Skip to content

Finding alternatives to traditional holiday dishes

There are alternatives to cooking a whole stuffed, roasted turkey.
A roasted turkey breast makes a nice holiday meal for two to four people. Add mashed potatoes with skins on, roasted carrots and slow cooker stuffing.

WESTERN PRODUCER — At Christmas when friends and family gather food is an important part of the celebration. Some dishes bring back memories and others are part of the holiday tradition.

For many, at least one holiday meal needs to include turkey. There are alternatives to cooking a whole stuffed, roasted turkey that can be easier and quicker. One is to flatten the turkey and cook the stuffing in a slow cooker, or for a smaller group, roast just a turkey breast.

Flat Roasted Garlic Herb Turkey

To flat roast a turkey it must be spatchcocked. This term refers to splitting a bird down the back, then opening it out and flattening the two sides like a book. With the meat flattened, it cooks more evenly in much less time than a stuffed turkey. A 14-pound flat roasted turkey will fully cook to 170 F (77 C) in about two hours. The breast meat will be tender and juicy, and the dark meat will be fully cooked with no pinkness at the joints. Yield: 20 servings

  • 12-15 lb. turkey, fresh or fully thawed 5.5-7 kg
  • 1/2 c. softened butter 125 mL
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 6 tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, sage, rosemary and thyme or herbs of your choice 90 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 2 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL

Prepare garlic herb butter, combine butter, garlic, herbs, pepper and salt, set aside.

Using a sharp chef knife or meat cleaver, cut through the rib bones along one side of the turkey’s spine, starting at the neck. At the thigh joint dislocate the joint and cut through to totally separate back. Or ask your butcher to split the back for you.

Flip turkey over and make a shallow incision inside the turkey cavity down the cartilage.

Turn turkey over and push down firmly at the centre breastbone until the breastbone cracks to allow the turkey to lie flat. Dislocating the thigh and leg joints may also help the legs to lie flatter.

Using fingertips or a small spoon, carefully loosen skin from breast and thighs. Use a tablespoon to insert some herb butter between the skin and meat. Massage the skin to evenly spread herb butter over meat surface under skin.

Place flat turkey, skin side up, on a wire rack, on a large baking sheet, or in a large baking pan.

Preheat oven to 375F (190C).

Do not cover turkey.

Open roast for 30 minutes before reducing temperature to 350F (180C) for another hour or so, until turkey is fully cooked. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the centre of thickest part of breast meat has reached a minimum of 170 F (77 C).

Always let a turkey rest, covered with aluminum foil, for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing and serving. If the turkey is carved right out of the oven, the meat will release too much moisture too quickly and result in a dry turkey. Adapted from and

Oven-Roasted turkey breast

Turkey breasts can be roasted for a nice holiday meal for two to four people.

  • 1/4 c. butter, softened 60 mL
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. sage 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper 1 mL
  • 1-3 lb. boneless turkey breast with skin*
  • 6 carrots
  • 1/2 onion, quartered

*If no skin is on the breast lay bacon or ham slices over breast to prevent it from drying out.

Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

Mix butter, garlic, sage, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Place whole carrots and onion pieces into a roasting pan. Place turkey breast with skin side up on top of carrots and onions. Loosen turkey skin with fingers, using a spoon spread half of butter mixture underneath skin and over turkey breast. Reserve remaining butter mixture. Tent turkey breast loosely with foil.

Roast in preheated oven for one hour; spread remaining butter mixture over turkey breast. Return to oven and roast until juices run clear and an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165F (65C), about 30 more minutes. Let turkey breast rest 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Adapted from:

Slow Cooker Stuffing

When cooking a non-traditional turkey such as a flattened turkey or a turkey breast, slow cooker stuffing is a great alternative. This is a good recipe for younger members of the family to help with. They could tear dry bread into small pieces or do the stirring to combine the ingredients in a big bowl. Yield: for 10 to 12 people, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup per person.

Half or quarter the recipe for a smaller group.

  • 8 c. bread cubes or prepared stuffing mix 2 L
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. chopped celery 125 mL
  • 1/4 c. butter, margarine 60 mL
  • 1/2-2 c. turkey or chicken broth 125-500 mL, depending on the bread dryness
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning 7 mL
  • or 1/2 tsp. each of sage, rosemary and thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper 1 mL

Note: If using seasoned bread cubes, adjust other seasonings as desired.

For broth simmer turkey bones, skin and/or pieces of meat in water for one hour or until tender or use canned chicken broth or chicken bouillon cubes.

Chop onions and celery, this could be done the day before and store in a covered container in refrigerator.

Prepare bread cubes and place in large mixing bowl. Melt butter in skillet and sauté onion and celery. Pour over bread cubes, add seasonings and toss together.

Moisten bread cubes with broth, combining gently, but well. Pack mixture lightly into slow cooker, dressing will expand as it cooks, cover and set on high for one hour. Turn setting to low and cook for another 1/2 hour or until done. Stir gently as needed but remember heat will decrease each time the lid is removed. Add additional broth as needed, until desired moistness is achieved. Source: Alma Copeland, Western Producer, Dec. 14, 2006.

Toasted Turkey Sandwich

One of our family’s favourite holiday meals is toasted turkey sandwiches made with leftover turkey. The condiments that are added vary by personal taste. My sandwich must have mayonnaise and cranberry sauce.

Gingerbread Cookies

Decorating gingerbread cookies or houses is a wonderful Christmas tradition that can include the entire family. One year I purchased several pre-assembled gingerbread houses and divided the family into one adult-one child teams to decorate them. It was so much fun, and the grand kids still talk about when they decorated their house with auntie or uncle. Easy gingerbread houses can be made using graham wafers, crackers, chips or bread sticks!

Everyone in the family gives this dough a big thumbs up! It is adapted from a Canadian Living recipe from 1990. Yield: 36 to 48 gingerbread people, trees, snowflakes etc. or use for gingerbread houses.

  • 1 c. butter, softened 250 mL
  • 1 c. granulated sugar 250 mL
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. fancy molasses* 175 mL
  • 1/2 c. cooking molasses* 125 mL
  • 6 c. all-purpose flour 1.5 L
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. salt 5 mL
  • 2 tsp. ground ginger 10 mL
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon 5 mL

*Using both fancy molasses and cooking molasses, which is darker, thicker and less sweet than the fancy molasses, gives a good molasses flavour that isn’t too overpowering.

In large bowl beat butter and sugar until light using an electric mixer, beat in eggs, add molasses, and beat until well mixed.

In a separate bowl stir together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves and cinnamon or blend in a flour sifter or sieve. Use a wooden spoon and gradually stir dry ingredients into molasses mixture. Mix well, working with hands if necessary.

Divide dough into four discs patted down to about half an inch thick, wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours until firm, or for up to one week.

Between parchment paper, roll out a disk of dough to 1/4-inch (5 mm) thickness. With floured cookie cutters, cut out cookies. Arrange, 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, on parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

Bake in 350F (180C) oven until firm to the touch and light golden on edges, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer to racks, let cool completely.

Royal icing

  • 1/4 c. meringue powder 60 mL
  • 1/2 c. cold water 125 mL
  • 4 c. icing sugar, sifted 1 L

Beat meringue powder and water together with an electric mixer, slowly add icing sugar and continue beating until peaks form, approximately 10 to 12 minutes.

Spoon icing into a piping bag fitted with a small plain or decorative tip. Or put into zip-top sandwich bags, clip a tiny piece off one of the lower corners, roll bag from top down to squeeze out icing. Pipe designs on cookies. Allow cookies to dry for two hours.

The cookies will keep up to a week in an airtight container or freeze.

Royal icing needs to be kept covered, or it will dry and become lumpy. The easiest way to store icing is in a plastic pastry bag or zip-top food storage bag. Refrigerate unused icing.

Pull out leftover icing, some crackers and candies for a fun impromptu gingerbread house building activity.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday season full of traditions, and memory-making moments!

Betty Ann Deobald is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: [email protected].