Fes­tive and fun

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

My idea of a mod­ern Christ­mas din­ner is a fab­u­lous feast that doesn’t re­quire a lot of work, and ideally doesn’t cost a for­tune. These days it’s also handy to have a menu that dairy-free and gluten-free eaters can enjoy too.

For years I tried to emu­late the ef­forts of my dear mother at our Christ­mas feasts, think­ing that ad­her­ing to our fam­ily tra­di­tions would make ev­ery­one feel happy and an­chored in a won­der­ful handed-down fam­ily rit­ual. My mother would rise pre-dawn to stuff birds, pre­pare her spec­tac­u­lar pavlova, pod broad beans, scrape the skins off my fa­ther’s first dig of tiny new-sea­son pota­toes, whip up a treat for elevenses with the neigh­bours and, oh yes, kick off the day’s pro­ceed­ings with a fancy break­fast for us all, laid out on a beau­ti­fully set ta­ble.

I could never match her ef­forts but oh, how I tried. Fi­nally I fig­ured out that no one was hav­ing any fun. It wasn’t just me who was stressed out the en­tire fam­ily took on my stress and the weight of all my ex­pec­ta­tions.

It’s not hard to lose all sense of Christ­mas bon­homie in the face of too much schlep­ping. Drop the bar and lower your ex­pec­ta­tions, I say. It will still be de­li­cious, mem­o­rable and, most of all, fun.

If you can, share the love and get ev­ery­one to bring a course or a dish. But if it’s your turn to dish up the goods this year, then an easy, prep-ahead menu is the way to go.

So much of the way we feel about things is driven by how they look. Set­ting a fes­tive ta­ble with can­dles and Christ­mas crack­ers and lit­tle bowls of cher­ries, al­monds, figs and choco­lates, sets the scene for a Christ­mas feast and sig­nals the rit­u­als we as­so­ciate with this par­tic­u­lar fes­ti­val.

A meal al­ways feels spe­cial if you add in an ex­tra course — and seafood comes to the fore as a sim­ple prepa­head op­tion. This year I’m opt­ing for a raw salmon starter, fol­lowed by a main of suc­cu­lent slow­cooked lamb, and a fab­u­lous dairy-free ice­cream.

SALMON TARTARE Ready in 15 mins Serves 8

400g bone­less, skin­less salmon fil­let

1 Tbsp pre­served le­mon, very finely chopped, or the zest of 1 le­mon, finely grated

1 small spring onion, very finely chopped 1 Tbsp very finely chopped ca­pers

2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf pars­ley

2 Tbsp ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, plus ex­tra to driz­zle

Salt and ground black pep­per, to taste

To serve

12-18 baby cos let­tuce leaves

2 Tbsp salmon roe, to gar­nish (op­tional) Use a very sharp knife to finely dice the salmon. Place in a bowl with the le­mon, spring onion, ca­pers, pars­ley, olive oil, salt and pep­per. Toss to com­bine, cover and chill until ready to serve. It will keep for at least 12 hours. To serve, di­vide baby cos leaves be­tween 8 serv­ing plates then top with salmon and gar­nish with salmon roe, if us­ing. Fin­ish with a driz­zle of olive oil around the plates. Annabel says: This is such a light, pretty starter. The key is to use very fresh fish. You can use tuna or king­fish in­stead of salmon if you pre­fer. Ac­com­pany with crusty bread or cros­tini or gluten-free crisp­breads.

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