By Paula Roy
If there’s one thing the holidays are all about, it’s details. Trying to get each aspect of the festive season just right including gifts, decorations and entertaining can be nerve wracking and exhausting. When it comes to food, there is a better way: get professional help. We are fortunate to have an abundance of fantastic food purveyors in Ottawa – why not welcome some of their treats into your kitchen this year? Here are a few suggestions to get you started on making the holidays deliciously easy.
Appetizers & nibbles
For over twenty years, Thyme and Again’s take home foods have enhanced parties throughout the region. Among their best sellers are several delectable pâtés including smoked salmon and stilton-port as well as a great assortment of heat-at-home appetizers such as spiced pecan and brie in phyllo or bacon, caramelized onion and cheddar in puff pastry. Epicuria on St. Laurent Boulevard has a great selection of appetizers to be served warm or cold; two of their most popular are crepes with barbequed duck and chili coconut shrimp with pineapple lime salsa.
Tulips and Maple offer both a traditional cheese platter featuring classic favourites, complemented by a blue cheese and poached pear spread, grapes and baguette as well as an artisanal cheese showcase platter with several of Ontario and Quebec’s finest cheeses, accompanied by a house-made compote or jelly, fresh fruit and baguette. The House of Cheese in the ByWard Market is a favourite among embassy chefs thanks to its incredible selection and expert advice. They can prepare cheese trays in a wide range of styles and prices, using imported or local cheeses, along with a huge assortment of crackers, jellies and more to enhance your platter.
On the Side
Having someone else prepare the side dishes – sometimes among the most labour intensive elements of your meal – is a great time saver. Visit Gladstone Avenue’s The Red Apron for all sorts of delicious dishes, from the traditional to the creative, including organic quinoa with black beans, sweet potato, cranberries, mushrooms, spinach and walnuts or a lentil, tofu and roasted vegetable ragout. Pick up some tasty, house-made condiments to spice up any holiday menu at Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen.
The main event
There are quite a few spots around town that offer complete take-home holiday meals, whether you fancy turkey, roast beef, glazed ham or roast pork. NEXT in Stittsville serves up a full menu including roasted free-range turkey with a root vegetable and brown butter sage stuffing, olive oil and horseradish mashed potatoes, green beans and glazed carrots, along with chef Blackie’s delicious star anise and orange cranberry compote and seasoned gravy; extra side dishes and dessert options are available too. Le Café at the NAC similarly prepares hundreds of meals with a variety of desserts and sides including rosemary and pear stuffing, gravy, three vegetable dishes plus citrus, cranberry and ginger compote. Cuisine & Passion in Orleans has an à la carte menu, ideal for those looking for just the turkey – even half a turkey, if you prefer – and their version is marinated, plus it comes with apricot and bread stuffing as well as gravy.
Freezing a stash of homemade cookies and squares on hand for the holidays is always a good idea. Second Avenue Sweets in the Glebe uses local butter and cream to make many different sweets; among their best sellers are pecan squares and lemon squares. Top of the Hill Bakery in Orleans draws customers from all over Eastern Ontario thanks to the calibre of all its goodies. For the holiday season, they’ll be baking up hundreds of gingersnaps and shortbread cookies, but don’t forget to grab some of their decadent, chewy triple chocolate cookies too. For vegan treats, check out Centretown’s Auntie Loo’s – the peanut butter and jam bars are outstanding, as are the Queen Elizabeth cake squares.
Having a few hostess gifts on hand for the holidays is always a good idea. For unique, top quality chocolates, head to JoJoCoCo in Kanata where you’ll find locally-made koko truffles, SOMA artisan chocolates from Toronto and the fun, tasty line of Newfoundland Chocolate Company gourmet chocolate bars. For savoury gifts, La Bottega Nicastro in the ByWard Market has a huge selection of balsamics, olive oils and other gourmet products, or you can visit Culinary Conspiracy in the Trainyards for house-made artisan chutneys, jams, barbeque sauces, spice rubs and more.
Wondering what to feed those with dietary restrictions over the holidays? Make a quick trip to The Table vegetarian restaurant’s new gourmet grocery shop, dubbed The Table at Home, and pick up a selection of their delicious freezer-to-oven prepared foods. Choices include fresh frozen soups, gourmet gluten free pizzas, quiches, fruit pies, lasagnas, tourtières and much more, with vegan items available too.