5 simple yet scrumptious recipes for holiday hosts

Hosting your family for the holidays is so much better than having to go somewhere. No fighting traffic. No lugging wrapped gifts. No having to flip a coin to decide who’s going to be the evening’s DD. It’s brilliant.

We’d argue that the best part of hosting is deciding what to make. It’s the one meal everyone will remember, and your opportunity to reset the bar. Fun, but also a lot of pressure. So if you’re stuck for ideas, here’s a five-course meal you can put together or use as inspiration for something better.



Bacon-wrapped stuffing

Spoiler alert: we’re not going with a turkey as our main. But not to have stuffing at a Christmas dinner borders on blasphemous. This easy-to-make popper care of the chefs at Walmart needs just two ingredients and 30 minutes to make — although most of that time is spent filling your house with the sweet smell of bacon as it cooks.



1 box of stuffing mix (find it at Bloorstreet Market)

6 slices bacon, cut in half


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cook the boxed stuffing according to package directions. Let cool for 5 minutes.

3. Use a cookie scoop to create stuffing balls or roll two tablespoons of stuffing into two-inch balls.

4. Wrap with 1/2 slice bacon and secure with a toothpick.

5. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until bacon is crisp and top of stuffing is lightly browned.


Chestnut Soup with Grappa Cream

If our suites had fireplaces, we could all roast our chestnuts the way Bing Crosby intended. But since they don’t, this Fabio Trabocchi creation is an equally delicious way to enjoy the festive season’s official nut. It’s super creamy — so perfect for a cold night — but best served in small cups or bowls, lest it fill you and your guests up before the main.



2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta

2 medium shallots, sliced (1/2 cup)

1/2 cup diced peeled celery root

1/2 pound white mushrooms, sliced

One 14-ounce jar vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts, coarsely chopped

4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth

1/4 cup Cognac

1 fresh bay leaf

1 sage sprig

1 thyme sprig, plus 1 tablespoon thyme leaves, for garnish

3/4 cup half-and-half

Salt and freshly ground white pepper

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons grappa



1. In a large saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the shallots and celery root and cook until the celery root is just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl, leaving the pancetta and fat in the saucepan.

2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to the saucepan along with the mushrooms and all but 2 tablespoons of the chestnuts. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and are slightly softened, 6 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of the chicken stock and the celery root mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add the Cognac and cook until evaporated, 2 minutes.

3. Add the bay leaf, sage and thyme sprigs to the saucepan along with the remaining 3 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons of chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Discard the pancetta, bay leaf, sage and thyme.

4. Working in batches, puree the soup in a blender until creamy and smooth. Return the soup to the saucepan. Stir in the half-and-half, season with salt and white pepper and keep warm.

5. In a large bowl, using a handheld electric mixer, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Beat in the grappa and season with salt and pepper.

6. Ladle the soup into small bowls. Dollop the grappa cream on top, garnish with the thyme leaves and the reserved 2 tablespoons of chestnuts and serve.



Leg of lamb with garlic and rosemary

The name of the game for your main is simple. It’s the centrepiece of your dinner and you don’t want to run the risk of it going awry. It doesn’t get much easier than this holiday mainstay from Epicurious. For your guests, it’s a welcome change from the expected turkey — and it’s tryptophan-free so you can keep going into the wee hours.



1 (7-pound) semi-boneless leg of lamb, aitchbone removed, fat trimmed to 1/4 inch thick and lamb tied

4 garlic cloves

1 tablespoon fine sea salt

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup dry red wine or beef broth



1. Pat lamb dry and score fat by making shallow cuts all over with tip of a small sharp knife.

2. Pound garlic to a paste with sea salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a heavy knife) and stir together with rosemary and pepper. Put lamb in a lightly oiled roasting pan, then rub paste all over lamb. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F.

4. Roast lamb in middle of oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted 2 inches into thickest part of meat (do not touch bone) registers 130°F, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Transfer to a cutting board and let stand 15 to 25 minutes (internal temperature will rise to about 140°F for medium-rare).

5. Add wine to pan and deglaze by boiling over moderately high heat, stirring and scraping up brown bits, 1 minute. Season pan juices with salt and pepper and serve with lamb.



Harissa-Roasted Winter Squash

Hearty and savoury with a bit of zing, this Food Network side goes perfectly with cold weather. You can find the harissa paste downstairs at the Bloorstreet Market, or you can make it yourself with crushed hot red chilies, caraway, cumin, coriander, garlic, salt and spearmint leaves. The pomegranate seeds are optional, but definitely make for a festive touch.



1 acorn squash, cut into wedges

3 Tbsp harissa spice blend

2 Tbsp maple syrup

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 Tbsp goat cheese, crumbled (optional)

pomegranate seeds (optional)



1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk harissa spice blend, oil and maple syrup in a small bowl.

2. Cut the squash in half from top to bottom and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half into 4 equal wedges.

3. In a large bowl, toss squash wedges with harissa mixture to coat. Roast for 10 minutes, toss once and continue to roast until squash is tender, 20-25 minutes.



Apple Cake

Like with the main, simple wins the dessert game. Courtesy of @ld_kitchen.



1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

3 extra-large eggs

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

3 tbsp Tia Maria

3 1/2 cups chopped cooking


1/2 cup chopped walnuts



1. Preheat oven to 325 °F.

2. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform cake pan and set aside.

3. Put oil, brown and granulated sugars in bowl: mix with an electric hand beater for 2–3 seconds.

4. Incorporate eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions.

5. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a separate bowl. Incorporate into egg mixture until well blended.

6. Fold in Tia Maria, apples and walnuts with a spatula. Pour the batter into mold and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a wooden pick stuck into the cake comes out clean.

Naturally spring — Decorating your apartment with plants

You can put the parkas away. You can store the hats and gloves for the season and (hooray!) you can break out the sandals and shorts. Spring is in full bloom, and once you’re finished transforming your closet space for the season, you can turn your attention to your living space. (more…)

Saturday fun with the kids at Bloor & Better

When you think of the Mink Mile on a weekend, “a fun place to bring the kids” is probably the furthest thing from your mind. And given what the area’s known for, who’d blame you?

But in and among the high-end shopping, dining & entertainment in the area, you’ll find a few hidden gems guaranteed to entertain you and the kinder.

Williams-Sonoma – Junior Chef Classes (100 Bloor Street West)

Free and suitable for kids ages 5–13, these 45- to 60-minute classes teach new cooking skills and recipes each week, from mains to desserts to snacks between meals.

The instructors genuinely love cooking and it comes through in the instruction. Your little ones will learn how to use kitchen appliances safely. They’ll have the opportunity to work on their culinary creativity. And they’ll come to appreciate that, despite what the local pizzeria has behind the counter, there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal.

The best part of these classes: they’re seasonally themed. That means you’ll have your very own sous-chefs for summer barbecues and holiday dinners when all-hands-on-deck is a must for pulling it off in style.

To see what’s on the course menu this week, call the store.

Indigo Books, Gifts and ToysStory Time (55 Bloor Street West)

If you have young kids, you know how helpful it can be to have someone else entertain them for a few minutes. That was the idea behind Story Time, and now it’s a Saturday tradition.

At 11 am, the Kids section turns into a stage for 15–30 minutes depending on attendance. The floor staff choose different books every week, and sometimes they even mix it up with special guests and puppet shows. What makes it so special is how committed the “performers” are. They genuinely love to make the kids smile and it’s easy to see.

Indigo runs a host of other children’s activities throughout the year as well. Check their event listings to see what’s happening.

Varsity Theatre (55 Bloor Street West)

Even though we can stream practically anything now, there’s still nothing like the big screen and big sound of the theatre — especially for a kid. There are normally at least a few kid-friendly films on the Varsity lineup at any given time, and there are always kid-friendly concessions at the snack bar.

The ROM (100 Queens Park)

With tons of Saturday events and programs offered year-round for both kids and parents, the ROM is always a great place to spend some family time. Want some you-time instead? Drop them off at the Saturday Morning Club between 9 am and 12 pm, park here at Manulife Centre and treat yourself to a mani-pedi at Haartek Salon or a latte and good read at Indigo.

Pro Parking Tips

Manulife Centre offers two-hour validated parking on any combination of purchases over $25. And the Varsity Theatre will give you four hours for $3.00.

Next time you’re looking to peel your kids away from their own technology on a Saturday (and maybe do a little shopping for yourself), keep the corner of Bloor & Better in mind.