7 delicious dishes full of holiday wishes

By / Food / December 12th, 2018 / 6
Holiday dishes

While there are many traditional Christmas foods that I love (I’m talking to you, turkey and cranberry sauce), I also like to mix it up a bit in the kitchen with unexpected and surprising food, served before or after Christmas day. Veggie wraps would be a hit at a tree-trimming party. Baked ziti is a nice way to usher in 2019; with pork sausage plus ground pork, it fills the bill for those who eat pork for good luck in the new year. Honey-baked chicken, a slow-cooker pot roast meal and breakfast for dinner are just a few of the dishes you can create this season when you’re relaxing around the tree, opening gifts and sharing comfort and joy with family and friends.

Butternut Squash Risotto

Serves 4

There is a lot of stirring involved with risotto, but it’s worth it. I usually call my sister and chat while I stir, phone in my left hand, wooden spoon in my right. If available, buy already-cubed butternut squash. To make this dish vegetarian, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth and omit the bacon. A chef taught me to stir in a few tablespoons of heavy cream for extra creaminess, but that’s optional.

3 cups peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into cubes
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
2 cups Arborio rice
Salt, to taste
2 tbsp heavy cream, optional
2 tbsp minced parsley
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

In a large saucepan, combine 2 cups squash and 2 ½ cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Let cool slightly about 5 minutes.

Transfer mixture food processor. Process until smooth. Return mixture to saucepan. Stir in broth and bring to a simmer. Keep pan warm over low heat.

Coat a Dutch oven with cooking spray. Heat over medium-high heat. Add rice. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in remaining 1 cup uncooked squash, 2 1/2 cups squash mixture and salt to taste.

Cook 2 minutes or until liquid is nearly absorbed, stirring constantly. Add remaining squash mixture, 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each is absorbed before adding the next. It will take about 20 minutes to incorporate all the squash mixture. Remove from heat and stir in heavy cream. Transfer to serving dish. Top with parsley and bacon.

Match: Pour a Chardonnay.

Eggs Benny

Serves 4 (2 eggs each)

I love serving breakfast for dinner, especially on a cold winter’s night when all is calm, all is bright. Making this dish hones my sauce-making skills, because, believe me, Hollandaise has never come easily to me; I need all the practice I can get. For the record, I poach eggs in an egg-poaching pan but if you don’t have one, follow the recipe below, which is the way most chefs poach them.

4 English muffins, split in half
8 slices peameal bacon
8 poached eggs (recipe follows)
Hollandaise Sauce (recipe follows)

Adjust an oven rack 6 inches from broiler element. Heat broiler.

Arrange English muffins on baking sheet, split side up, and toast under broiler about 2-3 minutes until golden brown. Watch closely.

Set oven to 200˚F and move muffins to middle rack to keep warm.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, cook peameal bacon until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to baking sheet in oven and cover with foil. Keep warm.

Hollandaise Sauce

In a blender, mix 3 large pasteurized egg yolks with 1 tbsp lemon juice until frothy, about 10 seconds. Slowly add 8 tbsp warm melted butter and blend about 1 1/2 minutes or until mixture thickens. Blend in 2 tsp hot water. Slowly blend in an additional 8 tbsp warm melted butter. Blend in additional hot water, 1 tsp at a time or until sauce coats back of spoon. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Keep warm or gently reheat in microwave before serving.

Poach eggs

Fill a 12-inch skillet with water. Add 2 tbsp white vinegar and 1 tsp salt. Bring to boil over high heat. Crack eggs into 8 separate cups. Reduce water to simmer. Gently tip each egg into skillet. Remove skillet from heat, cover and poach eggs 5-7 minutes until whites are set. Gently lift each egg with slotted spoon, and drain thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange peameal bacon on each muffin half. Gently place poached eggs over each piece of bacon. Pour Hollandaise sauce over each egg.

Match: Champagne mixed with orange or cranberry juice is a fabulous accompaniment.

Pasta ziti with bolognese sauce and cheese close-up. horizontal top view, rustic style

Baked Ziti with Tomato Sauce and Béchamel

Serves 8

San Marzano tomatoes are grown in the rich volcanic soil of Pompeii and are my top choice whenever cooking with canned tomatoes. The combo of carrot, onion and celery is called a mirepoix; it’s the aromatic base of many culinary dishes. Although Béchamel has a fancy name, it’s one of the easiest French sauces to make.

Sausage Tomato Sauce

1/4 cup olive oil
450 g sweet Italian sausage meat
1 carrot, peeled and minced
1 onion, peeled and minced
1 rib celery, minced
450 g lean ground beef
225 g ground pork
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 can San Marzano crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sausage meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove sausage and set aside.

Add carrots, onions and celery. Sauté until softened, about 10 minutes. Add beef and pork. Sauté until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and reserved sausage, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour or until sauce is thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

Béchamel Sauce

4 tbsp butter
5 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, over medium-low heat, melt butter. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to bubble, about 2 minutes.

Continue whisking while adding milk in a steady stream. Bring to a simmer and cook, whisking, until sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.


700 g ziti
1 tbsp softened butter
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese

Heat oven to 400˚F. Cook ziti in a large pot of salted water, according to package directions. Drain. Return ziti to cooking pot. Stir in Sausage Tomato Sauce to cover. Set aside.

Spread softened butter in a 4-qt oval baking dish to coat. Add half the ziti mixture. Pour half the Béchamel sauce over the pasta, gently spreading with spatula. Add the remaining ziti mixture and then top with the remaining Béchamel.

Sprinkle mozzarella and Parmigiana-Reggiano over the top. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Match: Excellent with Montepulciano.

Roasted Veggie Wraps with Goat Cheese

This recipe is a starting point for any number of wraps, using whatever veggies you have on hand. Add sliced roasted chicken if desired.

2 large Portobello mushroom caps, sliced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and sliced
1 zucchini, thinly sliced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 large whole-wheat or spinach wraps
1/4 cup goat cheese

Preheat oven to 450˚F.

Cover baking sheet with parchment paper. In a bowl, toss mushroom caps, red pepper and zucchini with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to baking sheet.

Roast in oven, uncovered, 30 minutes or until softened and slightly charred. Meanwhile, mash chickpeas in food processor with lemon juice.

Spread chickpea mixture over each wrap. Top with roasted vegetables and crumbled goat cheese. Fold wrap.

Match: Nice with a Sauvignon Blanc.

chicken in cream sauce in a frying pan

Baked Chicken with Honey Pineapple Sauce

Although I’m not going to spend my Christmas in the tropics, I can create a dish that feels like a warm, breezy day at the beach. It took me a long time — and many overcooked chicken breasts — to understand the only way to cook chicken perfectly is to use an instant-read thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the chicken. When the thermometer reaches 160˚F, the chicken is done. For this recipe, I used an off-the-shelf mild curry powder but you can use the curry powder or paste of your choice.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 can pineapple chunks in juice
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp mild curry powder
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp water

Preheat oven to 450˚F.

Pat chicken dry. Season with salt and pepper. Coat 9 x 13 baking pan with cooking spray. Arrange chicken in pan.

Drain pineapple chunks, reserving 1/2 cup juice. In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat, whisk pineapple juice, honey, vinegar, soy, curry powder and hot sauce. Simmer, whisking occasionally, until mixture thickens, about 7 minutes.

In a small cup, stir together cornstarch and water. Whisk into pineapple juice mixture. Add pineapple chunks. Pour sauce over chicken. Bake until chicken registers 160˚F on instant-read thermometer, about 15 minutes. A Riesling would go well with this dish.

Slow Cooker Beef Roast with Salsa

Serves 4 to 6

The holiday season is busy and nothing makes life easier than a pot roast simmered in a slow cooker. Here, beef takes on a Tex-Mex vibe, all ready to serve when you come home from Christmas carolling. Use mild, medium or hot salsa, depending on your preference. Instead of serving with rice, shred the beef and pile it onto warmed flour tortillas. Serve with guacamole and sour cream.

1.4 kg boneless beef chuck roast
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, sliced
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jar extra chunky salsa (650 ml)
1 can chili-seasoned diced stewed tomatoes (540 ml)

Cover inside of slow cooker with cooking spray.

In a Dutch oven, brown roast in hot olive oil, over medium-high heat, until browned on all sides. Transfer roast to slow cooker.

Add onion and pepper to Dutch oven and sauté, stirring, until just tender. Add garlic. Cook 1 minute longer.

Transfer pepper/onion mixture to slow cooker. Add salsa and tomatoes. Cover.

Cook on low 6 to 8 hours or until instant-read meat thermometer registers 145˚F when inserted into thickest part of roast. Serve with rice.

Match: Mexican beer is a good choice here.


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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