Christmas in November: Tres Carnales and the Olsons, too

After breakfast, we started off our second day at Christmas in November with Edgar Gutierrez and Dani Braun, two of the three men behind Edmonton’s Tres Carnales and Rostizado. They shared their holiday traditions with the crowd, as a means of providing Mexican-inspired Christmas ideas.


Edgar Gutierrez and Dani Braun

Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration observed in Mexico. Preceding Christmas Day, Dani explained that Las Posadas recreates the experience of Mary and Joseph being turned away. After “actors” dressed as the couple are declined at two residences, they are welcomed into a third home. At that final destination, friends, family and neighbours would then gather and enjoy food and libations, which often would include ponche de frutas (traditional Mexican fruit punch) and tamales.

The ponche de frutas was relatively simple to make, with the only complicating factor being the need to source ingredients at a Latin American supermarket (such as Tienda Latina in Edmonton). The dark ruby colour of the punch was extracted from sorrel flowers (better known as hibiscus), which was described as a more versatile ingredient than I expected – Edgar often adds the hydrated petals into marinades, blends them into vinaigrettes, or adds them into quesadilla fillings. The punch was delicious, with a flavour deeper and richer than seemed possible. Mack especially enjoyed his rum-spiked version!

Christmas in November

Ponche de frutas

Consumed more as a snack than a meal, tamales can be sweet (filled with fruit) or savoury (filled with anything from potatoes to chickpeas or meat). Because they do take time to assemble, Dani and Edgar recommended doing so with others to make enough for the freezer – for them, tamales are a family affair!

Some tips:

  • Take time to soak the corn husks to rehydrate them – don’t be tempted to light them on fire!
  • The corn husks can also be used in place of parchment paper for en papiotte dishes to steam fish or pork.
  • If sourcing dried corn husks are difficult, banana leaves are a good substitute.
  • To determine if the dough mixture is ready – drop a tablespoon of dough in water. If it floats, it’s ready!

If the process sounds daunting, not to worry – Rostizado serves them with salsa roja and queso fresco.


Assembling the tamales

For dessert, the flan de queso was introduced as a great make-ahead dessert, intended to be served cold from the fridge. A cream cheese flan, the velvet-smooth custard was topped with a beautiful caramel, sure to wow your guests.

Christmas in November

Flan de queso

Ever the enthusiastic hosts, the hour or so with Dani and Edgar flew by. It was clear they were both passionate about their food, and were so proud to share some of their family traditions with us. It was a fun way to start off my Christmas in November experience!

There was no question I was most looking forward to seeing Chefs Anna & Michael Olson at Christmas in November. Back when the Food Network featured more cooking than competitions, I loved Anna Olson’s shows Sugar and Fresh with Anna Olson. She always made daunting dishes seem straightforward, even when they weren’t so on paper. I was hoping she was as lovely in person as she seems on TV – as it turns out, she was even sweeter (heh, heh).

I didn’t know much about her husband beforehand, but after watching Michael ham it up on stage, it’s obvious he’s the life of the party. That said, the two together would make great television, playing off one another, telling stories and exchanging bad jokes.

Anna & Michael Olson

Anna & Michael Olson

The theme of their session was a winning menu – because, as Anna mused, “Isn’t Christmas about winning and showing up your sister-in-law?” In conjunction with Alberta Pork, they had developed four recipes ideal for entertaining.

The Olson’s mini pork schnitzel sliders could easily fit on the menu of any upscale casual establishment in Edmonton. Designed as an appetizer which holds (crispy, I might add!) in a warm oven, it would be a definite crowd pleaser for adults and kids alike.

Slices of pork tenderloin were pounded, then seasoned, breaded and fried (make sure to salt and pepper the fillets directly instead of using seasoned flour, to ensure each piece is seasoned well). The schnitzels were then topped with a creamy ranch dressing (which could double as a veggie dip) and served on dinner rolls.

Christmas in November

Mini pork schnitzel sliders

The sliders were so good, Mack ended up eating two!

Christmas in November

Amy and Tiffany enjoy their sliders

Next up, the three most practical tips to come from Anna’s classic tourtiere recipe were:

  1. Make it in a springform pan, making it easier to disengage and serve;
  2. Let your butter sit out for half an hour before making the pastry – it will combine better than ice cold butter; and
  3. Following her pie dough recipe, which, instead of factoring it in negatives (e.g., “don’t put too much water”, “don’t over knead”), she has written it in positives (and for those looking for a gluten-free crust recipe, click here).

The tourtiere can be made ahead and reheated, which would certainly make life easier during the busy holiday season. The final product was stunning, and though I didn’t get a chance to taste it, given how approachable the recipe was, I will definitely try my hand at it this Christmas.

Christmas in November

Classic tourtiere

Michael’s recipe for a brie and cranberry stuffed pork loin with maple onion cream was his alternative to a more standard roast. His method of stuffing the pork was also free from twine, and instead involved making a deep cut inside the loin and spooning the cheese and cranberry mixture in the crevice.

We sampled the finished roast and enjoyed the combination of the moist pork and its creamy centre. For smaller family gatherings this would definitely work well in place of a turkey.

Christmas in November

Brie and cranberry stuffed pork loin

Lastly was Anna’s bacon cheddar shortbread, a recipe she developed specifically for Christmas in November (the gluten-free version substitutes a 1/2 cup of tapioca flour and 1 cup of quinoa flour for the all-purpose). I’m not the keenest baker, but given the ease in which the dough came together in the food processor, I will definitely be trying my hand at these – they would make a great hostess gift!

Anna recommended making and rolling dough in advance, saran wrapping them and labeling them with the name and temperature at which they should be baked. Then, when they’re needed (as a gift or cocktail hour treat), you could simply thaw the dough and bake them off – genius!

Christmas in November

Bacon cheddar shortbread

We had a great time learning and laughing with the Olsons. The couple celebrated their tenth anniversary as Christmas in November presenters this year, and I could see why they’re welcomed back again and again – their warmth and knowledge makes them great ambassadors for Canadian food. I hope they will return next year!

Sharon with the Olsons

Doing “the Olson” with Anna and Michael

If the pork appetizers weren’t enough, the festive luncheon certainly did us over. Banquet meals for several hundred guests are not often executed well, but the kitchen did a fantastic job with lunch. I could have easily had a second bowl of the Twin Meadows red kuri squash soup (I loved the roasted pumpkin seeds incorporated for texture).

Christmas in November

Red kuri squash soup

The salt-brined Alberta free range turkey was equally delicious, served with buttermilk mashed potatoes and a dried fruit stuffing.

Christmas in November

Salt-brined Alberta free range turkey

The pumpkin cheesecake was perhaps a little too deconstructed for most at our table, but was beautifully plated.

Christmas in November

Pumpkin cheesecake

As full as we were, an afternoon nap wasn’t an option – we had several more sessions to attend before finishing up the learning portion of the day.

The Gyoza Chronicles: Slow Food Edmonton Potluck

Though I probably should have listened to that little voice in my head, I made a conscious decision to block it out and make something I hadn’t made before for a brunch potluck.

A dish for the annual Slow Food Edmonton potluck had to encompass the values “good, clean and fair”, and while contemplating my options, I remembered Anna Olson’s gyoza (pork dumplings). Sure, it may not have been the most authentic recipe, but it seemed fairly straightforward. Moreover, I had some Irvings Farm Fresh ground pork in the freezer, and a Kuhlmann’s red cabbage in the fridge.

Mack and I sat down to make the dumplings a week ago, when we knew we had time to do so. I also intended to fry a few up at that time to ensure they were worthy of being served to others. The filling was a mixture of ground pork, diced cabbage, garlic, soy sauce and sugar, and I had defrosted a package of Wing’s dumpling wrappers the night before.

Though it took some getting used to, we eventually got used to forming the little half-moon shaped dumplings. Making the pleats look attractive was something else entirely, and as long as the gyoza stayed shut, we were happy. We froze most of them, but steamed up just a few to try– we gave up attempting to make the bottoms crispy, though using a stainless steel instead of a non-stick pan probably had something to do with it. My Mum was probably also right about using green cabbage instead of red – the red cabbage bled colour, and made it difficult to tell if the pork was fully cooked. They also made the exterior of the dumpling vein-y in appearance. In the end, given how few ingredients were contained in the filling, they were actually pretty tasty, and we deemed them acceptable for the potluck.

Gyoza ready for the freezer

We woke up this morning, downed our breakfast, and with coffee standing by, started frying up the gyoza. I am sad to say the first batch did not go swimmingly – we lost several gyoza to the unforgiving stainless steel pan. After switching to the non-stick pan, things went better, and filled up the tray only slightly later than our original plan.

Gyoza, finished!

The ever-gracious Mary Bailey hosted the potluck, and alongside about twenty other Slow Food members, Mack and I helped celebrate local food and an end to a year of Slow Food events (my first!). Unlike some other potlucks I have attended, it was clear that everyone took time to make something they were proud of and eager to share with the group. For example, Anita brought Latvian bacon buns (which Valerie wrote about here), and Valerie herself made sarma (smoky sour cabbage rolls, a dish from her husband’s former Yugoslavia country of origin).

Anita with a plate of her Latvian bacon buns

Though everything was great because of the homemade touch, I did have a few favourites. Kirstin of Spring Creek Ranch Beef made meatballs using (of course) their beef, marinated in a Jam Lady condiment, some garlic, and chilli sauce. Maria made a bread pudding using Tree Stone Bakery brioche that was absolutely divine (I think it was the chocolate that put it over the top) – and I am not usually a fan of bread pudding. I am also happy to report that the gyoza went over really well, whew!

Table bursting with food

Plate of mains

Dessert plate (bread pudding on the left)

There’s just one more Slow Food event taking place before the close of 2009 – in celebration of Terra Madre day on December 10, there will be a screening of The Islanders, a film about the fun that happens when chefs and farmers get together. Food and drinks will be provided, and the $20 per ticket will be going towards sending a local young farmer to Terra Madre, a conference where attendees share traditions and innovative solutions to keep small-scale food production alive and sustainable.

Thanks Mary for hosting a lovely brunch, and here’s to another great Slow Food year in 2010!

The Cooking Chronicles: Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookie recipes never seem to jive with me – I usually have issues with the cookies spreading too much, or not rising enough. As such, I was hoping an Anna Olson recipe for Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies would end up okay. The recipe called for an unusual ingredient not usually seen – cornstarch. Apparently, it is what gives the cookies their chewy consistency. Strange, but it worked!

Very straightforward and quick, the only issue I had was keeping Mack from eating all of the cookie dough.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Definitely give these a try – and see if you can prevent yourself from eating them all straight out of the oven!