This morning on CBC Edmonton AM, I spoke with Tara McCarthy about how to alleviate some of the stress when it comes to holiday food and drink: why its better to make homemade cranberry sauce, how to make store-bought eggnog more palatable and why (and how) you should make gravy a few days before the meal.

First of all: the turkey – let that bird rest! Cooking times vary, of course, and you’ll find a zillion webpages devoted to that issue, but letting it rest (for up to 2 hours depending on the size) is important. Resting the bird lets those meat fibres firm up so the juices stay intact. It’s not necessary to tent the bird with foil, in fact, doing that will make the skin soggy. So, take it out of the over, put it on a board that has a juice-groove in it and get on to doing other things.

You won’t need to make the gravy right then and there if you do it the Bon Appetit way—that means making it up to five days beforehand. BA’s recipe gives you the option of making Thanksgiving Stock first, or using low-sodium chicken stock. I followed their method but used a blend of stock (half roasted vegetable stock and half chicken bone broth) that I infused with fresh herbs before going through the rest of the steps and it turned out very well. On the day of the meal, I would also add the pan drippings to this gravy for an extra flavour boost. I might double the recipe, too, to have on hand for other things because you can never have too much gravy, right?

Make Ahead Gravy

Poultry based gravy
Servings 4 cups

Ingredients
  

  • handful fresh rosemary, sage and thyme
  • 1 litre chicken or turkey stock (or half poultry stock, half roasted vegetable stock )
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions
 

  • In a medium saucepan, add fresh herbs to stock and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer for about 15 minutes. (Roasted veg stock is nice because it offers not only a deep colour but some nice flavours, as well). Discard herbs.
  • In another medium sauce pan, melt 6 tbsp butter, add 1/2 cup flour and whisk over medium heat until golden brown and shiny. Be careful to not let it burn!
  • Slowly add stock and keep whisking off and on for about 10 minutes until the desired consistency is reached.
  • Stir in Worcestershire and season with salt and pepper. If the gravy is too thick, add a bit of stock and stir for about 30 seconds. Store in the fridge (for up to five days) until ready to use.
  • Note: start with 1 litre of stock to end up with 900 ml (4 cups) of gravy.

That gravy is going to be awesome for hot turkey sandwiches the day after, especially if you use stuffing bread from Bread and Butter, a new bakery in Riverdale. I used it to make a grilled brie cheese, turkey and cranberry mayo sandwich which was pretty fantastic. And on the topic of stuffing, you don’t need to stuff the bird. It’s totally fine to make stuffing in a separate casserole dish, and when it comes to ingredients, you are only limited by your imagination: stuffing can contain everything from oysters to apricots. My mom’s stuffing recipe contained celery, onions, butter, stock, poultry seasoning, and raisins—but you do you, as they say.

Cranberry sauce: make it from scratch, folks. The store bought jellied stuff which is high in sugar and preservatives, just doesn’t compare. The wonderful bonus is that with this make-from-scratch recipe, you also get a spiced cranberry simple syrup to use in cocktails.

Spiced Cranberry Sauce/ Cranberry Simple Syrup

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 inch knob of fresh ginger
  • 2 star anise
  • strips of orange peel from one orange
  • juice of one orange

Instructions
 

  • In a medium saucepan, add all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Remove pan from heat, take out cinnamon sticks, ginger, orange peel, star anise, and discard.
  • Pour contents into a 4 - 5 cup bowl through a medium strainer and reserve that liquid.
  • Rinse out saucepan, put cooked cranberries in and mash to desired consistency. Store in container until needed.
  • Pour the strained cranberry syrup through a fine mesh sieve to collect syrup in a bowl. (You're doing this to remove the seeds) This should yield about 2 cups of syrup. Store in container in the fridge.

Left: vodka, spiced cranberry & soda—in a double rocks or Collins glass, add 1 oz cranberry simple syrup, 1.5 oz vodka, a squeeze of lime, handful of ice and fill with club soda; toss in the lime wedge. Middle: In a rocks glass, add 1.5 oz bourbon, 1 oz, Punt e Mes (a bittersweet vermouth), ½ oz cranberry simple syrup, ice. Stir and garnish with an orange peel. This is a booze forward bitter cocktail like a Negroni. Right: Spiced cranberry Prosecco — In a flute, add 1 oz of cranberry simple syrup and fill with chilled Prosecco. Super easy.

Last but not least, let’s talk about eggnog. If you want something special and really delicious, order the Clyde Common Eggnog from Biera/Blind Enthusiasm. This ‘nog was first created by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, one of the world’s most influential bartenders of the past 20 years. You can purchase it for $50 (500 ml) if you want to experience an eggnog that will blow your hair back. If you already have store bought eggnog in your fridge, and you want to make it actually palatable, add some whisky, rum or brandy to it along with some homemade chai simple syrup. I used the recipe from Spruce Eats . Simple syrups are game changers in the world of cocktails.

Whiskey Chai Eggnog: 1.5 oz Teeling Irish Whiskey, 1 oz chai simple syrup, 4 oz eggnog

One last tip: store bought eggnog can be used to make French toast, but because it may only contain 1% egg yolk, you still need to add eggs to the mix. So, for 4 people, I’d use 8 slices of bread that’s been dipped in a mixture of 1.5 cups of ‘nog with 4 whisked eggs and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg, or thereabouts, and if you really want to up your French toast game, use challah or brioche, if you can find it.

If you have some holiday food and drink tips, please leave a comment below!