Cel­e­brated pas­try chef Anna Ol­son shares cook­ing strate­gies for the hol­i­day sea­son

National Post (National Edition) - - THE FEAST - Laura Bre­haut

Anna Ol­son is a self-de­scribed “hol­i­day nerd.” As soon as Labour Day hits, so too does a yearn­ing to put up the Christ­mas tree. Each year, the pas­try chef and cook­ing show host fields co­pi­ous ques­tions about how to plan for the hol­i­days. As an un­abashed fan of the fes­tive sea­son, this is nat­u­rally a con­ver­sa­tion she loves to have.

“There are some fun­da­men­tal ques­tions. And the big­gest one and most consistent is… ‘Can I freeze it?’ so with that comes the larger pic­ture of ‘What can I make ahead?’ Part of hol­i­day sur­vival for a lot of peo­ple is hav­ing those re­sources,” says Ol­son.

“A big part of hol­i­day plan­ning is you want to com­mit to kitchen time (but) not ev­ery­one has it. How do you ap­ply that time to the best use so that when Fri­day din­ner rolls around, you’re not so ex­hausted you have to take a half day off of work?”

With this over­rid­ing ques­tion in mind, she in­cluded a make-ahead tip for ev­ery recipe in her new cook­book, Set for the Hol­i­days with Anna Ol­son (Ap­petite by Ran­dom House, 2018). The first half of the book is com­prised of menus – in­clud­ing hors d’oeu­vres, snacks and shared plates, left­overs and lighter meals, and the main event – while the sec­ond half is devoted to bak­ing.

From high­light­ing freezer-friendly baked goods to suggest­ing time­savers such as pre-blanch­ing veg­eta­bles and wash­ing salad greens in ad­vance, Ol­son de­signed her strate­gies, menus and in­struc­tional pho­tos to help min­i­mize sea­sonal stress. “Even mak­ing mashed pota­toes ahead has a lit­tle tip to it,” she says. “And of course the bak­ing: what freezes well, what doesn’t freeze well and what ages well in the cup­board.”

By craft­ing menus rather than pre­sent­ing stand-alone recipes, Ol­son il­lus­trates the in­ter­play be­tween dif­fer­ent dishes, show­ing home cooks how var­i­ous flavours and tex­tures can work to­gether. But, she em­pha­sizes, “You don’t have to en­ter­tain dif­fer­ently just be­cause you’re hav­ing guests over.”

Case in point, Ol­son’s brunch cen­tre­piece – baked ham with roasted ap­ple­sauce and horse­rad­ish cream – is just as en­joy­able laid out sim­ply with buns and mus­tard as it is re­pur­posed as a deca­dent croque mon­sieur (toasted ham and cheese sand­wich) bake or hearty split pea and ham soup.

While some oc­ca­sions call for more el­e­gant fare – like her New Year’s Eve menu, which in­cludes oys­ters with mignonette, whole roasted beef ten­der­loin with horse­rad­ish hol­landaise and a flour­less cho­co­late Mont Blanc torte – a cas- ual get-to­gether with friends over a pot of car­bon­nade (Flem­ish beef and beer stew) and sub­stan­tial salad can be just as spe­cial.

“We put so much pres­sure on our­selves to de­liver for oth­ers – friends and fam­ily – and set the bar up here,” Ol­son says, ges­tur­ing a very high benchmark. “I just want to be there to walk you through it so when the time comes, you can ac­tu­ally sit back and ap­pre­ci­ate those magic mo­ments.”

Ex­cerpted from Set for the Hol­i­days with Anna Ol­son: Recipes to Bring Com­fort and Joy by Anna Ol­son. Copy­right © 2018 Anna Ol­son. Pub­lished by Ap­petite by Ran­dom House®, a divi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House Canada Lim­ited. Re­pro­duced by ar­range­ment with the Pub­lisher. All rights re­served.


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