Chicken pie

5 Easy Ways to Make Freezer Foods Gourmet

Growing up, frozen foods were more of an exotic novelty rather than the norm in our household. Nonetheless, when the occasional packaged or boxed item made it on to the table, my mother would never have dreamed of heating and serving it without an added flourish. Canned tomato soup would get extra grindings of black pepper, a dollop of Worcestershire sauce and a poached egg, and even humble packaged ramen noodles were always garnished with roasted pork goodness in the form of char siu (sometimes home made), steamed greens and eggs, and the noodles were cooked separately to avoid added starchiness in the broth.

Now, in my own kitchen, I follow the same principles on those nights when even takeout seems too complicated. Here are five tips to get the best out of your freezer forays to turn those frosty treats into gourmet goodies.

Chicken Pot Pie

1. Think fresh
Add fresh ingredients, whether a sprinkling of garden herbs, some chopped tomatoes or even a squeeze of citrus to take away that freezer aroma from your frozen lasagna or cannelloni. A quick perusal of your crisper and a couple of minutes with a knife will give you a myriad of choices: think hot or sweet peppers, green onions or zucchini for crunch.

2. Texture contrasts
It’s a sad, but true; the freezer can bring out the worst in foods in terms of texture, making things soggy, mushy or, in the worst case, slightly freezer burned. A crunchy topping such as chopped nuts, coconut, bacon or panko crumbs sauteed with garlic and butter can make a huge difference to that creamy casserole or tikka masala chicken. If your entrée of choice is crispy, such as a freezer pizza, think of adding a creamy element before tossing it in the oven, whether it’s fresh mozzarella or even an egg cracked (gently!) on top.

3. Sweet and sour
A little splash of acid can brighten up a frozen stew or hearty pasta main: red wine or sherry vinegar will add a piquant touch. If a marinara or tomato-based sauce is too acidic, a basil purée or even a tiny bit of sugar will help balance it out. For a final flourish, pour on a touch of luxury with a good olive oil or some truffle oil.

4. Get saucy
Lean proteins, such as chicken, turkey, shrimp or fish, or frozen vegetables such as edamame or peas can be eaten by themselves, but why not give them the benefit of a simple sauce? For a go-to favourite, try Laura Calder’s Basic Béchamel Sauce, which can be the foundation for herbs, cheese, Dijon mustard or other flavourings. Or, layer your proteins or vegetables over rice and make your own topping with ponzu or soy sauce, sesame oil, hot sauce, rice wine vinegar or whatever you pull out of your fridge door. For bite-sized morsels such as chicken nuggets, those items can be combined in different proportions or added to mayonnaise to make your own dip creation.

5. Add starch
Need to make a meal? Add pasta, rice or noodles — or why not whip up a batch of biscuits to drop onto your frozen stew or casserole to add some starch? Alternatively, you can combine freezer foods such as frozen pie crust and creamy chicken a la king with fresh chopped vegetables, to make a “homemade” pot pie. For starchy side dishes such as macaroni and cheese or cheese pierogies, make them into an entrée by adding fresh or frozen vegetables and flavour-packed toppings such as fried bacon, shallots or onions.

Inspired to see your freezer in a new light? Try 12 Make-Ahead Meals You Can Freeze, stock your freezer according to our 11 Delicious Ways to Use Freezer-Friendly Foods, and make the most of your space with 20 Life-Changing Freezer Hacks.

Meet the Celebs Competing in the Chopped Canada Kitchen

They can sing, they can dance, they can act — but can they work a kitchen as well as they can work the camera? Four homegrown stars show off their hidden culinary talents on a special episode of Chopped Canada Celebrities. Let’s meet the four celebrities vying for the title of Chopped Canada Champion.

Roz

Roz Weston: Most of us know him as an entertainment reporter for ET Canada, and the co-host of Kiss 92.5’s The Roz and Mocha Show. Roz has covered the biggest entertainment stories on the planet; he’s even crawled inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and stood right smack in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square.

How do you define your cooking style?
I’m not an adventurous cook at all. I don’t like dessert, I don’t like sweets. So I’m nervous about the dessert round because I’ve never made a dessert in my life.

What’s one dish you cook well?
I make really good soups! I could live my life off soups. I don’t enjoy when people in my house are sick, but I kind of do, because I get the opportunity to make soups.

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
If I got a basket of just fruit, I wouldn’t know what to cook with it. I don’t know how to make a pie or a reduction. Any sort of fruit would give me a hard time.

Who’s your biggest competition?
I don’t want to see anybody go, but I would say Steven and I are on the same level. What I find intimidating is he’ll start referencing names of foods and dishes I’ve never even heard of, let alone make.

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for SKETCH. It’s an organization that helps underprivileged  kids by introducing them to the arts. When kids don’t have a lot, the first thing that’s usually cut in schools or at home is any sort of artistic outlet. Sketch helps kids develop an eye for art and lets them shine in a place they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to.

Keisha Chante

Keshia Chanté: A singer, actress and philanthropist, Keshia’s known internationally as a television personality having co-hosted BET’s 106 & Park for two years. Keshia has released three albums and received numerous awards including a JUNO Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year.

How do you define your cooking style?
My attention span is short, so when I’m in the kitchen, my mind wanders off. I try and do as many meals at once. When I cook, I go for classic comfort foods.

What’s one dish you cook well?
A lot of people seem to love the beef stew I make. I get good feedback from that.

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
I really don’t want to see a fish head. I don’t even know where to start. I’m finicky with seeing eyes of fish.

Who’s your biggest competition?
Roz makes me nervous because he cooks a lot. And I know Mary knows how to work a deep fryer, which is intimidating!

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for Free the Children, part of the WE Charity. They’ve made a huge impact on kids’ lives. They put kids in school and give them resources that we [take for granted].

Steven Page

Steven Page: A well-known singer/songwriter, Steven is one of the founding members of The Barenaked Ladies with whom he toured the world and sold millions of albums. On his own, Steven continues his artistic evolution with an array of solo projects.

How do you define your cooking style?
I love to go to the farmers’ markets and buy fresh ingredients to cook with. I like to cook comfort foods but I lighten them up with fresh, healthy ingredients.

What’s one dish you cook well?
I make really good homemade vegan pâté. I don’t eat vegan all the time, but I like the things that are more labour intensive. It’s fun when you try and challenge yourself to create something flavourful that’s not full of fat.

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
Durian. It’s an Asian fruit that smells like a dumpster. But they wouldn’t do that to us, would they?!

Who’s your biggest competition?
Roz is my biggest competition. He’s someone who really knows his way around the kitchen. But that doesn’t always mean it’s a recipe for winning.

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for the The Steven Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. They work with community level organizations in Africa to give grandmothers all the help they need to raise their children.

Mary

Mary Walsh: Creator and star of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, CBC’s wildly popular take on current affairs, Mary is also the recipient of the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the Performing Arts.

What’s one dish you cook well?
I make a great roast. At home I make a roast and three-veg, salt meat and cabbage. It’s quite massive!

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
I don’t want to see chickpeas. They’re not my favourite.

Who’s your biggest competition?
My biggest competition is Keisha. But I’m an old hippie. I want everyone to win and everyone’s charity to get money.

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa. It provides all levels of healthcare for Aboriginal people. They have outreach workers looking to see who needs help round the clock. I admire them greatly.

Turn in to this exciting episode of Chopped Canada Celebrities, airing Saturday, December 17th at 9 E/P.

Festive Maple Eggnog Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée looks like a million bucks, with its smooth, creamy interior and crispy, sugary top, but don’t be intimidated by this posh dessert, it’s actually super simple to prepare.

This holiday variation is infused with pure maple syrup and the familiar flavours of eggnog. Crack into this crunchy-and-custardy delight at your next festive gathering.

Maple-Eggnog-Creme-Brulee1

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes
Serves: 4

Ingredients:
2 cups 35% Cream
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp rum extract or 1 tsp rum
1/4 tsp salt
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup demerara sugar or granulated sugar

Maple-Eggnog-Creme-Brulee2

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Place 4 (4-oz) ramekins in a baking dish.
2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat cream, maple syrup, vanilla, rum and salt until steaming and small bubbles appear around the edges. Add egg yolks to a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in cream mixture to yolks. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher with a pour spout. Divide mixture between ramekins.
3. Add 1/2 an inch of hot water to the base of the baking dish so it surrounds the ramekins.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until mixture wobbles when tapped and is just set. Cool for 30 minutes at room temperature then for 3 hours in the refrigerator.
5. To serve, evenly divide 1/4 cup of sugar between the ramekins. Using a blowtorch or rotating under a medium-high broiler, caramelize sugar. Rest for 5 minutes. Enjoy!

John Catucci on Where You Gotta Eat During the Holidays

You Gotta Eat Here host John Catucci has sampled food across Canada, so when he offers his suggestions for our nation’s best spots to grab a holiday meal, we just have one question: Where?

John is full of recommendations, so put on your stretchy pants and get your Santa bellies ready, Canada, because there’s plenty of homegrown deliciousness to enjoy this holiday season.

Scandilicious (Vancouver, BC)

Mother-daughter team Anita and Kristina offer a menu of traditional Norwegian family recipes at this Vancouver hotspot, including gluten-free options.  John’s favourite is the ‘Applepieffle,’ a liege waffle topped with spiced poached apples and a gingerbread cookie spread. “It took me a while to be able to say ‘applepieffle’ without getting tongue tied,” says John, but it was worth the effort. “Apple pie + waffle = SO GOOD!”

That Little Place by the Lights

That Little Place By The Lights (Huntsville, ON)

Lasagna is a must-try at this cottage country favourite. Chef Annie’s masterpiece features of layers of succulent homemade pasta, laced with her signature Bolognese sauce and stuffed with a cheese and béchamel filling. John says it’s the best lasagna you’ll ever taste.  “Please don’t tell my Zia Felicetta, or she won’t ever make me lasagna again.”

Saturday Dinette (Toronto, ON)

Grab a seat at the counter, enjoy the rocking tunes and tuck into chef Suzanne’s massive soy-braised beef ribs, served with a hearty walnut dip. Then get back out there and finish your shopping! “Suzanne is an incredible chef and an amazing woman,” says John. “When you walk into her place, she makes you feel like you’re part of the family.”

Yellow Belly Brewery

Yellowbelly Brewery (St. John’s, NFLD)

Can’t decide between cheese pizza and chicken Caesar salad? Then just order John’s favourite, the four-cheese and chicken Caesar pizza, and you won’t have to. “I love being able to pick up my salad, in case I need to go somewhere,” says John. “I’m not going anywhere, I’m just saying it’s a nice option.”

The Satay Brothers (Montreal, QC)

Add some Singaporean spice to your season with the street food favourites at this Montreal establishment. John especially loves the pork belly buns, two steamed buns stuffed with braised pork belly, hoisin sauce, fresh cucumber, and cilantro; they’re the perfect combination of soft and crunchy textures and sweet and salty flavours. “If you’ve never had a steamed bun, do it,” says John. “Chewy, soft clouds of deliciousness stuffed with the most succulent pork belly.  Leave one out for Santa.  I’m sure he’s getting tired of all those cookies”

Still hungry? Check out the You Gotta Eat Here! map for more delicious options.

Gingerbread Cabin

The Great Canadian Gingerbread Cabin

Gingerbread houses come in all shapes and sizes, but by adding simple horizontal-striped details, you can make yours into a cozy Canadian cabin.

While this cabin looks impressive, the key to making the cute design is to pipe on the details before assembly. In fact, it’s easier to do the icing details before the cabin comes together, saving you from a wobbly icing job once the cabin is built.

Gingerbread Cabin

Worried about assembly? No need! This gingerbread dough is easy to work with and delivers strong cookies that keep their shape — no crumbling. The royal icing acts as the “glue” that holds it all together and dries super fast and super strong! Plus, we have tons of tips to ensure your cabin is built to last the holiday season.

Don’t forget to get creative! Pipe on details like windows, whimsical roof tiles, and even icicles. The best part? Adding the candy, of course! Grab an assortment of colourful candies and see where your creativity takes you. Try adding brightly coloured gummies to the roofline, use sprinkles to mimic strung-up twinkly lights, and add a green wreath to finish it off.

Gingerbread Cabin

Ingredients:

Gingerbread Cookie Dough:
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter
4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cloves

Royal Icing:
2 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract or lemon juice (optional)

Assembly:
Assorted candy
Shredded coconut
Assorted piping tips
Piping bags

Gingerbread Cabin

Directions:

1. Place the molasses, corn syrup, brown sugar and butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir the mixture together and heat until the butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in 1/2 the flour until the mixture becomes thick and difficult to mix by hand.
3. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix in the remaining ingredients on low speed. Continue to mix for a few minutes to let some of the heat escape then transfer the bowl (and its contents) to the refrigerator for about 10 minutes. At this point, the dough should be smooth and pliable.
4. In the meantime, draw and cut out templates for the different sides, shapes, and roof of your design.

Gingerbread Cabin

5. Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
6. Working in 2 to 3 batches, gather the dough into a ball with your hands then pat down into a flat disk.
7. Roll the cookie dough to 1/4-inch thick, directly onto the piece of parchment or silicone baking mat that you will be baking the cookies on.
8. Very lightly dust the surface with a touch of flour and arrange a portion of your templates on top, leaving about 1-inch between template. Using a sharp paring knife, neatly trim the dough around the templates. Remove the templates and peal away any excess dough in between the pieces. Brush off any excess flour. Carefully move the parchment paper (with the cookies) to a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. Leave to cool on the baking sheet.
9. Continue with the rest of the dough until all of the shapes have been baked.

Gingerbread Cabin

Royal Icing:
1. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl on an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, begin mixing the egg whites on low speed until they begin to foam. Gradually start adding in the powdered sugar while increasing the mixer to medium-low. Once all of the sugar has been incorporated, turn the mixer to medium-high and mix until the icing is glossy and holds stiff peaks, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add in the vanilla or lemon juice, if using, and mix again for another 30 to 60 seconds. Using immediately or cover with plastic wrap.
2. When done, the icing should easily pipe out of a piping bag without too much force, but not be runny.

Gingerbread Cabin

Assembly:
1. Once the cookies have been baked and cooled, fill a piping bag fitted with a piping tip with royal icing. Decorate the larger designs on the cookies before assembling the house.
2. To create the log cabin effect, simply pipe horizontal lines across all of the sides of the house using a round tip. The lines should be about 1-inch apart. Be sure to match up the lines on each side of the house, so that when the house is assembled, the lines will be continuous. Leave spaces for any planned windows or other details.
3. For the roof design, use a small petal tip to pipe swags that mimic tiles.

Gingerbread Cabin

4. Use a small round tip to outline any small details like windows or the paneling on a door.
5. Allow all of the piping to completely dry before assembling.
6. To assemble the house, place a large cake board or serving plate on your work surface (a large cutting board would do, as well). Pipe a 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide rope of icing the length of your longest side. Carefully place the bottom of the cookie in the icing and hold until secure. The first piece is the hardest to place, but you may use the support of a drinking glass to keep it upright while the icing dries a bit, 3 to 5 minutes.
7. Continue around the house adding each side, one at a time. Pipe icing up each corner to help seal in any gaps and provide support between the sides. Allow the 4 sides to set up before adding on the roof.
8. Pipe icing on the tops of each base cookie before adding on the roof. Pipe icing across the very top to glue the 2 roof pieces together. Add more icing “glue” as needed between any of the sides and/or roof pieces. Lastly, glue on any additional pieces like a door or window shutters.
9. Once the house is assembled, decorate with candy as desired! Pipe on icicles to the roofline and add snowdrifts as you see fit.
10. To complete the look, spread any leftover icing on the cake board or serving dish. Scatter with shredded coconut and/or add a candy-lined walkway to the door!

Gingerbread Cabin

Tips for Building a Great Gingerbread House:

– Pipe on all of the details before assembling the house. This way, you can pipe when the sides and roof of the house are flat on your work surface instead piping on the walls while they’re standing.

– Always keep royal icing that’s not being used completely covered. It dries very quickly. Any icing left in the mixing bowl should be covered with plastic wrap pressed directly to the surface of the icing, then covered with a damp cloth or paper towel, but do not let any water touch the icing.

– For better, more precise piping, hover the piping tip slightly above the surface of the cookie. Do not place the tip right on top or there will not be any room for the icing to go.

– For minor fixes, use a clean, damp paintbrush to smooth out or “erase” icing. Use the tip of a toothpick to fix little mistakes, as well.

– If all else fails, add more snow! Hide any piping “mistakes” with some icicles or snow flurries.

– If the cookies puff a bit or edges become uneven during baking, quickly and gently press a ruler or straight edge to flatten out the sides right after the cookies come out of the oven.

Easy, Cheesy Cherry-Pistachio Brie En Croute

Want to be a holiday party hero? Make this recipe that’s quick, easy and delivers huge in the yummy department. Impress your guests with beautifully decorated puff pastry, then shock them when you cut through and soft, gooey cheese oozes out. Finally, send them to heaven with this sweet and salty combination of tart cherry preserves, crunchy pistachios and rich double cream Brie.

cherry-pistachio-brie-en-croute2

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Serves: 8

Ingredients:
1 10-inch x 10-inch sheet puff pastry
1 200 g wheel double cream Brie
1/2 sour cherry preserves (or jam/jelly of your choice)
1/2 cup chopped pistachios (nut of your choice)
1 egg yolk

cherry-pistachio-brie-en-croute

Directions:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Roll out puff pastry on a floured surface. Place Brie in centre of pastry. Place preserves on brie and then place nuts over preserves. Bring the corners of the pastry into the centre of the Brie, then bring the side up to meet the corners. Trim excess pastry from the centre. Form decorative detailing with excess pastry to help seal the pastry. Chill in freezer for 30 minutes.
2. While chilling, preheat oven to 400°F.
3. Mix egg yolk with 1 Tbsp water and brush over pastry. Bake in centre of oven until pastry is golden, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving. Do not bake in advance.

Looking for more tasty hor d’ouvre inspiration? Try our 75 Holiday Party Appetizers Your Guests Will Love.

Giveaway! Win a Copy of Ina Garten’s New Cookbook

In a grand romantic gesture, The Barefoot Contessa cements her love for her husband with a brand new cookbook titled, Cooking for Jeffrey.

Ina’s most personal cookbook yet is filled with the recipes her husband loves the most, as well as charming stories from Ina and Jeffrey’s 48 years together. Some of Jeffrey’s favourite home-cooked meals include oven roasted chicken,  mac and cheese, and, of course, chocolate cake. Flip through any of the 256 pages and you will find plenty of inspiration for your next family meal.

To celebrate Ina’s new culinary endeavour, we’re giving away 10 signed copies of Cooking for Jeffrey.

Giveaway Details:

You could win one of ten (10) signed cookbooks each valued at $45 CDN. If you are a Canadian resident (excl. Québec) and are the age of majority or older, comment below and share your favourite Ina Garten recipe by 12:00 pm on December 1 for a chance to win. Odds of being selected depend on number of eligible entries received. Winners will be randomly selected and notified by email no later than 12:00 pm December 2.

See full rules and regulation here.

5 Ways to Jazz Up Basic Potato Soup

At its simplest, potato soup is pretty humdrum — but the neutral flavour of potatoes means a big basic batch is soup-er easy to jazz-up.

Here’s how you can take a big batch of potato soup and turn it into a 5 tasty dishes. Bonus: potato soup freezes impeccably well, too!

basic-potato-soup

Basic Potato Soup Recipe

Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:
1 tsp canola oil
1 yellow onion (diced)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
6 red potatoes (peeled and 1” cubed)
4 cups water
4 cups vegetable broth
2/3 cup heavy cream (or cashew milk)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Directions:
1. Heat oil in a large pot on medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 6 to 8 minutes.
2. Next, add butter to the pot and continue to cook, stirring regularly until onions begin to turn golden, about 10 minutes.
3. Add diced potatoes, water and broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and let simmer until potatoes are fork tender, about 10 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and let contents of pot cool slightly.
5. Transfer to a blender or use an immersion blender to puree soup until smooth. Stir in the cream and season to taste.

5 Ways to Spice up a Basic Potato Soup:

Loaded Baked Potato
Stir in chopped (cooked) bacon, sliced green onions and shredded cheddar. Once ingredients are warmed through and cheese is melted, pour into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle with more cheese.

Pesto Chicken
Bring soup to a simmer and add 2 Tbsp. of good quality pesto (or make your own), leftover roast chicken meat and some white wine or lemon juice. Stir and let cook for 5 minutes. Top with fresh basil and grated Parmesan.

Bangers and Mash
Thinly slice 2 cooked sausages (head to a local butcher for something top notch), toss into a pan along with 1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce, 2 cups of frozen peas and thinly sliced yellow onion. Let cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Portion soup into bowls, and top with onion, pea and sausage mixture.

Thai Curry Vegetable
Add about 1 Tbsp of red Thai curry paste (less if you can’t handle heat), a few splashes of fish sauce, rice wine vinegar and chopped vegetables (like Chinese broccoli, carrots and cauliflower) to the soup. Once the vegetables are cooked, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve.

Blue Cheese and Pear
This may be for slightly more adventurous palates, but trust me on this one! Crumble your favourite blue cheese into the pot of potato soup along with some diced pear and a 1/4 cup of port. Stir until cheese has incorporated into soup. Ladle into bowls and drizzle with honey before serving.

Thicken cream based soups, like this seafood chowder.

Thicken cream based soups, like this seafood chowder.

Other Ways to Use it:

Thicken any Cream-Based Soup
Traditionally, soups are thickened with a roux — a combination of butter and flour — but since so many people have gluten sensitivities these days, adding a few cups of simple, starchy potato soup will thicken things up in no time.

In Pot Pie Fillings
Similar to above, fillings for most pot pies call for flour to help hold all of the ingredients together. Pour enough potato soup over top of filling ingredients, and stir until evenly coated.

Tips for Hosting a Vegan Holiday Dinner

The holidays are a time to gather, share and soak in each other’s company, often over food and drink. Given the range of food allergies and dietary restrictions, along with a greater interest in vegan cooking, you’re likely to have a plant-based guest sitting at your dinner table this year.

Vegan holiday dishes used to consist of heavily processed foods or peculiar tofu creations, but today, they can stand proudly on their own. With a few store-bought helpers, a feast to feed any number of guests is doable this season, even on a weeknight.

If you’re new to vegan dining, this is a great place to start. Here are 11 tips on how to host a filling vegan dinner party for all, regardless of dietary preference — and still enjoy your own party.

Vegan Stuffing

Vegan Stuffing

Ask in advance about food allergies
There are several reasons why people choose to enjoy vegan cuisine, and allergies may be one of them. Be sure to ask about gluten, soy and nut allergies in advance so no one is left hungry.

Understand vegan eating
Vegans don’t eat any animal products, some also staying away from honey. This means that not only meat, poultry and fish are off the table, but eggs and dairy, too. Keep this in mind when planning your menu, and aim to cook recipes that are naturally vegan or can be easily made vegan (i.e. taking the cheese off the top). Those more experienced with vegan cooking may be able to adapt recipes with animal products, but first-timers should try to keep it simple.

Vegan Scalloped Potatoes

Vegan Scalloped Potatoes

Make veggies the stars
Vegetables are having a moment in both the home cooking and restaurant world, proving they can do more for us than stand on the side. Show-stopping vegetable dishes include stuffed squash, whole roasted and stuffed pumpkins, root vegetable pastas, cauliflower steaks or savoury pies like this seasonal Vegan Sweet Potato and Kale Galette with Pistachio Parmesan.

Make a substantial salad
For a side dish, adding healthy fat and fibre in the form of avocado, sweet potato and chopped seeds into a salad creating a more satisfying side dish. Brighten it up with holiday favourites like pomegranate seeds or dried cranberries.

Roasted Sweet Potato Kale Salad

Roasted Sweet Potato Kale Salad

Hummus is the new cheese plate
Hummus and plant-based dip appetizers served with pita, naan or veggies are the vegan alternative to cheese plates (though you can get really fun — albeit, expensive — vegan cheeses now!). This will keep you and your guests from becoming overly ravenous before dinner. For a unique variation, try this Bright and Beautiful Black Bean Beet Hummus.

Think outside the holidays
Don’t feel chained to the idea of traditional “holiday” food when it comes to your dinner party. Have fun with a theme or choose a cuisine that’s naturally more vegan-friendly, like Mexican, Indian or Moroccan. These vegan Cauliflower Tacos with Mango Salsa and Avocado Crema will warm up even the chilliest of winter nights.

Keep guests full with plant-based protein
It’s easy to be excited about the vegetables, but protein will make sure everyone at the table leaves satisfied. Vegan proteins include beans and legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Vegan Wild-Rice-Stuffed Butternut Squash

Vegan Wild-Rice-Stuffed Butternut Squash

One-pot wonders
Vegan cuisine, based around an abundance of beans and legumes, lends itself well to hearty stews. A big pot of vegetable chili, chickpea tagine or mushroom braise creates a comfortable, family-style atmosphere at the table in a way that plated dishes have a hard time doing.

Consider wine and beer
Some wines and beers are not vegan, so be sure to do a little research before you head out to pick them up. While some diners aren’t as strict about their wine and beer consumption, some guests may be.

Befriend store-bought helpers
You absolutely don’t have to make everything from scratch, vegan holiday dinner or otherwise. Utilize store-bought vegan helpers like coconut milk ice cream, almond milk and vegan cheese, so you can focus on the most important thing: family, friends and, of course, your party!

Deep-Dish Vegan Apple Pie

Deep-Dish Vegan Apple Pie

Fruit desserts are always in-season
Baked or poached fruit, like apples or pears, served with the aforementioned coconut milk ice cream, makes for a winner of a plant-based dessert. Your home will be filled with the cozy aromas of the holidays, and your guests will feel totally taken care of. For those who love to experiment in the kitchen, a vegan cake, like this Vegan Apple Spice Cake, is the grand finale your holiday dinner needs.

If you’re starting to plan your fully vegan holiday dinner, look no further than these crowd-pleasing, delicious recipes:

1. Vegan Gravy
2. Vegan Stuffing
3. Vegan Scalloped Potatoes
4. Roasted Sweet Potato Kale Salad
5. Vegan Wild-Rice-Stuffed Butternut Squash
6. Deep-Dish Vegan Apple Pie

Pie Thumbprint Cookies

Easy-as-Pie Thumbprint Cookies

The holidays are full of indulgence, celebration and endless choices. Eggnog or hot chocolate? Shortbread or gingerbread? Pumpkin or pecan? For those of us who just can’t decide, or just need to try them all, these delightful little cookies are for you. A simple thumbprint cookie is all you need to make these tasty treats that pack all the flavours of your favourite holiday pies.

This way, you can sample all the best seasonal tastes in just a few bites, leaving you lots of room for more delicious sweets. This easy recipe will help you make a batch of decadent lemon, pecan and cranberry pie cookies, but feel free to get creative with more pie-fect fillings like banana cream or apple!

Pie Cookies

Pie Thumbprint Cookies

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Serves: About 35 cookies

Ingredients:
Thumbprint cookies:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Pie Cookies

Directions:
1. In bowl of stand mixer, beat butter, icing sugar, brown sugar and almond extract until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With mixer on medium-low, beat in flour and salt until just combined.
2. Scoop out 1 Tbsp at a time and roll into balls. Arrange about 1-inch apart on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Using the tip of your thumb, create deep well into centre of each ball of dough, pinching any cracks that form around the well. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
3. Bake in 350ºF oven until light golden on the bottom and no longer shiny, about 12 minutes. If necessary re-shape well with the back of a wooden spoon. Remove to cooling rack; let cool completely.

Lemon Cream Filling

Ingredients:
1/4 cup lemon curd
1/4 cup whipping cream (35%), whipped

Directions:
1. Spoon lemon curd into the centre of the thumbprint cookies.
2. Using piping bag fitted with small star-tipped shape, pipe a small amount of whipped cream on top of lemon curd.

Pecan Pie Filling

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup pecan halves, chopped
2 Tbsp liquid honey

Directions:
1.In small nonstick skillet over medium heat, combine brown sugar and butter, stirring until butter has melted. Stir in pecans, stirring until coated. Stir in honey. Cook, stirring, until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Let cool slightly.
2. Spoon pecan filling into the centre of the thumbprint cookies.

Thumbprint-Cookies-pies

Cranberry Pie Filling

Ingredients:
1 cup frozen cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 rosemary sprig, and extra to garnish

Directions:
1. In small saucepan, bring cranberries, sugar, water and rosemary sprig to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries have popped and mixture is chunky, about 10 minutes. Discard rosemary sprig. Let cool.
2. Spoon cranberry filling into the centre of the thumbprint cookies. Garnish with rosemary.

The Ultimate Vegan Cooking Cheat Sheet

When it comes to the holiday season, you want everyone to feel like they’re in on the fun; asking grandma to boogie down to a festive tune, putting reindeer antlers on your dog and, most importantly, making sure all of your friends and family enjoy delicious food and drink.

“We vegans appreciate any dish that you have taken the time to make for us, it is better than not getting invited to the holiday party at all,” jokes Halifax chef Lauren Marshall. “I love going to a friend’s house over the holidays and being able to eat all the vegetable side dishes and smothering them all with mushroom gravy. Hold the turkey!”

lauren-marshall-kitchen

As the only vegan chef to compete on the hit series, Top Chef Canada, it goes without saying Marshall has got some serious chops when it comes to cooking for special diets. Here, the Halifax chef shares some fantastic tips and pantry staples to help you confidently cook some indulgent vegan dishes everyone can enjoy this holiday season.

Don’t be intimidated when cooking for vegan guests:
Remember that we’re just happy if you include us in on your dinner party — nobody likes to feel left out. If there are a few options you’ve taken the time to cook for us, we will feel satisfied!

Know which vegan milk to use:
Every dairy milk substitute has its place depending on the recipe. I believe that a homemade nut or seed milk always tastes better, and only takes seconds to make.

Coconut milk: Great for Indian curries instead of regular cream and also a great substitute in buttercream icing recipes.
Soy milk: Fantastic as a replacement for cream-based sauces as the flavour is quite mild.
Nut milk (almond, cashew, etc.): Ideal for morning cereals or smoothies, as the flavours pair well with the strong taste of granola or greens.

Shopping for quality tofu at the grocery store:
Find a product that is 100 per cent GMO free and organic. Also, see if you can find a local product. On the East Coast, you can find a locally made tofu by Acadiana Soy Products that’s organic and GMO free.

Serving a group with several dietary restrictions:
Only a few of my close friends are vegan, so it’s natural that I end up cooking for a mix of diets. In these cases, I love to serve tacos. I set up a table and create a buffet with fresh salsa, slow cooked chipotle beans, roasted portobello mushrooms, guacamole, smoked tempeh, cilantro cashew cream and shaved lettuce. Ask your meat-eating friends to bring sides like pulled pork or roast chicken and shredded cheese, and then everybody is happy!

vegan-gravy
Lauren Marshall’s Vegan Gravy

The ultimate vegan comfort food:
It’s so easy to make vegan mac and cheese. For a delicious “cheese” sauce, just roast some butternut squash, garlic and onions, and blend with nut milk, cashews and nutritional yeast until creamy. Season with salt and pepper, then mix the sauce with cooked pasta. Even meat eaters will be impressed!

How to veganize holiday classics:
During the holidays, just replace regular butter for coconut oil and a bit of nutritional yeast in your roasted vegetables, or try making a vegetable-based gravy with cashews instead of using the standard turkey drippings.

How to veganize holiday baking:
These days, with the influx of vegan egg and butter substitutes available at grocery stores, it’s easy to convert everyday recipes to vegan ones. Instead of regular pie crust, pulse dates and ground almonds in a food processor, and slowly add coconut oil until it all comes together. It only takes minutes and bakes off well.

Great ingredients for easy vegan cooking:

Ground flax and good quality vinegar: This makes a great substitution for eggs when baking.
Agar agar: This is a vegan thickener, comparable to gelatin. It can work to firm up jams and other preserves. It also works for custards and curds.
Nutritional yeast: This has a really cheesy flavour, so try it anywhere you’d normally have shaved Parmesan and it’s especially great when tossed with freshly made popcorn instead of butter.
Tempeh (fermented soybean cakes): I always have some in my freezer, It’s my mainstay “meat” substitute because of its hearty texture.
Nuts/seeds, grains and legumes: Pumpkin seeds are great to throw into a smoothie in the morning. I love buckwheat for a protein boost, especially in baking bread or biscuits and I love lentils. Making a traditional Indian dahl with lentils is really easy and very filling.

laurenmarshall-blueberry-grunt
Lauren Marshall’s Lavender Blueberry Grunt

Lavender Blueberry Grunt Recipe

Total Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp for pan
3/4 cup maple syrup
5 cups frozen wild blueberries
3 cups large flaked dried unsweetened coconut
1 1/4 cup whole spelt flour, divided
1 Tbsp lavender
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup almond meal
2 Tbsp ground flax seeds, preferable golden flax
1/4 cup water
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1/4 tsp sea salt

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Spread 1 Tbsp olive oil over the bottom of the cast iron pan.
3. Arrange blueberries on the bottom of the pan. Set aside.
4. Add coconut to food processor and add a handful of the spelt flour. Blend until coarsely ground and set aside. Sift remaining spelt flour, baking powder, baking soda and lavender into a medium bowl. Add almond meal and ground coconut, stir to combine and set aside.
5. In another bowl, whisk together flax seeds and water. Add maple syrup, oil, vanilla, vinegar and salt, and whisk again. Pour into dry mixture and stir until just combined.
6. Scoop out round biscuit-like shapes onto the frozen blueberries. Place on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Looking for more delicious ideas? 25 Vegan Desserts Even Non-Vegans Will Love.

Pecan-Butter-Tarts

The Sticky-Sweet History of the Butter Tart

How do you like your butter tart — firm or runny? With raisins or bacon bits? Made with butter or shortening?

There are a gazillion and one ways to make (and eat!) a butter tart, but only one truly great place to enjoy them: in Canada, the birthplace of this sweet, satisfying treat.

“The butter tart is 100 percent Canadian,” says Food Network Star Anna Olson. “It’s an individual tart, as opposed to a full-sized pie.”

Pecan-Butter-Tarts

In case you’ve been in hibernation, a butter tart is a flaky, round pastry shell filled with a gooey buttery filling that’s semi-solid, with a crunchy top. Taste testing is almost a patriotic duty, offering a delicious way to sink your teeth into Canadian history.

Like many legendary dishes, the butter tart’s origins are fuzzy. It’s believed that filles à marier (“marriageable girls”) created a crude version in the 1600s. These newly arrived Québécois brides filled their French tarts with New World ingredients: maple sugar, freshly churned butter, and dried fruit such as raisins.

“The idea of mixing a syrup with eggs and dried fruit to form a dessert is an old one, and was likely born out of necessity to make do with ingredients on hand,” says Dr. Lenore Newman, Food Security and Environment Director at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Others believe the butter tart has roots in pecan pie, brought to Canada by Americans, or possibly is related to Québec’s sugar pie or even Scottish border tarts. And some experts credit pioneer cooks for creating the beloved version known today, tracing the earliest printed recipes back to the 1900s. Ultimately, no one knows for sure, but the tart’s origins are likely a combination of all of the above.

“It just slowly evolved and appeared,” says Anna. “It looks like a lot of other tarts: like the French [Canadian] tarte au sucre, or a treacle tart [a traditional British dessert].”

Four hundred years later, the butter tart has become the quintessential Canadian sweet treat. It was all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s one of the few authentically Canadian recipes that exists on paper.

“The butter tart’s success in Canada is likely linked to our general love of sweet desserts,” says Dr. Newman. “However I do feel that the butter tart is being influenced ever so slightly by Canada’s cuisine with its dedication to local foods. British and French settlers loved sugar, but butter tarts also fit a model of early Canadian foods that needed to pack a really high calorie load into each bite. We worked outside in the cold and needed to eat a lot more than we do now.”

Butter Tart Cheesecake

Today, the craze continues. There are even butter tart trails that dessert lovers can follow, with Ontario’s Kawarthas Northumberland Region and Wellington County offering maps and self-guided itineraries to explore local bakeries and cafes. What’s even more incredible is the butter tart has become an international superstar.

“No matter where I am travelling, I’m always asked to demonstrate a butter tart,” says Chef Anna. “I have demonstrated butter tarts in Argentina, Moscow, Dubai, all over Southeast Asia. I just hosted a chef from the Philippines and the one thing on his checklist was trying a butter tart. Because the world knows the butter tart as ubiquitously Canadian.”

What makes an “authentic” Canadian butter tart? It’s a hotly debated topic within the baking community, especially when it comes to three aspects: should the tart’s filling be runny or firm? Should it contain raisins? And how far can you stray from the original recipe? According to Chef Anna, there’s no clear answers: it really depends on the baker, and the proof is, well, in the pastry.

“The butter tart has as many recipes as there are people who make them,” says Chef Anna. “But whether it’s a filling made with maple syrup or corn syrup is very particular to the [baker]. Some swear by lard pastry, others by butter. To call it a butter tart, you can’t change the shape or syrupy filling.”

Nonetheless, bakers and pastry chefs are making endless and ever-evolving variations on this favourite Canuck dessert. Some stuff the flaky pastry cup with toasted pecans instead of raisins, or even chocolate or bacon fillings.

The bacon butter tart has become a staple — it’s that salty crunch in the bottom,” says Anna. “I’m seeing more with chocolate melted into the syrupy filling. You could even put in marshmallows and chocolate chips for an s’mores butter tart!”

In recent years, some maverick chefs and bakers are even masterminding butter tart-flavoured foods, such as ice creams, cookies, cobblers, and Butter Tart Cheesecake.

“While you may not change the butter tart, you can integrate those flavours and textures elsewhere,” says Chef Anna. “For my new cookbook, I want to do a butter tart swirl cheesecake that has that the same pastry crunch, butteriness, and drifty caramel swirl.”

It’s worth taking a tantalizing tart trip across Canada to try all the variations and recipes, with Chef Anna naming Niagara’s 13th Street Winery and The Pie Plate Bakery & Café as being among the best. If you’re feeling adventurous at home, try mastering Chef Anna’s Pecan Butter Tarts or her swoon-worthy Butter Tart Coffee Cake. For holiday entertaining, you could even build a butter tart buffet that will entice guests to the table.

Despite her playful renditions, there’s one thing that Chef Anna is old-fashioned about when it comes to making a classic Canadian butter tart. “Can you make a low fat butter tart? No way!” she says. “But you could make them miniature sized.”

Giant Coconut-Raspberry Thumbprint Cookie Cake

Thumbprint cookies are an easy, classic treat, but imagine what they would look like if you had the thumb of a giant.

We’ve created a recipe that turns your classic cookie into a moist, succulent cake filled with a giant thumbprint of raspberry jam. The cake comes together in a snap, and has a tropical taste thanks to the addition of creamy coconut milk and flakes. Serve this show-stopper with a cup of tea for an impressive dish your guests will adore.

Thumbprint-cake

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hr 10 minutes
Serves: 8 slices

Ingredients:
1 432 g box of white cake mix
1 cup desiccated unsweetened coconut
3 eggs
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cup coconut milk
1 cup raspberry jam

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease a Bundt pan and 1 cell of a muffin tray.
2. Mix cake mix with desiccated coconut in a bowl, and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs with oil and coconut milk. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture and mix by hand until just combined.
4. Fill 2/3 of prepared muffin cell with batter. Pour remainder of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan.
5. Bake muffin for 15 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Bake Bundt cake until golden, about 35 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.
6. Flip Bundt cake onto a flat surface. Remove muffin from tray. Trim the top of the muffin so both the bottom and top are flat.
7. Place muffin into the hole of the Bundt cake so it is flush to the bottom surface and the sides of the cake. This will prevent the jam from falling through the hole.
8. Pour raspberry jam into the hole of the Bundt cake and serve.

Looking for more tasty cakes? Try our 18 Beautiful Bundt Cake Recipes.

Need-to-Know Tips for Freezing Cookies and Bars

During the holiday season, that overworked oven has a lot to do, like churning out batch-after-batch of Christmas cookies. Instead of freezing dough and stressing on the big day, get the hard work out of the way now and enjoy the baked fruits of your labour all season long. Follow these simple steps for bars and cookies and you’ll never get (freezer) burned again.

Get ready for the holidays by baking and freezing cookies and bars ahead of time.

Get ready for the holidays by baking and freezing cookies and bars ahead of time.
Anna Olson

Choose wisely
To set yourself up for success, it’s best to stick to sturdy cookies and bars — no architectural spun sugar flights of fancy here. A big batch of classic chocolate chip, shortbread or even gluten-free cookies will keep you stocked for future cookie exchanges. Bars, on the other hand, are generally pretty low maintenance to begin with, and often feature a solid shortbread crust, so you’ve got more options to let your imagination run wild.

Contain your excitement
Whether using a serviceable plastic container or a sparkly snowflake cookie tin, the key to storing cookies and bars is keeping them air tight. Even a plain resealable freezer bag (or two, to double-bag) is fine, as long as you get the air out first — oxygen is your enemy when trying to avoid freezer burn or staleness. Fill containers to the top, and use a straw to suck out the air from bagged cookies to avoid crushing your creations.

Give yourself space
On bake day, make sure you have enough room on your counters or tables to cool your baked goods properly — before the first batch even hits the oven. Ensuring cookies and bars are sufficiently cool avoids taxing your freezer, and prevents soggy, broken pieces.

Flat out
If your freezer is packed, a little shuffling before bake day to give yourself a nice, flat surface for freeze your cookies will make your life much easier. If you’re using freezer bags or soft-sided containers, don’t just toss your creations carelessly into the freezer. Try chilling the cookies or bars first on a baking sheet in the freezer, then transfer them to their final packaging.

Vanilla Bean Spritz Shortbread

Pretty portions
Think about how you’ll be bestowing your baked goods on friends and family, and portion accordingly. Have a friend who can’t stand pecans but is nuts about shortbread? Assemble their package before it goes into the freezer, rather than trying to sort cookies and find a gift tin on the day you see them. Thinking of having guest-ready assortments handy for your open house? A little planning means you’ll have a perfect plate ready to pull out of the freezer when guests arrive.

Line ‘em up
Parchment paper, wax paper or aluminum foil are all good choices to layer in between cookies or bars to prevent them from sticking when storing. Give yourself a two-inch overhang on each side of the container it easier when lifting cookies or bars out.

Thawing out
All the hard work is done — now, all that’s left is the taste test. If you can’t wait to thaw your creations, slip them frozen into a preheated 300°F oven for a few minutes to reheat. Otherwise, you can thaw them out easily: although, depending on the ingredients, cookies and bars may have varying thaw points, a general rule of thumb is six to eight hours, to overnight on the counter, covered lightly. Watch out for cookie thieves, though…you may come down in the morning to an empty plate and an innocent looking, crumb-covered family.

Want to get started on this year’s cookie and bar stockpile? Try our  Top 101 Holiday Cookies and Squares.

Mini Bacon Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup Shooters

Next time you’re hosting a game-day feast or party during the cold-weather months, try serving this creative spin on a comfort-food classic.

Everyone loves a grilled cheese sandwich, but the addition of bacon, mustard and cherry tomatoes are what sets this dish apart from the rest. To really take this already delicious dish up a notch, we’re serving it a with mini tomato soup sipper that’s spiked with a touch of beer. Comfort food at its best!

Mini-Bacon-Grilled-Cheese

Tomato & Beer Soup Shooters

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes: 16 servings

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp butter
1 onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup beer
2 cups strained tomatoes (passata)
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
Pinch granulated sugar
3 Tbsp sour cream or crème fraiche
2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon or chives

Directions:
1. In saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic, stirring often, until soft and starting to turn golden, about 8 minutes. Deglaze with beer. Bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer until beer is almost evaporated, 5 minutes.
3. Add tomatoes and broth. Bring to simmer; cook, stirring, for 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and sugar. (Tip: Let cool slightly. Refrigerate in airtight container for up to 24 hours. Reheat before continuing.)
4. Transfer sour cream into small sandwich baggie. Pour soup into shot glasses or small demi-tasse cups. Snip tiny piece of corner from baggie and squeeze a small drizzle of sour cream over top of soup shooters. Sprinkle with tarragon.

Note: Make sure you choose a not-too-bitter beer, preferably from a local microbrewery, such as a malty ale or Belgian-style wheat beer.

Mini-Bacon-Grilled-Cheese2

Mini Bacon Grilled Cheese

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Makes: 16 sandwiches

Ingredients:
1 baguette, sliced into 32, 1/2-inch thick slices
1/4 cup softened butter
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
11/4 cup shredded old Cheddar cheese (125 g)
8 slices cooked bacon, sliced into 4 pieces each
8 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Spread butter over top of 16 baguette slices. Arrange, butter-side down on parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spread tops with Dijon mustard. Sprinkle cheese over half of the pieces; top each with 1 bacon piece.
3. Spread butter on remaining 16 baguette slices, topping each cheese and bacon-covered piece with an un-topped slice, butter-side up.
4. Bake turning once, until golden and cheese is melted, 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Skewer each sandwich with a tomato half with a toothpick.
6. Serve with Tomato & Beer Soup Shooters.

Get in the Holiday Spirit with Must-See Specials

‘Tis the season to sit cozy up by the fire, sip on some eggnog and enjoy your favourite holiday shows! This winter, Food Network Canada sees the return of festive favourites and the launch of new specials that’ll whet your appetite for the season.

Put on your favourite ugly Christmas sweater and get merry with the return of Cake: Wars: Christmas, premiering Monday, November 14th at 9 E/P. Host Jonathan Bennett, and judges Charles Phoenix and Sherry Yard are back to find the most over-the-top holiday cake display.

A new set of pastry chefs are throwing on their aprons and getting their hands in the dough on a brand new season of Holiday Baking Championship beginning Sunday, November 6th at 9 E/P. Hosted by Bobby Deen, this baking competition is the sweetest way to celebrate this holiday season.

Get ready for the most adorable four-way cook-off ever! Cameron Mathison hosts the new series Clash of the Grandmas, premiering Wednesday, November 16th at 10 E/P. Each week, four grandmothers will battle in a series of holiday-themed challenges. But these ladies aren’t your average grannies; Fiercely competitive with undeniable cooking chops, these ladies use old-school tricks to impress the judges in the kitchen!

Celebrate all things sweet and delicious with a brand new season of Sugar Showdown . Hosted by Josh Elkin,  four holiday episodes kick-off Wednesday, December 7th at 9 E/P. 

For the first time in Chopped Canada history, some of Canada’s most humble grandmothers, bravest firefighters, most-loved celebrities and revered judges battle it out in a special series. The 4-week stunt begins Saturday, November 26th at 9 E/P with judges Susur Lee, Michael Smith, Mark McEwan and Anne Yarymowich competing for charity. The kitchen has never been hotter!

We’ve been waiting patiently all year for this! A brand new season of Top Chef premieres Thursday, December 1st at 10 E/P.  Season 14 finds new and returning chefs in a high-stakes competition set in Charleston, South Carolina. Cooks vs. Cons judge Graham Elliot joins the judges table this season, alongside veterans Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.

For our full show lineup, visit our schedule page.

Vegan Sweet Potato and Sauerkraut Perogies

Perogies are definitely one of those comfort foods every Canadian can get behind. But if you think making homemade perogies is difficult or only something a Polish grandmother should do, think again!

We chose to make them vegan-friendly with our own tasty filling, and we can’t believe how easy it is. Feel free to experiment with other filling combinations, and be sure to make a big batch — you can freeze what’s left over for easy, delicious dinners, anytime!

888_sweet-potato-and-sauerkraut-pierogies

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Makes: 48 perogies

Ingredients:

Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup water
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
1/4 – 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (for rolling out dough)

Filling:
3 1/2 cups sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp vegan butter or margarine
1/2 tsp dill
1/4 tsp sage
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/3 cup sauerkraut

Directions:
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook cubed sweet potato for 10 minutes, or until pieces are cooked through and tender.
2. While sweet potatoes are cooking, make the dough by combining all-purpose flour with sea salt. Add water and sunflower oil, and fold until just combined.
3. Place dough onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until it comes together and is slightly sticky, but not sticking to your hands too much. Lightly flour the ball of dough, then cut in half and wrap each smaller ball of dough in plastic wrap. Refrigerate dough while you prepare the filling.
4. Drain sweet potatoes and mash until very smooth with the filling ingredients, except sauerkraut. Stir in the sauerkraut after mashing and mixing the sweet potato mixture. Refrigerate until ready to fill perogies.
5. If cooking the perogies immediately, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil while you roll, cut and fill the perogies.
6. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball of dough until it is 1/16” thick. Use a 3 1/2”to 4” round cookie cutter and cut out rounds of dough. Place each piece of dough onto a lightly floured baking sheet or tray, and cover with a tea towel while you continue to roll dough and cut out rounds. Do the same with the other ball of dough.
7. Place 1/2 to 3/4 Tbsp of sweet potato filling on one side of each round of dough. Have a small dish of water standing by. Using your finger, dab a little water around the edge of half the circle, fold the other side of dough over the filling, and gently press and slightly pinch the two sides together, sealing the pierogie. Set each pierogie back onto the floured baking sheet or tray without over lapping. If you want to freeze them at this point, make sure they’re lightly floured on the outside to prevent sticking and place them between layers of parchment paper.
8. Boil perogies in small batches for 3 to 4 minutes until they float to the surface. Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and set aside.
9. Right before serving, fry perogies in batches in a pan over medium heat with vegan butter for approximately 2 minutes per side, until golden brown.
10. Serve with vegan sour cream, caramelized onions or fried mushrooms.

See more from hot for food on their YouTube channel.

Make the Cutest Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies

Ugly Christmas sweaters used to be the curse of the holiday season. Yet, the tacky, colourful jumpers have somehow become the hottest holiday fashion statement. Holiday parties are planned around who can wear the most hideous sweater, and it’s always surprising to see who can find the most ironic and hilarious cardigan.

Meet the coolest holiday cookies around, wearing…you guessed it: ugly Christmas sweaters. Sure, you can always make gingerbread men, but we love how cute these iconic Canadian animals look dressed up for the season. You’ll have as much fun designing them as you do wearing them. Bring these to your next ugly sweater party and put everyone in a festive mood.

Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies

Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 3 hours
Makes: 26 cookies

Ingredients:

Cookies
2-2/3 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg

Royal Icing
2 large egg whites
1 tsp lemon juice
3 1/2 cups icing sugar
Red food gel
Green food gel
Sprinkles
Sanding sugar

Ugly Christmas Sweater Cookies

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment
2. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.
3. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add molasses, vanilla and egg and beat until combined.
4. Gradually add in dry ingredients and stir until combined.
5. Divide the dough into 2 portions. Wrap them in plastic and chill in the fridge for 1 hour.
6. Remove 1 dough portion from refrigerator and roll out on a floured surface into a 1/4-inch thick sheet. Dust rolling pin and surface of the dough with flour to avoid sticking.
7. Using desired cookie cutters, cut various shapes out of the dough and place them on prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Repeat with remaining dough portion.
8. Bake cookies until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack and let cool completely before decorating, about 30 min.
9. To make royal icing, whisk egg whites with lemon juice. Gradually add in icing sugar and whisk until smooth. The consistency should be thick enough that when you pull the whisk out of the mixture, the ribbon that runs off stays visible on the surface for a few seconds. You can add more icing sugar to achieve a thicker consistency or conversely, add small amounts of water to thin.
10. Divide the royal icing into 3 separate bowls. Dip the tip of a paring knife into red food gel and add colour to one bowl of icing and stir. Continue to add more gel until desired colour forms. Repeat with green food gel and one of the remaining bowls of royal icing. Leave remaining icing white. Transfer various icing colours to small piping bags. Pipe ugly sweaters onto your cookies using various colours, patterns, sprinkles and sanding sugar. Let dry for minimum 1 hour before serving.

Homemade Hot Sauce

Turn up the Heat with Homemade Hot Sauce

As the weather gets cooler, it’s time to crank up the heat in the kitchen. From the fiery flames of Caribbean pepper sauce to the thick red sauces found across Asia such as gochujang and sriracha, the world is truly your pepper. Here are the best ways to work with chiles, and a simple home-style Mexican hot sauce recipe to make your own sauce to suit your taste.

Finished-dish-LW

Heating Things Up
When it comes to chile peppers, it pays off to pay attention at the grocery store — similar looking peppers may have very different heat levels. A chile’s heat comes from its capsaicin concentration, and is measured on the Scoville scale, ranging from the mildly sweet bell pepper at zero, to over two million units for the searing ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) or the Carolina Reaper. The list of potential peppers around the world is lengthy, but some common peppers available in Canada include green jalapeños (in their smoked form, they become the ubiquitous chipotle), Thai bird peppers (tiny and extremely spicy), thin-skinned serrano chiles or milder green cubanelles. Habaneros and Scotch bonnets look very similar (they resemble rounded mini bell peppers) and, like many peppers, these cousins can increase in heat as they ripen from green to orange, red and yellow.

Chiles this spicy may be too hot to handle.

Chiles this spicy may be too hot to handle.
Leslie Wu

Safety First
When handling very hot chiles, it’s crucial to remember that the seeds, oils and residue can have adverse effects. Rubber gloves (or the thin medical kind sold in drugstores, which may be easier to navigate for those with smaller hands) are a wise precaution — avoid touching your eyes or face and keep your hands off of your phone until those gloves are removed. Remember that those oils can transfer as well, so use caution around children and pets. Work in a well-ventilated area with a range hood, and consider a mask, fan or open windows when roasting or frying chiles, as they may create vapors that can cause a burning sensation in your eyes and throat.

Filled with fear at the idea of a blazing, spicy sauce? Removing the seeds and the ribs (the white interior of the pepper) will go a long way in cutting the heat quotient, but keep a glass of milk or chocolate nearby when tasting this recipe in case your hot sauce is hotter than expected.

We’re going to start with a basic sauce adapted from a recipe from Chuck Hughes, and add flavours and textures as we go.

Home Style Hot Sauce

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total:  45 minutes
Makes: 5 cups

Ingredients:
12 Scotch bonnet peppers (substitute for habaneros or a mix of Scotch bonnet and cayenne peppers)
2 onions, peeled and halved
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup white wine vinegar
Salt
Olive oil
1 orange (optional)
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 to 3 tsp avocado oil (optional)

With this many chiles, this sauce will definitely have a spicy kick.

With this many chiles, this sauce will definitely have a spicy kick.
Leslie Wu

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 °F. Remove seeds and ribs from chiles if desired (if leaving them whole, add a few punctures with a fork in each chile to avoid explosions in your oven). Lay chiles, onions and garlic on baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until vegetables have a nice char. Remove stems from the chiles.

Roast chiles until they get a nice char on them to ensure the best flavour.

Roast chiles until they get a nice char on them to ensure the best flavour.
Leslie Wu

2. Transfer the vegetables into receptacle of food processor, and reduce into a coarse purée with cilantro through intermittent pulses. Can substitute cilantro for another leafy green herb such as parsley or basil for a delicious addition. Add vinegar and season with salt to taste.

As a home style hot sauce, be sure to leave your puree chunky, not smooth.

As a home style hot sauce, be sure to leave your puree chunky, not smooth.
Leslie Wu

3. For those who like the sweeter things in life, a fruity kick can be added to this sauce by stirring in zest and juice of one medium-sized navel orange (or more traditionally, a couple of limes) and 1 tsp sugar to counter the heat. Pouring a dollop (2 to 3 tsp) of avocado oil adds a rich texture and glisten to finished sauce.

4. Pour into sterilized containers for your fridge to add some heat to your everyday life.

This hot sauce will make enough to share with friends and family.

This hot sauce will make enough to share with friends and family.
Leslie Wu

Enjoy the fruits of your labour with chicharrones (pork cracklings), served with homemade tortilla chips, spooned into salsa, enchiladas or queso for some extra heat, used in a marinade for chicken, or even to add a spicy kick as a dip for sliced pineapple.

Looking for more heat? Here’s 10 Canadian Hot Sauces You Need to Try.

Vegan Cashew Cheese

Making Vegan Cheese at Home is Easier Than You Think

You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy vegan cheese, but it helps if you crave a rich, creamy spread that’s easy to make and works in a variety of recipes and applications.

If that sounds delicious, well, it is. Just ask Toronto chef Doug McNish. The classically trained chef turned vegan, and author of Vegan Everyday, says that in addition to great flavour and texture, swapping dairy for nut or seed-based cheese carries significant health benefits, too, as they’ve got lower cholesterol and heart healthy fats.

Once-upon-a-grocery-store, waxy, highly processed iterations were giving vegan cheeses a bad name, but these days chefs are concocting ambitious non-dairy cheeses, aging and fermenting them into fanciful creations like vegan Bries and Camemberts, and even vegan blues. They’re delicious, but McNish doesn’t recommend replicating them at home — unless you have a science degree and a cheese cave. For most of us, a simple, spreadable soft cheese is a great starting point.

McNish’s cashew ricotta (see below) is a classic entry level recipe, made by soaking raw cashews until soft, then blending them with lemon juice, sea salt, red peppers, garlic and cheesy tasting, B12-packed nutritional yeast. The resulting spread tastes great on crackers or toast, and makes a hearty, filling lasagna ingredient.

Cashew Vegan Cheese

Experiment by adding herbs or roasted vegetables, or swapping pumpkin seeds for nuts (just be sure to add a glug of olive oil to make up for the lost fat when substituting seeds). Cashews are the easiest, creamiest nut to work with, but any high-fat, raw nut will do.

Doug McNish’s Herbed Cashew Ricotta Cheese 

Ingredients:
4 cups raw cashews, soaked for 30 minutes and divided
1 cup red pepper, roughly chopped
2 tsp dry dill
1/2 cup lemon juice, divided
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 Tbsp fine sea salt
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1/2 cup water, divided

Directions: 
1. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process red pepper, dill, 1/4 cup lemon juice, garlic, salt, nutritional yeast and 1/4 cup water. Process mixture until smooth with no large pieces remaining. Add 2 cups of soaked cashews, and process again until smooth, stopping the machine as necessary to scrape down the sides of the bowl using a rubber spatula. Remove from the food processor and transfer to a mixing bowl.
2. In a blender, combine remaining cashews, lemon juice and water. Blend until smooth and creamy, stopping the machine as necessary to scrape down the sides. Combine the pureed cashews from the blender with the cashews from the food processor. Using a rubber spatula fold the two together until well combined. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the cashews to chill and slightly firm up. Serve immediately or store refrigerated for up to 7 days.

Tip: To soak the cashews for this recipe, place in a bowl and cover with 8 cups water. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes or overnight. If storing overnight, refrigerate. Drain, discarding soaking water.

Looking for more delicious recipes? Try these 25 Vegan Desserts Even Non-Vegans Will Love.