Holiday Cooking feels so good
Yes, I’m officially in X-mas cooking mode, several weeks in actually. My kitchen has taken on a permanent réveillon scent (ie poultry/butter dough/pork&spices), and so have I, which is fine – a nice change from my shroomy perfume of fall.
Besides Saturday night dinners at the table champêtre, the odd corporate party and catering event, I am mostly focused on prepping for the Christmas market. The main event is in L’Assomption (December 1st to 23rd - a magical market that takes over the main street of this historic town with wooden cabins, fire-pits, carollers and a festive, old-fashioned ambiance), where the region’s artisans offer up a wide array of edibles and X-mas gifts. www.marchedenoeldelassomption.ca
Our staff from the Jean Talon market moves to L’Assomption, selling our products, gift bags and a whack of my cooked dishes (frozen, sousvide) - soups, sauces, charcuterie, braised meats, tourtieres and etc. It’s the big spoke in the Jardins Sauvages wheel once the green/ mushroom season comes to an end, and we all have a lot of fun with it. While I cook up comfort food in my steamy kitchen alternating between CBC and X-mas carols, our staff on site have a blast with companion artisans, volunteer workers and joyful customers in the holiday spirit, all while trying to stay warm..
Not being a girl that likes being caught with my pants down, prior experience told me I needed a solid head start this year. I have the classics checked off my list by now: Confit de canard, Smoked duck, Foie gras terrine (with sweetgrass), Mousse de foie (wild ginger), Cassoulet, Braisé de cerf, Pintade aux chanterelles, Lapin farcie (trompettes), Lapin braise.. BBQ Porcelet and Braised lamb, check. I’ve also made a point of stocking up on our clients’ favourite sauces: Champignon, Morilles, Chanterelles, and of course my beloved soups: Champignons classique, Champi-Thai, Ortie-Arroche, among others, adding a few seasonal ones like Squash and Root veg parmentier with crinkleroot. Our regular line of products is in stock, the little girls busy packaging and labelling away.
Paté production is well underway, with 50 or so glistening pies ready, twice that to go. Starting with my tourtiere – a deluxe mix of braised venison, duck confit, pintade and rabbit mixed with some ground pork and veal so that it still resembles tourtiere. I have turkeys coming in this week, with which I will make turkey pot pies and a dynamite soup to be sure. Stuffed birds of all kinds, pot au feu, ragout de pattes and more on the agenda..
I always get caught up and carried away with whatever it is that each season brings. But like with everything in our a-bit-of-this-&-a-bit-of-that business, I know have to be careful, to regularly take a step back and crunch numbers, to balance quality and efficiency, without losing the magic. For instance, the way I make tourtieres makes it a break-even scenario, but it makes customers happy and it makes me happy to mark the season with a tradition and follow through.
I also have a massive private order for these dishes (12/24 portions of each), which is where the ragout de pattes comes in, because this is not something I normally do. But it was a good client who asked for it, someone I supply with a variety of prepared meals for her freezer on a monthly basis. The best kind of customer who understands the work behind, is willing to pay for it, and loves everything I cook. She started ordering from our regular offerings but now I make an oven-full of osso bucco, guinea fowl or hachis-parmentier just for her, a big pot of bisque, whatever she wants. We have several loyal client fans like this, who come stock up regularly on prepared meals. We have another great customer who is a hunter and fisherman who brings me his haul/catch, I cook or smoke it for him and deliver it all in little ready to eat packages for his freezer. When he goes to his hunting camp, I prepare all his three course meals labelled #1, #2, #3 (for each bag and container, app, main, accompaniment, dessert) etc. It’s not like I could make a living doing this, but it’s a fun, winner side that just kind of happened over of the years with restaurant customers. These are pretty much the only people I cater for now too because they are worth the hassle, not because we charge them anything more but because they are a pleasure to cook for.
By the way, the customer with the big X-mas order (among others) find it hard to believe that I have never made a classic ragout de pattes & boulettes. What can I say other than that I’m anglo, it’s not a part of my traditions and somehow it never got incorporated into my own despite the years of being so engulfed in Franco-Quebecois culture. Maybe it’s because I’m not that into big fatty, meat dishes, especially when there is always so much more on the holiday table. Anyhow, I have cooked pork hocks from the top to the bottom, and have made a shitload of meatballs in my lifetime, so I’m quite sure I can nail it, but it just might not taste like her grandmother’s! When it comes to trad Que cuisine, I’m not too worried, it always comes down to sarriette (savory), with a pinch of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg, ha.
I am just as into my Fancy-Nancy menu running at the restaurant. More elegant fare or not, there is that same thread of soulful, homey X-mas spirit wafting through. The winter season naturally lends a hearty dose of love and a nod to tradition that fits, that makes it such that I am not looking back or missing the abundance of summer. In any case, we still have all our Quebec veg, we aren’t yet sick of squash or root vegetables or apples or pears. Plus we know we can count on all our preserves, mushrooms, peak-season vegetables and fruit put up for the year. And there is always Daignault (Jardiniers du Chef) when I want a crisp green or pretty garnish.
We’re ready for winter, and the holiday season is a nice transition between complete madness and relaxation, with its half-mad but merry feel. I dig it, I can deal with sore hands from rolling dough, especially with Christmas carols playing.. I held off ‘til December, but now they’re cranking (especially when I’m alone!).