All turkeyed out and Christmas hasn't even arrived?
This is the dilemma many families encounter each year, says Patrick Engel, a chef whose extended family has found themselves sitting down to not one or two traditional dinners over a 36-hour period, but sometimes three or four.
"At one time, a huge turkey at Christmas was a splurge item when families were so much larger," says the executive chef at The Good Earth Cooking School and Food Co. in Beamsville, Ont.
"One could feed the whole family a big turkey back in the old days. Families are smaller now and with the proximity to Thanksgiving where serving turkey is not negotiable, the idea of cooking a 15-pound turkey might send them in another direction and that is to choose an alternative like beef or ham."
Engel says the other change is in family dynamics.
"In my family, everyone who got married is still married, but divorce and remarriage are the new norm (in many families) so that you could conceivably end up having four Christmas dinners between the new in-laws, not to mention single parents and their children."
A few years ago Engel and his wife were preparing a turkey on Christmas Eve, going to his parents for Christmas Day lunch, again for turkey, then to his wife's family for, you guessed it, the big bird for dinner that night.
"I remember leaving a Christmas Day lunch at 3 and going to dinner at 5," he says with a chuckle.
Now on Christmas Eve, they host a seafood supper where they serve lobster and crab as well as a beef tenderloin or a prime rib roast.
"I think Christmas is about buying premium foods that you wouldn't normally do," he says, "and it's a great excuse to have a beautiful meal and splurge."
To counter the turkeyed-out problem, Engel and his wife decided that they would cook a turkey for her family on Christmas Day along with a side of salmon "because we have two vegetarians in our family and they throw a huge wrinkle into the traditional holiday feast."
Engel says for those planning an alternative to the traditional gobbler, like a roast, the sides can be root vegetables, greens such as brussels sprouts, kale or Tuscan chard.
"You don't want every component of the meal to be heavy or roasted. Really scale down the quantity and serve a salad."
Here is his recipe for a light winter salad to serve as an appetizer with the festive meal.
Fresh Winter Salad
The fresh, sweet crunch of this salad is a great contrast to some of the rich foods at the typical holiday feast, Engel notes. This recipe may be doubled or tripled to serve more diners.
2 apples (Mutsu or Honeycrisp), peeled and diced
2 Bosc pears, peeled and diced
1 head endive, julienned
1 bunch watercress or an equal amount of baby spinach or arugula
30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine diced fruit, endive, watercress, juice from lemon and vegetable oil. Garnish with pomegranate seeds. (You won't need all the seeds, so snack away.)
Makes 4 to 6 servings.