) made from potato, sauerkraut and kasha (buckwheat); cabbage rolls filled with kasha; and baked buns stuffed with either prunes or sauerkraut. Most years, there were bubalky, which is fresh pasta dough shaped into dumplings and tossed with sweetened crushed poppy seeds and butter. And some years, there was a fish course of pickled herring, oselachy, brought home by my father in a small barrel. My mother’s favourite!

Mid-afternoon, my mom sent all the children to the front window to watch for the first star to appear and that, she proclaimed, was when Christmas Eve had arrived and it was time for dinner. I suspect, however, that she sent us to the window to keep us from getting underfoot.

The centerpiece on the table was a braided egg bread (to signify the baby Jesus) that was placed on a bed of straw (to represent the manger). A candle would be lit and we all stood at our places and said the Lord’s Prayer. Dad would say Ісус Народжується (Jesus

is born) and we would all reply Благословіть Його (Bless Him).

My dad served his homemade wine – even the children got a sip – and dinner would begin, course after course.

After dinner, we would retire to sing along to Ukrainian Christmas albums on the stereo. And then it was time for bed and we would leave some kutia for St. Nicholas.

Mom’s Kapusta Soup

(Sauerkraut Soup)

Ingredients

• 4 quarts (3.8 litres) water

• 75 oz (2,200 ml) prepared (canned or jarred) sauerkraut

• 1 28 oz (796ml) can whole peeled tomatoes, pureed.

• 2 large bay leaves

• 14 whole black peppercorns

• 2 large onions, diced

• 1/2 cup (120 ml) butter plus tbsp (15 ml) for sauté pan

• 1/4 cup (60 ml) canola oil plus 2 tbsp (30 ml) for sauté pan

• Roux made from 1/2 cup (120 ml) butter and 1 (235 ml) to 1 1/2 (355 ml) cups flour

Instructions

• Over medium heat, sauté the onions in butter and canola oil until soft and translucent, but not colored. Set aside.

• Make roux by melting butter and canola oil in small skillet and then adding flour when melted. Cook, stirring on medium heat until mixture bubbles and begins to turn slightly golden. Remove from heat and cool. Be careful it doesn’t continue to brown when off the heat.

• Place 2 quarts (1.9 litres) water in large pot and add sauerkraut. Bring to a boil and then drain through colander. Squeeze excess moisture from cabbage.

• Return to pot with 2 quarts (1.9 litres) fresh water and begin heating over medium high heat.

• Puree tomatoes and add to pot, along with bay leaves and peppercorns. Do not substitute diced tomatoes for whole tomatoes as diced tomatoes have been treated to maintain their shape and crispness.

• Simmer for one to two hours until cabbage is tender.

• Remove bay leaves.

• Thicken by adding cold roux to hot soup, mixing well to thicken and then cook two to three minutes more. Tip: always add cold roux to hot soup to avoid clumping.

• Add salt to taste (rinsing the sauerkraut removes a lot of the salt) and serve with thick slices of homemade bread.

Anna’s Best Borscht

Ingredients

• 8 small beets in spring or 3 large in fall

• 2 quarts (1.9 litres) water

• 1/4 cup (60 ml) lemon juice

• 2 bay leaves

• 1 onion, cut in half

• 1 tsp (5 ml) dried thyme or one branch of fresh thyme

• 1 small cabbage or 3/4 of medium cabbage, shredded

• Bunch of tender beet greens, about 1 cup, chopped

• Bunch of parsley, finely chopped

• 2 stalks celery, diced

• 3 cans chicken or vegetable broth, each 284 ml

• 1 can red kidney beans (398 ml), drained

• Salt to taste

Optional ingredients

• 3/4 cup (175 ml) half and half cream

• 2 tbsp (30 ml) all purpose flour

Instructions

• Scrape beets clean at root end. Cut off and reserve beet greens. Rinse well.

• Peel beets with vegetable peeler. Do not rinse after peeling or soup will lose its bright color. Julienne the beets.

• Bring water to a boil and add lemon juice. Add beets to water and cook about 10 minutes.

• Add bay leaves, onion and thyme and cook five minutes more or until beets are tender.

• Add the shredded cabbage.

• Cook five minutes more and then add beet greens, celery, parsley, kidney beans and broth.

• Cook just a few more minutes, until greens are tender.

• Remove onion and bay leaves and add salt to taste.

• For creamy borscht, mix together flour and cream in medium bowl. Temper this mixture by adding some of the borscht, mixing and returning to the pot.

• Simmer gently for three minutes to cook the flour. Do NOT boil!

• This makes a lot of Borscht. You can freeze some before adding the flour and cream mixture.

homemade challah on wooden background – food and drink

Vera’s Egg Bread

Ingredients

• 1 package dry active yeast

• 1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water

• 1/8 tsp (.6 ml) sugar

• 3/4 cup (180 ml) warm milk

• 1 tsp (5 ml) salt

• 2 eggs, room temperature, beaten

• 2 tbsp (30 ml) butter, softened

• 2 tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil

• 3 to 4 cups (700 to 950 ml) all purpose flour

• 1 egg yolk

• 2 tbsp (30 ml) water

• Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

Instructions

• Dissolve yeast in water and sugar. Set aside to activate, about five minutes.

• Using a stand mixer with large bowl and mixing attachment, combine warm milk, salt and butter.

• Add yeast mixture and mix.

• Add 2 cups (470 ml) flour and mix well, scraping down the sides as needed.

• Change to dough hook.

• Add remaining flour until you have a soft dough.

• Knead with dough hook for one to two minutes until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour if dough isn’t the right consistency. Test by holding a small piece of dough, stretching it thin and holding it up to the light. If the light shines through, enough gluten has been activated. Note: You can make the dough by hand but will take longer as you will need to knead dough for six to eight minutes.

• Place dough in a greased bowl, turning over so that dough is coated with oil.

• Cover loosely with towel or plastic wrap and let rise until it doubles in size, between 1 and 1 1/2 hours, depending on temperature of the room.

• Punch down dough and allow to rise again, about 20 minutes or until doubled.

• Divide dough into three equal pieces. On a floured surface, shape each piece into a rope, about 14-15 inches long. Braid the three pieces together and tuck in ends.

• Place on greased and floured parchment paper.

• Cover loosely and allow to rise again until doubled, about 35 minutes. To test, indent with finger. Dough should bounce back slowly.

• While dough is rising, preheat oven to 375F (190C).

• Beat egg yolk and water and brush mixture on surface of bread. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, or sesame seeds, or dust with flour.

• Bake in middle of the oven, for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown and bread sounds hollow when tapped. Check underside to make sure it is golden.

• Transfer to wire rack to cool.

Vera Mitchell, a retired nurse, studied cooking at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

Buon Natale

by Daniela Pagliaro | photography by Natalia Pagliaro

As far back as I can remember, my nonna Ortenzia Giordano would make cannelloni for our holiday table – it didn’t matter if it was Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving. She would work all day in the second kitchen in her basement, making everything from scratch, even the tubes. You could taste the love.

In keeping with the classic Italian meal structure, my nonna’s cannelloni was always il primo, or the first course.

We would start our family gatherings with apperitivi (Prosecco is our fav), then the antipasti (cured meats, cheeses and olives) and then our nonna’s beloved cannelloni. After a break and a walk, we’d dig into i secondi – the second course – usually my brother-in-law’s famous turkey with accompanying side dishes.

Now with our dear nonna gone, I have stepped into her hard-to-fill shoes and have taken over making the cannelloni. My nonna lived for spreading love through her cooking; she was generous of spirit, of home and of table and I now share the love with all of you with this version of her recipe.

My mom, Mary, is an exceptional cook too, but her special gift is baking. My sister and I always looked forward to Christmas growing up and not because of the presents – it was our mom’s baking that snagged our little hearts every year. Not surprisingly, mom is usually in charge of il dolce (dessert) at our holiday gatherings.

Whenever her grandchildren – now in their 20s – visited her as children, she’d always hold a baking session with them, showing her love by making their favourites. She still bakes for them when they come to visit, and I imagine she will continue to do this for as long as she is able.

My mom’s superpower – in baking and in life – is her ability to adapt. Over the years she has accommodated all sorts of allergies and food sensitivities, coming up with recipes that are delicious because no one is going to suffer through bland and uninspiring

flavours because of a pesky allergy!

For il dolce, I’ve chosen mom’s famous flourless hazelnut and olive oil cake, a regular at our holiday dinners. Every time my mom makes this cake, it’s a little different. I hope you enjoy this version.

Mom’s Hazelnut and Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients

Drizzle and topping

• 3/4 cup (175 ml) strong, hot espresso coffee

• 1 bar (100 gr) Lindt Orange Extreme chocolate

• 1 lb (500 gr) mascarpone, at room temperature

• 1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy cream (35%)

• Zest of one large orange

• 1/2 cup (120 ml) roasted hazelnuts, chopped

Cake

• 1 cup (220 gr) caster sugar

• 5 eggs

• 2 1/2 cups (530 ml) hazelnut meal

• 1/4 cup (60 ml) strong espresso coffee

• 2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla extract

• 1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder

• 2/3 cup (150 ml) extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

• Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Grease and line a 9-inch springform cake pan with parchment paper.

• For the cake, combine all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into pan and bake for 45 minutes or until centre is slightly firm to the touch. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

• Meanwhile, place the entire chocolate bar in a small bowl and pour the hot espresso over it, whisking until fully blended. Cool slightly, then chill until thickened.

• In a medium bowl, whip the cream, mascarpone and orange zest using a hand blender.

• Swirl mascarpone mixture over the cake, sprinkle with nuts and drizzle chocolate syrup on top.

Nonna’s Cannelloni

Ingredients

• 1 lb (.45 kg) mature spinach leaves (mature spinach is more flavourful)

• 10 medium to large leaves of fresh basil

• 1 tub (475 gr) of fresh ricotta, strained overnight to remove excess liquid

• 1 large egg, lightly beaten

• 1 cup (100 gr) grated or finely shredded Parmigiano, divided

• Kosher salt, to taste

• Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

• Zest of one lemon

• 20 (4×5 inch) sheets fresh pasta, or you can use dry cannelloni noodles

• 2 1/2 cups (675 ml) homemade marinara sauce

• 3/4 lb (340 gr) grated mozzarella

• Two lasagna pans (ceramic, glass or foil)

Instructions

• Position your oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 375F (170C).

• Wash the spinach and basil (you can keep or discard the stems) and place them in boiling water for about one minute.

• Drain spinach and basil in a fine-mesh strainer, briefly rinse in cold water to cool, then press down on the mixture with your hands to remove excess water. Chop the cooked spinach and basil and transfer it to a medium bowl.

• Stir in the strained ricotta, egg, half of the grated Parmigiano, salt, lemon zest and nutmeg. Mix well to combine. Put in the fridge to keep it cool while you work through the remaining steps.

• Cook the pasta according to package instructions, drain and immediately submerge in an ice water bath, then remove and let dry on some clean kitchen towels.

• Place a spoonful of filling close to the short end of the pasta sheet and roll up lengthwise to form cannelloni. Repeat with the remaining pasta sheets.

• Spoon one ladleful of marinara sauce evenly over the bottom of the baking dish. Transfer the filled cannelloni to the baking dish in a single layer. Cover evenly with the remaining sauce, then evenly spread the mozzarella and the remaining Parmigiano over the top. Make sure all the pasta noodles are covered in sauce so they don’t get hard when baking.

• Cover baking dish with foil and cook for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes and then broil for two minutes to brown the top.

Daniela Pagliaro learned the art of pasta making from her nonna Ortenzia Giodano and recently started OGCucina in her honour.