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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Christmas Feast for friends

     If you follow me on instagram you may remember seeing this photo being posted following a big Christmas feast that Ryan and I put on early in December. As January is almost over I thought I better blog about this feast though the minimal photos that I managed to take with my camera are pretty shocking as we were both flat off our feet that day.

      This grand Christmas dinner was a month in the making. As we hadn't caught up with our friends in a long time, we decided that Christmas was a great excuse to invite everyone over for dinner and Ryan and I always love to spoil our friends. As soon as the invitations went out, I went into planning mode and spent the majority of my lunch breaks at the shopping centre near work, looking for inspiration on decorations. I wanted our dinner to have a nice Christmas feel to it but yet be classy and not over the top tacky. Each week I accumulated bags and bags of things I had picked up from the shops, from decorations, to serving tools ,dinner plates and cutlery etc. I also spent a lot of time with my nose in cookbooks and on google putting together ideas for our menu.


      About a week before the event, Ryan and I finalised the menu and wrote out our shopping list and plan of attack.

Our menu was:
Appetisers:
- Prawn Ceviche with Corn Chips and Guacamole
- Truffled Popcorn
Dinner:
- Roast Turkey with Apple and Cranberry Stuffing, White Wine Gravy
- Coleslaw with Buttermilk Dressing
- Baked Sweet Potato with Honey Cinnamon Whipped Butter
Dessert:
- Pumpkin Pie with Vanilla Bean Crème Anglaise and Pecan Praline

      I decided to take the Friday before the dinner off work so that we could head to the markets to get all our fresh produce and start the prep. Unfortunately Ryan was called in to work that afternoon which took a huge chunk out of our planned prep time, which resulted in everything running behind schedule on the day. Very thankful to those friends who showed up early and helped us set up the table and serve up the entrees and drinks.

     During the week before the dinner I started making some goodies for our guests to take home from the dinner. I experimented with a good old trusty shortbread recipe and made these Christmas Pudding cookies, all the flavours of a Christmas pudding but in cookie form. The addition of brown sugar and brandy changed the properties of the shortbread and turned them into cookies, really good cookies.

       I also had some failed mud cake in the freezer so made some choc mud peanut butter cake pops. Woolworths also had massive specials on Lindt and Ferrero's so I grabbed a couple of boxes to fill up some jars to go on the table.

      LOVE peonies so couldn't help grabbing a couple of bunches when I saw them at the markets. I took them to work with me and they lasted for the week.

      We made a cranberry punch (rum optional) and also made some ruby grapefruit soda as we couldn't resist the grapefruits when we tasted them at the markets. There was also plenty of wine to be had as all our guests turned up with a bottle or two of something. I made some bottles of cucumber and minted water but these were left forgotten in the fridge.

      These cute little jars were a last minute decision as I thought our friends would appreciate the hipster factor ;) They were very well received and added to the festive feel of the dinner with a stripped straw and some ribbon tied around.

      Who doesn't love popcorn? We thought it would be a great idea to have tubs of these on the table for our guests to nibble on as they arrived and waited for dinner to be served. Just some plain popcorn drizzled in truffle oil and seasoned with salt.

      I originally wanted to do a modern interpretation of the classic prawn cocktail but Ryan talked me into trying out a prawn ceviche and after a trial run a couple of weeks before hand we absolutely loved it and knew our friends would too.The leftovers we offered to give away disappeared quite quickly which meant we didn't have any for ourselves but it's easily recreated. The recipe for the ceviche can be found here on Gourmet Traveller, we decided to serve some corn chips with it instead of tortillas. For our friends who do not know what a ceviche is, it's a seafood based dish that is served raw and marinated in either lemon or lime juice to 'cook' it.

      Our guests mingling and enjoying their entrees. We had fourteen mouths (and a half) to feed (including Ryan and myself).

      After a successful trial with the Turkey Breast Buffe from Inghams, I was excited to roast up the whole roast turkey for our Christmas dinner but we were worried it wouldn't be enough for fourteen people so thought we should buy a second smaller turkey to supplement. The weekend before, Dad came home with a free turkey from Bing Lee when he went to buy a replacement washing machine. Even though the promotion was for the ovens I guess it pays to have connections ;)

      Ryan is lucky to have two ovens in his house (two kitchens) but one of them was broken so we had to crank up the BBQ and cooked one of the turkeys in there. It was certainly interesting as each one behaved differently and we had to constantly monitor the temperature of the BBQ but we still managed to deliver two perfectly cooked turkeys. They were just simply filled with an apple and cranberry stuffing and then rubbed with butter and seasoned with salt and pepper and basted with pan juices throughout cooking. The stuffing recipe can be found here from Inghams, we replaced the raisins in the recipe for dried cranberries. The leftover stuffing I put into an oven dish and baked separately and served on the side. We served up a white wine gravy made using all the pan juices.

      Didn't have any good photos of the side dishes we served up but they all went down well with our guests and I was happy to see people go back for seconds and even thirds of everything. The honey cinnamon butter for the baked sweet potatoes was just a concoction I made on the day so don't really have an exact recipe. It was just some butter whipped up in a mixer to which I added honey, cinnamon and a pinch of salt to taste. The coleslaw dressing was mayonnaise with buttermilk and mustard mixed in.

      As we were doing a bit of an American themed menu, Ryan wanted to make pumpkin pie for dessert. Instead of whipped cream, Ryan wanted to serve it with a vanilla bean creme anglaise .

      Unfortunately half our guests had to leave before it was served. As Ryan and I were very behind schedule, we had to cook the dessert during dinner and it was quite late by the time it was served. Ryan had managed to make the pumpkin pie filling the day before but we still had to blind bake the pastry and then fill and bake the pie. We also did not have time to make the creme anglaise before hand and had some issues with it going lumpy even though it was all perfect when we did a trial run. The praline almost didn't make it onto the plate but luckily I was able to push through and get it done in time.

      The dinner ended on a high for our guests, a sugar high for some ;). Even though it was a rush to get dessert to the table and it didn't quite turn out the way we wanted as we didn't have time to properly rest everything, everyone loved the flavours of the pumpkin pie. This was the first pumpkin pie for most people and it went down a treat. It's a Curtis Stone recipe we found online, and the creme anglaise recipe is from Taste. We cheated though and used store bought short crust pastry instead, the pampas brand is great! We ended up with a whole pie leftover which I took to work with the creme anglaise (which ended up being velvety smooth after settling overnight in the fridge). Everyone absolutely loved it.

      Even though not everything went to plan and we spent more time in the kitchen than mingling with our friends we can both say it was a successful dinner none the less as we were able to give our friends a good time and share our love for cooking. I don't think we bit off more than we could chew with the menu, if Ryan had not been called in to work we would have gotten a lot more done the day before. A lot of time was also wasted on the day when Ryan had to go to back to work to fetch the pie dishes he had forgotten to bring home. We had quite a lot of turkey leftover in the end but when takeaway was offered, I don't think I heard a single no from anyone ;)

      Perhaps next Christmas dinner we'll just have a pot luck, or dial up some pizzas. But if you know me well, you'll know that I don't like taking short cuts when it comes to food (unless absolutely neccessary) and only serve up the best (and lots of it) no matter if it's made from scratch or store bought. I do live to eat and cook ;)