Christmas with my family has always been a largely fun-loving, free-spirited affair. Not bound by any particular traditions, my half European half Asian background means the Christmas table is a UN convention of flavours and dishes, and we love it that way – the only thing that’s a sure bet is kilo’s of fresh, fat prawns, cooked on the BBQ. Heaven!
One thing I’ve learned over the years is to plan your menu and then halve it! I’ve made so many canapés and starters before that barely any mains were touched, leaving me disappointed at the hours labouring over the menu and cooking everything – right down to the condiments, from scratch.
So here are a few recipes I thought I’d share with you – tried & tested over the years so they’re pretty much foolproof, or can be made the night before which means more time for you kicking back with a glass of bubbles instead of sweating the small stuff in the kitchen.
I discovered Nigella’s Eton Mess quite by accident when I had a Pavlova that completely flopped, and no amount of cream and fruit could cement it back together and cover the cracks. This can literally be pulled together 10 minutes before serving – and feel free to use store bought meringue nests – it really won’t matter at all!
Delia’s Vanilla Terrine and the River Café’s Boca Negra are both perfect dinner party desserts – made the night before, all you’re required to do is slice and serve. They look seriously impressive and are also easy to transport if you’re ever asked to bring a dessert. The vanilla terrine is one of my all-time favourite recipes – it’s like a healthier version of a pannacotta as it’s made with greek yoghurt and you can almost kid yourself that it’s good for you!
The Quinoa with Brussel Sprouts and Almonds is a genius way of getting some traditional vegetables in the mix, but in a lighter way more suited to an Australian Christmas. If you’ve got any pomegranate left over from the Eton Mess, add some of those ruby jewels and it takes it to another level.
Alongside these dishes, I would have a few kilos of prawns (obviously!) and another meat dish: a ham or some butterflied lamb, also cooked on the BBQ, keeping all the heat outside where it belongs.
Adjust quantities according to your guest list and enjoy!
Merry Christmas from our family to yours! x
Quinoa with Brussels Sprouts & Almonds
Serves 4-6. Can be made the night before.
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 tblsps olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 500g brussel sprouts, thinly sliced
- 8 green spring onions, thinly sliced
- 115g slivered almonds, (1 cup) toasted
- 2/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
- ½ cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
Cook quinoa in a large saucepan of boiling water about 15 to 17 minutes, or until tender and grains split. Drain well. Spread out onto a large tray. Referigerate until cold.
Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and sprouts. Cook, stirring for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until garlic is fragrant and sprouts are still crunchy.
Transfer to bowl. Add quinoa, onions, almonds, parsley & mint. Season with pepper to taste.
Fennel, Pear & Parmesan Salad
Serves 4. Best made close to serving, but with so few ingredients, this one’s a cinch!
- 2 baby fennel, trimmed, fronds reserved
- 2 firm but ripe green skinned pears
- 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbs lemon juice
- 70g piece parmesan or pecorino
- 2 tbs walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped
Thinly slice the fennel across the bulb with a sharp with a sharp knife or mandoline. To slice the pears, hold upright on the bench and thinly slice down each cheek to keep the natural shape. Place the fennel and the pear in a bowl.
Whisk oil and lemon juice in a bowl, season, then lighten with a dash of water. Toss with fennel and pear, divide among plates then scatter with chunks of parmesan, walnuts and fennel fronds.
Maggie Beer’s Cured Salmon with Horseradish Crème
Serves 10. Prepare the night before.
- 1 lemon
- To taste freshly ground white pepper
- ½ tspn lemon juice
- 2 ½ tbspn horseradish minced
- 1 cup crème fraiche
- 1 cup dill chopped
- 150g castor sugar
- 150g salt flakes
- 1.2kg fresh skinless salmon fillets
Using tweezers, remove the line of bones visible in the salmon.
Combine the sea salt, sugar and dill in a mixing bowl and stir together.
Choose two large non-reactive trays the length of the salmon (I use plastic butcher’s trays), then spread half of the salt mixture over the base of one of the trays, put the salmon on top and then cover with the remaining amount of salt mixture.
Cover tightly with cling film, then place the second tray on top of the fish and place weights into the tray. Transfer the salmon to the refrigerator and allow to cure for 8 hours. *How long you decide to cure the fish for will depend on how moist you want to serve it. I cure mine for about 8 hours on average, but once I forgot and left it for 20 hours! At this stage it is much drier but the positive was that it was less challenging for people unsure about the rawness of salmon cured for a shorter time.
Meanwhile, place the crème fraiche, horseradish and lemon juice into a mixing bowl and stir together well – the volume of horseradish you add will depend on how strong you like it and the quality that you buy. Season with a pinch of freshly ground white pepper. Place into a serving dish, cover with cling film and place into fridge until ready to serve.
Wipe the salt mixture from the salmon with a wet clean cloth, some of the dill will remain adhered to the salmon. Carve the salmon into thin slices, across the grain and serve with slices of fresh lemon and the horseradish crème.
Matt Moran’s Roast Duck with Lentils, Pumpkin and Orange
Serves 4-6. Prepare ahead except for the duck breasts. On the day, just cook these and assemble.
- 200g (1 cup) French-style green lentils (I have cheated and used tinned lentils before – do this if short on time!)
- 400 g (approx 1/4 ) butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeded, cut into 1cm pieces
- 1 orange, zested, juiced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 duck breasts
- 2 red onions
- 2 cloves gloves, finely chopped
- 250g Brussels sprouts
- 2 tbs sherry or red wine vinegar
- 125ml red wine
- 125 chicken consomme (or stock!)
- 1 tbs wholegrain mustard
Preheat oven to 200C. Line 2 oven trays with foil. Place 1 tray on bottom shelf to preheat. Cook lentils in a large saucepan until al dente and then drain.
Meanwhile, place pumpkin, orange zest and oil in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Spread pumpkin in a single layer over remaining tray. Roast, stirring halfway through for 20 minutes or until tender and golden.
Score the skin of the duck breasts with a knife, 1 cm apart on the diagonal. Place them skin-side down in a cold fry pan, and cook over medium heat for about 8 mins, until the skin is golden and crisp, and the fat is rendered. Place the duck breasts on the pre-heated oven tray into the oven for about 5 – 6 mins (cooked to medium). Rest, covered in foil until ready to slice and serve.
Leave about 60mL (1/4 cup) of the duck fat in the fry pan and add the thinly sliced red onion and the garlic cloves. Cook over low heat for 10 mins, until lightly caramelised. Trim bases of the brussels sprouts and place in colander in sink. Pour over boiling water to lightly wilt, then refresh in cold water, and drain well. They will then be bright green and looking like mini lettuce cups! Add the juice of the orange you zested earlier and the red wine vinegar to the onions, simmer and cook for 2 mins until nearly evaporated. Add the red wine, chicken consommé (or stock, don’t tell Matt Moran!) and the mustard to the onions. Simmer and cook for 8 mins or until syrupy and reduced. Add lentils, pumpkin and Brussels sprout leaves, simmer for 1 minute to warm through. Slice duck on the diagonal and serve on top of the lentil mixture.
Nigella’s Eton Mess
Serves 4. Best made close to serving, bit it will only take you 10 minutes!
- 500 grams strawberries
- 2 teaspoons caster sugar
- teaspoons pomegranate juice (or 1 pomegranate if you can)
- 500ml whipping cream
- 4 meringue nests
Hull and chop the strawberries and put into a bowl. Add the sugar and pomegranate juice and leave to macerate while you whip the cream. If using a real pomegranate, simply cut in half and bash the back of the pomegranate with a wooden spoon until the seeds fall out along with the natural juice.
Whip the cream in a large bowl until thick but still soft.
Roughly crumble in 4 meringues nests – you will need chunks for texture, as well as a little fine dust.
Take out a ladleful, or about 100g / ½ cup, of the chopped strawberries, and fold the meringued cream and rest of the fruit mixture together.
Arrange on four serving plates or glasses, or in a mound, and top each one with some of the remaining macerated strawberries.
Boca Negra (flourless chocolate cake)
Serves up to 10. Make the night before and use a hot knife to slice – don’t cut too thickly – this is richer than Bill Gates.
- 340g dark choclate (70% cocoa), chopped
- 225g unsalted butter
- 5 organic eggs
- 210g caster sugar
- Crème fraiche, to serve
Preheat the oven to 120C. Grease and line a 25cm cake pan (not springform).
Melt the chocolate and putter in a pan over simmering water (don’t let the bowl touch the water).
Beat the eggs with 70g of the sugar for 8 minutes in an electric mixer until the volume triples. In a pan, stir in the remaining 140g sugar with 100ml of water on medium heat until dissolved. Add to melted chocolate and cool slightly.
Add chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat slowly to combine. Pout into cake pan.
Put a folded tea towel in a large roasting pan. Place cake on top and add enough hot water to come three-quarters up the side of the cake pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until set. Cool completely in the water before serving with cream or leave overnight in the fridge.
Delia’s Vanilla Cream Terrine with Raspberries and Blackcurrant Coulis
Serves 6. This is one of my favourites and is made the night before.
- 425ml double cream
- 75g caster sugar
- 7g leaf gelatine
- 425g greek yoghurt
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (use the real-deal, not the imitation essence here!)
For the coulis: (I’ve made this just with raspberries if you can’t get a hold of blackcurrants)
- 225g blackcurrants
- 75g caster sugar
- 175g raspberries
- fresh mint leaves
Begin by placing the gelatine leaves in cold water and leave them to soften for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place the cream in a saucepan with the sugar and heat gently till the sugar has dissolved (it’s important not to overheat the cream). Next, remove the gelatine from the water and squeeze out the excess liquid. Then add the gelatine to the warm cream and whisk everything over the heat for a few seconds.
Now remove the cream mixture from the heat. In a mixing-bowl, stir the yogurt and vanilla together, then pour in the gelatine cream mixture. Whisk very thoroughly and pour the whole lot into the plastic box, allow to cool, then cover and chill in the fridge for at least 4–6 hours or preferably overnight until it’s set.
Meanwhile, make the blackcurrant coulis by first de-stalking the blackcurrants and then sprinkling them with the sugar in a bowl. Leave to soak for 30 minutes, and then you can either sieve them directly back into the bowl or, to make the sieving easier, process them first, then sieve into the bowl. Taste to check that you have added enough sugar, then pour into a jug and chill until you’re ready to serve the terrine.
To serve, turn the terrine out on to a board, first sliding a palette knife around the edges to loosen it, then give it a hefty shake to turn it out and cut into six slices. Arrange each slice on a serving plate, spoon a little blackcurrant coulis over the top right-hand corner and the bottom left-hand corner of each one and decorate with the fresh raspberries and mint leaves.