What to cook in December: Holiday roasts, oysters, citrus, persimmons, gingerbread everything

Easy and super festive cooking ideas to indulge in this month.

Easy and super festive cooking ideas to indulge in this month

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

'Tis the season for big roasts and warm spices and all the traditional treats we expect. And while we're all for tradition, food inspiration abounds around the holidays. It's the perfect time to also try your hand at something new-to-you, maybe a festive pork crown roast adorned with baked apples, or gingerbread oatmeal for breakfast if you've got guests spending the night.

Below you'll find more to inspire you. There's a vegetarian roast to replace or compliment the bird, and we're here to remind you that oysters, persimmons, plus lemons, limes and oranges are abundant at this time of year. Here's how to make the most of December's flavours and celebrate the best of the season.

Holiday roasts

A large cut of meat feeds a crowd, with probably enough leftovers for sandwiches and salads the next day. Both whole turkeys and ham legs are impressive while requiring little prep. With that being said, there's always ways to make things better or breathe new life into old faves. Ever dry-brined a turkey? It's much easier than submerging the whole bird into liquid and storing it (if there's room) in your fridge for the night. Beyond that, you could try cooking a different cut this year or prepare your usual roast in whole new way.

Gently cook a prime rib roast of beef at a super low temp, about 200F degrees for something like 4 hours, give or take. This helps it cook more evenly, so you'll get a consistent colour throughout when you slice into it. Use a meat thermometer to get the temperature you want and check it frequently near the end so it doesn't overcook.

Serve a crown roast of pork for a real show. Ask your butcher to prepare the crown for you, and order it far enough in advance that you won't be scrambling. What you want is a 'defatted' pork roast with the ends of the ribs frenched so you can stand them up on their ends. Make a stuffing for the centre (try one made with ground pork, cornbread crumbs, grated apples, and sage) and surround the finished roast with more baked apples, fried sage leaves and a sprinkling of fresh cranberries.

Tie whole stems of tarragon to the outside of beef tenderloin with butcher's twine. Do this after slathering it with loads of salt, more than you think you need. Cook it on low too, around 250F degrees, checking it with your meat thermometer and keeping in mind that it'll continue to cook as it rests, and you want to get the doneness just to your liking. Serve with homemade aioli loaded with herbs.

Or skip the meat altogether and make a vegetarian roast. Just get your hands on some vital wheat gluten, available online or in well-stocked grocery stores. With it, you make your own seitan, then stuff, roll and bake it into something miles above any processed fake meat products. Or save yourself a step and buy pre-made seitan. Look for it in the refrigerated section by the tofu and tempeh. Season it with salt and pepper, brown it, and cook it in vegetarian gravy that you then also serve over top.

For a gluten-free vegan roast (it's possible!), roast a whole head of cauliflower seasoned with bold flavours and softened into something you can cut into. There are lots of recipes out there for marinades to baste it with. We encourage you to seek out a tahini-based one and add lots of paprika for its festive red colour. Serve it adorned with a handful of fresh chopped parsley for the perfect holiday look.

Oysters

Canadian bivalves are their best in the colder waters of winter months, so now's the time to slurp them up. Present a few dozen fresh-shucked oysters on a bed of ice alongside a bottle of Crémant (Champagne's cheaper cousin) and your holiday party is immediately underway. If you don't own a shucking knife, pry the oysters open with a flat-head screwdriver. Watch a few Youtube videos and practice how to do this safely.

Barbecue or bake oysters and serve them with a dollop of hollandaise. To do this, throw whole oyster, shell and all, onto the grill and cook them for a couple minutes until their shells start opening. Remove from the grill and shuck them then, discarding any that haven't opened. Top with a scoop of hollandaise and serve.

Keep things classic with oysters Rockefeller. They're baked or broiled in the oven, and the buttery green sauce that goes on top, but under the breadcrumbs, can totally be made ahead. Find a recipe online and don't be afraid to add a fresh twist by swapping in watercress for some of the spinach. Change up the cheese too - with most recipes calling for Parmesan, pecorino or manchego will taste just as good.

Add oysters to your turkey stuffing. It's a thing, and a great thing. The wild, briney flavour of the oysters adds another layer of flavour to the stuffing. Combine them with softened leeks, sage, and some finely sliced hardy greens, and opt for an equal ratio of cornbread and pullman loaf for the breadcrumbs.

Citrus

With summer berries no longer in season, use citrus now in your salads and desserts. The juice tends to be interchangeable in many situations; go ahead and use lemon for lime juice in almost any instance. You can make things really interesting, especially when you make a familiar recipe with something your guests don't expect, like a grapefruit square instead of lemon. We'll get into this below, but just remember, if you're looking for a flavour that'll balance out the richness of a holiday meal, then reach for citrus.

Seek out pomelo. It looks like an oversized grapefruit, with sweeter flesh but the same bitter pith you should peel away. Serve it the Southeast Asian way, sprinkling the segments with salt and ground chile. Leave it simply like this and serve as a pre-dessert course, or take it one step further and make Yum Som-O. This sweet and sour thai salad is loaded with shrimp, roasted peanuts and fresh herbs. Look up a recipe online and roast white fish to serve alongside it. A fresh seafood feast will be a welcome break from any heavier meals you're having.

Swap grapefruit or lime in your lemon squares and use the fruit's zest as decoration for the top. To do this, cut the zest into thin strips and candy it. You can do this up to a week in advance, and lay it on top of the curd just before goes into the oven. Let your citrus bars sit overnight in the fridge, if possible. They'll be much sturdier and easier to cut in the morning.

End an extensive meal with citrus sorbet. An ice cream machine will help the texture, but a sorbet stirred by hand is just as refreshing. To make the sorbet, heat water and sugar on the stovetop (in a 2:1 ratio) until the sugar dissolves into a simple syrup. Juice about 7-10 lemons or limes, until you have 400 mL of juice. Sweeten the juice with the sugar syrup until it's too your liking, and freeze. You can even add a scoop of the sorbet to sparking wine for a drink to hand guests as they walk in.

Persimmons

If you haven't tried this fruit yet, do so this month while they'll still around! Just make sure you know what you're doing. If eaten too early, their tannins will coat your mouth and tongue and you'll be disappointed. Devour them at the right moment and you'll be wondering where this fruit's been all your life.

There are two distinct persimmon varieties. Hachiyas have a slightly pointed base and should be eaten when they're really mushy, but not rotten. Fuyus that look like tomatoes and they're best for salads or for chopping up for cheese plates because they can be eaten when they're still a little firm. On both varieties the skin is edible, but you may peel them if you prefer.

Cube a persimmon and swap it for the tomato in a Greek salad. Don't skip the olives, cucumber, and chiffonade of mint. Try it once and you'll be eating this all month.

Broil persimmons and serve with a scoop of sweetened mascarpone. Add vanilla extract and just enough honey or maple syrup to loosen and sweeten the cheese. Taste the persimmon first to make sure it's edible. An astringent one can ruin the dish.

Make a persimmon cocktail. Peel the fruit and puree the flesh with simple syrup. Stir together equal parts persimmon puree, fresh squeezed lime or lemon juice,  and your favourite alcohol; maybe vodka, gin, or rum.

Gingerbread

Sure, it's a flavour and not an ingredient, but this is the month to serve it. You can make almost anything "gingerbread" by adding a combination of warm spices like ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon, or just use pumpkin pie spice if you've got it. Swap in a bit of molasses or honey for the sugar and proceed with the recipe as directed. Need some gingerbread direction? Here you go...

Seek out a recipe for Scottish gingerbread cake. It's a traditional dessert that's loaded with fruit, nuts, and sometimes even beer. Serve it with an apple compote and whipping cream.

Skip the coffee shop and make gingerbread lattes at home. To make this dream come true, concoct a gingerbread sugar syrup by boiling sugar, water, cloves, cinnamon, molasses, and peeled and sliced fresh ginger. Stir in vanilla extract at the end. Keep the syrup on hand for adding to lattes or a strong coffee mixed with warm milk, whenever the spirit moves you.

Show off your baking skills with a gingerbread souffle. Less finicky than you may think, the custard base for the souffle can be made a day ahead. Whipping the egg whites just before you bake it will breathe new life into a party once the dinner dishes have been cleared. Add just a bit of molasses to any souffle recipe, along with ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.Serve the whole thing with a white chocolate ganache, which can be made easily by melting white chocolate in cream.

Cook up a batch of gingerbread oatmeal for overnight guests. Stir into the porridge pot a spoonful of molasses and your gingerbread spice mix; ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg works well for this. Include a pinch of salt to heighten all the flavours. Top each bowl with candied nuts, ginger and a splash of cream.

Roasted Pork Loin

Curtis Stone's Pork Belly Roast with Apple Compote

Mango Gingerbread Upside Down Sandwich Cake

A new spin on a classic fruit upside down cake. (The Great Canadian Baking Show)

Orange Chiffon Cake

The teacup Pomeranian of cakes. (Shanaise Williams/The Great Canadian Baking Show)

Orange Spice Pudding with Cognac Caramel Sauce

(Photography: Barry C. Parsons)

Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.

Brought to you in part by:

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.