The most important thing about big holiday meals has nothing to do with food, says chef Michael Smith, host of Food Network Canada’s Chef Michael’s Kitchen and judge on the hit series Chopped Canada. “We have to remember that what’s on the table is not as important as who is at the table,” says Smith, father of three and an author of numerous cookbooks, including Family Meals and Back to Basics. Keeping this is mind will help the home chef avoid the perennial problem of spreading yourself thin attempting too many dishes. “You’re far better off doing a couple of things really well than a whole bunch of things sort of half-assed and stressed out,” he says.

If tradition demands a roast, try plating it differently than your mom did in the 1980s — with an update to portion size, too. Smith recently served a roast beef thinly sliced on generous beds of arugula accompanied by a chipotle-chimichurri sauce. “It doesn’t need to be this big honking piece of protein that we shouldn’t be eating in the first place. Maybe it’s just a few slices with a really cool condiment.”

At Smith’s house in Prince Edward Island, Christmas dinner includes his grandmother’s cranberry sauce and his mother’s plum pudding, but the family always serves one new dish to keep things interesting. Tip: Making a turkey? Whether or not you decide to get fancy by brining, smoking, barbecuing or elaborately stuffing your bird, there’s only one move that matters, says Smith: “Buy a thermometer and use it.” When a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165°F, you’re done, regardless of how you got there.

Mustard Crusted Pork Tenderloin

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Serves:  2-4

mustard-crusted-pork-tenderloin

Ingredients:
4 Tbsp grainy mustard
2 Tbsp freshly minced sage
1 Tbsp freshly minced parsley
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
1 pork tenderloin
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp canola oil

Directions:
1. Place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 425°F.
2. Combine mustard, sage and parsley along with salt and pepper in a small bowl.
3. Cut pork tenderloin in half width-wise; rub mustard mixture all over the pork. (Cutting it in half will make it easier to manage while you fry it.)
4. Spread breadcrumbs onto a plate and gently press the pork into the breadcrumbs mixture to coat on all sides.
5. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add butter and oil. When the butter stops foaming add the pork.
6. Cook the pork, turning gently to brown on all sides without losing the coating. Transfer to rack on cookie sheet.
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the pork is cooked to an internal temperature of at least 155°F. (The temperature will continue to rise while it rests.)
8. Allow pork to rest for 10 minutes while lightly tented with aluminum foil.
9. Slice across the grain into 1 centimetre-wide slices and serve.

Colourful Cleansing Salad

Prep Time: 15 minutes

colourful-cleansing-salad

Ingredients:

Salad
2 cups chopped kale
1 beet, grated
1 cup thinly sliced purple cabbage
½ cup chopped parsley
2 Tbsp chopped toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

Dressing
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

Directions:

Salad
Chop kale and massage it for 1 minute, to reduce size slightly and make more digestible. Combine in bowl with rest of ingredients.

Dressing
Whisk ingredients together and drizzle over salad. Top with toasted pecans or walnuts.

Credits:
Main: Platter, $88, anthropologie.com. Tea towel, $12 for 3, zarahome.com. Side plate, $4, homesense.com. Gold-handled cutlery, $31 per place setting, westelm.com
Salad: Napkin, $9, crateandbarrel.com. Serving utensils, $38 for set, anthropologie.com
Story: Brandie Weikle. Photography: James Tse. Food styling: Ashley Denton. Prop styling: Carolyn Souch. Creative direction: Jessica Hotson (roast and salad).