Christmas Sorted: Your Complete Guide to a Stress-Free Day

Christmas is supposed to be the season of good humor, but for the person in charge of cooking, the day itself can be anything but. Preparing multiple dishes, including unfamiliar foods, on a large scale can become very stressful, not to mention expensive.

Food editor Emily Brookes spoke with home cook extraordinaires Allyson Gofton and Nadia Lim for the best tips for making Christmas Day one the cook can truly enjoy, without breaking the bank.

Get rid of tradition

It may be a controversial start, but both Lim and Gofton are urging New Zealanders to ditch the traditional roast meat and vegetables as their Christmas main course. Like artificial snow and wool socks, it’s an uncomfortable fit for a summer’s day.

“I think the whole turkey thing comes from abroad,” says Lim. “I don’t think it’s really Kiwi and I don’t know if the whole roast dinner thing is necessarily that Kiwi.”

Gofton is much more equivocal.

“Get rid of the British traditions,” she says. “Turkey is for the winter. Also the turkey is a big bird and bless our grandmothers who had time to prep and cook but we need to realize if we don’t have that skill if having to stuff the damn thing and prep it will send you to a stress level then do not do it”.

Allyson Gofton's slow-roasted beef steak.

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Allyson Gofton’s slow-roasted beef steak.

Instead, Gofton will serve a slow-roasted fillet of beef, which he “coats” with mustard and cooks for two hours at 100°C.

Lim’s entrée will be built around a whole side of salmon, brushed with a balsamic or pomegranate glaze, and cooked in the oven for 15 minutes.

Neither of those are particularly cheap options, but both cooks insist there should only be one animal-based protein on the table, and not too much of anything else either.

“I can’t stand a buffet,” says Lim. “The worst thing at Christmas is when there is a murmur.”

But if steak or whole salmon are out of your budget, there are delicious, more cost-effective options.

Ham is a Kiwi classic, but as Gofton points out, that doesn’t mean you need a whole one sitting in the middle of the table.

“Unless you’re happy to eat ham for two weeks non-stop, buy a couple slices from the deli and put them out on the table on trays,” she says, though if you’re headed to the beach or have a house full of people , a whole ham can have a good value.

Over 60% of the ham available in New Zealand is imported, so if you want to support local farmers (and local welfare practices, not necessarily abroad), take a close look at the label or talk to your butcher.

Nadia Lim says that traditional Christmas foods can be an awkward combination for a hot summer's day – you're better off going with something more Kiwi.

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Nadia Lim says that traditional Christmas foods can be an awkward combination for a hot summer’s day – you’re better off going with something more Kiwi.

Set a budget and stick to it

As we all know, food prices have risen astronomically this year and the holiday premium on items like strawberries, cherries, mince pies and ham will make your purchases even more expensive in December.

Your most important item should be the core protein, because you want it to be delicious and for everyone to get a generous serving. Gofton and Lim agree that it’s not the area to try to save money, but there are ways to cut it without sacrificing the celebration.

That could mean focusing on just one or two of them instead of gorging on all the festive treats this year, or just cutting back on the quantity: think New Zealand cheese instead of a full cheese board, or meat pies. picada or Christmas pud instead of both.

If you have guests, think about what they can provide to help spread the costs. Take any offer to contribute seriously, Gofton advises, and don’t be afraid to be specific about what you want.

“Given the financial times we live in, I think sharing the cost of a Christmas Day lunch is essential,” she says. “I tell someone: ‘Bring a lettuce salad, bring some asparagus’; tell them what you want, make it easy. Even if it’s a pot of potatoes, everything helps.”

STUFF

Stuff spoke to people on the streets of Christchurch about grocery prices and how their Christmas meal plans will change.

When to buy, when to prepare

Gofton will order his meat and specialty fruits and vegetables in early December at the latest for delivery the week before Christmas.

If you prefer to pick your own produce or budget constraints force you to stagger grocery payments, consider what you can buy now and save. Bonus points if those are also items that are likely to be in short supply in mid-December.

Things like store-bought pavlova, meringues, or mince pies will keep for a couple of weeks in the pantry and a couple of months in the freezer, if you have the space. The same goes for protein – just be sure to allow plenty of time for it to thaw completely before cooking. Nuts, chocolates, crackers (of the eat-and-throw variety), olives – all the things that will happily sit in your pantry the moment you want to buy them.

The product will not keep for long in its fresh form, but it can be adapted to have a longer life. Gofton buys bell peppers in bulk when they’re cheap, grills them in batches, and stores them in the fridge, covered in vegetable oil and ready to heat or serve in salads. When Lim has a large supply of strawberries, he will macerate them ahead of time and freeze them until he needs them.

Ideally, you’ll want to do as little as possible during the day, so you can relax and enjoy the delicious food you’ve prepared. Some jobs can be done weeks in advance. You can make dips or whipped cream a couple of days in advance, and if you have some time on Christmas Eve, prep your proteins and chop up your veggies so they’re ready to go in the oven on the 25th.

Christmas Calendar – Click to download and print your own graphic

Dessert is not that important

Resist the urge to go all out for Christmas dessert – by the time it arrives, everyone is already stuffed.

Pavlova is a Kiwi classic and a dessert where the individual components (meringue, whipped cream, chopped fruit) can be made a few weeks or a couple of days in advance and assembled just before serving. If a homemade Christmas cake is your thing, it should already be well baked and quietly drunk in a dark closet.

But you can go for even easier routes.

Grab some fresh strawberries and marinate them in elderflower liqueur and a dash of lavender, if you have it, as you eat your starters and main courses, Lim suggests.

You don't have to go all out for dessert.

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You don’t have to go all out for dessert.

“They are so simple but they taste amazing. I would serve it with whipped cream and a little icing sugar on top.”

Peaches, plums, nectarines, and cherries can be poached or baked ahead of time for glorious sweetness and served with whipped cream or ice cream. Store-bought brandy snaps can easily be filled with cream at the table.

If yours isn’t a family of sweets lovers, just dump a box of burnt almonds into a nice bowl, set it on the table, and declare it done for the day.

Keeping the pātaka full

Throughout the year, Makarini Rūpene spends time on the Tītī (lamb bird) islands, harvests tuna (eel) from the South Island lakes, patrols the inshore reefs for kina, kōura (crayfish) and pāua.

Rūpene tells Maxine Jacobs how she makes sure her Christmas table is filled with the kai her whānau loves.

Nadia Lim salmon with blueberry crust, parsley and walnuts

Cranberry, Parsley and Walnut Crusted Salmon

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Cranberry, Parsley and Walnut Crusted Salmon

preparation time: 15 minutes

Time to cook: 20 minutes

It serves: 8

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs

  • ½ cup chopped dried cranberries plus an extra 2-3 tablespoons for garnish

  • ¼ cup sliced ​​almonds

  • ¼ cup pine nuts

  • ⅓ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for garnish

  • 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped thyme leaves

  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange

  • ⅓ cup butter, melted plus an extra 2-3 tablespoons for basting

  • Whole side of fresh salmon, about 1.5 kg.

  • 1 lemon cut into wedges, to serve

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a large baking or oven tray with parchment paper.

  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs, cranberries, almonds, pine nuts, parsley, thyme, and lemon and orange zest. Add the melted butter and season with salt and pepper.

  3. Pat salmon dry with paper towels and remove any remaining bones. Place the salmon on the prepared tray, skin side down. Season well with salt and sprinkle crust mixture evenly on top, pressing gently to adhere. Drizzle a little more melted butter. Place on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through (medium is best) and the crust is golden brown.

  4. Garnish with more chopped cranberries and parsley for color. Serve with lemon wedges for squeezing, baby potatoes, and salad (I like the baby jersey bennes, boiled and tossed with butter, garlic, parsley, and lemon, and a salad of watercress, orange wedges, avocado, and blanched asparagus).

Allyson Gofton’s Slow Roast Beef Steak

Slow-roasted beef steak

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Slow-roasted beef steak

preparation time: 10 minutes

Time to cook: 2 hours

Servings: 8-10

Ingredients:

  • 1.6 kg of beef fillet

  • About ¼ cup mustard (I prefer whole wheat)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 100C.

  2. Spread the steak with a thick coating or mustard and place in a shallow roasting pan or deep cookie sheet.

  3. Roast in the preheated oven for 2 hours. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting. The meat can be reserved, covered and served when done.

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