Simply food



The festive bird

In two weeks it will be Thanksgiving in Canada, and for the third year in a row, I’m going to miss all the fun and festivities, but some outstanding holiday recipes follow if you read on.

The USA, our neighbour to the south celebrates on the fourth Thursday in November. In the UK, where we’re visiting, the Anglican Church of England celebrates Harvest Home, but no feasting occurs.  The trick to my celebration in Yorkshire will be to find a turkey, normally unobtainable in England at this time of year.

The Brits have been giving thanks for successful harvests since pagan times so it was probably a bunch of old Druids who decided the festival should occur near the fall equinox when the harvest moon was full, to light the way. This year that planetary intersection was on Sunday, September 21.

In North America, Thanksgiving has become almost entirely a secular holiday and an excuse to stuff ourselves with traditional turkey, roast potatoes and cranberry, all native to the continent.


“Lush” at 100 and Nigel enjoy a Gentleman’s Portion of Scotch

The Pilgrims arrived in America on a Thursday, and that day has been celebrated ever since. Since 1621, individual states marked the festival on various occasions until American Civil War President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national date as the last Thursday of November, in 1863, which was eventually formalized by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1941, as the fourth Thursday in the month, which this year falls on the 28th.

Canadians possibly celebrate Thanksgiving before the US because we’re further north and our crops are all harvested earlier. When United Empire Loyalists fled the US during the Revolution, they brought us the tradition of turkey and all the trimmings. Bless them.

The reason I’ve skipped turkey in Canada over the past few years was because, as a dutiful son, I attended (indeed helped organize) my mother’s significant birthday celebrations, which fell on October 13. I’m not sure we made every one, but I have photographic proof we were drinking Scotch together on her 90th, and later her 99th and 100th, when she was pleased to get her letter from H.M. The Queen. She nearly made her 101st but died shortly beforehand. So, the family gathered to scatter her ashes in the English Channel on what would have been her birthday.

This year, my middle daughter, who lives in Oxford, my beloved Diane and I are in the UK and I am determined to celebrate in the Canadian tradition. Far be it for me to suggest smuggling a bird in my suitcase, but I did bring a can of cranberry sauce, just in case fresh ones weren’t available. Fortunately, in the little village of Harthill nearby, there is a row of shops, including a butcher and a baker (but no candlestick maker). Tony, the friendly owner of Harthill Butchers, has kindly organized a bird for the occasion. There is also a very good veggie shop, so we will have roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts galore.

Palon Blanc du Bary (002)Palon 2017 Gigondas (002)Jim Walker, our esteemed wine expert, suggests two great choices from Domaine Palon. In Ontario both are available on

2017 Vacqueyras Blanc du Bary: This luscious, refreshing white was crafted from 80 per cent Clairette and 20 per cent Grenache Blanc, both hand-picked from vines averaging more than 45 years of age. The yield was but 13 hl/ha! It has seen some new oak, but not too much. It is a clear, bright yellow-gold colour with a vibrant nose of grilled almonds, peaches, pears, honeysuckle, vanilla, exotic spices, toast and minerals. It is very smooth and extremely well balanced–lots of fruit offset by a gorgeous acidity. It is fresh, complex and rich with wonderful flavours of peaches and pears. It would be perfect, served at about 8°C, with rich poultry dishes, such as turkey, oysters, other shell fish, fish, and goat cheese. Meant to be drunk young.

2017 Gigondas Rouge: This elegant Gigondas is made from 79 per cent Grenache, 15 per cent Syrah and 6 per cent Mourvèdre, hand-picked from seven hectares of vines averaging well over 50 years of age. The Syrah and Mourvèdre are aged for 12 months in new oak casks. It is a pure purple with a lustrous sheen and offers up pronounced aromas of blackberries, black cherry jam, pepper, roasted coffee beans, garrigue, pepper, clove and licorice. It is surprisingly big and velvety in the mouth with gentle tannins and a long, perfumed finish. I’d like to see another six months to a year on it to get everything in proper balance. Served just below room temperature, this most impressive wine will go perfectly with turkey, magrets de canard, wild game, other roasts and medium cheeses. Decant it for at least an hour before drinking. It will cellar well for 10 to 15 years.

If you’re reading this too late to affect your Canadian Thanksgiving plans, then please bookmark the blog for a couple of weeks before American Thanksgiving or Christmas!

And now, for those of you who need a quick refresher on the best ever roast turkey recipe, here it is, from Market to Table: The Cookbook, my Thanksgiving gift to you. Plus, my outstanding stuffing balls and lemon and thyme roast potatoes. You’re welcome.


Turkey B

Shopping list

  • Fresh organic turkey, plucked and eviscerated by the butcher (1 lb plus per person, to allow for shrinkage and bones.)
  • ½ lb butter (or duck fat)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Large onion
  • Large fresh lemon
  • Head of garlic
  • Sprig of fresh thyme

Preparations and cooking

  1. Keep the bird covered in the fridge until you are ready to cook it to avoid spoilage. Allow two days for a frozen bird to defrost. Remove the packet of giblets and reserve for gravy. Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C.
  2. Wash and dry the bird thoroughly inside and out.
  3. Stuff with the body cavity with a large onion, cut in half, a large lemon, cut in half , a whole garlic head cut in half, plus a sprig of thyme.
  4. Sew up the body cavity using butcher’s twine and a big butcher’s needle, or use meat skewers to close the flesh. Secure the skin flap of the neck cavity under the bird with another skewer. Dislocate the wings so they fold under the bird to support it in the roasting pan. Tie the legs together.
  5. Soften half the fat or butter and rub all over the flesh. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper.
  6. Cover the breast with greased aluminum foil and place face down on the rack in the pan. Baste with the balance of the butter every 20 min. After 1 ½ hrs, turn the bird the right way up. For the last hour remove the aluminum foil to brown the breast.
  7. Timing formula is 15 min per lb over 16 lb and 12 min per lb under. (So a 12 lb bird should cook for 2 hours 24 mins, for example.) Back-time the hour for putting into the oven to one hour before you wish to sit down for the meal. Leave one hour for the bird to rest and firm up after it comes out of the oven.
  8. Remove the bird from the oven to a board or platter to rest for up to an hour before attempting to carve. Using a very sharp carving knife, carve off your choice of white breast, brown thigh and place on a platter, or serve directly onto your guests’ plates at the table.

Note: Serve with festive stuffing balls, and your choice of vegetables, such as lemon and thyme roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, beets and carrots, cranberry sauce and pan gravy.


Lemon and thyme roast potatoes

Shopping list

  • 8 large potatoes, peeled and cut lengthways into wedges
  • Skin or “zest” of a whole lemon
  • 8 – 10 whole cloves of garlic (unpeeled)
  • 5 – 6 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp sea or Kosher salt
  • Cooking fat or oil (duck fat is brilliant!)

Preparation and cooking

  1. Wash and peel the potatoes and cut lengthways into wedges.
  2. Parboil for 7 minutes in boiling salted water, drain in colander, and toss lightly or “scumble” to roughen the edges.
  3. Peel a whole lemon to make the zest and chop into fine strips (use the rest of the lemon, halved, in the roast turkey.)
  4. In the oven, heat the fat or oil until it is sizzling, add the potatoes and baste with the hot fat. Sprinkle on the chopped zest, whole segments of garlic, still unpeeled, and whole sprigs of thyme.
  5. Roast for up to 90 min at 355°F/180°C, turning once at 45 min.
  6. Lift out of the pan with a slotted spoon to leave the fat and garnishes behind and keep warm on a paper towel in the oven until ready to serve.


stuffing 1

Makes 20 to 24 balls. Voted best new dish at my Family Feast this past Christmas, they are an easy alternative to stuffing in a bird’s cavity.

Shopping list

  • 400 g / 5 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs (approx. ½ loaf of stale bread, crusts cut off)
  • 500 g / 17 oz sausage meat (1 pkg of 5 bangers)
  • 2 medium white onions, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 8 large sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 4 TBSP unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp EVOO
  • Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Good breadcrumbs are the key: in advance, toast about 7 slices of bread, cut the crusts off and then leave in a bowl exposed to the air overnight. When the bread is good and dry it will easily crumble into small chunks. Then run the chunks through a food processor to make rough breadcrumbs, or chop into smaller pieces, or use a pestle to crush the toast into crumbs.
  2. De-skin a packet of English bangers, or use seasoned sausage meat, and mix in with the breadcrumbs.
  3. Melt the butter, with a few drops of olive oil to prevent burning, add finely chopped onion and celery. Sauté until soft and transparent, about 10 mins. Do not brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  4. Remove the stalk from the sage and chop the leaves very finely. Mix all the ingredients together very well. Use your hands or a wooden spoon. (NOTE: If the mixture seems too heavy on the sausage meat, add up to another ½ cup of fine breadcrumbs. If the mixture seems too dry, add more sausage meat or a well beaten egg.) Season well.
  5. Line a baking pan with parchment paper. Mold the stuffing into firm balls about the size of a small golf ball and place on the pan, with space between each. Cover with cling film, transfer to the fridge for at least 30 mins to firm up – or for up to a day, if you are going to cook them and consume them later. (NOTE: Do not cook them and then freeze them.)
  6. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°F and bake for 30 mins until cooked through. Serve within 30 mins with roast turkey, goose or chicken, or your favourite meat dish. Or reheat to use with left-overs.



Shopping list

  • 3 cups fresh cranberries (1 packet)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup soft brown sugar
  • ¼ cup rum, brandy or sherry

Preparation and cooking

  • Bring water to a boil. Wash cranberries and add to the boiling water.
  • Cook for 10 min or until skins pop. Turn down heat, add sugar and stir until it dissolves.
  • Remove from heat, skim off white froth and cool. After cooling mix in liquor, store in a sterilized and tightly sealed glass container and refrigerate until needed.

Note: Option: for a spicier version add 2 in. stick of cinnamon, 3 whole cloves and 3 allspice berries. Allow to marinate for at least a day. Remove spices before serving.

Please “like” our blogs, if you have enjoyed our musings, or add a “comment” — clickable at the top or bottom of each story. 

This is Nigel’s 257th blog on Gentleman’s Portion. The search function works really well if you want to look back and see some of our previous articles. All recipes are under Market to Table, q.v.

Market to Table: The Cookbook is a great a gift idea for yourself, friends, family or anyone who loves to cook, available for about $12 as an eBook on Lulu.comi-Tunes and Amazon.

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