Holiday cooking made easy

I simply cannot understand intelligent adults who insist on wearing themselves to a frazzle as they shop, wrap gifts, plunder the grocery stores and send out invitations to people they’d rather not see ever again. Rush. Rush. Rush. This is the great festive season of the year? Humbug. Even at the age of 15, I took it easy. Now that I’m over 50, I won’t change my ways. Relax. This is the fun season of the Julian calendar. Take a deep breath, hold it for 13 seconds and exhale. Don’t shop till you drop. Shop only to pick up a few of the essentials. Follow these easy recipes, put your feet up and let the world roll by. Happy New Year and may you enjoy many more!

Café au Rhum Mont-Royal
The original was topped with whipped cream (35%) but you can achieve excellent results using low-fat topping or vanilla yogurt.* This is served with New Year’s brunch but is a welcome treat on any cold day.

PREPARATION: 4 minutes
FILTERING: 5 minutes
FREEZING: not recommended
PER CUP (250 mL): 68 calories.

  • 8 cups (2 L) fresy-brewed or filtered Columbian coffee
  • 1 cup (250 mL) dark rum
  • 1 cup low-fat topping or vanilla yogurt*
  • 3 tbsp Splenda granular sweetener or sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) cocoa or grated chocolate
  1. Pour coffee into 8 glasses.
  2. Top each glass with a rosette of topping or vanilla yogurt.
  3. Pour 2 tbsp (30 mL) dark rum over each rosette and sprinkle with cocoa or grated chocolate. Yield: 8 servings.

^*To make vanilla yogurt, sweeten no-fat yogurt with Splenda granular sweetener to taste. Add a drop of vanilla extract. Mix well.

Corner Brook BBC Spread
This world favourite comes from Newfoundland and is well worth keeping on hand for unexpected guests during the holidays. Our version is low-cal. Health stores and some supermarkets sell fresh peanut butter. Or make your own with a blender or processor.

PREPARATION: 3 minutes
FREEZING: not recommended
PER PORTION (1 tbsp/15 mL): 90 calories. Good source of potassium. Fair source of calcium.

  • ½ cup (125 mL) fresh, unsalted peanut butter
  • ½ cup (125 mL) freshly-grated carrots
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) low-cal mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) soya bacon bits

1. Combine and stir all ingredients until well blended.

2. Cover and refrigerate. Serve on unsalted crackers or crisp breads. Add a touch more mayonnaise if required. Yield: 1 1/4 cups (300 mL).

You may, if you insist, use two slices of very lean Canadian bacon, broiled until crisp, dried on paper towels, then crumbled. Do this only if your favourite store refuses to stock Canadian soya bacon bits (Canada produces the best soya beans in the world).

Du Nièr Beurre (Jersey Black Butter)
Black butter is a surprisingly delicious spread for bagels, toast or plain crackers. Great, too, with cheese. Many readers asked for this recipe which originated in Jersey Island near France. I’m indebted to Ian and Tina Watson of Lindsay, Ontario. Don’t be put off by the Jersey/Norman French name. You can start this one day and finish the next. Ian’s new book, Adventure Cycling in the Victorian Kawarthas, has just been published by the County of Victoria: 150 pages of fun and cartoons… a must for back roads travellers. Fax: (705) 324-1750; tel.: (705) 324-9411, ext. 233.

PREPARATION: 14 minutes
COOKING: 8 hours
FREEZING: excellent
PER PORTION (1 tbsp/15 mL): 45 calories. Good source of potassium.

  • 2 lb (1 kg) sour apples, peeled or unpeeled
  • 5 lb (2.5 kg) sweet apples, peeled or unpeeled
  • 4 quarts (4 L) apple cider
  • 10 lb (5.5 kg) white sugar or Splenda granular sweetener
  • 4 lemons, unpeeled, scrubbed, seeds removed and coarsely chopped
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) each allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg
  • ½ stick liquorice
  1. In a large stainless steel stock pot, simmer cider until reduced by half.
  2. Add cored and sliced apples, liquorice and lemons.
  3. When mixture begins to simmer, add sour apples.
  4. Cook until thick. Add sugar and cooking again for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. When very thick and dark, add spices. Simmer an extra 15 minutes.
  6. At this point, you can cool the mixture and purée in a food processor until smooth.
  7. Transfer to sterilized jars. Keep refrigerated or freeze. Yield: 6 cups (1.5 L).

Black’s Harbour Sardine Spread
This has to be one of the most tantalizing appetizers ever to come out of New Brunswick, the picture province by the sea.

PREPARATION: 6 minutes
PER SERVING (1 tbsp/15 mL): 32 calories. Excellent source of calcium, potassium and vitamin A.

  • 3½ oz (105 g) New Brunswick sardines in water, drained and mashed with a fork
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 5 tbsp (65 mL) low-cal mayonnaise such as Gloria Swanson’s (p. 185, The Memory Lane Cookbook)
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon-type mustard
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) curry powder
  • 3 egg whites, hard-boiled and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp (5 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • Black pepper, freshly ground
  1. Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  2. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or longer. Serve on wholewheat crackers or toast. Yield: 1 cup (250 g).

Mousse au Caviar Vladimir Mayakovsky
The immortal Russian poet, a true pacifist, never tired of entertaining his legions of friends, admirers and spur-of-the-moment acquaintances. With or without Moskayevskaya vodka, this makes a tasty and not-that-expensive miracle appetizer for any Christmas party.

PREPARATION: 6 minutes + chilling
COOKING: 2 minutes
PER SERVING: 131 calories. Excellent source of calcium, potassium and vitamin A.

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 3 tbsp (40 mL) cold spring water, preferably Manitou
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
  • 2 cups (500 mL) no-fat sour cream
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) black pepper, freshly chopped
  • 1 cup (250 mL) evaporated skim milk, chilled for 12 hours
  • 6 oz (180 g) red caviar*
  • Bowl and egg beaters, chilled for 12 hours


  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Cherry tomatoes, washed and dried
  1. In a saucepan, heat gelatin, lemon juice and water. Do not boil. Stir and remove from heat.
  2. Combine sour cream, green onions, parsley and pepper. Add gelatin mixture and whisk.
  3. Using chilled bowl and beaters, whip milk until fluffy. Fold this along with the caviar into sour cream mixture.
  4. Line a mold with plastic wrap. Spoon in mousse. Cover and refrigerate 3 hours or until set.
  5. Unmold on chilled serving tray. Garnish with parsley and tomatoes. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Labrador Tomato Soup
Serve this before the turkey or main dish. The folks in this cold part of the country depend on canned tomatoes most of the year but when they add a touch of dry gin, watch out! The soup is sublime and low-cal.

PREPARATION: 8 minutes
COOKING: 18 minutes
FREEZING: excellent (minus the milk)
PER PORTION (1 cup/250 mL): 90 calories. Excellent source of vitamin A and potassium. Good source of calcium.

  • 5 fresh or frozen tomatoes, peeled or unpeeled
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups (500 mL) low-salt beef broth or home-made bouillon
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) thyme
  • Black pepper to taste, freshly ground
  • 4 slices lean bacon
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) canola oil
  • 8 oz (250 g) fresh mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) dry gin such as Gilbey’s
  • 1 cup (250 mL) evaporated skim milk


  • fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
  1. In a small skillet, sauté bacon, turning once or twice, until crisp. Rinse under hot running water.
  2. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  3. Pour mixture into a soup pot and add the gin. Simmer, uncovered, for 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in milk just before serving and garnish with fresh parsley. Yield: 4 cups (1 L).

If freezing, omit milk. When ready to serve, defrost in microwave or refrigerator. When hot, add milk as in Step 5.

Ellesmere Island Bruschetta
This beautiful and frozen land south of the North Pole is surrounded by the the refreshing Arctic Ocean. The sun first shines in March and creates a bit of a thaw in May. So how do they grow tomatoes here? They don’t. They import them from Canada’s south and freeze ’em. This refreshing specialty originated in Italy, which only became acquainted with tomatoes after New World natives gave the first Europeans some. If plum tomatoes are unavailable, use whatever ripe ones you can find. And you can grow the basil on your windowsill.

PREPARATION: 5 to 10 minutes
BROILING: 2 minutes
PER SERVING: 110 calories. Excellent source of vitamins A and C and niacin. Good source of protein.

  • 3 ripe plum tomatoes, fresh or frozen, chopped
  • 4 leaves fresh basil
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) fresh parsley, chopped
  • 3 tbsp (40 mL) virgin olive oil
  • Freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 crusty wholewheat rolls (Canadian, French or Italian)
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  1. Combine tomatoes, basil, parsley and 2 tbsp (25 mL) oil. Season with pepper.
  2. Cut rolls in half and grill under broiler until golden. Remove.
  3. Crush garlic in a saucer, using a garlic crusher (99¢ at Wal-Mart) and discard fibre. Add remaining 1 tbsp (15 mL) oil and stir with a pastry brush.
  4. Lightly brush toasted sides with garlic-flavored oil. Top with tomato mixture. Yield: 3 servings.

North Bay Drop Biscuits
When hosting festive dinners, I hate having to do more work than called for. These no-cholesterol biscuits are easier to make than lining up at the grocery store cash register. No kneading, rolling or cutting. They’re moist and tender with a toothsome golden brown crust. Great for afternoon tea with a dollop of sugar-free jam or jelly. Note terrific variations below.

PREPARATION: 6 minutes
BAKING: 10 to 15 minutes (depending on flour)
FREEZING: excellent
PER BISCUIT: 96 calories. Excellent source of calcium, iron, potassium and protein.

  • 1 2/3 cups (400 mL) unbleached soft wholewheat flour
  • 1 heaping tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) salt
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) buttermilk or skim milk
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) canola or olive oil

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the first 3 ingredients.

2. In another bowl, combine milk and oil. Add to the flour mixture. Stir until dry ingredients are just moistened and batter pulls away from sides of the bowl. Batter will be thick.

3. Use two spoons to scrape batter onto a baking sheet.

4. Bake at 475º (240ºC) for 10 to 15 minutes or until bottoms are a deep golden brown. Serve hot. Yield: 12 biscuits.


1. Use to top a casserole, enhanced with additions such as those below.

2. Add any of the following (moist ingredients such as ham or diced hot peppers to wet ingredients and dry ones such as herbs to the dry):

  • Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese: 3/4 cup (175 mL) finely shredded. Reduce salt and bake at 425º (220ºC).
  • Chili peppers: 1/4 cup (50 mL) drained canned diced green chili peppers. For chili cheese biscuits, add to Cheddar or Monterey Jack biscuits.
  • Chives: 1/4 cup (50 mL) freshly snipped
  • Ham or prosciutto: 6 tbsp (75 mL) finely chopped
  • Parmesan cheese: ½ cup (125 mL) grated. Reduce salt and bake at 425º (220ºC).
  • Rosemary: 1 tsp (5 mL) minced fresh, or ½ tsp (2 mL) crumbled dried
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: 6 tbsp (75 mL) finely chopped
  • Watercress: 1 cup (250 mL) chopped leaves

3. Add 2 tbsp (25 mL) oat bran and 2 tbsp (25 mL) raw wheat germ to dry ingredients.

W.O. Mitchell Christmas Turkey
This is as Memory Lanish as you can get and dutifully named after the beloved Canadian novelist who insisted on this traditional native wild rice stuffing at a get-together with yours truly. We had a dozen guests and roasted an 18 pounder (9 kg). Even when cooking for two, I’ve always chosen this size because leftovers can be frozen and taste wonderful for up to three months. An Evening With W.O. Mitchell has just been published by McClelland & Stewart. It’s as delectable as the roast turkey.

PREPARATION: 22 minutes
ROASTING: up to 6 hours
FREEZING: excellent
PER PORTION: 360 calories. Excellent source of calcium, protein and potassium.

  • 18 lb (9 kg) frozen turkey
  • Stuffing of your choice, or see next page
  1. Remove wrapped frozen turkey from freezer and place in middle of refrigerator. If necessary to prevent drippings, ensconse the bird in another leak-proof plastic shopping bag.
  2. Leave for three days and two nights.
  3. Remove from refrigerator. Wipe inside and out with a paper towel.
  4. Reach into centre and remove giblets for stuffing.
  5. Stuff with the wild rice stuffing and sew openings or close with skewers. Tie the wings against the body of the bird.
  6. Cover with heavy brown paper and you won’t have to baste as often. (The paper soaks up the grease and bastes the bird continuously. If you use aluminum foil or the lid of the roasting pan, you end up with stewed turkey.)
  7. Roast at 275ºF (130ºC) for 20 minutes per pound (500 g).
  8. Present turkey on a platter surrounded with cherry tomatoes and sprigs of fresh parsley. Yield: 8 to 12 servings.

Five Nations Stuffing
Wild rice is harvested by Canadian natives and sold in health-food and specialty stores. Price is about $7 per lb (500 g) but a little goes a long way.

PREPARATION: 8 minutes
COOKING: 60 minutes
FREEZING: excellent
PER SERVING (2 tbsp/50 mL): 115 calories. Good source of protein.

  • ½ cup (125 mL) wild rice
  • 4 cups (1 L) pure spring water, preferably Manitou
  • 2 chicken bouillon cubes
  • Turkey giblets
  • 1/4 cup margarine
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • ½ lb (250 g) mushrooms, washed and finely chopped
  • ½ tsp (2 mL) thyme
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground rosemary
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • Black pepper, freshly ground to taste
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) brandy
  1. Rinse the rice several times under cold, running water.
  2. Drain and transfer to a saucepan with water and chicken cubes. Bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, for 60 minutes or until water evaporates.
  3. Meanwhile, sauté onion, mushrooms and turkey liver and gizzard for 5 minutes on low heat, stirring frequently.
  4. Pour on brandy and flame. When flame dies down, remove and discard giblets. Stir in rice and seasonings. Cool and use to stuff turkey. Yield: 8 servings.

Pablo Neruda Chicken
The Spanish touch is welcome anytime but at Christmas, it adds more than a festive note. It adds real flavour without all the calories. Best of all, this recipe is easier and quicker to prepare than a big turkey and is ideal for a gathering of four.

PREPARATION: 16 minutes
COOKING: 40 minutes
FREEZING: excellent
PER SERVING: 475 calories. Excellent source of potassium and protein. Good source of calcium, niacin and vitamin C.

  • 2 chicken breasts, split and skinned
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) canola oil
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup (250 mL) raw brown rice
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) pimiento, diced
  • 1 cup (250 mL) salt-reduced chicken stock
  • 1 cup (250 mL) canned plum tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup (125 mL) cooked green peas
  1. To remove skins easily, immerse chicken in boiling water for 5 minutes. Run under cold water and slip skins off.
  2. Sauté chicken until browned. Add onions and rice. Remove to a casserole dish.
  3. Add all other ingredients except peas. Cover and bake for 40 minutes or until tender at 350º (175º C).
  4. Garnish with peas and serve. Yield: 4 servings.

Boxing Day Turkey Paprikash
Okay, so you’ve outdone yourself with the Christmas Day turkey and received congratulations galore. Then after the turkey cooled, you used the bones to make a gorgeous turkey stock (p. 25, The Memory Lane Cookbook) and wrapped and refrigerated the leftover white and dark meat. Now what do you do for an encore on December 26th? Well, you can make sandwiches, of course, but that’s somewhat expected and ordinary, even if you bake the yeast-risen bread yourself. Why not try your hand at a low-cal, gourmet paprikash – a goulash made with low-fat sour cream? If you’re wondering how a Hungarian-inspired dish made it to Santa’s territory, we remind you that the Klondike Gold Rush was an international affair. So is Christmas. And we’re betting that all six lucky guests beg you for the recipe!

PREPARATION: 16 minutes
COOKING: 50 minutes
FREEZING: excellent
PER SERVING: 286 calories. Cholesterol: 82 mg. Excellent source of calcium and protein. Good source of fiber and iron.

  • 1 tbsp canola oil 15 mL
  • 3 cups diced onion 750 mL
  • ½ cup diced green pepper 125 mL
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 3
  • 4 cups chopped dark and white cooked turkey (2 lb/1 kg) 1000 mL
  • 1½ cups canned plum tomatoes, diced 375 mL
  • ½ cup lean, low-sodium ham, diced 125 mL
  • 2 tbsp unbleached white flour 25 mL
  • 2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika* 10 mL
  • ¼ tsp salt 1 mL
  • ¼ tsp black pepper, freshly ground 1 mL
  • 2 bay leaves 2
  • 10 ½ oz low-salt chicken broth, preferably home-made 300 mL
  • 1 cup egg noodles, uncooked 250 mL
  • ½ cup low-fat sour cream 125 mL
  1. In a Dutch oven, sauté onion and green pepper for 10 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, turkey and ham; sauté 5 minutes.
  3. In a cup, combine flour, paprika, salt and pepper with 3 tbsp (40 mL) of broth. Stir with a spoon to form a thin paste. Add to turkey mixture.
  4. Add bay leaves and remaining broth. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  5. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
  6. Remove bay leaves.
  7. Stir in noodles.
  8. Cook 15 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat.
  10. Stir in sour cream.
  11. Cook over low heat 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Yield: 7 servings of 1 cup/250 mL

Hugh Garner’s Cabbagetown Apple Crisp
His realistic “dirty thirties” novel helps us understand an earlier Hogtown. And young writers should read his autobiographical One Damned Thing After Another before quitting that fairly good job. Writing, like the art of cooking, is not for dilettantes.

PREPARATION: 10 minutes
BAKING: 30-35 minutes
FREEZING: excellent
PER PORTION: 220 calories. Excellent source of calcium, potassium and vitamin C.

  • Canola cookware spray
  • 4 tart apples, unpeeled and sliced
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3 tbsp (40 mL) natural wheat germ
  • 1/3 cup (75 ml) Splenda granula sweetener or sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) soft unbleached wholewheat flour
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) grated orange rind
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) polyunsaturated margarine, softened
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) canola oil
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) chopped nut meats or roasted sunflower seeds
  1. Lightly spray a 1½ quart (1.5 L) casserole.
  2. Place apples in the casserole and drizzle with orange juice.
  3. In a bowl, combine oats, wheat germ, sweetener, flour, cinnamon, cloves and orange rind. Add margarine and oil. Blend to a crumbly consistency, using fingers and/or a fork.
  4. Add the nuts and sprikle over the apple mixture.
  5. Bake at 375ºF (190ºC) for 30 to 35 minutes or until apples are tender. Serve with whipped no-fat topping or plain no-fat yogurt sweetened with Splenda and boosted with a drop of vanilla. Yield: 4 servings.

Front Line Love Cake
Without eggs, butter or milk to go stale, this cake was shipped by the thousands to the soldiers in World War I and World War II. Even in the damp trenches, it kept well and contributed to morale and, alas, homesickness, too. Developed in 1916, the recipe was quickly picked up by newspapers everywhere. We’ve added healthy canola oil.

PREPARATION: 10 minutes
BAKING: 30 minutes
FREEZING: excellent
PER SERVING: 204 calories. Excellent source of calcium, carbohydrates and potassium.

  • Canola cookware spray
  • 1 cup (250 mL) pure spring water, preferably Manitou
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) raisins
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) canola oil
  • 1 tsp (2 mL) cinnamon
  • ½ tsp (1 mL) nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) each allspice and ground cloves
  • 1 3/4 cups (425 mL) wholewheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) baking powder
  • Icing sugar or rosting (recipe below)
  1. Spray and dust lightly with flour an 8-inch (2 L) square pan.
  2. In a saucepan, combine water, sugar, raisins, oil, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. Bring to a boil, stirring. Set aside and cool to lukewarm.
  3. In a bowl, combine flour and baking soda; add to raisin mixture and stir briefly.
  4. Pour into pan and bake at 350ºF (175ºC) for 30 minutes. Cool in pan. Sprinkle with icing sugar or apply frosting. Yield: 12 squares.

Low-Cal Holiday Frosting
Amazing what can be done with common ingredients! You needn’t tell unless they ask.

PREPARATION: 3 minutes
FREEZING: not recommended
PER TBSP (15 mL): 10 calories. Excellent source of calcium, potassium, protein and vitamin A.

  • ½ cup (125 mL) low-fat cottage cheese
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) Splenda granular sweetener or sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.
  2. For decoration, pipe around the rim as well as top of cake.