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.

Merry, Merry Manulife

It’s holiday party season around here and we can smell it on every floor. Every night, someone’s coming up something fabulous — the other day on 18, the aroma of shortbread was so magical that our security guard did two passes. If that was you and you’re reading this, please (please, please) tweet the recipe to @Explore_44.

Not to be left out, our friends downstairs at Manulife Centre are setting up a little party of their own called 12 Days of Bloor and Better. From December 11th through to the 22nd, the Bloor Street entrance will be transformed into a festive holiday lounge complete with holiday movies, cooking demos, gift ideas and a big comfy space to relax.

More and more of our residents are work-from-home kind of people. If that’s you and you feel the need for a break in the middle of the day, the holiday lounge will be a great place to hit up. First of all, it’s clear on the other side of the mall so you’ll get a bit of exercise in. And, if you time it right, you’ll be fed with holiday snacks and drinks to give you a bit of a boost. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed @Explore_44 for a schedule of events.

If you live at 44 Charles, you already know that you can get just about anywhere without going outside. But you could come down to the holiday lounge in your slippers if you wanted. But make sure they’re fun, funky holiday slippers that put smiles on faces.

How many people can say they have a professional gift wrapper in their building? You can if you live at 44 Charles. Starting December 5th, you can have anything you buy here wrapped perfectly and ready for placing under the tree, the bush or the Festivus pole. And if you have friends coming to visit you, let them know there’s free valet parking starting December 6th.

The perks of living here get better by the day, and the holiday lounge promises to be one of the best. Ho ho hope to see you there!