Get the idea: Easy, prep-ahead recipes for the festive season
I love the festive/holiday season. Maybe it is just withdrawal from not cooking for lots of people now that I don’t work in restaurants. I like Christmas especially, as it is the only festival we have left that has special food. If you are the only cook in the house, I can understand just how challenging dreaming up the catering might be, but a bit of dragooning of other people to help usually takes the load off, even if they just do the donkey work under the cook’s supervision.
It is often what to have that is the problem, not how to get it done. All good food relies on planning ahead and at this time of year, when you need to be able to entertain easily, it is good to have a few ideas up your sleeve. One thing that is important to me when looking for convenient food is not to sacrifice quality for convenience.
Place a side of salmon, flesh side up, on a shallow, baking paper-lined oven tray. Cover and place in the fridge until needed. When you are ready, drizzle with a little vegetable oil and bake for about 20 minutes or until just cooked through. Meanwhile, place 4 tablespoons each of fish sauce and lime juice in a bowl, sweeten well with sugar and mix well. Add lots of blanched halved asparagus and green beans, chopped tomatoes, thin sliced spring onions, dill, coriander and mint leaves. Put the fish (cold or warm) on a serving platter and spoon the tomato mix over it. Sprinkle bought fried shallots and more herbs over the top and serve with a big serving spoon.
Make a bean puree in the food processor from a couple of drained cans of cannellini or borlotti beans, a large clove of garlic, a handful of coriander, a big spoonful of tahini, the zest of a lemon and enough extra virgin olive oil to make it creamy. Taste and season. Reserve until needed. Spread this on a large warm serving platter. Barbecue or roast lamb racks previously rubbed with salt, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and dried wild oregano. Slice into cutlets and serve on the bean puree with rocket leaves, pitted kalamata olives, finely diced preserved lemon peel and a big sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Serve with warm pita bread.
Trim an eye fillet of beef of all sinew and fat. Place in a large bowl and add plenty of garlic squashed with salt and pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Turn the beef so it is coated in the mix, cover and refrigerate until needed. When needed, remove from the fridge and either cook on a barbecue or brown in a hot frying pan and finish in the oven until cooked the way you like it. Remove from the heat and rest well, loosely covered with foil, in a warm place. Serve with a vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil with halved cherry tomatoes, capers, pitted Kalamata olives, thinly sliced red onions and lots of basil leaves added.
Thinly slice lots of capsicums, zucchini and carrots and place in a bowl with portobello mushrooms, cauliflower florets, thickly sliced red onions and 3cm diced eggplant. Add extra virgin olive oil, a few fennel seeds and chopped garlic, season and mix well. Spread the vegetables out on a couple of shallow baking paper-lined oven trays, reserve until needed then roast at 200C for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are browned and slightly shrivelled. Place the vegetables on a warm serving platter. Drizzle a mix of plain unsweetened yoghurt, beaten smooth and runny, flavoured with plenty of tahini and a little lemon juice and salt that you made a couple of hours previously. Sprinkle parsley sprigs, rocket leaves and coriander on top and serve with warm flatbread.
Stuff a halved lemon, a few cloves of garlic and a bunch of parsley inside an organic chicken and place in a roasting dish. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with salt and add a big splash of white wine. Roast the chicken until well done, cool and refrigerate (do this the day before). Make a salsa verde from lots of Italian parsley leaves, a few anchovies, capers, a gherkin, white wine vinegar and enough extra virgin olive oil to make it creamy when well food processed. Serve on the cold roast chicken with a big bowl of boiled baby new potatoes tossed in chopped mint and butter.
Cut Paneton pre-rolled made-with-butter flaky pastry into a large rectangle and place on a baking paper-lined oven tray. Leaving a very wide border, place a smaller rectangle of lightly crushed, peeled, cooled, well drained boiled agria potatoes in the middle. Sprinkle thinly sliced spring onions, plenty of coarsely flaked boned hot smoked salmon and chopped dill and capers on top of the potatoes. Bring the long side of the pastry rectangle together and crimp closed and seal the ends so you have a big pasty. Brush all over with beaten egg, make 4 x 4cm long cuts in the top for the steam to escape and place in the fridge until needed. When needed, bake in a 200C oven for 30-40 minutes or until well cooked. Serve in slices with salad.
Poach some chicken breasts in water with a big sprig of parsley, salt and black peppercorns. Cool and refrigerate until needed. Place some plain unsweetened yoghurt in a bowl, add a big dollop of bought mayo, chopped parsley, finely diced red onion and coarsely chopped chervil. Taste and season. Reserve until needed when you slice the chicken thinly and place on a platter with halved cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber, blanched green beans and baby cos leaves. Drizzle the yoghurt mayo over the top and serve sprinkled with chopped roasted hazelnuts and more chervil and parsley.
A couple of days before you need it, line a loaf tin with a single layer of rindless bacon (it will stick to the sides) and add a well mixed, well seasoned mix of minced pork and beef, a chopped onion, plenty of chopped garlic, a big splash of white wine, pitted prunes and pistachio kernels so you have a meatloaf that when unmoulded with have a covering of bacon. Place in the oven at 180C for 1 hour or until well cooked. (It will have shrunk and be floating in its juices.) Remove from the oven, cool and unmould on a platter. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Serve sliced with spicy chutney, sliced gherkins, hardboiled eggs, salad greens and sliced ciabatta.
Buy or make a good un-iced Christmas cake. Serve small wedges well-soaked with Pedro Ximenez or another very sweet sherry (buy something Spanish of good quality, don’t use cheap plonk) and serve with a scoop of real vanilla bean ice cream, a few fresh berries and whipped cream.
Blind bake rolled-out Paneton chocolate pastry in small tart cases (or one big one). When needed, fill with a layer of whipped cream then place hulled whole strawberries on top. Liberally paint the strawberries with cooled melted strawberry jam or redcurrant jelly (make sure there are no gaps) and place in the fridge up to 3 hours before needed. Serve with more whipped cream.