Christmas is almost upon us! After a hard year, Australians can finally look forward to family gatherings and reunions with old friends.
Festivities, of course, call for a feast. Whether you’re entertaining a crowd or enjoying an intimate holiday tete-a-tete, we’ve put together a guide for your holiday spread.
1. The intimate celebration
Marking the occasion with your favourite person? Now’s your chance to push the boat out on flavour without worrying if there’s enough to go around.
Start the meal with some fresh seafood. A dozen freshly shucked oysters with wedges of lemon and a scattering of cracked pepper is an exquisite pleasure — or go off script with some delicate sashimi to savour.
For the main course, replace the turkey with a smaller bird. Quail is an ideal choice. You’ll need four birds for two people. Stuff them with a lemon and herb butter, place in a single layer in the roasting pan and roast for 35-40 minutes. Serve with roasted cocktail potatoes and honeyed baby carrots.
Skip the stodgy Christmas desserts in favour of a delicate alternative. Create individual pavlovas with meringue shells, raspberry puree or passionfruit curd topped with fresh berries and whipped cream.
This is the perfect opportunity to bring out the fine china and crystal wine glasses. Add a snowy white tablecloth, some elegant gold candles and a spring of holly by every plate for an understated effect.
2. The close family or friends
If you’re keeping it to close family this year, your options are endless. With six to 10 people to feed you won’t have to worry about overloading the oven, but there’ll be plenty of appetite for a spread.
Start with a sophisticated first course of smoked salmon and prawn salad. Arrange a slice of smoked salmon and a few large cooked prawns on a plate, add a dollop of horseradish cream and drizzle with a mixture of lime, honey and ginger.
For the main course, try a spatchcocked chicken (or two if you’re feeding more than six people). It’ll cook faster than the standard bird, so the breasts won’t dry out. You can do the spatchcocking the night before: remove the spine with kitchen scissors and press down so that the bird is spread out. Cover with a butter marinade – mix in lemon and herbs, or go exotic with blended chilli and hot smoked paprika. On the day, you’ll need about an hour’s roasting time for a 2kg chicken.
On the side, steamed green beans with flanked almonds and crumbled feta and a dish of roast sweet potatoes with pecans and preserved lemon.
End the meal with a slice of Sri Lankan Christmas cake. This gorgeous recipe takes the traditional Christmas cake and adds rose water, almond essence and strawberry jam to create a cake so rich it’s almost a brownie.
Decorate the table with a homemade wreath gathered from the garden, cheerful red napkins and of course, the all-important Christmas crackers!
3. The free for all
If you love an open door policy on Christmas, you’ll need to be prepared for a crowd. The trick here is easy to prepare food and lots of it. Make sure it’s all self-serve unless you’re planning on hiring wait staff!
Start with help-yourself platters of crudites, fresh fruit, cooked prawns and cold meats. You can make pates and dips a couple of days ahead to save the rush. Borrow an idea from the British and serve pigs in blankets: crowd-pleasing chipolata sausages in pastry which can be prepared ahead and heated up in the oven.
For the main course, you’ll need a few options. A baked ham is easy and relatively economical. Glaze it with a mixture of orange juice and maple syrup, score diamonds into the fat layer and stud them with cloves before baking. It can be served hot, warm or cold, making it very forgiving if your plans get behind schedule.
A mix of white and sweet potato, sprinkled with sumac and cracked pepper and drizzled with olive oil, is always a crowd pleaser. To take the stress off, think salads for the rest of the side dishes. Try a brussel sprout slaw in place of cooked spouts: thinly slice them like cabbage, add a mustard and herb dressing, and sprinkle in some pomegranate seeds for visual interest.
The traditional Christmas pudding was made for this – boil a couple up ahead of time and wait for the cries of delight. Rich and fruity, a Christmas pudding is ideal for filling a lot of stomachs fast. Offer brandy cream, butter and a rich custard for options.
Keep decorations easy with festive paper plates and disposable cutlery, and don’t forget the party hats and bon bons!