Choosing the right starter or accompaniment for your Christmas dinner is just as important as choosing the main.
You need to savour the side dishes, too. Some should complement the main, others should provide a contrast. Accompany ham, which can be salty, with a sweet side dish such as Christmas Chutney or the Mixed Vegetable Gratin.
Include a root vegetable mash or creamy polenta with roasts - they're ideal for mopping up gravies. Add chopped parsley and diced red pepper for colour.
We tend to commence our festive dinner each year with Gazpacho, a chilled Spanish soup. It is light and slightly tangy so doesn't spoil your appetite and, conveniently, is best made the night before. Check out the recipe on my website.
Other easy ideas are:
Oysters with a dash of basil pesto thinned down with lime juice.
Large, cooked and shelled prawns combined with cubed avocado, lemon or lime juice, served on baby salad greens with wasabi mayo.
Blanched, chilled asparagus with twists of smoked salmon and lime wedges or a little rice wine vinegar.
Raw fish marinated in cider vinegar until "cooked" then drained and combined with grated root ginger, spring onions, pickled pink ginger and a little thick coconut cream.
Vege accompaniments could include:
Baked stuffed pumpkin.
Baked kumara, hollowed and filled with the flesh mashed together with ricotta cheese and black pepper and reheated when required.
Roasted red and green peppers are excellent with spicy flavoured meats.
MIXED VEGETABLE GRATIN
This vegetable bake can be prepared, cooked and chilled up to six hours ahead then reheated - covered - in the oven or microwave.
500g each: parsnips, orange kumara, baking potatoes
2 each: large shallots, garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Freshly ground salt and black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups cream
Preheat oven to 200C.
Peel vegetables. Discard any hard core from parsnip. Cut kumara and potatoes in half lengthways. Thinly slice all vegetables. This can be done quickly using the slicing blade in your food processor.
Combine veges in a very large bowl. Season. Add stock and the cream. Mix well, ensuring vegetables slices do not stick together. Spoon into a 28cm x 20cm baking dish. Cut a piece of baking paper to fit inside baking dish. Place on veges. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until veges are tender. Serves 8-10.
TRADITIONAL BREAD SAUCE FOR ROAST CHICKEN OR TURKEY
To make breadcrumbs, remove crusts from bread. Crumb in a food processor.
2 small-medium onions
16 whole cloves
2 & 1/4 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
8 black peppercorns
Salt to taste
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
2 tbsp cream
Peel onions and stud with cloves. Place in a saucepan together with milk, bay leaf and peppercorns.
Season then slowly bring to boiling point. Remove from heat, cover pan and leave in a warm place to infuse for two hours.
To finish sauce, remove onion, bay leaf and peppercorns and place to one side. Stir breadcrumbs into milk and add 25g of the butter.
Warm through on very low heat, stirring occasionally, until thick. Return onions, bay leaf and peppercorns to pan. Stand in a warm place until required. Discard onions and spices before serving.
Reheat gently then beat in remaining butter and the cream. Seasoning if necessary. Serve in a warm jug.
A refreshing pre-dinner drink.
1 cup NJoy Red Fruit drink
750ml bottle merlot wine
1 each: orange, lemon, thinly sliced
1 peach, peeled and sliced
4 strawberries or cherries
1 cup chilled soda water
Place Red Fruit drink in a large jug. Add wine, orange, lemon, peach and strawberries or cherries. Chill for at least one hour. Just before serving add soda water. Great served over ice. Serves 6-8.
Excellent served with ham, roast poultry or beef. Use whole berries if possible as the ground allspice discolours the chutney a little.
300g (about 2 cups) each: juicy-but-dried apricots, pitted prunes, pitted dates
1 cup craisins
2 & 1/4 cups cider vinegar
1 tbsp flaky sea salt
2 tsp grated root ginger
6 tbsp allspice berries or 2 tsp ground allspice
2 cups light brown sugar
Chop dried fruits and onions finely, preferably in a food processor.
Place vinegar in a large saucepan with salt, ginger and allspice berries tied in muslin. Bring to boil, then stir in chopped dried fruits and onions together with sugar.
Simmer on low heat, uncovered, for one hour or until chutney has thickened. Stir occasionally.
It is ready when you can draw a spoon across surface of chutney and make a line that doesn't immediately fill with vinegar. Spoon cooked chutney into hot sterilised jars and seal. Makes about four cups.