Putting on a Christmas feast during a cost-of-living crisis will make it challenging for many this year. Reporter Jenny Ling asked top Northland chefs how to create a Christmas feast without blowing the budget.
Paul Froggatt executive chef at The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs in Matauri Bay
Buying seasonal fresh produce and opting for a good old Kiwi barbecue instead of an extravagant traditional feast are Paul Froggatt’s top tips for having a relaxing Christmas meal without spending a fortune.
With our, hopefully, hot summer weather on the way, conditions should be perfect for outdoor dining and residents shouldn’t be afraid to try something different, he said.
First, Froggatt suggests heading to the local markets to find fresh produce that’s in season.
Checking out the promotions at the supermarket can help, as can buying a large cut of meat or fish and making sure you keep some for the next day.
“Over Christmas time in New Zealand, it’s all about big salads from the garden and summer vegetables,” he said.
“I am all about making a nice wholesome dinner with lots of vegetables, a small amount of meat and then also having leftovers for the next day or a second dinner.
“If you know someone that has a home garden, maybe you can do a bit of a trade - some home baking for some vegetables always works in my books.”
Froggatt said though he’s fairly classic at heart, “sometimes it’s good to shake the tree”.
“I love cooking a whole fish on the barbecue. Or the beer can chicken works well on a summer’s day.”
The beer can chicken method uses a partially filled can of beer placed in the chicken’s cavity prior to cooking.
The chicken is then stood up on the can, with its legs vertical, and slow-cooked over indirect heat.
Froggatt prefers to cook with whole chickens or whole fish so families can pick all the meat from the bones.
The leftover meat can be used in Boxing Day lunches with salads or mixed with vegetables for another meal.
“I am a big green vegetable eater so lots of beans, peas, asparagus, broad beans, courgettes, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale and salads,” he said.
“For dessert, I am a sucker for fresh berries and vanilla cream - if I can get to them before my daughter and the birds.
“We have always made Christmas cookies with my children [see recipe below] and the classic English Christmas cake.”
Froggatt and his family get into the Christmas spirit by bringing out their box of decorations which contains “lots of red and gold and we always have a poinsettia not too far away”.
Paul Froggatt recently won Luxury Lodge Chef of the Year in this year’s Cuisine Good Food Awards. He was formerly executive chef at New Zealand’s Huka Lodge in Taupō, and has worked as head chef in two-star Michelin restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Ming Poon and Diane Langman owners of Māha Restaurant in Kerikeri
Keeping it simple and planning ahead – even how you’ll use leftovers – is what Diane and Ming suggest to Northlanders trying to stick to a budget this festive season.
The food-and-budget-savvy couple advise planning a menu as early as possible so you can grab items on sale before the pre-Christmas price hikes start.
Then write a shopping list and stick to it and resist all those little Christmas items that start popping up in the shops.
Also, plan how any leftovers might be used, they said.
“Remember ‘Kiss’: keep it small and sensible,” Diane said.
“Use pasta, rice and pulses to bulk out meat dishes, and think sharing platters rather than individual portions.”
Ming and Diane don’t get too fancy with their food on Christmas Day; they’re usually happy to throw something on the barbecue and FaceTime relatives overseas.
Diane said brunch can also be an option, which is a custom at her brother’s house.
He makes homemade pancakes or crepes with a range of savoury and sweet accompaniments including baked banana, pureed berries, soft brie cheese, fresh asparagus, crispy bacon and maple syrup.
Ming and Diane suggest checking what you already have in the pantry and freezer, along with tried-and-true recipes, and begin with that.
“Think about what you might have in the garden by December or maybe what you can plant now or beforehand, even just herbs, tomatoes and salad greens,” Ming said.
“Ask any guests to bring side dishes, snacks and homemade sauces.”
It’s also wise to “think seasonal”, and make use of watermelon, strawberries and tomatoes that will be around in abundance in December.
Finally, make homemade decorations with leaves, flowers and branches or whatever is in the garden or whatever you can forage.
“Get out that crockery and glassware, nanna’s old tablecloth that you’ve been saving for best but forget to use,” Diane said.
Ming, the chef, and Diane, the front-of-house person, used to run a restaurant called The Orange Dining Room (ODR) in Wellington before making Kerikeri home and opening Māha at Wharepuke. Ming was executive chef at Chow, Dojo and Ancestral in Wellington. Māha was recently selected by Cuisine Magazine as a Global Cuisine Destination.
Paul Froggatt’s gingerbread Christmas cookies
175g dark muscovado sugar
85g golden syrup
100g slightly salted butter
350g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
4g bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
2.5g ground cinnamon
Put the sugar, golden syrup and butter in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, then bubble for 1-2 minutes, stirring until well combined. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Tip the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices into a large bowl. Add the warm syrup mixture and the egg, stir to bring everything together, then gently knead in the bowl until smooth and streak-free.
The dough will feel a little soft now but will firm up once cooled.
Wrap the dough in cling film and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Remove the dough from the fridge and leave at room temperature until softened.
Heat oven to 165C/180C fan/gas 6 and line two baking trays with baking parchment.
Roll out the dough to 0.5cm thick and cut out a variety of shapes.
Bake the biscuits for 10 minutes, rotating the trays in the oven.
Mix the icing sugar with enough water to make a thick icing.
Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a small nozzle, then decorate the biscuits using a little edible glitter.
Note: Be mindful of your cooking times, as every oven is different. Froggatt suggests doing a test run of the recipe before the big day.
Diane and Ming’s Christmas roast pork
In a large pot with a lid:
Put one large onion chopped into chunks, a few bay leaves, a few cloves of garlic to taste, a handful of dried juniper berries (in the herb and spice section of the supermarket), celery chunks and a handful of salt.
Put in the whole leg of pork, cover and bring to a boil then simmer for two hours. Remove the pork and let it cool down (you can do this the day before Christmas).
Make sure the pork is dry before roasting.
Rub the skin with a bit of oil and salt.
Fire up a kettle barbecue (one with a lid) or the oven to 220 C.
Pop in the pork skin side up on a roasting rack and cook for around 1.5 to 2 hours.
It’s high heat so you can get the crackling to crisp up.
You can also prepare any vegetables you want to roast and add them to the oven or barbecue.
Serve it with a choice of sauces: apple puree, some green herbs salsa or chilli sauce. Any pork leftovers are yummy cold.
Note: This is Diane’s late mother Freda’s recipe. Her favourite accompaniment was grilled pineapple rings (canned is fine).
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering health, food, business, and animal welfare issues.