"It's been a difficult year for some" says Swamy Akuthota, owner of the popular Satya South Indian Restaurants in Auckland and for this reason, he and his wife have decided to offer Christmas dinner on December 25 at all five of the Satya restaurants, free of charge. "On Christmas day some people may find themselves without family or friends or perhaps the means, or maybe they are tourists visiting our city, and we would like to give something back to our community on this day of the year." A set menu will be offered that includes some of the fabulous dishes that have made the Satya restaurants such a favourite with locals over the years. Available from 5.30pm until 10pm Dec 25, at all five Satya restaurants - check satya.co.nz for locations.
Sean Connolly's The Grill may be better known for its man-sized ways with meat and seafood, but our favourite Yorkshireman also has a delicate way with puddings too. We've been sneaking in for a post-show dish of his Lemon and Raspberry Cheesecake ($16). Connolly deconstructs the New York traditional sweet with a swirl of Italian meringue through the cream cheese, a base of lemonade jelly, and a topping of crushed oatmeal cookie crumbs and the essence of summer: freeze-dried NZ raspberries. Paired with a sweet sticky wine, this is worth skipping out early for. The Grill, SkyCity Grand Hotel, 90 Federal St, City, ph (09) 363 7067.
Put it on the list
* Cottage Delight's clotted cream is so rich and creamy it makes the perfect, slightly posh accompaniment to your Christmas pudding. Available at Nosh.
* Don't spoil your expensive free-range, perfectly brined, lovingly stuffed, roasted-to-perfection turkey with cheap cranberry sauce. Instead invest in Duchy Originals' organic cranberry sauce. It's made with whole cranberries, a dash of port and is gently hand-stirred in open pans to produce a sharp and intense flavour. Your bird will thank you. $12.99 from Nosh.
* Flamigni soft nougat with pistachios. Soft, chewy, perfectly crafted. $27.50 from Sabato.
The Meat Free Monday campaign was established in 2009, spearheaded by none other than the McCartney family: Paul and his two daughters Stella and Mary. Their idea was to make it easy for people to reduce the amount of meat they consume by introducing a meat-free day into every week, thus helping the environment as well as leading a healthier life. The idea caught on and now has over half a million followers around the world. Now we have the cookbook - Meat Free Monday Cookbook ($55; Kyle Books distributed by New Holland Press) with 312 recipes, divided into 52 weeks, for easy menu-planning, and contributions from chefs and celebrities like Maggie Beer, Anna Hansen and Kevin Spacey. I'm a dedicated meat-eater but this book made me want to lick the pages and have a meat-free Tuesday too.
Check it out
Not that we're advocating staying indoors this summer, but if you need an escape, check out new cooking show Two Greedy Italians which is due to begin screening December 27 on Food TV (Tuesdays 8.30pm). We join the "kings of Italian cuisine" Gennaro Contaldo, who you may recognise as Jamie Oliver's Italian off-sider, and Antonio Carluccio, well-known Italian chef, restaurateur and food expert, as they explore regional Italy in search of fine food. Watching these two old friends travel through Italy, you'll feel like you're right there with them - rolling pasta by hand, picking fresh produce, riding on the bonnet of their 60s open-top sports car, all the while bickering and bantering about their favourite subject - food! The show is beautifully shot and the pair are funny, charming, endearingly traditional (read, a tiny bit sexist), as they set out to find out if cooking "the old Italian way" (with family and friends) is in danger of being lost. It's easy to watch and cheaper than flying to Italy.
Regal Salmon's limited edition Cranberry and Herb Glaze fillet is perfect to have on hand in the fridge throughout the festive season. When unexpected guests turn up for lunch or dinner, simply pop it in the oven for 20 minutes while you whip up a salad. Serve with crusty bread and a nice cold riesling. Delicious and a wonderful change from sausages and steak! $39.95 per kg from all good supermarkets.
Luxury food stamps
Here's a great last-minute gift idea - a voucher to dine at one of our top restaurants. For the last three years I've bought my parents a voucher as a pressie and they couldn't be happier. They're avid foodies which, let's be honest, gets expensive, so a generous food voucher is a welcome treat for a "free meal". Clooney, French Cafe, O'Connell St Bistro all do them or ask your favourite local eatery if they offer this service.
Cafes to the rescue ...
Over the holidays here's where you can get fed and watered in guaranteed style:
* Takapuna Beach Cafe (22 The Promenade, Takapuna), open except Dec 25/26
* Cafe on Kohi (2/237 Tamaki Drive), open except Dec 25/26
* Teed St Larder (7 Teed St, Newmarket), open everyday except Dec 25 and Jan 1
* Zus & Zo (228 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay), open Dec 26-30 , then closed until Jan 7
* Richmond Rd Cafe (318 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn) - open except Dec 25-26
* La Cigale (69 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell) - open Dec 28-30, then again on Jan 4