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Tradition! (December 22, 2005)

It's most definitely the season to remember, especially all those favourite family traditions featuring food!

Did your family serve a Christmas goose like we did? Perhaps you loved latkes at Hanukkah. And let's not leave out the inevitable fruitcake that seems to be the universal seasonal dessert. 'Tis also the season to recreate some of those delicious memories, and – oh, dare we say it – perhaps improve some of them along the way!

We've got all your cherished recipes and more, much more from two great sources.

Who are these people anyway? Cook's Illustrated magazine ( is a bimonthly magazine for people interested in understanding the principles of good home cooking. Each article has one goal: to develop the simplest most foolproof recipe for the best-tasting result. Completely authentic, Cook's Illustrated does not accept advertising! The sixth season for their PBS television show will begin airing in January 2006 and they have just published The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

This is one book that seems to cover it all. Every recipe you grew up with, every tip your mother taught you and all the other hints you needed but never did get are all in this book. The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is liberally sprinkled with detailed coloured photographs on everything from "How to carve a turkey" to "De-veining shrimp" to "How to judge when meat is done." If you've ever felt like throwing your cute but useless fresh pasta machine on to the floor, stop! The pasta chapter shows you step by step how to master this technique.

No, this is not your mother's cookbook, it's better! It's an excellent, up-to-date basic, perfect for the starter chef or the well-seasoned cook who needs a good classic. There are more than 1,200 everyday recipes for good, practical home-cooked food, and if you've been doing a bit too much take-out lately, or are trying to remember how to turn on the oven, then get yourself a copy of The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook immediately!

Another great tradition: as always in winter, the home economists at the ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen (part of ATCO Gas and ATCO Electric, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) have produced their delightful December annual, A Holiday Collection. More than 150 pages of recipes, glossary and useful tips, and sensibly divided into chapters such as Great Beginnings, Holiday Morning Food, In the Christmas Tradition and The Day After, A Holiday Collection is great reading as well as terrific cooking.

We can also attest that their Figgy Fruitcake will have you loving this holiday treat once again, and if that doesn't ring your bell, the Lemon and Cinnamon-Scented Flan surely will!

It's a perfect gift no matter the date. Check out the Blue Flame Kitchen web site for more information and some most useful holiday tips!

Happy Holidays one and all!

On today's menu:

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (89 KB)


Classic Roast Turkey

First time out with the big bird? Not to worry, as this recipe from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook is actually easy and will produce the best results. Times and temperatures have varied almost wildly over the years, and the results are often just as uneven. You need to know the roasting times for turkey and trust the information. The times below are guidelines, but you should gauge whether your turkey is done by checking when the thigh reaches 175°F. It's true – a 22-pound bird only takes 3½ hours at the most!

Raw turkey weight No. of servings Approx. roasting time
12 to 14 lbs 10 to 12 2 to 2½ hours
15 to 17 lbs 14 to 16 2½ to 3 hours
18 to 22 lbs 20 to 22 3 to 3½ hours

(Allow 30 minutes to rest before carving)

  • 1 (12 to 22 lb) turkey, fully thawed if frozen, brined if desired (see blow)
  • 2 onions, chopped coarse
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped coarse
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped coarse
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried
  • 4 Tbsp (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 425°F Following the photos, remove the neck and giblets, and pat the turkey dry with paper towels. Trim the tailpiece, tie the legs together and tuck the wings under the bird. Chop the neck and giblets into 1-inch pieces.
  2. Spread the onions carrots, celery thyme, neck pieces and giblets in a large roasting pan. Line a V-rack with foil and poke several holes in the foil. Set the rack inside the roasting pan and spray the foil with vegetable oil spray.
  3. Brush the breast side of the turkey with half the butter, then season with salt and pepper. Lay the turkey in the rack breast-side down. Brush the back of the turkey with the remaining butter, then season with salt and pepper. Roast the turkey for 1 hour.
  4. Remove the turkey from the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 325°F. Tip the juices from the cavity of the turkey into the pan. Flip the turkey breast-side up using lean potholders or kitchen towels.
  5. Continue to roast the turkey until the thigh registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer (ignore any pop-up timer) 1 to 2½ hours longer. Add the broth as needed to prevent the drippings from burning.
  6. Tip the turkey so that the juice from the cavity runs into the roasting pan. Transfer the turkey to a caving board and let rest uncovered for 30 minutes before carving.
  7. Meanwhile use the roasted vegetables and drippings in the pan to make gravely if desired.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Have both a red and a white on the table (I find red goes better with dark meat): red: a Pinot Noir – red Burgundy or New Zealand Pinot Noir or a named village of Beaujolais; white: Chardonnay (white Burgundy), Pinot Blanc (Alsace), Soave (Italy).

Turkey: To brine or not to brine?

The question here is whether or not to brine the bird. The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook says yes, as the process of brining (or soaking meat in a solution of water, salt, and sometimes sugar before cooking) can dramatically improve the flavour and tenderness of chicken, turkey and pork. As it soaks, the meat absorbs the brine, and then retains it during cooking. The result? The juiciest and best-tasting poultry or pork you've ever eaten. Best of all, brining is easy; all you need is some refrigerator space, a little time and a container big enough to submerge the meat fully in the brine. Brining isn't essential, but it's highly recommended in simple roasted or grilled recipes.

The test kitchen goes on to say: Do not brine kosher poultry, frozen injected turkeys (such as Butterball) or enhanced pork. Before they make it to the supermarket shelves, these products are treated with salt in one form or another. We have made this mistake before; brining any of these products only intensifies these treatments, resulting in virtually inedible meat. If in doubt, check labels, which always indicate if salt has been added during processing.

Brining directions: Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water in a container or bowl large enough to hold the brine and meat, following the amounts below. Submerge the meat completely in the brine. Cover and refrigerate, following the times. Do not over-brine or else the meat will taste too salty. Remove the meat from the brine, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. The meat is now ready to be cooked.

Turkey Cold Water Salt Time
12 to 17 lbs 2 gallons 1 cup 6 to 12 hours
18 to 24 lbs 3 gallons 1½ cups 6 to 12 hours
1 bone-in breast
6-8 lbs
1 gallon ½ cup 3 to 6 hours


Latkes (Potato Pancakes)

A favorite Hanukkah food is latkes, or potato pancakes, and, like all traditions, this too comes with a wonderful story! On each night of Hanukkah, the menorah is lit to commemorate a miracle which occurred after the Jews proclaimed victory over the Syrian armies in 165 B.C.E. When Jews came to rededicate the Temple – which had been defiled by the Syrians – they found only one small flask of oil with which to light the menorah. This flask contained only enough oil for one day, yet the lamp burned for eight days (by which time a fresh supply of oil was obtained). It is easy to understand why the most popular themes throughout the Hanukkah dishes are the use of oil.

Latkes are potato pancakes made from grated potatoes mixed with eggs, onions, and flour, then fried in vegetable oil. The texture is crispy on the outside and tender within. They're served hot and often dipped in apple sauce or sour cream. What a great tradition!

From The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook comes this triple-tested and foolproof recipe. They tell us that Yukon gold potatoes can be substituted for the russets. Two or three crumbled saltine crackers can be substituted for the matzo meal. If you – like us – enjoy your potato pancakes piping hot, hold the finished pancakes on a baking sheet in a 200°F oven while the remaining potatoes are being cooked.

Makes about 14 (3-inch) pancakes

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes (4 medium), peeled
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 scallions, minced
  • 3 Tbsp minced fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp matzo meal
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  1. Grate the potatoes and onion in a food processor fitted with the shredding disc (or over the large holes of a box grater). Let the grated potatoes and onion drain in a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl, pressing to extract as much liquid as possible, and reserve the drained liquid. Let the drained potato liquid sit until a thick white starch settles to the bottom about 2 minutes. Pour off the liquid, being careful to leave only the starch in the bowl.
  2. Whisk the egg, scallions, parsley, matzo meal, salt and pepper into the starch. Add the grated potatoes and onion and toss until combined.
  3. Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Scoop ¼ cup of the potato mixture into your hands, squeeze out any excess liquid, then carefully add it to the hot pan. Press the mixture into a ½-inch-thick disk using the back of a spoon. Repeat with the remaining potatoes until the pot is full (about 5 pancakes will fit at a time). Cook the pancakes until well browned and crisp on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked pancakes to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture.

To make ahead: Cooked potato pancakes can be cooled and held at room temperature for up to 4 hours, or wrapped with plastic wrap and frozen for up to 1 month (wrap individually to keep them from sticking together). Reheat in a 375°F oven on hated baking sheets until crisp and hot, 10 to 20 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.

Tony's wine recommendation:
If you’re serving with sour cream – unoaked Chardonnay; if serving with apple sauce off-dry Riesling (Kabinett or Spätlese Trocken style).


Thai Turkey Salad

From the Blue Flame kitchens comes this so easy problem solver! No more worries about leftover turkey; this recipe is so tasty it, too, will become a family classic in years to come! We love the Thai combination of peanut butter, vinegar and brown sugar with almost anything; it goes particularly well with turkey. Another plus: make dressing ahead, measure out and bag separately remaining ingredients, toss together when needed!

Serves 4–6

  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 8 cups baby spinach
  • 3 cups diced cooked turkey
  • 2 cups chow main noodles
  • ½ cup sliced green onions
  • ½ cup chopped mixed nuts

To prepare dressing, use a hand-held blender and puree first 8 ingredients (soy sauce through garlic) until smooth. Combine spinach, turkey, noodles and green onions in a bowl. Add dressing and toss to combine. Sprinkle with nuts.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Alsace dry Muscat.


Figgy Fruitcake

Ah, Fruitcake. Mostly unloved, a butt of jokes... and, yes, your last year's New Year resolutions included "No More Claggy Fruitcake!" But that was before we tried the Blue Flame Kitchen's rich, spicy version, which we really love. Like all fruitcakes, this one takes a lot of ingredients and some work... and, of course you need to plan ahead. But this is the one you'll make year after year!

Makes 3 fruitcakes

  • 2½ cups pecan halves
  • 1¾ cups diced dried Mission figs
  • 1½ cups dark raisins
  • 1 cup dried cherries or slivered dried apricots
  • ¾ cups chopped pitted dates
  • 2/3 cup candied orange peel
  • ½ cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1 cup brandy or rum
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1¼ tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp allspice
  • ¼ tsp cloves
  • 2 cups butter softened
  • 1 1/3 cups packed golden brown sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 1¼ cups fancy molasses
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 Tbsp brandy or rum

Stir together first 8 ingredients (pecans through 1 cup brandy) in a large low. Let stand for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Grease two 8½ × 4½ inch loaf pans and one 7½ × 3¾ inch loaf pan. Line with a double thickness of wax paper; grease wax paper. Combine flour and next 8 ingredients (baking powder through cloves) in a bowl; set aside. Using medium speed of an electric mixer, beat together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in molasses and vanilla just as blended. Beginning and ending with flour mixture, add flour mixture alternately with milk to butter mixture, stirring just until blended. Fold in pecan mixture (including liquid). Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake at 300°F for 2¼–2½ hours or until cakes test done. Cool cakes in pans on racks. Remove cakes from pans. Brush 2 Tbsp brandy on top of cakes. Wrap cakes and allow to season in a cool dry place for 4–6 weeks.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Asti Spumante, Samos Muscat, sweet sherry.


We wish to thank:

HarperCollins Publishing for permission to publish material and photographs from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. © 2005 by The Editors at America's Test Kitchen. Photographs by Daniel J. Van Ackere and Carl Tremblay.

The ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen Home Economists and staff. For more information and great holiday tips, recipes and ideas, go to

The History Channel for information on the history of Latkes! For more fascinating reading, see the website at

A bizarre and hilarious site on Fruitcake Tossing:


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (89 KB)




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