How I love Christmas!
I try to maintain a clean, active and healthy lifestyle 11.5 months of the year. Come around mid December the baking begins and I’ll be the first to admit that my willpower is next to nothing when it comes to Salted Caramel Fudge, but I’ll get to that later…
We take Christmas pretty seriously in our family. It is the only time of the year that my entire extended family is together in one place. My cousins gorgeous kids were counting down to Boxing Day just as much as Christmas! We have all ages from seven months through to my Pop at 94 and it really is a celebration of family, food and fun. I cherish Christmas very dearly.
It also means that all those Instagram posts / Pinterest torture pins (otherwise known as my “Sweet Stuff” board) of things I would never usually cook (that whole lack of willpower thing again) get put onto a list and slowly narrowed down to a respectable number of things to bake over the Festive Season.
Something about Christmas dictates that you need to see all your friends before the New Year. Friends you see regularly but also those friends you only see every couple of months. It starts with weekends being full to the brim and slowly your week days are booked up and before you know it, there is hardly a free day to spare! Hello morning gym sessions.
I actually decided against making Fruit Mince Pies this year. I had so many other things on the list that I wanted to try that I thought nobody would miss them much if I presented enough delicious alternatives. Unfortunately (sort of), they were requested by numerous people and I therefore caved to flattery – I’m a sucker for it, I’ll be honest. Tell me you love my Fruit Mince Pies and I’ll turn up tomorrow with five dozen! I make my own fruit mince from scratch. You’ll be amazed to learn that I didn’t actually know you could buy jarred fruit mince until Jamie Oliver used it in one of this Christmas specials. I just assumed that everybody made their own.
Florentine Bark. This was idea I’ve been toying with for a while now. I didn’t want to make traditional Florentines and I wanted them to be more like a toffee bark. They worked out beautifully and my dad was particularly fond of them, even buying me an extra box of Cornflakes so I could make a third batch so he could keep munching away!
I catered Christmas dinner for twelve this year and my dessert was a Festive Meringue Cake inspired by a recipe from Taste. I served it with a cherry, orange compote and macadamia icecream. It looked great and went down an absolute treat with the ladies!
The lovely girls from Perth Health and Wellbeing got together for a Christmas Picnic up in Hillary’s and this is just some of the delicious and healthy food that was presented. Secret Santa was probably one of the best I’ve ever been involved in! Inspired gifts for the health conscious fit girl! A perfect morning in the sunshine!
In an effort to avoid Salted Caramel Fudge I made Healthy Wife Perth‘s delicious and guilt free chocolate chip cookies!
I may have bought Jamie Oliver’s entire Christmas collection on DVD. I may have watched it continuously any time I stepped foot inside the kitchen throughout most of December. If you watched him make this epic hot chocolate as many times as I did, you’d give in too! We enjoyed this after breakfast on Christmas morning and it was as epic as he promised and I can now tick it off the bucket list!
Christmas Eve marks the beginning of the festivities for our family. Every year for as long as I can remember we’ve done Chrissy Eve with family friends. The core group is always the same but this year was our biggest yet with added boyfriends and friends and overseas family adding to the merriment. I made Healthy Em‘s fabulous Zucchini bites with homemade Sundried Tomato Pesto and Cashew Cream. They are so simple, look gorgeous and taste amazing. Any left overs can be used as a dip and her cashew cream is so versatile!
This was absolutely my most favourite thing that I baked this year. Doesn’t it look gorgeous!? The recipe came from Gourmet Traveller I was absolutely blown away with how well it turned out! There was not a slice to spare at the end of the evening! The pastry was short and light. I ended up adding a fair bit of passionfruit to the pastry cream to give it a stronger flavour but that was the only thing I changed. I also learned the key to making a perfect wet caramel – agitate! Plus half a teaspoon of lemon juice! Thank you finecooking!
My sister and I stayed at my parents on Christmas morning. She is a nurse at PMH and was scheduled to work the early shift. We experienced our first “Christmas Miracle” at about 5:15am when she got the call saying she could have a TOIL (time off in lieu) day, which then proceeded with us running in and waking up Ma and Pa at 5:30am as if we were still 10 years old yelling about what a Christmas Miracle it was!
I was planning on making cauliflower fritters and poached eggs for breakfast but I thought I’d give the honoured guest the choice of what she wanted. She went with Crumpets and I have been wanting to try and recreate Gusto Foods incredible crumpet dish for a while now. The Crumpets were fantastic! Another recipe from Taste that worked brilliantly. I need to work on the Peanut Gravel, I couldn’t get the texture right. Never fear, in the words of Barney Stinson; ‘challenge accepted!’ (Unless Gusto would indulge my peanut gravel obsession and start bottling it up and selling it!) We even had left over passionfruit caramel to drizzle on top!
Writing this I am realising ‘gee, it really was a Jamie Oliver inspired Christmas’… My Pop was the only person to join my Mum, Dad, sister and I on Christmas Day. I wanted to do something a bit special for him as it was our first Christmas without our Nanna who passed away earlier this year. Also because at 94, he has discovered the golden arches and decided a quarter pounder is the best meal he’s had in ages so I was on a bit of a mission to prove him wrong. I’ve never cooked turkey before and I have always wanted to give Beef Wellington a go, so this seemed to be a perfect solution to all the above.
I loved the challenge of cooking it perfectly, the processes involved in putting it all together – I may be mad but I love recipes that take all day to make, that have step after step of cooking and waiting and proving and assembling. For example, the tart; you have to make the pastry, then let it sit in the fridge, then blind bake it, then make the pastry cream, let it cool, before you can assemble it. Same with the crumpets, but to a lesser degree, let the yeast activate, let the batter sit for an hour, add the bi-carb soda, let it sit another hour before you can cook it. The anticipation of the finished product becomes incredibly heightened and the love and care that you put into making it is absolutely on display as you present it to the people eating it. I am hugely proud of what I achieved this Christmas. I challenged my culinary skills and managed to have no disasters (other than a batch of crystallised caramel) and no temper tantrums (there was a gingerbread house meltdown in years gone by). There is nothing more joyous than feeding your family delicious food!
Back to the Turkey Wellington, cutting it open in front of the family to reveal the layers of cranberry jam, mushroom duxelle, crispy bacon pieces with rosemary all encased in flaking, golden puff pastry was amazing, a Christmas highlight to be sure. I was thrilled to think that I would get to do it all again on Boxing Day! I also made Jamie’s ‘get ahead gravy’ – another recipe of processes, but it made the house smell amazing, roasting vegetables and chicken wings, letting them simmer on the stove all smushed up.
Sometimes it is the off the cuff ideas that work out the best! Mum bought these baby carrots and I thought they were so cute, it would be a shame to chop them up and roast them like your average roast veg. It is Christmas after all, everyday food just will not cut the mustard! Speaking of mustard, I roasted these smothered in evoo, honey, dijon mustard and thyme. I feel it is necessary to confess my love for roast carrots now, and therefore the anticipation I felt waiting to eat them. I will also confess that I am not always very good at sharing things. I have only recently learned to tolerate sharing a dessert and even then it is mostly begrudgingly. I did not want to share the carrots! I wanted to eat them all. Hopefully nobody noticed that I went back for seconds, thirds and then finished off the plate.
I am aware that what I’m about to say might cost me a few followers… I don’t particularly like traditional Pavlova. Yes, I know it’s un-Australian of me. It’s just too gooey, I’m sorry!
In recent years, this over-sized Meringue stack has become my go to dessert. It looks impressive. It is extremely versatile. I have made quite a number of them now and no two have ever been the same. This particular one followed What Katie Ate‘s meringue recipe but I decided a blitzed strawberries/cream/mascarpone mix with chocolate ganache was the go for the filling.
I love assembling it in front of everybody, something about oozy chocolate ganache being drizzled from a height and tantalisingly flowing down over the sides seems to always attract a crowd… and cheeky fingers. This is truly the essence of Christmas to me, everybody sitting around the table or standing to look over my shoulder, watching in anticipation as I try to cut and serve some semblance of slices, slopping them quickly into bowls that are handed down the line. Everybody insisting on a small piece whilst quietly and happily accepting a big one. A deconstructed mess left on the platter, awaiting spoons to dig in for seconds. It is a constantly revolving circle of people as my sisters deliciously moist chocolate cake with soft, fluffy peanut butter frosting and disgustingly, joyously excessive salted caramel is also gobbled up amongst vanilla slice and my meringue stack.
This moment right here, having the kids come and ask for more, watching people stick their fingers and spoons into the leftovers, commenting on how full they are as they scoop up another mouthful, how many hours in the gym this is going to cost them, is why I love Christmas. It is why I look forward to us all coming together every year. It is why I hold our traditions in such high esteem. It is why I am happy to cook, to bake for hours and days in the lead up to Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, to go to bed with an aching back and sore feet because I am no longer used to standing up all day as I once was in my checkout chick days. It is all for the joy that food brings people, the way it brings people together.
There is something to be said for cooking with love. The enjoyment and happiness you put in as you chop, mix, whisk is reflected in the faces of your family and friends as they eat. It is the most crucial ingredient to any recipe.
Until next year…. Let the planning begin!