Sunday, December 29, 2013

Festive Season Food Diary

I'm always a bit bemused about the Christmas/Festive Season hysteria. And yes, it really is hysteria. Why people blindly buy in to it and put themselves through the ringer about this time of the year I just don't know. In our household we take a very laid back approach to the whole thing. For us, it's less about parting with large amounts of cash to buy "stuff" most people don't want, or putting pressure on yourself to cook what all the glossy mags or smug TV chefs tell you that you should be cooking - and more about having much valued time off work and enjoying each other's company. Usually we bypass the traditional Christmas palaver altogether, by heading off on our own somewhere quiet, and staying there till new year. The downside to this of course is that it tends to be expensive staying anywhere in December, and as we are currently in saving money mode, (to buy our longed for plot of nature in Tasmania) we stayed home this time around.

Instead, we headed up to the NSW Central Coast to enjoy a laid back Christmas Day with my in laws, Kate and Peter. I volunteered to cook the four of us Christmas lunch, and thought that I would take a "mystery box" approach to the cooking, bringing with us a selection of seasonal ingredients that I liked, and then making up a menu pretty much on the day. Until Christmas morning I wasn't 100% sure what I was cooking - I had a few ideas in my head - but I just ended up cooking according to the ingredients and my mood. The exception to this was the dessert, which I did make the day ahead. Having one of the courses already sorted made the rest quite easy. Only cooking for four people also helped a lot too of course, and I could focus on quality over quantity.

Kate had requested a fairly light menu, so I thought that seafood and a fruit based dessert were obvious choices. We have recently returned from Western Australia, and thanks to my Mum's boyfriend John, had been given some beautiful W.A Rock Lobsters that he had caught for us. These became the basis of the main course. We grabbed some fresh local prawns on Christmas eve from the local fish lady at Ettalong Beach, and along with an esky full of bits and pieces - and what was growing in Kate's garden, created our lunch menu.

First up was a bit of a take on the Prawn Cocktail, but with a salsa of home grown tomatoes, avocado, lime, chilli and herbs from the garden. As I was preparing this, I noticed a leftover bread roll from lunch the day before in the bread basket. I turned this into crispy, oven baked parmesan toast to serve on the side. It was tasty and gave a nice crunchy textural element to the entrée. I served the cocktails in insulated coffee glasses that I found in the cupboard. Great to keep the cocktails nice and cold.

Prawn Cocktail with Avocado Salsa
and Crispy Parmesan Toasts

Main course was based around that gorgeous W.A lobster. I didn't want to mess with it too much, so just sautéed it gently with a little butter, a touch of olive oil, salt, pepper and a small squeeze of lemon. I served this with grilled asparagus, a super velvety cauliflower puree spiked with a little cream, and Red Oak and Sorrel micro herbs. I drizzled the pan juices over the lobster just before serving. It was really delicious and a big hit with the family.

Sauteed W.A Lobster
with Cauliflower Puree, Asparagus and Micro Herbs

My do ahead dessert was based on mangoes and passionfruit, which are great at the moment. I made a passionfruit and mango mousse and layered it in a big bowl, with fresh mango and Savoiardi sponge fingers soaked in Limoncello (from New Zealand, that I had picked up at the Sydney Food and Wine Show last year.) I served the dessert with some fresh cherries and raspberries for a bit of a festive touch.

Mango and Passionfruit Mousse
with Italian Sponge and Limoncello
So that was Christmas day. Two days later, we ended up having what looked a lot like a traditional Christmas dinner when I decided to cook some free range, organic turkey breast that we had bought from our favourite meat supplier, Feather and Bone. I stuffed the turkey breast with some left over zucchini and parmesan stuffing I had in the freezer (I always do a big batch of stuffing when I make it and freeze some. Really worth doing, and it freezes very well) Served it with all the trimmings - vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli gratin and gravy -  and also invited friends over to share it with us. It was really delicious and made us all ponder why we don't eat turkey more often.

 Stuffed Turkey Breast
with all the trimmings
Andrew has been asking me for what feels like forever (years!) to a make pavlova, so I thought I would finally give it a try. I was a bit unsure about it, so consulted Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion" (aka "The Bible") to find out what to do. I was really thrilled with the result - crispy on the outside, marshmallow on the inside, just as it should be. Stephanie rules. I topped the pavlova with a vanilla cream, and more mangoes and passionfruit.

Stephanie Alexander's Classic Pavlova

Only down side to my pavlova success is that now I think I am going to have to add it to the regular cooking repertoire. Andrew loved it. I have an idea to do one with a salted caramel and fresh fig topping at some stage.

Ready to eat - Summer Pavlova

Now, I really hate wasting food, and I am the queen of recycling ingredients and turning leftovers into another meal. After our turkey dinner, we had turkey and some of the cauliflower and broccoli gratin left, so I turned it into brunch the next day - made into fritters with the addition of sweet corn and herbs from the garden. Served with a quick tomato salsa and a spoon full of light sour cream, it made a lovely tasty summer dish.

Turkey and Corn Fritters
with Tomato Salsa

So that is what I have been cooking and eating over the festive season. There is a whole lot of really wonderful produce in season at the moment, and I would encourage you all to enjoy it while you can. The season will be over before you know it. My favourites are stone fruit, berries, cherries, mangoes and fresh pineapple - and seafood of course.

New Year's Eve is only a few days away, and we have a tradition of ringing in the new year by having dinner at Restaurant Atelier, our favourite local eatery and an exceptional place to dine. This year will be a little sad as the evening of 31 December will be their last service ever, after over a decade of consistently serving magnificent food and wine. This restaurant is very special to us, as they have shared in so many celebrations and great meals - we even visited on the night before we were married. We will be sitting at our favourite table on New Year's Eve and raising a toast to Chef Darren Templeman and his wife, Maitre d' and Sommelier extraordinaire Bernadette in gratitude for the amazing meals and evenings we have spent at Atelier. They will be sorely missed. Word is, they may be heading south to Melbourne. Lucky Melbourne!

I wish all of my Gourmet Goddess readers a very happy, healthy and delicious 2014. May it bring you all of the good things.

Me, enjoying a swim in the rain on Christmas Day,
 while everyone else was having a nap