My Culinary Christmas

I know its a little past Christmas. I hope you will forgive me – and also that you will be able to use some of the great recipes included in this blog. I’m  reporting on my son’s great turkey recipe, and some excellent plum pudding, fruit cake and shortbread recipes, as well as insights on creme anglais/custard.

The Big Bird

My son is in his last undergrad year, and he decided to top it off by being a residence don. It means he has to keep his freshmen charges safe and happy. Due to these responsibilities, it was the first Thanksgiving that he was not with us to celebrate. He has quite a number of international students who had expressed interest in this Canadian celebration of the harvest – Thanksgiving. So he, an old friend and girlfriend at the time set upon delivering a traditional Thanksgiving dinner to about 20 kids who were there for the holiday weekend. A roaring success, apparently. Thrilled about it, he offered – or rather told us – he was going to make the family Christmas turkey.

As this was arguably his biggest culinary endeavour to date, and as he had also changed up the recipe he found, I wanted to make sure I faithfully recorded his recipe for my recipe spreadsheet.20141226_065243

A note on the spreadsheet…… In 2009 I read a book “The Cure for Death by Lightning” in which one of the characters keeps a kitchen scrapbook, and this scrapbook forms a family history through the lens of the kitchen. There are notes, recipes, cut outs, random thoughts  – but all to do with food. My spreadsheet is like a more organized, electronic version of that.  Whenever I find a new recipe, down it goes. Copy and paste. Develop a new one – definitely. I also have sheets for calculating common ratios (Thank you Michael Ruhlman who made sense of so much of cooking). I currently have about 500 recipes, both mine and others, and its where I go first when I need a recipe. There are a number of sheets covering different categories of recipes. Each recipe is written within a column, as this is inevitably the way recipes are presented in books or on the web. There’s also a sheet for memorable meals as well. This can be useful when one wants to know what was served the last time you had Mr or Ms. X over to dinner. Needless to say, my son wanted to consult it for his dinner, and I noted to him that this file was really his culinary DNA. Every recipe he is familiar with from the family crucible is here.

Back to his turkey: This was a British recipe – which seems to be particularly marked by the addition of sausage or bacon in the stuffing. But he changed it up as well. He wanted to do it all: brined, an under the skin baste, as well as basting during the cooking. Really excellent result, I might add – he’s turned out to be a really competent cook. Here is his final recipe:20141225_182812

S’s roast turkey

The original basis for the recipe is,-goats-cheese-and-leek-stuffing,-and-gravy.html


5 litres water

100g salt

turkey 12-14 lb 6-7k


1 loaf of bread

3 medium onions

half a Granny Smith apple

@ 1 tsp ea of salt, pepper; @ 1tbs rosemary, sage; @ 2 tbs ea of  thyme, oregano,  basil.  Taste though – these are minimums.

100g bacon or sausage

100g grated  unripened goat cheese  (feta or ricotta)

2 eggs

2 tbs dried cranberries

Dressing the bird – under skin baste

5 tbs butter

pepper, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage – about 1 tsp ea


1.5 oranges, juiced

.5 cup turkey stock

.5 cup maple syrup


300g sliced  mushrooms (white or Crimini)

1L water or 750ml turkey or chicken stock

33g flour

22g fat or butter



Thaw turkey (2 days before eating). 24 hours before, place turkey in a pot big enough to contain it. Measure and pour water until it covers the turkey, and add 20g salt per litre of water. Alternatively, prepare Ruhlman’s flavored brine: boil 4 onions, 5-6 carrots, 3 lemons in slices, thyme, oregano, rosemary in half the water. Add ice cubes equalling the other half of the water. Leave the turkey in a cool (refrigerator cool) place overnight.


Sautee onions and cook with sausage or chopped up bacon. In a separate bowl, prepare a mix with crumbed up bread. Add in cheese, apple, cranberries, and mix thoroughly. Add in herbs: basil, oregano, thyme, sage  and pepper, rosemary. Add in cooked onion/sausage mix and mix thoroughly. Add in eggs. Begin with one egg and depending on how dry/wet it is, add another. It should be moist and almost stick together. Taste and add salt to taste.

Prepare the bird

Gently separate the skin from the flesh throughout the breast. Begin at the cavity and work your hand in being careful not to puncture the skin. Gently pry it away all around.

Place the bird in the roasting pan, adding stock or water to the bottom of the pan.

turn oven on to 450

Prepare a baste of 5 tbs butter, pepper, rosemary, basil, oregano, sage – about 1 tsp ea. in a pot and genty cooked for 5 minutes until the butter absorbs the flavour.

Using a pastry brush, brush the flesh under the skin with the baste. Brush olive oil over the top of the breasts and lightly sprinkle pepper and salt over the bird.

Fill the cavities with stuffing and truss them shut .

Cook as follows: begin at 450 for 30 minutes. Reduce to 350 and baste every 30 minutes: 3 hr cooking time. Thermometer should be 170 in deepest part of bird.

The exterior baste

Heat in a small pot until it comes to a boil, then turn off the heat: 1/2 cup maple syrup, 1/2 cup stock, juice from 1 1/2 oranges – or 1/4 cup of orange juice. Baste the turkey every  30 minutes.

As the turkey is nearly done, do a final baste of maple syrup only, and finish the last 5 or so minutes of cooking under a broiler. This will caramelize and crisp the skin.20141225_163842 20141225_164629


Method 1: Prepare a mushroom reduction with 300g sliced mushrooms (crimini or white) in 1L water.  Boil, reduce to about 750ml. Prepare a roux with 33g flour and 22g fat or butter. Add in the mushroom reduction and stir until smooth.

Method 2:  Gently saute 300g  mushrooms (Crimini or white) in 1 tbs olive oil. Add a little salt and pepper. Remove from heat when they are barely cooked- about 1-2 minutes. Prepare a roux with 33g flour and 22g fat or butter. Slowly stir in approximately 750ml turkey or chicken stock. (You can use the liquid at the bottom of the pan too. ) Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms.

Serving the bird

Once out of the oven, leave the whole bird to rest for 5 minutes. Cut off the legs and wings, remove the stuffing to a separate bowl, and either slice the breast on the bird or remove the whole breast and slice on the platter.

And now to dessert….

This was also a desserty kind of Christmas. We had our friends, the V family up at our cottage after Christmas. English, they retain a very active interest in the best of the British culinary tradition, and nowhere is this more evident than at the dessert table with its proliferation of plum puddings, custards, fruitcakes and shortbreads. We had a go at all of them.

Plum puddings

I’ve made my own plum pudding for a number of years now. Its a variation of the Joy of Cooking recipe – but I soak the fruit in brandy several weeks ahead of time. This year I made an effort to follow the recipe pretty exactly, and I was not impressed with the result. It tasted ok, but the texture was a little  more akin to a gell. I had heard that R, their son, had likewise made a pudding, I thought “This good! Bring it on!”. He used the recipe from Delia Smith, the great British cooking maven. It was truly wonderful, so much better than what I had been using. Check it out at:

My own variation taken pretty directly from the Joy of Cooking is here:

The marination

2 c raisins

2 c currants

or mix of other dried fruit totaling 4 c

marinate in brandy/rum to cover and leave for a week. or two.

The pudding

Dry stuff:

combine in a bowl:

1.5 c all purpose flour 240g

8 oz ground or chopped beef suet 250g (butter can be substituted)

1.5 tsp cinnamon

1.5 tsp ground ginger

.5 tsp ground cloves

.5 tsp salt

1 tsp allspice

.5 tsp nutmeg

rub together until just blended

Wet stuff:

in a separate bowl whisk together

4 large eggs

1/3 c brandy

1/3 c sherry

Combining and cooking

stir wet mix into the flour mix and add

the marinated dried fruit

pour batter into prepared butttered mold, leaving 1 ” for expansion. I find this quantity works for 2 molds.

place on a trivet in a pot of water coming 2/3 up the side

simmer for 3 1/2 hrs

let stand 20 mins  – but then remove it from the mold.


We were talking about shortbread, and that led to a discussion of custard, because one of my treasured moments of childhood was shortbread dipped in hot custard. So while I was being introduced to Delia Smith, I wondered what she would have to say about custard. I found it easily enough at but when I looked carefully at it, I realized it was almost the same as Gordon Ramsay’s creme anglais recipe. The core difference is only the spoonful of cornflour. Admittedly its a big difference, but also not a lot either. Indeed Lindsey Dunne notes in her blog on Ramsay’s recipe: “Creme Anglaise is just a fancy term for home made custard.” She’s also the only version I’ve seen online of his recipe. Another key difference is that Ramsay insists on using a vanilla pod, not vanilla extract. His creme anglais also morphs into spectacular vanilla ice cream. However, I find there is too  much sugar for it to become properly texturized as ice cream. Not a huge deal – if you are doing it as ice cream, just add in another 250ml tup of whipping cream and you are there.

Michael Ruhlman’s treatment of this is quite delightful  – a few pokes at some of his bete noires  – but his proportions are quite different.

Compare then, these 4 ingredient lists for creme anglais. Rhulman has 2 in there because what he presents on his blog is not the same as what is presented in Ratio:


Gordon Ramsay  Delia Smith  Michael Ruhlman  (Blog) Michael Ruhlman  in Ratio
250mls whole milk 570ml double cream, single cream or milk 294 grams milk 250g 8 oz milk (1 cup)
250mls double cream 73.5 grams cream 250g 8 oz cream (1 cup)
50g caster sugar 50g golden caster sugar mixed with 1 level dessertspoon of cornflour 73.5 grams sugar 125g 4 oz sugar – @ .5 cup
1 vanilla pod, split 1 dessertspoon pure vanilla extract 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise 1 vanilla bean split or 1 tsp extract
6 large free range egg yolks 6 large egg yolks 59 grams egg yolk 125g 4 oz yolks ( about 7 large yolks)


It would definitely be an interesting project to try all 4 of these at the same time. I also wonder then, if America has more potent vanilla extract than Britain!

Their instructions offer an interesting lesson in procedural writing, and the editorial choices one makes writing up a recipe – How long? What manner of whisking? When do you add what? Here are their instructions  – side by side, with the like parts together. I’m particularly curious in the 2 Ruhlman sources as they are pretty different.


Ramsay Delia Smith Ruhlman’s blog Ruhlman’s book
Put the milk, double cream and 1 tbsp of the sugar into a heavy based saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add them to the pan. Heat until almost simmering. Then take off the heat. Place the cream in a pan over a gentle heat and heat it to just below simmering point, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Bring the milk, cream, and vanilla bean to a simmer in a saucepan, then remove the pan from the heat and let the bean steep for 10 minutes or longer. Meanwhile, set a bowl in ice and put a strainer in the bowl. Combine milk, cream, vanilla bean in a saucepan bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let bean steep 15 minutes.
Remove the bean, scrape out the seeds, and return them to the pot. Put the empty bean pod in your sugar bowl. With a paring knife, scrape seeds from the pod into the milk cream mixture.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until creamy. While the cream is heating, use a balloon whisk to whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour mixture and the vanilla in a medium bowl with a cloth underneath to steady it. In a bowl, whisk together the yolks and sugar thoroughly. Combine sugar and egg yolks and vigorously whisk for 30 seconds. Fill a large bowl of 50-50 ice/water and place a second bowl in the ice bath. Put a fine mesh strainer in the bowl.
Gradually pour the hot creamy milk onto the sugary yolks, whisking as you do so. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Then, whisking the egg mixture all the time with one hand, gradually pour the hot cream into the bowl. When it’s all in, immediately return the whole lot back to the saucepan using a rubber spatula. Bring the milk and cream back to a simmer. Pour about half of it into the yolks, whisking continuously, Over medium heat bring milk cream mix to a simmer then pour it into the yolks stirring continuously.
Stir the mixture over a low heat until the custard thickens enough to thinly coat the back of a spoon. Do not allow the mixture to boil as it will curdle. Now back it goes on to the same gentle heat as you continue whisking until the custard is thick and smooth, which will happen as soon as it reaches simmering point. If you do overheat it and it looks grainy, don’t worry, just transfer it to a jug or bowl and continue to whisk until it becomes smooth again. Then pour it all back into the pan with the remaining milk and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously with a rubber spatula (or flat-edged wood spoon) until the sauce thickens to nappe consistency (when you lift the spatula out, you can draw a finger through the sauce). Pour this mixture back into the pan and continue stirring over medium heat until mix is slightly thick. It should pour, but running a knife through it leaves a line
Remove from the heat and strain the custard again through a fine sieve into a cold bowl (unless you are serving it hot right away). Leave to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. Pour the custard into a jug or bowl, cover the surface with clingfilm and leave to cool. Pour it through the strainer into the bowl set in ice, and stir with the spatula until the sauce has cooled. pour sauce through the strainer into the bowl set in the ice bath, stir with spatula till cold. Refrigerate until ready for use.


The outlier recipes here appear to be Delia Smith’s (the cornflour, not pouring it at the end into an ice cold bowl) and the Ruhlman blog (the sugar, egg and cream quantity). I’m thinking that a combination of the Ramsay and Ruhlman Ratio will be my pick in the future.


We also made a fruitcake. R is a stickler for following recipes, right down to getting the presentation perfect, including the platform serving platter. His recipe came from a little book called BBc Goodfood 101 – Treats.  There are some ingredients that are rare to find in Canada, and honestly they can be substituted. It was a quite wonderful fruitcake. I could really appreciate the difference between it and plum pudding.

Stem ginger is the little root shoots that grow on gignger root removed and soaked in a very weet syrup. I find that as ginger its not particularly potent, and so I would use fresh grated ginger instead. I would also use small bits of dehydrated ginger as well.

Crystallized ginger refers to ginger cubes that have been partially dehydrated and coated in sugar. These are commonly available in Canada.

You could also peel and thin slice approximately 200g of fresh ginger and marinate it with 4g salt and 40g sugar overnight. This will produce a strong ginger syrup. You can then also cut the ginger root fine and use it in the recipe.

Mix together

100g each of sultanas, currants, raisins

225g each of prunes and figs, roughly chopped.

200g crystallized ginger, roughly chopped

100g stem ginger (in a jar with syrup)

2 tbs of stem ginger

4 tbs cointreau

1 tsp each of ground ginger and “spice mix” (equal parts allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon)

zest of 2 lemons

Heat oven to 285

The WET: Whisk together until light:

150 ml olive oil

175g light brown sugar

4 extra  large eggs

The DRY: Mix together

225g flour

1 tsp baking powder

Sift the flour/baking powder into the oil/sugar/egg mix

tip in and mix the dried fruit mix

Oil a 10″ springform pan & spread the batter into the pan. Bake for 2.5 hrs


Prepare the topping:

In a pan on low heat, combine

4 tbsp apricot jam

1 tbsp cointreau to make a syrup

when pan comes out, place on a serving platter, decorate it with dried or fresh  fruit and brush on the jam/cointreau syrup.


And lest we not forget shortbreads…..

I’ve tried a few different recipes, but the one my dad used to make is what I like to go with. He would have gotten his recipe from his mother, who in turn would have gotten it from Mrs. Lowrie’s Reliable Cooking – that 1906 historical gem that was Scotland’s home economics cookbook over 100 years ago. Its a very simple recipe: you cream sugar and butter, add in the flour, and pack down into a baking dish. A key ingredient is rice flour, which Ruhlman explains in his treatment of shortbread in Twenty, serves to limit  glutenizing of the flour. I didn’t have rice flour while we were there, so I substituted chickpea flour. It was not the same, but it made at least acceptable shortbread.

Here is my adaptation of the old recipe with gram weights:


180g flour

60g rice flour

125g butter

65g sugar


Oven to 350

Cream butter and sugar together

Mix in dry ingredients

Press parchment paper into a 9×9 baking dish, press shortbread dough into the pan – compact it as much as possible, use flat surfaces to press it down. Poke holes with a fork all over and then cut it to the desired size.

This quantity works for a 9×9 pan. The thickness is important. It should not be less than 1.5-2cm (1/2-3/4”) thick.

Bake 30-45 minutes. It should be a little brown on top. As soon as you begin to smell it its probably ready.

Allow to thoroughly cool.

But that is not all! There was yet two more yummy shortbread recipes on offer:

Brown Sugar Pecan Shortbread

2 cups flour

pinch salt

1 cup pecan pieces (ground to powder)

Mix all together

1 cup unsalted butter  (at room temperature)

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

Cream together

Mix first mixture into second mixture.  Gather into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 2-3 hours.  Roll out slightly softened dough 1/4 inch thick between 2 pieces of waxed paper.  Cut into 11/2 – 2 inch shapes.

Bake in 300 degree oven on slightly greased sheets for 10-20 minutes.  (Lightly coloured)

And…. I am still waiting for the Millionaire’s Shortbread recipe. This is an amazing one. A shortbread base, with a sweet caramel crust in the middle and a layer of chocolate on top.




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