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Celebrated pastry chef Anna Olson shares strategies for a cosy, joyous holiday season

Our cookbook of the week is Set for the Holidays with Anna
Olson: Recipes to Bring Comfort and Joy by pastry chef and
cooking show host Anna Olson. To try a recipe from the book,
check out: oak leaf salad
with toasted buckwheat kasha, grapes and blue cheese;
baked ham with roasted
applesauce and horseradish cream; and raspberry jam Danish
wreath.

Anna Olson is a self-described “holiday nerd.” As soon as
Labour Day hits, so too does a yearning to put up the Christmas
tree. Each year, the pastry chef and cooking show host fields
copious questions about how to plan for the holidays. As an
unabashed fan of the festive season, this is naturally a
conversation she loves to have.

“There are some fundamental questions. And the biggest one and
most consistent is… ‘Can I freeze it?’ so with that comes the
larger picture of ‘What can I make ahead?’ Part of holiday
survival for a lot of people is having those resources,” says
Olson.

Anna OlsonOnt.-based pastry chef
Anna Olson is the author of eight bestselling cookbooks and host
of several Food Network shows.
Mike McColl

“A big part of holiday planning is you want to commit to
kitchen time (but) not everyone has it. How do you apply that
time to the best use so that when Friday dinner rolls around,
you’re not so exhausted you have to take a half day off of
work?”

With this overriding question in mind, she included a
make-ahead tip for every recipe in her new cookbook, Set
for the Holidays with Anna Olson
(Appetite by Random
House, 2018). The first half of the book is comprised of menus
– including hors d’oeuvres, snacks and shared plates, leftovers
and lighter meals, and the main event – while the second half
is devoted to baking.

From highlighting freezer-friendly baked goods to suggesting
time-savers such as pre-blanching vegetables and washing salad
greens in advance, Olson designed her strategies, menus and
instructional photos to help minimize seasonal stress. “Even
making mashed potatoes ahead has a little tip to it,” she says.
“And of course the baking: what freezes well, what doesn’t
freeze well and what ages well in the cupboard.”

By crafting menus rather than presenting stand-alone recipes,
Olson illustrates the interplay between different dishes,
showing home cooks how various flavours and textures can work
together. But, she emphasizes, “You don’t have to entertain
differently just because you’re having guests over.”

Raspberry jam Danish wreathRaspberry jam Danish wreath from Set for the
Holidays with Anna Olson.
Janis Nicolay

Case in point, Olson’s brunch centrepiece – baked ham with
roasted applesauce and horseradish cream – is just as enjoyable
laid out simply with buns and mustard as it is repurposed as a
decadent croque monsieur (toasted ham and cheese sandwich) bake
or hearty split pea and ham soup.

While some occasions call for more elegant fare – like her New
Year’s Eve menu, which includes oysters with mignonette, whole
roasted beef tenderloin with horseradish hollandaise and a
flourless chocolate Mont Blanc torte – a casual get-together
with friends over a pot of carbonnade (Flemish beef and beer
stew) and substantial salad can be just as special.

“We put so much pressure on ourselves to deliver for others –
friends and family – and set the bar up here,” Olson says,
gesturing a very high benchmark. “I just want to be there to
walk you through it so when the time comes, you can actually
sit back and appreciate those magic moments.”

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