Turkey Dinner: Holiday Special with Executive Chef David Westerlund

Ever wonder how a professional Chef cooks up a holiday meal for his or her family? Earlier this month I stopped in for a visit with the University of Regina’s Executive Chef to find out what’s involved in making that perfect home-cooked Christmas Dinner.

I’m not much of a cook myself, so this was a new learning experience for me to watch Chef David Westerlund do his thing in the kitchen and get the entire home smelling like turkey, delicious beets and brussels sprouts with fresh bacon. Chef David kept it simple, with fresh ingredients, but with a personal twist on every dish to add as much flavour as possible.

Chef David started with the centerpiece and fan favourite, the turkey. He is keen on making the turkey pop with flavour, so rubbing herb butter on the entire bird is a must. If you are interested in making a delicious dinner this Christmas, stock up on fresh herbs and follow the steps and ingredients below:

Turkey

  • Compound Butter: for rubbing on top and under the skin of the bird
  • 1 cup Softened Butter
  • Fresh Herbs, chopped about 1 TBS each: Thyme, Rosemary, Sage
  • Diced Garlic Clove
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

Next was the stuffing. For this bird, Chef David worked on preparing stuffing that was not actually stuffed inside the turkey, but cooked separately. Leaving the cavity open allows the bird to cook more evenly, resulting in a tender and juicy turkey. Stuffed birds require longer cooking time to ensure the stuffing is cooked thoroughly, which can lead to a dry and overcooked bird. Who knew!? Instead, Chef David lightly tossed in some fresh herbs for aromatic flavour, and cooked the stuffing in a separate dish while the turkey roasted.

Stuffing

  • Bread (a loaf of your choice, toasted and dried)
  • 3 stalks Celery
  • 3 Carrots
  • 1 Onion
  • A handful of toasted nuts (we used Cashews)
  • Sprinkle of Fresh Herbs, chopped about 1 TBSP each: Thyme, Sage, Rosemary
  • A handful of Mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cups Chicken Broth
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • A dab or two of Butter
  • Diced Garlic Clove

While the turkey is in the oven doing its thing, it’s easy to whip up home-made Cranberry Sauce. It can also be done a day ahead.

Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 package Fresh Cranberries
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Water

Whisk Water & Sugar and add Cranberries. Bring to a soft boil and let cook for 10 minutes. Pour into jars to set.

The mashed potatoes were again packed with flavour and included the usual ingredients and a special one for extra-creamy potatoes.

Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes

  • Potatoes (we used Russets, about 1 per person)
  • A few dabs of Butter
  • About a cup or so of Milk
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • Boursin Cheese (half to full package, depending on taste)
  • Roasted Garlic (full head, which is roasted in the oven while the turkey cooks!)

Now, I’m personally not the biggest fan of brussels sprouts, but after trying Chef David’s sprouts which were mixed and roasted in bacon, onion, thyme, butter, and honey with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, this was one plate I’d ask for again and again.

Brussels Sprouts

  • Fresh Brussels Sprouts (blanched – about 5-7 per person)
  • Bacon (6-9 slices, cut into pieces)
  • 1 Onion, diced
  • Fresh Herbs to taste: Thyme
  • A few dabs of Butter
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)
  • Honey – just a drizzle at the end

I also never liked beets as a kid, but the fresh and flavourful roasted beets that Chef David prepared to go with this meal were so amazing that I’ll be cooking beets all the time!

Roasted Beets

  • Fresh Beets (about 1 per person), washed and quartered, tossed into a pan with Fresh Thyme
  • A few dabs of Butter
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

And for the piece des resistance, the Gravy, Chef David starts with a Roux, and then uses the flavourful drippings from the Turkey pan to build a gravy worthy of the decadent mashed potatoes.

Turkey Gravy

  • Start with a Roux, 1-part flour to 1-part Butter
  • Add to the turkey drippings, right in the roasting pan
  • Whisk in 1 cup of Milk
  • Salt & Pepper (to taste)

With a little planning and ensuring you have all the right ingredients (including lots of fresh herbs for aromatic flavour), this meal can come together nicely without too much stress. The holiday season is a time of year for family and friends to get together and it was an absolute privilege to tag along with Chef David at his home and learn the steps to cooking the perfect holiday meal. After this experience, I think it’s my turn to cook Christmas dinner at my household!

Thank you, Chef David and The Westerlund family for allowing me to capture this event and to stay for turkey dinner in your home. Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season!

– This blog was written by Kevin Dunn, the 2018 Saskatchewanderer, in partnership with Directwest.

December 21, 2018

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