Experts' top tips for Christmas entertaining (+ recipes)

Chefs smooth the way for you to appear the perfect Christmas host.

Make life easier this Christmas with these tips from the creme de la creme of the hospitality industry. Photo / Thinkstock
Make life easier this Christmas with these tips from the creme de la creme of the hospitality industry. Photo / Thinkstock

Simple appetisers
Gareth Stewart, Soul Bar and Restaurant

For making simple appetisers and canapes it is always a great idea to have a baguette around so you can make fresh crostini and brush them with a little garlic infused oil and toast under the grill. At home I love to have salmon pastrami on the crostini. You can also dice smoked salmon and mix with salsa verde - and you can always add some caviar as garnish if you are feeling extravagant.

The most succulent turkey
Michael Meredith, Merediths

If turkeys are on the menu they should be able to mature at their own rate without any nasty chemical growth promoters. So buy free range from a farm or local market, where you can find out what the bird has been fed and where it comes from. The same applies to your Christmas chicken. To cook a tender juicy turkey and have stuffing too, try taking the legs off and bone out the thigh bone.

Fill with stuffing, roll and cook first. Cook the crown at last minute. This way you'll have tender turkey and stuffing too. The cooking time should be cut down in half as you only have breast on the bone to cook.

The tastiest stock
Geoff Scott, Vinnies

Ask your butcher for some chicken bones, roast till golden brown, drain off the fat, add onion, carrot and celery, simmer for 3 hours, strain, cool, and freeze what you don't use in user-friendly blocks.

Alternative to Christmas pudding
Geoff Scott

A frozen vanilla bean ice-cream terrine made in my Mum's old fashioned fruit loaf tin: the day before I chop up a block of good quality vanilla bean ice-cream add crushed meringues and a few spoonfuls of Christmas mince, press it in and leave till needed. Either serve individual slices or whole on a platter, smother with fresh raspberries and icing sugar.

Best pavlova
Michael Meredith

Pavs are a good alternative to Xmas pudding; you can enjoy using the full range of fresh berries in season. Stabilise your pavlova or meringue-based desserts by wiping the mixing bowl with lemon juice. This cleans away fats and oils so your whites will hold stronger. Use room temperature eggs and ingredients unless specified in the method (e.g. in a pavlova you use cold water).

Extra guests at Christmas dinner
Jeremy Schmid, Two Fifteen

Have some fresh pork or chicken sausages in the fridge in case of unexpected guests these will help to make your turkey go further and go well with the port, cranberry and orange sauce. They will defrost quickly under running water and be ready in time if unexpected quests turn up.

Delicious asparagus
Geoff Scott

Snap the bottom off asparagus, toss in olive oil and flaky NZ sea salt, barbecue for 5 minutes only, till caramelised.

How to plan ahead
Sid Sahrawat, Sidart

* Plan meals ahead and stock up on extras.

* Try to shop at a quiet time at the supermarket; with a list, of course.

* Buy fresh seafood like crayfish, kingfish, whitebait, from the fish market. Buy vegetables that are versatile like asparagus, sweetcorn, lettuces and tomatoes which can be grilled, sauteed, used as sandwich fillers or in salads. Fresh fruit like berries, melons and pineapple are refreshing in a platter.

* Make meals that involve cooking components ahead of time. It makes the day less stressful and you can cope with accidents in advance. Or make sure you can cook while being involved with your guests. A Christmas barbecue is tradition at our house.

* Keep the gas cylinder topped up; an impromptu barbecue can be a good idea if needs arise. Have lots of Champagne, wine and beer, invest in a chilly bin or drinks fridge (ask Santa).

* A selection of cheese and deli meats comes in handy if you need to whip something up in a hurry or are running late.

An alternative to turkey
Sid Sahrawat

Duck is a great alternative to turkey. You can marinade a peking duck in the fridge and after roasting it the braising juices can be used for glazing vegetables.

Alternative to Christmas pud
Sid Sahrawat

The Good old pavlova is a great alternative to Christmas pud, cover it with creme fraiche and berries.

The best-ever stuffing
Geoff Scott

Mix some pistachio nuts, grain mustard, lots of diced ciabatta, slices of dried figs, orange zest and juice, an egg and fresh oregano. Don't forget the salt and pepper.

The best tipple
Peter Gordon, dine by Peter Gordon/Bellota

If you need a wee tipple, dissolve some manuka honey in some white Stolen rum, mix with chopped or crushed strawberries and fresh mint leaves and pour (very strong) over loads of crushed ice. Top with fresh lime juice and a dash of ginger beer or sparkling wine - it couldn't be better.

Take the pressure off
Mark Gregory, MCA. DineAid founder, chef and New Zealand's first "Master of Culinary Arts"

* Do as much in advance as practical, i.e. I peel my potatoes, onions, carrots and pumpkin and make stuffing the day before and refrigerate.

* Delegate if you're having a large family and friends for Christmas or Boxing Day - and let's face it every family has members with likes, dislikes, allergies or dietary requirements. Ask the ones you know are good cooks to bring their favourite vegetable dish, stuffing, seafood dish, chutney, pavlova, Christmas pudding; people who love to cook enjoy sharing and helping out.

Boxing Day lunch ideas
Jeremy Schmid

Turn leftovers into frittatas (can be made individually in muffin tins); leftover ham or turkey with grated/chopped zucchini or capsicum. Bake potatoes, take out inners mix with chopped ham/turkey a little mustard, whisked egg yolk, butter, parsley and cheese and grill.

Unexpected guests
Geoff Scott

I always have a bag of peeled king prawn tails in the freezer for exactly these situations, while they're defrosting in cold running water, I will wash some lettuce, pick a few fresh herbs add a sprinkling of dried barberries, then barbecue the prawns and mix with capers, parsley and butter.

Alternative to Christmas pud
Jeremy Schmid

Make a Christmas ice cream pudding: half-thaw chocolate ice cream and line a bowl with it, half-thaw some vanilla ice cream and add to it crystallised ginger and fresh or dried chopped fruits and some alcohol, fill the centre of the chocolate with this and freeze (this is based on the traditional Sicilian cassata).

Christmas cocktail
Mark Gregory

"Black Santa" Cocktail:

Christmas is the perfect time for cocktails. This Christmassy cocktail base is made in 15 minutes, aged for several days, then it's time to start spicing it up with some Christmas flavours and everyone will love it. To make a cocktail, simply add ice cubes to a glass and 1 part of the liqueur to 2 parts cold milk - or for a change try mixing with dry ginger ale.

Black Santa - makes 600ml or 3 x 200ml gift size bottles / time 15 minutes + ageing

1 cup water
3/4 cups sugar
3 Tbs instant coffee granules
bottle (350ml) vodka
1 vanilla bean, split
1 star anise
1 cinnamon quill
1 strips orange peel
1/2 tsp allspice berries
1 slice fresh ginger

1 Bring water to a quick simmer, stir in the sugar and simmer for 2-3 minutes.

2 Stir in coffee granules until dissolved.

3 Return back to a simmer before removing from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before stirring in the vodka.

4 Split the vanilla bean in half and add with remaining flavouring spices to a 2-litre jug, pour in your coffee/vodka mixture, cover tightly and let stand for 3-7 days.

5 Pour the matured Black Santa liqueur into a decorative bottles and secure with a tight-fitting stopper.

Christmas breakfast idea
Volker Marecek, Langham Hotel

Lots of champagne, eggs benedict and a chocolate fondue with fresh strawberries to get the day off to a good start.

Low-alcohol drink
Mark Gregory

Help loved ones enjoy a festive drink and get home safely with all their precious cargo in one piece - try serving spritzers: ice, a lime wedge, then two parts white wine to one part soda water, ginger ale or lemonade.

The best leftover salad
Peter Gordon

Fry leftover roast potatoes and kumara, sliced 5mm thick, till crispy and crunchy. Toss with thinly sliced meats, salad leaves, frozen (cooked) peas and a dressing made from olive oil and any of the lovely vinegars you may have been given for Christmas. Scatter on chopped orange or mandarin segments and some toasted nuts. This is a left-over salad but it'll taste absolutely delicious.

The best-ever stuffing
Sid Sahrawat

An easy, tasty stuffing is one made from your favourite sausage. Add bread, egg, nuts, onion, garlic, fresh herbs. To make it festive add a handful of pitted cherries.

Boxing Day fridge raid
Mark Gregory

Something we enjoyed in New York: crush and place any leftover roast vegetables over the bottom of the baking dish, top with slices of roast meat i.e. ham or turkey and gravy, then completely cover the top with stuffing. Bake at 175C/350F for 25-30 minutes until the centre is piping hot, serve with salad and a chutney.

Best potatoes
Luke Dallow, Hummingbird

I use freshly dug potatoes from my garden, but baby new potatoes from the supermarket are good. Boil the new potatoes with mint leaves, toss when still warm with olive oil or butter (if I'm feeling naughty), salt and pepper and lots of fresh mint.

How to save money
Peter Gordon

Throw nothing out - make stocks, broths and soups to eat now, or freeze for later. Waste nothing if you can avoid it - the global credit crunch is heading towards NZ so you'd better be prepared.

Best pre-planned menu
Nic Honeyman, Cru

The menu for your day should reflect the season; summery, light and fresh. Some of my menu items would be manuka-glazed ham, whole baked snapper, barbecued tiger prawns, strawberry trifle and a bitter chocolate tart. Time-manage these items by doing the preparation the day before. The ham can be pre-prepared , snapper filled with herbs and wrapped in foil ready to go, prawns marinated and the trifle and chocolate tart finished ready to go. Keep it simple: the produce is amazing at this time of the year and it's doing all the work for you. Lots of asparagus in olive oil and plenty of berries. This will ensure you have a stress-free time in the kitchen on Christmas day.

How to save time & space
Mark Walynetz, TriBeCa

* We double cloth the table, underneath is a large white linen cloth to the ground and on top vintage fabric from Pauline's grandmother, which is whipped off after the mains are all cleared, so we have a lovely fresh cloth for the desserts.

* Make sure the knives are sharp for carving the meats.

* Make sure there are plenty of tea towels for the clean-up.

* We always make a big fruit non-alcoholic punch with lots of mint, along with the alcoholic beverages. We make extra and keep in the fridge for topping up.

* We plug in the extra fridge on the deck for all the food and the leftovers.

Boxing Day lunch
Sid Sahrawat

Leftover meat makes great sliders for lunch the next day. Use the meat/fish add corn and a dash of lime juice. Smoked salmon bagels and ham and cheese sandwiches are great for breakfast and brunch.

Boxing Day quiche
Jeremy Schmid

Here's a simple quiche that is quick to make, so you can relax while it is cooking. It is a lighter meal to take along to a lunch or barbecue. Remember to also take some of your home-made fresh sausages with you for your friends to try.

Ingredients:
400g turkey or ham
200ml milk
100g onion diced
3 vine tomatoes, quartered and deseeded
3 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
4 sheets filo pastry
Oil for brushing filo sheets
2 spring onions, sliced

Method:
1 Lay one filo sheet on a board and oil lightly, repeat three times

2 Line a pie dish with the layered filo sheets and fold in the excess filo to bring them back in to the pie dish.

3 Saute the onions until softened.

4 Place ham/turkey and sauteed onions in the lined pie dish then add the tomato and spring onions

5 Mix the eggs and milk until combined, season to taste and pour into the lined pie dish until just below the top of the rim of the pie dish.

6 Place in a preheated oven at 150°C until the egg mixture is set (about 45 mins -1 hour).

Serve hot.

- NZ Herald

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