At this point, we assume you’ve noticed that the holidays come around every single year without fail. And while that’s often exciting, it can also get monotonous. The same decorations, the same traditions, the same food. Traditions can be great — especially ones you do with your family — but sometimes it’s just as much fun to shake things up, even just a little.
That’s why, with the help of celebrity chef Chuck Hughes, we’ve pulled together some small ways to spice up your holiday dinners (in some cases, literally). Chuck was in town for his Holiday Takeover of Pusateri’s in Toronto and he walked us through some of his favourite non-traditional holiday sides — the perfect way to shake up your meal without sending your oldest, most traditional relatives into cardiac arrest.
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Cornbread Oyster Stuffing
This might sound like we’re getting crazy right out of the gate, but Chuck swears that this is one of the best variations on traditional stuffing he’s ever made.
“Oyster stuffing is traditional on the East Coast, Louisiana, where oysters are plentiful, and they use it to add some saltiness, brininess to [the stuffing],” Chuck said.
“I made a mix of half French loaf and half cornbread muffins kinda crumbled in there. It didn’t work so well in the bird but as a stuffing on the side it was really, really good,” he said. “The cornbread is like sweet and crispy and it kind of soaks up all that flavour.”
Find the recipe here (it’s inside the turducken).
As for if you should be stuffing your bird or cooking your dressing in a pan, Chuck says the answer is BOTH.
“The way it works in my house is there’s never enough stuffing and I think when you put it in the bird, it’s good because it takes all that flavour from the juice but my favourite part is really the crispy edges which you don’t get as much in the bird,” he said.
Charred Brussels Sprouts
Brussels sprouts may be highly controversial at your dinner table, but you can change anyone’s mind about these little green leaf balls with a good helping of spicy maple dressing — hey, the less they look like veggies, the more likely it is your picky father-in-law will eat them, right? In his collab with Pusateri’s, Chuck suggests glazing your Brussels sprouts in a dressing of maple syrup and his own pepper spread (but you can use whatever kind of spice you like, of course) before baking them to get those delicious charred edges.
Mashed Potatoes with Brown Butter
Mashed potatoes are obviously a staple on every holiday table but leave it to a chef to elevate that humble dish to something so much more than just mushed up spuds. We’re sure you already have a secret family recipe, but Chuck’s tip is to simply swap in brown butter for a deeper, nuttier flavour.
“Just kind of let it caramelize so the colour’s going to change and become like an amber, light brown,” Chuck said. “It’ll sweeten up and sometimes the little milk solids will get crispy and crunchy so it’s like sweet nutty butter flavour that’s amazing and just that extra step — the brown butter — is light-years away.”
Mashed … Turnips
If you’re looking for a complete alternative to mashed potatoes — or just to put an additional mashed veg on the table — Chuck suggests mashed turnips either in the potatoes or on their own.
“In Quebec, my mom, when she does the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving and Christmas, she adds turnip and carrots to the mashed potatoes so you have the fluffy mash and the crunchy bits of turnip and carrot and it’s really good,” Chuck shared.
“But just turnip on its own is something we don’t use at all — so like how you would make mashed potatoes but with turnip,” he continued. “It’s a crowd-pleaser and it’s something totally different and it’s got that natural sweetness and it fits right into the Christmas vibe.”
Use your regular mashed potato recipe and substitute turnips or try this garlicy recipe.
Ready for something a little more ambitious? Chuck suggests adding a French tourtiere to your holiday menu. It may be a classic in French-Canadian homes, but meat pastries at Christmas dinner are probably pretty new territory for the rest of the country. Even better than the pie itself, though, is the tomato fruit jam that goes on top.
“Tourtiere – the traditional meat pie – is something I look forward to the most. But even more than that, it’s traditionally served with fruit ketchup,” Chuck said. “So basically, a ketchup that you make with tomatoes, celery, peppers, apples, pears, peaches, any kind of fruit that you have. So It’s kind of a sweet, savoury, kind of chunky – it’s more of a chutney almost. I think that’s like my ultimate favourite.”
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Bonus: Maple Pecan Pie
If you want to shake things up this holiday, why stop at the main course? Dessert is a great place to add in new favourites because no one would dare complain that there’s too much dessert. One dish Chuck would strongly suggest you add to your holiday pie lineup is the maple pecan pie — it’s like a regular pecan pie, but with maple syrup. Mmmm.
He assures us that if the pie turns out “leaky” you made it right.
“Sometimes people make it and they call me and they’re like ‘It’s runny and it’s leaking,'” Chuck said. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s a maple syrup pie. It’s good.’ You could make it non-leaky if you added more starch or if you added more egg yolks but the leakiness is kind of part of it.”