Holiday Hosting With Chef Thea VanHerwaarden

Holiday Hosting With Chef Thea VanHerwaarden

The holidays are all about feasting on delicious food and drinking decadent cocktails. It’s almost winter and most of us don’t have to be on a beach anytime soon, so why not indulge? Lots of hosting and cooking is involved this time of year, from potlucks with friends to lavish family gatherings. We asked the renowned home chef, Thea VanHerwaarden, to give us some insider knowledge on hosting a stress-free holiday gathering.

1. How can people start preparing now for cooking over the holiday season?

I always start my prep looking through my favorite cookbooks and websites for recipes to inspire some creativity. So when I heard about all of the amazing recipes from the Insiders Collection on, I knew that would be one of my first stops.

Stocking up on favorites that you can keep in your freezer, like the PC? Dry-Rubbed Hardwood Smoked Chicken Wings, is also a great way to make sure you’re prepared for those last minute get-togethers without having to rush out to the grocery store!

Otherwise, I like to make sure that I’m incorporating some of the traditions from my friends and family that will be sharing my celebration into the menu. Every family has their own unique holiday traditions, and they usually revolve around food. Every year, as my family finds new faces at our table, I love to see how our food traditions evolve and are received by newcomers.

When hosting a holiday gathering, I like to connect with family and friends by putting a new twist on one of our traditional family dishes that’s personal to me. This year, I’m honoring my partner’s love of blue cheese, and my own love of fresh pasta, with the PC® Gnocchi with Creamy Gorgonzola Sauce – my go-to rich and delicious pasta to entertain a crowd.

2. What is your advice for feeding a large group of people?

Forget the fuss – the most delicious meals are often the simplest! When cooking for a big crowd, I like to use my PC® Enameled Cast Iron Dutch Oven. It’s so versatile—you can use it to bake bread, braise meat and almost everything else in between. The flavors that come from using a Dutch oven are incredible, and—as an added bonus—you can transfer it from the oven or stove-top to the table for serving, so there’s less to clean when the party’s over!

I also like to have items on hand that are versatile, so things like PC® Frozen Pomegranate Arils are so easy to use in a variety of ways, from salad toppings to dessert parfaits or cocktail garnishes!

3. Do you have any advice for holiday cooking on a budget?

Entertaining for the holidays doesn’t have to be expensive! With new Must Try and Must Have products, let President’s Choice® be your trusted source to help you build new memories and traditions this holiday season. The Must Haves in the collection will really help elevate your Holiday meals, like the set of 12 stemless wine glasses – they’re brilliant and clear glasses, made in Europe, that retail for only $39.99! The value that you’re getting from those is incredible! I also love items that look really expensive, but that you can find on a budget, like the PC® Candy Cane Cheesecake Lollipops.

4. Do you have any advice for stress-free holiday parties?

The best cooking advice I’ve ever received was to cook from my heart, and the same applies to entertaining—especially during the holidays. When the holiday stress starts to creep in, I like to remind myself that I’m hosting my nearest and dearest and, above all, they’re looking forward to catching up and reconnecting.

Also, it’s great to have a selection of cheeses and antipasto on hand, so you can easily throw together a charcuterie board at a moment’s notice—after all, the holidays are notorious for unexpected visitors stopping by! The PC® Mini Chicken Empanadas another delicious option, just in case you have to whip up an extra appetizer at the last minute.

6. Why did you choose the recipes you suggested.

I love this punch – it’s delicious, but also versatile enough to serve as a really elevated alcohol-free option or to make the kid’s table feel like they’re drinking something special.

I love anything with big, bold flavors, and am a firm believer every good party needs at least one oozy cheese dip. This year, my favorite dip recipe is the Smoked Cheddar and Ghost Pepper Bacon Dip—it ticks all the right boxes! I’ll serve it with toasted sliced baguette, sliced apples, and my favorite PC® crackers.

My partner is from Texas, and so the Applewood Smoked Ham with Red-Eye Gravy is an homage to him! Red-Eye Gravy is traditional in the Southern US, but it’s made super easy with this recipe. I also love to mix it up during the holidays with ham, which feels really special and indulgent.

The Candy Cane Cheesecake Lollipops are so fun and a totally unexpected treat. They’re so simple and fuss-free, and I love presenting them with the sticks put on a wooden board, or into a jar so that people can grab them quickly!

Finally, if you’re looking to truly wow your guests with a stunning dessert, the brioche pudding is a winner. The brioche is so buttery and sweet and, once it soaks up all of the custard, it makes for a truly unforgettable breakfast or brunch!

Below we’ve included the recipes Thea VanHerwaarden suggested and encourage you to try them over the holiday season:

Sparkling Pomegranate Citrus Brunch Punch

We’ve kept this bubbly punch alcohol-free, but you can easily add sparkling wine for a boozy version (follow our Chef’s Tip below). To garnish your punch like a pro, slide the orange slices halfway down along the inside of the pitcher – the ice should keep the slices suspended for an impressive presentation.

Makes: 10 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Ready in 5 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy

Per serving (about 3/4 cup): 110 calories, fat 0 g, sodium 30 mg, carbohydrate 29 g, fiber 0 g, sugars 26 g, protein 0g


  • 4 cups (1 L) ice cubes
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) PC® Sicilian Lemon Italian Soda
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) PC® Blood Orange Italian Soda
  • 2 cans (250 mL each) PC® Pomegranate Cranberry 100% Sparkling Fruit Juice
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) frozen PC® Pomegranate Arils
  • Half orange, thinly sliced into rounds
  • Fresh mint, for garnish


1. Place ice in 3-L (12 cup) pitcher. Add lemon soda, orange soda, juice and frozen pomegranate arils; stir to combine.

2. Add orange slices and mint.

Chef’s Tip: Swap out one of the bottles of Italian soda for a 750-mL bottle of sparkling wine.

Smoked Cheddar and Ghost Pepper Bacon Dip

Every good holiday party needs at least one stretchy, cheesy dip – you know, the one all your guests crowd around. Smoked Cheddar and fiery ghost pepper-flavored bacon take this dip a step above the rest.

Makes: about 2-1?2 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cool time: 10 minutes
Ready in: 50 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy

Per serving (2 tbsp): 80 calories, fat 7 g (5 g of which is saturated), sodium 95 mg, carbohydrate 1 g, fibre 0 g, sugars 1 g, protein 4 g


  • 4 slices PC® Sweet Ghost Pepper Naturally Smoked Bacon
  • 1-1?2 cups (375 mL) shredded PC® Smoke Flavoured Cheddar Cheese
  • 3 tbsp (45 mL) chopped fresh chives
  • 1 pkg (250 g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) sour cream
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) PC® Old-Fashioned Dijon Prepared Mustard
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp (1 mL) cayenne pepper


1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

2. Place bacon in cold skillet. Cook over medium heat, turning often, until golden and crispy, 7 to 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towel-lined cutting board to drain. Discard paper towel; finely chop bacon.

3. Transfer 1 tbsp bacon to small bowl; stir in 1/4 cup Cheddar cheese and 1 tbsp chives. Set aside.

4. Stir together cream cheese, sour cream, mustard, Worcestershire, cayenne pepper and remaining bacon, 1-1?4 cups Cheddar cheese and 2 tbsp chives in large bowl until well combined. Transfer to 9-inch (23 cm) pie plate, smoothing top. Sprinkle with reserved bacon mixture.

5. Bake until golden and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Chef’s Tip: Serve with toasted sliced baguette, sliced apples, and your favorite PC crackers.

Applewood-Smoked Ham with Red-Eye Gravy

Traditional to the southern United States, red-eye gravy is made using pan drippings from ham and black – preferably dark – coffee. Unusual? Sure, but once the coffee reduces and mixes with the sweet apple cider glaze, it takes on an addictively smoky, rich flavor that pairs perfectly with ham.

Makes: 20 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours, 20 minutes
Ready in: 3 hours, 30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy

Per serving: 270 calories, fat 17 g (7 g of which is saturated), sodium 1,350 mg, carbohydrate 10 g, fiber 0 g, sugars 8 g, protein 20 g


  • 1 PC® Applewood-Smoked Spiral-Sliced Bone-In Half Ham with Apple Cider Glaze Pouch (about 9-1?2 lb/4.3 kg)
  • 2 PC® Organics Dark Roast Single Serve Coffee Pods NEW
  • 2 cups (500 mL) PC® Blue Menu Chicken Broth
  • 1?2 cup (125 mL) PC® Unsalted Country Churned Butter, cut into cubes


1. Preheat oven to 275°F (140°C). Remove ham from packaging; set glaze pouch aside. Double-wrap ham in foil. Arrange, bone side down, in roasting pan. Bake 40 minutes per kg, about 2 hours, 50 minutes total.

2. Remove ham from oven. Increase oven temperature to 425°F (220°C). Carefully remove foil from ham. Drizzle ham with half of glaze from pouch. Return to oven; bake, uncovered, 12 minutes.

3. Transfer ham to cutting board or serving platter; cover loosely with foil. Strain pan juices through fine-mesh strainer into large saucepan; discard solids.

4. Brew each coffee pod as an 8-oz cup of coffee to make 2 cups total; pour into saucepan with pan juices. Whisk in broth and remaining glaze from pouch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, whisking occasionally, until liquid is reduced by about one-third, 15 to 18 minutes. Gradually whisk in butter, a few cubes at a time, until melted and smooth. Serve with ham.

Chef’s Tip: Refrigerate the leftover ham and gravy for up to three days, or freeze for up to three months.

Chocolate Orange Brioche Bread Pudding

Toasting the brioche in the oven helps to dry it out, which makes the sweet, buttery bread even better at soaking up the custard for a moist, cake-like texture. You can easily omit the orange-flavored liqueur if you don’t have it on-hand.

Makes: 12 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Cool time: 20 minutes
Ready in: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy

Per serving: 270 calories, fat 15 g (8 g of which is saturated), sodium 190 mg, carbohydrate 27 g, fibre 1 g, sugars 21 g, protein 7 g


  • 1 PC® Brioche Loaf, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
  • 8 large eggs
  • 1-1?4 cups (300 mL) homogenized milk
  • 1 cup (250 mL) 35% whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) packed brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) grated orange zest
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh orange juice
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) orange-flavored liqueur
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) PC® Pure Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 tsp (2 mL) each cinnamon and salt
  • 1 pkg (100 g) PC® Dark Chocolate with Candied Orange Peel, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp (25 mL) PC® Pure Orange Marmalade


1. Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Spread brioche in single layer on parchment paper-lined large baking sheet. Bake, stirring once, until golden, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, granulated sugar, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, liqueur, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in large bowl until well combined.

3. Spread one-third of the brioche in bottom of 9-cup (2.25 L) casserole dish; sprinkle with one-third of the chocolate. Repeat layers twice with remaining brioche and chocolate. Pour egg mixture over top, gently pressing down on brioche mixture to moisten.

4. Cover with foil; bake 35 minutes. Uncover; bake until puffed, golden brown and set in center, 30 to 35 minutes, covering with foil if top begins to over-brown.

5. Stir together marmalade and 1-1?2 tsp water in small bowl; brush over top of bread pudding. Let cool 20 minutes.

Chef’s Tip: Serve with vanilla bean ice cream or freshly whipped cream and a sprinkling of dark chocolate shavings.

PC® Candy Cane Cheesecake Lollipops 

A dazzling sweet treat favorite is back for the holidays! Individual-sized bites of creamy cheesecake on sticks are enrobed in rich chocolate and topped with crunchy crushed candy cane pieces. They’re perfect for fuss-free entertaining or when seeking a small dessert indulgence. Simply thaw and serve.