Chef-up Your Holiday Dishes

Time to tuck into some springtime traditional holiday fare. Could your old recipes use a gourmet upgrade?


As springtime holidays draw near, many of us look forward to our Easter hams or Passover briskets, while others may dread another bland holiday meal. While traditional holiday eats tend to be fussy and expensive, the flavours can be quite plain.

This year, why not add a little extra oomph to your holiday meals. How? By heeding this advice from Top Chef Canada: All Stars winner Nicole Gomes, owner of Calgary’s Nicole Gourmet catering and fried chicken restaurant Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver. We asked her for tips on how to elevate your holiday standards to a gourmet level.

Max out the meat

Whether you’re doing a Passover brisket, a prime rib roast for Easter (the latter of which is Gomes’ favourite) or a big roast for a Ramadan iftar meal, let the meat sit outside tthe fridge for about 45 minutes before popping it in the oven.

“If you put the meat in cold, it’s going to spend the first while in the oven trying to get warm. You get that grey outside and really red inside, and it’s not as tender or moist,” Gomes says. After cooking, always let meat rest for 15 to 20 minutes – it continues to cook, plus the juices redistribute.

Gomes suggests serving spicy fruit salsas or condiments like chimichurri on the side – they may not be traditional, but they will take otherwise standard meat dishes to the next level.

Try lamb

Lamb is commonly eaten during or at the end of Ramadan, but it works for other holiday meals too. Lamb carries connotations of spring, and Gomes says it provides a lot of payoff for a relatively small amount of work.

“Lamb shanks are a great do-ahead,” Gomes says. “You just sear the meat and then add carrots, celery and onions and top with canned tomatoes and red wine and roast the lamb for three hours covered at 250 F degrees. And then just reheat it before serving.”

Make homemade broth

For the best matzo ball soup, make the chicken broth at home, says Gomes. You can ensure that it’s kosher, while many store-bought kosher brands tend to be overly salty. Gomes suggests roasting the chicken bones in the oven before boiling them to make the stock. It’s a more time-intensive process, but can be done well in advance and will give your soup a richer and more complex flavour.

There’s always a point in the kitchen when things get chaotic – and those numerous side dishes are often to blame.

Do the veg early

There’s always a point in the kitchen when things get chaotic – and those numerous side dishes are often to blame. “Do the side dishes the day before and then put them back in the oven to rewarm them after the meat comes out,” says Gomes.

She keeps her vegetable sides simple by focusing on the best ingredients. Good-quality carrots can be roasted with honey, thyme and coriander seeds. Gomes also likes roasting beets and tossing them with a good vinegar while they’re still warm. Scalloped potatoes are always a hit: you can use celeriac and butternut squash too, and test out dairy-free recipes for kosher gatherings.

Try some new techniques, but overall, keep things simple and focus on the best ingredients you can find. Also, don’t overlook the details: high-quality butter or a dairy-free spread and fancy mustard or horseradish can elevate the meal without creating extra work. The biggest trick is for the cook to create a fairly effortless yet delicious meal and still have time to enjoy the company of family and friends.

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