I won’t be having a white Christmas...

Pavlova with raspberries

The countdown has begun! While Americans are intent on enjoying Thanksgiving this week, they too will soon be caught up in the festive season – we all will! How to survive it, then, apart from heading to a remote spot and thus avoiding all the commercial brouhaha, is something I ponder every year. Wouldn't it save a lot of time, energy, frustration and money to eat out on Christmas day? No more making lists and lists and more lists. No sleepless nights trying to remember what it is you're bound to have forgotten. No washing up!

This sort of escapism usually strikes me about midday every year on the 25th when I'm melting over a hot oven glazing ham or basting turkey. In case you guys in the northern hemisphere haven't realised– 'downunder' Christmas falls during our summer so we cook hot Christmas feasts with all the trimmings, as tradition would have it, during our summer. Nuts, I know. The only consolation is that a similar situation is being played out in most New Zealand households. Still, for some reason I can't commit myself to eating out, so, it's business as usual at the Biuso's on Christmas day. But what to serve?

These last few months I have cooked dozens of dishes for Christmas already for Taste and Your & Home & Garden magazines, and I'm a little 'Christmassed-out'. For Taste magazine I've made a White Christmas menu starting with crayfish croutes with lemongrass to go with bubbles, white asparagus Mimosa, a pretty little dish of asparagus dotted with sieved egg yolk, turkey breasts stuffed with roasted chestnuts and a fig vin cotto gravy and gingered figs to accompany, and a truly magnificent choux pastry tree, which will be on the cover of the magazine (due out next week) made with mini choux buns filled with raspberry cream dunked in melted white chocolate and stuck on a croquembouche cone. It's a work of art, though not that difficult to make, and will have everyone agog and a-gawp! Worth it for that alone. Also for Taste I've cooked two 3-course Xmas barbecue menus, the first with prawns in cashew nut paste on a salad of pineapple and cucumber, and seared scallops with a medley of baby new potatoes and asparagus, followed by an addictive plum pudding ice cream, and the second menu with avocado soup with crayfish medallions as a starter and grilled tarragon chicken breast with verjuice and grapes as a main, with summer puddings made with croissants to finish. Then there is the Boxing day menu using leftover ham and turkey in risotto, a scrumptious hotpot, and crunchy hotcakes...

For Your Home & Garden (current issue) I've cooked up a storm with roast duck and lychees with tarragon cream dressing, roasted rack of pork with fresh sizzled peaches, roasted chicken with chestnut stuffing and crispy bacon and turkey breasts with bacon and pine nut stuffing with sherry vinegar jus, then for sweets, vanilla cheesecake with chocolate dust & raspberries, chocolate roulade with chestnut filling, feather-light sponge filled with raspberries and cream decorated with sugared red rose petals, and peach and strawberry trifle. All pretty scrumptious, really...

And my family ask me what are we going to have for our Christmas feast? I think I'll scream. If I see another chestnut in my life, it'll be one too many. If I stuff another turkey breast... well I was going to say, I'll murder the cat, but that's unfair, because I love him, great 9kg elephant that he is, and I might get arrested for cruel intentions. But you get the idea.

In the week leading up to Christmas I'll do radio and television interviews and the usual question will come up 'What are you cooking for Christmas Julie?' The journalist asking the question will usually hover with an expectant air, waiting for me to announce some fantastic menu, full of exotica, a no-expenses spared foodie extravaganza kind of deal, and I'll give my usual answer 'Well, we tend to stick with our traditional favourites. We always have glazed ham on the bone – this year it will be free-range from Freedom Farm - and freshly-dug potatoes -we're hoping to have enough from our own garden. I've got to do baby peas and green beans for my father because he loves them, and I've got to make my classic turkey stuffing which I make into stuffing balls -they go all sort of crunchy and are to die-for - because my kids would throw a wobbly if I didn't serve them. Then we'll have a meringue mountain with fresh berries. That sounds flash but it's just a pile of cream-filled meringues in a stack! And that's sort of it, really.' The journalist usually turns off at this stage, and while it IS same-old same-old to a certain degree, there's something about tradition, about all hands on the wooden spoon stirring the fruit mix for the Christmas cake while you wish the best for all those you know, about the anticipation of enjoying foods which are served just once a year, and about the pleasure that you give to other members of your family when you cook their favourite dishes.

So then, I won't be recreating my White Christmas choux pastry tree for my family. Bo-hoo, they cry. But their eyes light up when I tell them what I will be giving them - my best pav (pavlova)! Here's the recipe for it (it's failsafe). A classic it may be, but everyone loves it, and when well made, it's heaven on a plate. Enjoy.

ps I'll have plenty more Christmas recipes in my next blog coming soon and in my December newsletter.

Recipe Stash 

Pavlova with raspberries

Pavlova with raspberries

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