Christmas food Aussie style

We had such a fabulous feast of food over Christmas that I couldn’t resist taking photos of it all. And it seems a shame to have a bunch of food photos and not write a blog post to show them off! This will probably be of most interest to my British family and friends, for whom the notion of a hot Christmas and all that entails is still something of a novelty. I hope the rest of you will find something to enjoy too.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and we all gathered at Watergums, a large, gnarly timber cabin by a platypus-inhabited billabong off the Barrington River, where half our party was staying for our festive family get-together. We sat around a big wooden table on the deck, a game of Scrabble in progress, surrounded by the heat and the din of cicadas. Dinner was Uncle Barry’s famous tomato bruschetta, followed by barbecued steak and chorizo sausages with baked sweet potato and coleslaw, topped off with peach trifle. Trifle is a particular Christmas favourite of mine. Granny always used to make our Christmas trifle, served in a beautiful crystal bowl. After Granny moved off the island my mother made it, to much the same recipe, and I always got to decorate the top with amaretti biscuits and tinned mandarin segments.

Christmas Day began with the traditional swim – not at Freshwater Beach where we go when Christmas is at Barry and Penny’s, but in the aforementioned Barrington River, down at Rocky Crossing, a couple of hundred metres from the turnoff to Lorna’s (my mother-in-law’s) farm. Back up at the farm, we breakfasted on Bourke Street Bakery croissants and mince pies before the Watergums mob arrived to fire up the barbecue for the turkey. The enormous free-range bird was swathed in two large pieces of pig skin before being consigned to the fiery innards of the Weber! At midday we judged the sun to be over the yardarm and broke out the champagne and orange juice, squeezed from oranges from Lorna’s garden, and also Lorna’s delicious homemade camembert.

It became apparent that the Weber was not getting up to temperature and the turkey would take longer to cook than previously anticipated. Meanwhile we tucked into the first course, supplied by cousin Cameron – three kilos of plump, sweet, Australian wild-caught tiger prawns with Penny’s Marie Rose sauce (mayo, tomato sauce, tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and possibly other things I’ve forgotten).

Australian wild-caught tiger prawns

Australian wild-caught tiger prawns

Eventually the menfolk gave up on the barbecue and transferred the turkey to the oven to finish it off and brown it. The Weber may not have cooked the bird but it did turn the pig skin into fantastic light, puffed-up, crunchy crackling, albeit it hadn’t been salted since its purpose was not for eating. Didn’t stop us eating some of it, however!

Pork crackling

Pork crackling

Free-range turkey

Free-range turkey

Beside the turkey our spread included free-range ham (glazed by yours truly in apricot jam and stuck with cloves)…

Free-range ham glazed with apricot jam

Free-range ham glazed with apricot jam

…Lorna’s mixed salad with homemade lemon myrtle mayo from her grandmother’s recipe, Penny’s legendary Hawaiian salad (sour cream, tinned crushed pineapple, tinned mandarin segments, desiccated coconut and miniature marshmallows) and equally popular onion salad…

Hawaiian salad

Hawaiian salad

…my mixed tomato and home-grown basil salad dressed in olive oil and top quality balsamic vinegar…

Mixed tomato and basil salad

Mixed tomato and basil salad

…and a huge fruit platter including watermelon, pineapple, grapes, cherries, nectarines, lychees, mangoes and strawberries.

Fruit platter

Fruit platter

Cameron had stuffed the turkey with a sweet, herbaceous mixture of ripe pear, bread crumbs, rosemary and oregano from the garden, and an egg to bind. Photographing this array of food I was struck by the Summery colours, the traditional turkey and ham from ‘the Motherland’ set off by a brighter, more vibrant palette than you’d see on a British Christmas lunch table. Eating this array of food, on the other hand, I was merely struck by how delicious it all was and how quickly I could go back for seconds!

Our Christmas spread

Our Christmas spread

Following a considerable break to allow all this to settle, we squeezed in some pudding – steamed Christmas pud (made by Lorna’s neighbour in return for a homemade Christmas cake) with Penny’s fabulous passion fruit ice cream and my brandy butter. Traditionally my mother and I would make the brandy butter together, without the aid of electrical appliances (hence the need for two pairs of arms), adding as much brandy, teaspoon by teaspoon, as we dared before it threatened to curdle! It’s also de rigueur, as far as I’m concerned, to feed oneself a little brandy in the process.

As is the way with Christmas food there was plenty left over for lunch on Boxing Day, with the addition of a potato salad and finished off with leftover trifle, ice cream and my Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake. The cake was a triumph, even if I do say so myself; wonderfully moist and dense with fruit. Good old Stephanie – hers will be my go-to Christmas cake recipe for evermore.

Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake

Stephanie Alexander Christmas cake

So, our Christmas viands (which word, incidentally, earned Mr T and I an awesome score in Scrabble on Christmas Day!) were a true blue team effort, provided by all, sourced as ethically as our purses would allow, and cooked and presented with love. It felt – and tasted! – great to be a part of that. For me, food and family is what Christmas is all about, and this one certainly made the mark. Thank you, one and all!

My apple chutney - presies for the family

My apple chutney – presies for the family

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Two Italian ways with squid (and fennel)

Given that I had the second half of the chutney to make on Sunday (before the apples started to get too old) I wanted something simple to cook for dinner. Just as well considering we didn’t end up eating until 10pm! I’d found a recipe for a lovely looking tomato, fennel and squid salad in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy so I popped up to Illawarra Road (taking in the Marrickville Festival while I was at it) for a fennel bulb and some squid – everything else I already had. I realised when I started prepping the ingredients later that the squid were pretty huge and I’d only need to use half, hence squid part two a couple of days later…

Take four medium squid (or two large ones as I did – I bought the tubes so no gutting or cleaning required; next time I’ll be braver as it’d be nice to have the tentacles too), slice them open along one side and flatten them out. Score the inside flesh in a criss-cross pattern with a knife. Cut 200g of tomatoes (I had vine ones, but the recipe suggests cherry and plum tomatoes) into chunks and put in a big bowl along with a half a red onion, finely sliced. Pinch the ferny tops off your fennel bulb and save for later, and finely slice the fennel and add to the bowl. Add the juice of one lemon and one orange, a teaspoon of dried oregano, three tablespoons of red wine or herb vinegar, seven tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and toss together. That’s a lot of liquid so I actually eased back slightly on the vinegar and olive oil.

Cook the squid on a griddle pan (or a barbecue) so you get nice charred bits. Before putting it on (and make sure the pan is seriously hot), rub the squid with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and chili flakes on both sides. I found it quite hard to cook the squid as they need three to four minutes each side and they very quickly start to curl up, so I had to wrestle with them with two sets of tongs to try to keep them fully in contact with the pan! It might well be easier with smaller squid, I think. Once they’re cooked, slice them into wide strips on the diagonal and add to the salad, tossing everything again. Serve sprinkled with the zest of one lemon and the reserved fennel tops.

Tomato, fennel and squid salad

Tomato, fennel and squid salad

This was a lovely light, quick supper that tasted to me of Mediterranean holidays! The squid had that wonderful chargrilled flavour (and we had a house full of smoke!) and the oregano, citrus juices and the aniseed of the fennel all worked beautifully together. Mr T wasn’t too keen on the red onion and I tend to agree that the amount could be reduced a bit, but the salad does benefit from some to give it a bit of kick.

On Tuesday I used up the rest of the squid in a pasta recipe from the same book: simply, spaghetti with squid, or, far more romantically, ‘spaghetti con calamari’. Sauté, stirring often, a finely chopped fennel bulb (tops reserved, again) along with two cloves of garlic, finely sliced, and two teaspoons of fennel seeds, freshly crushed. (The smell of sweet, spicy, aniseedy fennel seeds in your mortar is divine.) Turn up the heat and add four baby squid (or two large ones) cut into rings, a finely sliced chili and a large glass of white wine and stir until the liquid is reduced by half. Now turn down to a low simmer and cook your pasta – I used fettuccini, rather than spaghetti, because that’s my favourite. I was a little worried that the squid would go hard and rubbery in the 10 minutes it takes for the pasta to cook, but it didn’t. When the pasta is done, drain and toss with the squid mixture. Remove it from the heat and add about five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, the reserved fennel tops and a handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves (I actually forgot the parsley but it didn’t seem to matter). Toss it all together and check the seasoning. Serve sprinkled with the zest of a lemon.

Fettuccini with squid (before the pasta is added)

Fettuccini with squid (before the pasta is added)

After tasting it we squeezed over the juice of said lemon as well which really lifted it and gave it some zing. Also providing some added punch were the two chilis I included (rather than one), seeds and all. I also loved the warmth of the fennel flavour, intensified by the fennel seeds. It was so delicious and so simple and quick to make – I’ll definitely be adding this one to my week-night repertoire!

Cider with Maggie at Laurie Lee’s local

Following the wonderful wedding of a very dear friend in the Lake District I travel next to Gloucestershire to see my cousin’s wife. Having read my blog, Maggie wants to give me a typical Cotswold experience to write about, so after picking me up yesterday from Stroud railway station she takes me for half a cider at Laurie Lee’s local pub, The Woolpack, immortalised in his autobiography Cider With Rosie. Right on a narrow winding road in luscious countryside, The Woolpack is a little slice of very well-preserved history dating back to the early 1640s. We sip our cider in the adjoining beer garden and then wander up to the Holy Trinity Church opposite for a look at Laurie Lee’s grave with its simple headstone surrounded by giant daisies: Laurie Lee 1914 – 1997 / He lies in the valley he loved.

The Woolpack, Stroud

The Woolpack, Slad

Back at Maggie’s in her fabulous farmhouse-style kitchen we sip champers and catch up on all the goss while she makes dinner – a yummy Loyd Grossman Thai green curry with onion, green pepper (capsicum for my Aussie readers), carrot, green beans, bamboo shoots and gorgeous big juicy prawns.

Thai green prawn curry, chez Maggie

Thai green prawn curry, chez Maggie

In honour of Wimbledon starting this week there’s strawberries and cream for pudding, and we cosy up by the fire with Amber, their beautiful golden lab, and fall asleep to rubbish on the telly.

Strawberries and cream

Strawberries and cream, chez Maggie

Next morning, after tea, toast and Frank Cooper’s Oxford marmalade (the best marmalade ever) for breakfast, Tom, my strapping godson, appears having arrived home late last night from a holiday with school friends. Before Maggie and I leave to take me to the train station there’s the obligatory annual photograph of Tom and I together to demonstrate how tall he is; at six foot three inches he stands more than a head above midget Aunty Caroline. I must remember to wear my highest high heels next time I see him!

Toast and Oxford maramalde

Toast and Oxford marmalade, chez Maggie

The Woolpack
Slad, Gloucestershire
Visited 25 June 2012