Festive Food with Paula Roy
A lifelong foodie
Since the age of four I’ve loved being in the kitchen and have fond memories of cooking with my mother and grandmother. Our family food traditions are very much rooted in our Nova Scotia heritage, emphasizing wholesome, delicious dishes prepared with fresh ingredients. At Christmastime, in addition to feasting on turkey dinner and tourtière (which I now make in hand pie format), the season always involved stringing popcorn and cranberries to decorate the tree, making old-fashioned pulled molasses taffy, snacking on classic ‘nuts and bolts’ mix and baking hundreds of cookies together. It’s been one of my great pleasures of parenthood to continue some of these traditions with my own family. Through hard work and a little luck, I’ve been fortunate to make recipe development a part-time career and I love the television and magazine work I do. Working in the food business has actually enhanced my love of cooking, which was unexpected.
My festive food strategy: simplicity is key
When it comes to festive food, whatever the occasion, I try to keep things on the simpler side. As much as I love being in the kitchen, I don’t want to miss out on all the fun when we invite family and friends to gather. I tend to make as many items as possible in advance, which leaves me lots of breathing room when I have a crowd to feed. I like looking at familiar flavor combinations and figuring out new ways to present them. Baked brie with cranberry sauce is a long-time favorite; this year I decided to reimagine that dish in a ring or wreath form which makes for a very spectacular presentation. It takes very little time to prepare and can even be assembled hours before baking, which suits my entertaining style to a tee. I also keep fancy crackers and blocks of frozen raw tuna on hand so I can whip up a platter of tuna crudo in just minutes, and there are almost always potato and pancetta puffs in the freezer for quick snacking.
A key element of my holiday food preparations is creating lots of edible (or drinkable) treats to share. I’m a big believer in handmade gifts crafted with love, as I feel there is no better way to show you care about others than by giving of your time and talents. When the producer of my popular cooking show, Paula Roy’s Favourite Foods, approached me about filming some additional episodes this fall, just for the holiday season, I jumped at the chance. I chose to focus on gifts from the kitchen because I think many people are looking for fresh inspiration at this time of year. The nineteen giftable recipes presented cover a range from no-bake sweet treats to stovetop roasted nuts, infused vinegars, unique pickles, seasonal simple syrups and much more; all can be made in a very short amount of time with ingredients that won’t break the bank.
Because my family eats so well on a regular basis, the holidays don’t really feel like a time of extra work or overconsumption to me. I try to vary things so we have some vegetarian meals like my favorite 15 minute creamy orzo pasta, and I always have fish cakes to pull out of the freezer. Raw oysters perched on a bed of freshly-harvested backyard snow are a seasonal treat, and I enjoy steamed lobster, dipping the meat in vinegar and then butter, as a December delight. For desserts, it’s a popular Maritime tradition to serve up an assortment of sweet squares; I also make things like mini sticky toffee pudding cakes and butter tarts that I freeze and can pull out at short notice.
I have a short list of ‘must-make’ holiday cookies and candy (like salted caramel mocha bark) but that doesn’t stop me from experimenting with new ideas each year. I’m extraordinarily fond of the crystallized ginger shortbread I created recently.
Why I share recipes freely
I am often asked why I devote so much time to creating recipes and posting them online. The simple answer is that I believe good food is meant to be shared and the same applies to recipes. I am not only ‘constantly cooking’ – I am constantly learning too and that’s one of the things I love most about playing with food. Whether I’m making a quick weekday meal, creating a dish that will grace the pages of Ottawa At Home magazine, packing ingredients for a live television appearance, or prepping to film my own show in my home kitchen, cooking brings me joy and I hope I help fuel others’ passion for food as well.