4 ways to get the most out of your holiday cooking

P.E.I. chef Ilona Daniel says that a big dinner is easy to make with the ingredients included in the Charlottetown food bank's Christmas food hampers.

Food bank hampers give everyone chance to share memorable Christmas dinner

P.E.I. chef Ilona Daniel says cooking up a feast isn't hard with the Charlottetown food bank's Christmas hampers. (iStock/Getty Images)

Christmas is synonymous with big meals with extended family and friends. But getting that holiday dinner right can seem like a daunting task.

Fortunately, P.E.I. chef Ilona Daniel has a few tips to make it more manageable. She says a big dinner is easy to make with the ingredients included in the Charlottetown food bank's Christmas food hampers, which include a turkey, cabbage, carrots, peas, beans and other vegetables, cranberry sauce, stove top dressing, cookies, baking supplies, fresh fruit and, of course, some chocolate. 

"I think comfort is one of the first words that comes to my mind when I think of any holiday meal when we are coming around the table usually to celebrate, to share stories and food that complements that with comforting textures and richness is certainly something I look for," Daniel says.

Prepare early

When preparing for a Christmas supper, Daniel says it's best to write everything out and come up with a list of what you have and what you need. She says you can even get a head start by preparing some foods the day before.

"Peel and dice your potatoes the day before and store them in a Ziploc bag with some salt and cold water so all you have to do is pop it into a pot the following day," Daniel says.

The food bank's hampers come with turkeys, which are part of the CBC's Feed a Family campaign. (Markus Schwabe/CBC)

Similarly, carrots can be done ahead of time, along with any cold side dishes. Cabbage is also a good food to prep the day before, either turned into a coleslaw or slow cooked with other vegetables .

"I might mix it with some apples and some onion you might get in the hamper and braise that slowly and have this really nice deep, sweet and earthy side dish," Daniel says.

Think of leftovers

There's nothing quite comparable to sharing a meal with the people you love.— Ilona  Daniel

Daniel says thinking of what you're going to do with leftovers is key to making your holiday dinners last longer.

"What I like to do is make something almost like fish cakes and take leftover turnip, cabbage and carrots and chop them up really, really small and same thing with the turkey," she said. "Mix that all together with the leftover stuffing with an egg or two to make everything stick together and then just fry it all in a pan, almost like a fish cake."

You can put a little cranberry sauce or lettuce on a bun and you have a delicious leftover sandwich, she says. Combining your vegetables into one dish, Daniel says, can help make different amounts of leftovers go further.

Get some exercise

Balancing healthy eating with all the sweet temptations readily available during the holiday season is something that's a challenge for many people. Daniel says people should think of a physical activity they can do to offset some of the indulgences.

Getting outdoors is important to help work off those holiday treats. (Adnan Mohamad/CBC)

"Get outside after supper and go for a brisk walk or do some shoveling, or some physical activity because it's really hard to pretend you're going to deprive yourself of all the amazing holiday treats," Daniel says.

One such holiday treat that you can make with the foods in the hampers: a fruit crumble.

"When I think about some of the other items you might get in your hamper, if you look at apples or berries or bananas, crumble is always an awesome thing and a really, really easy dessert to make," she said. "You don't need any special equipment, you can even use a disposable foil baking tray and you can chop up your fruits and toss it with some sugar and flour and then top it with some more flour or oats and butter and you've got a really simple dessert. Bake it in the oven at 350 F for about 45 minutes to an hour.

"It's a fantastic dessert that's really simple and absolutely comforting."

Enjoy time with family and friends

No matter what you're eating, Daniel says to enjoy spending time with your loved ones.

It's important to share a meal with your loved ones over the holidays and the food bank is helping make that possible. (Matthew Mead/Associated Press)

"There's nothing quite comparable to sharing a meal with the people you love and sometimes the people that drive you crazy the most, and that's usually our closest friends and our family," Daniel says.

"And to be able to share that meal is so important and I think it's really great that these hampers are available and everyone can have that important experience."