Gone are the days when what would end up on the Christmas dining table was as predictable as the lace doilies and copies of Mills & Boon books you got as presents from your aunt every year. Today there are no rules, and as our communities have become more diverse and multicultural, our eating habits more informed and adventurous, the main feast on that special day has become more varied and exciting. We're no longer shackled to a gravy-laden roast dinner with heavy stuffings and an even heavier pudding served at stifling mid-afternoon temperatures and designed, it seemed, to suit a hemisphere the opposite to our own.
Christmas Day fare in New Zealand now reflects the summery fresh produce abundant in December. The warm, long days of the season mean it is a perfect time to wind down and celebrate with family and friends, and our style of dining is much more likely to suit the company than any prescribed set of traditions and rules.
Having children from Niue and Samoa, Christmas Day in our house retains traditions, but of a different kind - the day is much more relaxed with food organised days in advance. Everyone pitches in getting ready for the umu, which is our preferred cooking method on the day. Every household I know is different - some have a a lunch or evening barbecue, while others prefer to start the day with a multi-course brunch.
One friend reckons her family still enjoys the midday roast but with fresh salads made from produce harvested from each of the family members' gardens. What we all agree on is that food is ready when it is, without any pressure. The key is that Christmas Day should be celebrated however it suits you.
These recipes tie in some of the ingredients you might expect to see on the Christmas menu but with fresh twists to ensure they're hassle-free to prepare and make the most of our seasonal summer ingredients.
Delicious tarts are filled with roasted eggplant, locally produced mozzarella and sweet small heirloom tomatoes. Turkey is a great bird but can be a bit of a headache to prepare; because the legs need longer than the breast meat to cook, keeping it moist and tasty is a challenge. This salad recipe overcomes this by using only the breasts, cooking them covered with plenty of stock and seasoning to ensure they stay juicy. The colourful and delicious salad, with its fresh asparagus, greens and jewel-like pomegranate seeds, is a great alternative that still creates a sense of a celebration. (This recipe is also good if you do roast a whole bird and have leftovers for the next day.)
Traditions can be flouted but I always include a dessert trifle in our Christmas feast. To me a mouthful of springy, juice or booze-soaked sponge, cool silky custard and fresh berries - or some version of this - is a mouthful of nostalgia on Christmas Day that I crave year in, year out and never tire of. Here I've mixed it up and used mascarpone instead of custard, spiked with citrus, and layered with seasonal stonefruit and fresh berries - and of course, you can add clouds of softly whipped cream if you wish. Heavenly.
Merry Christmas everyone.
For more of Amanda Laird's fabulous recipes, visit foodhub.co.nz.