A traditional holiday menu composed of ham or turkey, potatoes, carrots, turnip, squash, beets, pickles, homemade rolls and gravy can be nicely complemented by using a variety of seasonings, herbs and spices to enrich the meal.
Set out below are a collection of hints on how you may use inexpensive common seasonings, fruits, and herbs to enhance and flavor your holiday menu.
Apple: The secret ingredient in a thick and chunky homemade cranberry sauce. Use a basic recipe for cranberry sauce and depending on how big the recipe is, add 2 or more diced peeled apples to pan early on during cooking time.
If you do not intend to stuff your turkey, instead try placing a whole apple inside the opening of the bird (or use more than one apple) along with a peeled, halved or quartered whole onion (and several halved cloves of garlic if desired). Add a generous sprinkling of summer savory and poultry seasoning. A few splashes of white wine or bourbon may not hurt either. Once you have everything inside, sew the opening shut with a long, thick needle and doubled black thread (easy to see).
Cloves: Press whole cloves into ham, onions or oranges for flavor. Clove-studded oranges can be hung with ribbons throughout your home during the holiday season to provide a festive scent and an attractive decoration.
Cinnamon: A must have for making homemade apple sauce, apple pies, and baked apples. Also good in oatmeal cookies and cinnamon rolls. Children often love the taste of squash and turnip once cinnamon (and/or nutmeg), brown sugar and butter are mashed in.
Chives: Delicious when freshly chopped and sprinkled on cooked vegetables.
Dill: If you are making homemade rolls or breads for a holiday meal, consider doing a batch with 2 Tablespoons of dried dill added to the batter along with the dry ingredients. Other seasonings can be added including summer savory, marjoram, chives, minced garlic cloves, italian seasoning.
Dried onion flakes: Can be added to gravies and mashed potatoes. 1 Tablespoon of dehydrated, minced onion is the equivalent of 1 small onion.
Garlic: Good on everything from gravies to meat to cooked vegetables, according to taste. Roasted garlic is a flavorful and delicious addition to mashed potatoes. Simply cut the very tips off all the cloves in a whole head of garlic and place a few heads next to each other in a metal pie plate. Brush or sprinkle lightly with olive oil and bake in the oven alongside your turkey until golden brown and soft inside. Once cooled, squeeze out the individual cloves into your potatoes as you are mashing. Use as many cloves as you like. For an added bite, try adding garlic (that has been pressed through a garlic press to mince) to your favorite cheeseball recipe.
Lemon: Add 2 to 4 Tablespoons lemon juice to your roast pan when roasting a turkey.
Marjoram: Good in bread stuffing recipes, mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade rolls.
Mint: Try adding fresh or dried mint to lamb or beef while roasting. Also good in jellies and sauces to accompany meats.
Mustard: Dried or prepared, can be mixed with brown sugar and pineapple juice to form a paste for slathering on ham before and during baking. *1 teaspoon of dried mustard powder is the equivalent of 1 Tablespoon prepared mustard.
Nutmeg: Used for baked goods and as a seasoning for squash or turnips. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of this spice to creamed spinach. Popular seasoning for eggnog.
Oranges: The zest of oranges and their juice can be added to homemade cranberry sauce as it cooks and will also add flavor to baked goods. Use decoratively sliced oranges as garnishes on large platters of meat along with marachino cherries. Cut chilled oranges in rounds and float on a holiday punch.
Orange cranberry holiday punch:
2 litre bottle of gingerale,
750 ml bottle white or rose wine,
2 litre carton orange juice with pulp,
750 ml bottle cranberry juice.
1 dozen ice cubes.
All ingredients and punch bowl should be well chilled before beginning.
Take punch bowl and place on serving table.
Add first four ingredients to bowl and stir to combine.
Stir in ice cubes.
Garnish with orange rounds and frozen cranberries.
You can also try replacing the wine with a small bottle of vodka.
Parsley: When using fresh parsley, an easy way to prepare is to use kitchen shears to snip into small pieces. Fresh parsley can be added near the end of cooking time in broths or gravies or as a garnish at serving time on mashed potatoes or other root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga).
Pepper: Good in gravies and on meats, also to season mashed potatoes and other root vegetables.
Poultry Seasoning: A most popular use for poultry seasoning is in bread stuffing recipes or as a turkey rub. You can make your own poultry seasoning by combining marjoram, rosemary, sage and savory.
Real butter: Can not be underestimated. Margarines and their counterparts have their place in holiday baking and meal planning, but at the holiday table real butter is a most flavorful and tasty choice for your rolls and vegetables. If you are really counting calories you may wish to forgo butter or margarine altogether on vegetables and instead season them with salt or salt substitute, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinagrette.
Rosemary: Adds a nice flavor to poultry, lamb, jellies and sauces.
Sage: If using fresh sage, rub between fingers to crush slightly and release flavor. Good for game, poultry, cheese sauces, stuffings and soups.
Salt: Use this seasoning sparingly. It is not recommended that you follow any recipe that indicates that you should put salt on a piece of meat before cooking/baking/roasting, etc. Salt will dry out your cut of meat during the cooking time and make it tough and hard. Salt should only be added to meat at the table when you are eating as a matter of individual taste. On the other hand, salt can be beneficial when cooking root vegetables if you are trying to shorten cooking time. Keep in mind that there are many tasty salt substitutes available and these are great to have on hand at meal times for use at the table instead of salt.
Shallots: Can be used in any recipe along with or as a replacement for onion for a more subtle onion flavor.
Savory: 1/2 teaspoon of this dried herb is a delicious addition to gravy. Use to season turkey while roasting.
Summer Savory: This dried herb is a key ingredient in baked potato stuffing.
Thyme: Seasoning for stuffings, cheese sauces, salads and meats.
Vinegar: Use on cooked beets, beets greens, swiss chard or spinach.