23 Nov 2014

practising for christmas

In a serious break with tradition, I’ve put my Christmas decorations up already, before December. I go simple – lots of silver tinsel festooned about my living room’s large windows, hanging with silver tinsel stars; every door handle in the house has a silver tinsel star and silver bauble combo handing off the handle. I like silver tinsel — it catches the sunlight and looks so happy — and the monochrome scheme keeps it classy. Well, as classy as silver tinsel can be. I was having a tiring week, and just thought, why not have some sparkle?

I’ve also started practising for Christmas dinner, as this year we’ll be at my place. I’m lucky it’s just me, mum and dad, but that is two more people than I usually cook for, so I want to be prepared.

A lot of it will be seasonal: warm and fresh salads and sides made with produce from my garden and dad’s. Green beans and peas are probably on the menu, and maybe potatoes and pumpkin. Hopefully beetroot, to roast. I won’t know specific combos for these bowls and platters until much closer.

I have a couple of dressings and vinaigrettes to try over the coming weeks. I’m incredible boring and lazy; a dribble of olive or walnut oil and a squeeze of lemon juice is usually sufficient for me. But I’ll expand my repertoire for the Christmas meal — and hopefully for future ones too.

So that just left the main event. I decided on a meat-free menu; it's not really a big deal for any of us, but Dad did make a joke about eating brown rice and chickpeas, so I had to come up with something impressive enough to re-assure him — festive, not frugal, dad! Then I read Garden Deli’s recent post and thought a-ha! Pastry! Everything’s better with pastry; fancier, posher, more celebratory!
My mind raced to a luscious Martha Stewart tomato tart I’ve made before, which is so simple; that simplicity showcases the incredible flavours of homegrown tomatoes. A beautifully short pastry, daubed with a herby-garlicky oil, then topped with thick slices of juicy tomatoes which roast until they reach height of tomatoey perfection. My mouth is watering just remembering this.

However, there’s one flaw in this plan: neither dad nor I will have tomatoes ready for Christmas. And I refuse to buy pale, hard, cardboard-y ones from the shops. Dang!

I was inspired by a recipe from Valli Little in one of the delicious books, who herself was inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi (what lineage!). Yes, I was mashing up two recipes and adding my own twists, so this is why a practice run was essential. I came up with rich roasted sweet potato slices, atop a bed of creamy ricotta flavoured with fresh chives and lemon thyme, and meltingly-soft wine-sauteed leeks, all resting on a flaky pastry base.

In my practice run I have deduced that I can roast the sweet potato and sauté the leeks the day before; I could even mix up the ricotta too. That saves a lot kitchen stress and time on Christmas day, right? It’s then simply assemble-and-bake.

I have yet to get the quantities for the ricotta right; I had a little leftover. I may also swap out the almond flakes (not in the original recipes) for pine nuts; they may be a better match for the sweet potato. These are the issues I wanted to discover in my practice run, but I essentially know that I’m on a winner with these.

Coming out of the oven, the pastries looked and smelt special. The golden edges were beautifully puffed and the different layers looked like I’d gone to lots of effort, when they were actually so easy to create. They tasted lovely, and were not too heavy, either, so we’ll avoid that typical stuffed-silly feeling.

Then again, I have roped mum into bringing the Aussie classic, pavlova, for dessert. What a treat that will be! Hopefully with fresh berries from dad’s orchards — I already plan on having seconds of that.

The tinsel maybe up, the menu planned and practised; is it too early to wish you all merry Christmas?


  1. Your menu looks delicious and your decorations sound lovely. Fresh berries grown by your Dad...now that would make me very happy at Christmas! x

    1. i've seen the berry vines and bushes, jane, and it's looking so very promising and delicious! i shall think of you when we are picking the fruit :-)

  2. I'm slightly, no very, envious of the array of fresh veggies you'll have to cook with on Christmas day... it all sounds so much more appetising than Brussels sprouts. Thanks for the mention... my blog named in the same post as Martha Stewart and Ottolenghi, I knew I'd hit the big time some day! Will you be posting your sweet potato tart recipe soon?

    1. you are in fine company there for sure, GD! i shall probably post the recipe once i know exactly what i am doing with the quantities, but it is very similar to YO's recipe in his 'ottolenghi' book; my main change was adding the leek layer.
      ps brussels sprouts can be pretty yum!

  3. Your Christmas lunch will be amazing Elizabeth with all the produce from your Dad's garden and yours. Oh your so lucky there's 3 of you, we're having all my family around to our new house and that will total 14. Great idea to practice the meal, you're making me so hungry. I know its not a big deal for you guys but Christmas lunch with no meat would be akin to treason in our household!

  4. wow 14! i hope you have help - especially with the washing up. but what a great way to welcome in your new home with a big family christmas.
    and i feel very relaxed now i have tried a new recipe - and one that worked - in plenty of time. no tizzy fits on the day :-)

  5. Yes looking forward to it. Now that you've got your menu organised you can relax & enjoy your Christmas Day. Hope the weather is glorious for you all there on the day.


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