Christmas Food Open Thread – Hits and Misses at table

Eating at this time of year is often spoken of as if it’s some kind of naughty thing – in a world where high fructose corn syrup invades every aisle of the supermarket, some are eager to pile shame on centuries old traditions of festive indulgence.

Well, they’re idiots. Give me the life where a family celebrates each other’s company with day after day of endless deliciousness or where a group of vegan friends build their own traditions, blowing each other’s minds with tables laden with goodness, year after year.

In this spirit, contributor Anthony has suggested an open thread on Christmas food failures and successes – he’s going to tell us about curing his own ham, which I’m pretty excited to hear about as it’s something I’d love to do.

As for me, this year’s failure was the Coffin Bay Oysters, which were not fresh enough. Boo! My sister in law had bought them (opened) the day before, they’d been in the fridge the whole time (wrapped) but they smelt odd and had a weird black slick on the shells. That’s why the flesh is still there under the piles of crayfish, served with butter melted with a touch of their mustard – sublime, and all the sweeter for the oyster disaster.

Despite being a bit crook (nothing serious, don’t worry) I still managed to glaze the ham, but instead of leaving it to marinate for hours and hours I whipped up something in five minutes. Fortunately I reaped the benefits of years of consistent kitchen-pottering and pantry-filling, basing the glaze on a tart apricot sauce made from our own apricots. Sadly, the aged tree has since had to be cut down and the sauce will never be the same – your own apricots always make the best sauce.

This year’s real triumph however was a masterpiece of Christmas leftovers, the ham and prawn bahn xeo:

All the virtues of using up the leftovers, with lots and lots of crunchy fresh things and a zingy sour-and-hot sauce. Perfect Boxing Day fare. Rather than include chillies in the sauce, they were on the side and the kids loved them too. Based on this Ottolenghi recipe from Plenty.

Open thread, so at it – what did you get right and wrong this Christmas?

33 thoughts on “Christmas Food Open Thread – Hits and Misses at table

  1. OMG Zoe – that ham & prawn banh xeo looks like pure win to me. I’m looking forward to turning part of our ham into pulled pork enchiladas tomorrow for NYE.

    My fail, by the way, was the slackadaisical naan I whipped up with my sourdough starter, which served better as frisbees than bread. Oops – sometimes I really should actually read a recipe? I think a week of winging it and winning made me cocky. Lesson learned!

  2. What we got right – absolutely winging it for little things like: the dressing for the freshly shucked Merimbula rocks and tasty potato and red cabbage salads.

    What we got wrong – not enough seafood!

  3. Got some naan dough in the fridge myself (Desley’s recipe) so wish me luck! And seriously, I think it’s important that those of us who our families and friends know as good cooks have a public stuff up occasionally so other people don’t get too afraid to cook for us!

  4. Slackadaisical is such a good word Tammi!

    My wrong Christmas thing was the pudding – @ampersandduck’s BB defeated me hands down this year (form, colour and flavour). His secret ingredient was brandied cumquats. I’d added figs and they just did not work as well.

    My Christmas win was a Vietnamese-inspired Boxing Day seafood lunch. Steamed barramundi with a past of mashed lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, ginger and fish sauce; crayfish with dipping sauce; rice vermicelli salad with carrot, radish, cucumber, mint and peanuts and meat patties with garlic chives.

    The company was sublime too, as @ampersandduck, the Colonel and Mrs Duck, BB and Bumblebee and my crush were all there. Unfortunately BB also defeated me at the scrabble, so I now hate him with a passion.

  5. Agree, ZB, we need our rituals to centre us and of course food should be at the heart of that. My win was the vegetarian “wellington” made with a mushroom pate, pumpkin and chestnuts so that Significant Other could have something fancy at the Xmas table. Major fail – watermelon and feta salad is really only great on a hot, hot day.

  6. Zoe, your (and Tammi’s) Christmas feasting had me drooling. Here we stuck to a big bowl of Catalan seafood stew, accompanied by contributed salads of various sorts; plum pudding for desert natch.

    But yes, my seasonal experiment was to cure a ham. What had been holding me back was the issue of nitrites. Nitrites give added protection against botulism, but more importantly from my point of view, they give the pink colour to cured meats. I’d made pancetta in the past without nitrites: just a simple dry cure of salt and brown sugar seasoned with pepper, bay leaves, juniper applied to a piece of belly pork. The result looked and smelled like the real deal, and tasted fine when cooked up too, but when it hit a hot pan it turned to the grey colour of cooked pork. This didn’t really bother me, as I only tend to use pancetta diced as a flavour base in dishes, but I thought no one’s going be thrilled about sitting down to slices of lovely carved grey ham.

    So I got hold of some curing salts and a nugget of pork that the organic butcher was about to send off to be made into ham and I did a wet cure: basically a brine with aromatics that the pork sits in, refrigerated, for a few days (that is, a few days for a piece of pork as small as the one I was using). Then I let it sit in fresh unsalted water for 24 hours and then cooked it. You can either bake it or simmer it. I chose to simmer, but the simmer may not have been gentle enough, as the finished ham seemed slightly dry and stringy. It reminded me as much of corned beef as of commercial hams I’ve had, which is fine because I’m a great fan of corned beef.

    The next experiment will be to follow up the home curing by smoking the ham (and perhaps the pancetta), which I gather can be done on any domestic BBQ with a hood. If anyone else who’s tried any home curing has some tips, it would be great to share them.

  7. My major wins and losses were both chocolatey.

    My rum’n’raisin dark chocolate bark had far too many stale pine nuts and not nearly enough rum-soaked raisins.

    The surprise hit was the apricot-macadamia-white chocolate alternative, only made because I don’t care for white choc and wanted to use it up!

    We’re getting more daring for the remainder of our holiday. Michael and I have tried tortillas from scratch and blow-torched some sugar-dressed pineapple for our own entertainment since then. 😀

  8. DSO, figs should work: isn’t there some reference in a Christmas carol to “figgy pudding”? I always put some prunes in my pudding because I can’t stand a “plum” pudding having no connection to plums

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  10. Our lunch was lovely, the only thing that was amiss was the shocking matter of too many prawns! My dad, smelling an opportunity amongst the shortage, scored some straight off the trawler, however, in his enthusiasm he got 10 kilos. For 8 people. Not surprisingly they came out again for dinner…

    “Have another prawn Jackie” is not something I wish to hear again.

  11. Oh, Sister Outlaw has reminded me that I served hot salty purple sticky rice with lychees on Boxing Day, with pandan sauce. OMG. Yum.

  12. My xmas win was making my mum’s chocolate mousse. Always good!! The disappointment was some smoked eel. I love NZ smoked eel and got a “good” brand but it was a bit lacking.

    The family gathering is ever shrinking so we paced the eating over a number of hours with long digestion breaks in between once more, it worked really well. Nothing like “food as entertainment”!

  13. Dr Sister Outlaw, that rice and lychees sounds delicious! Recipe for pandan sauce, pleeeeease? I’ve just eaten leftover sticky rice with coconut milk and mango for breakfast, but yours sounds much more exciting.

    I went to a couple of different family gatherings over christmas, including one with a very tasty ham, but the dish that got me most excited was a green salad made with ingredients from my cousins’ garden. It was simple but superbly fresh and delicious.

  14. Yule log (s) – I ended up making 5 for different occasions inc. Christmas Day. Parents are both gone now and no-one else much likes pud so Yule log will be on my table now every year.
    Christmas punch in my new op-shop punch bowl! Everyone LOVED it.

  15. Xmas win was staying home and keeping it simple. a couple of chooks in the Weber plus cold salads and roasties on xmas eve and baked ham for xmas. another win was only buying half a ham, it is nearly gone and i aint sick of it yet.

    the only real loss has been mucking up the girls sleep patterns.

  16. (Photos sent to Zoe for display IF she has the time and IF she feels like it!!)

    My Xmas success was the Big Fish and the shopping was as successful as the cooking.

    I wanted a big snapper to poach whole, and as seafood has to be fresh, the usual drill in Footscray is to (1) order ahead from the uber-classic fishmogner Conway’s (2) Swelter in a queue which goes around the block to collect your order on Xmas eve.

    This year I drove straight past Conway’s to Little Saigon and just marched in there to see what was good. I was prepared to be flexible but I really wanted a big snapper. And there he was. In and out (with nectarines and rao muong also) in ten bloody minutes!!

    Then on Xmas morning I poached him, which I winged, but at the last minute I thought I should at least consult Google. the strange mixture of liquids I’d thought appropriate to poach a fish in (water, wine, wee bit salt, thyme) turned out to be “court bouillon”. So at least I knew I was on the right track. (After cooking him, it’s in the freezer now as a fish stock waiting for a fish stew or something.)

    I managed to bring the whole thing to a simmer on the stovetop and then transfer to the oven without major scalds and a trip to Casualty (quite breaking the tradition for our family this year, really.) And out again and into the dish without breaking the tail off. He looked great surrounded by dill, sprigs of the thyme and green olives and was a hit at our bring-a-plate Xmas at the inlaws. We transported him there in his platter at the bottom of a huge plastic tub, again to avoid the trips to casualty if there should be a sudden stop.

    Fail: Couldn’t refrain from rising to bait of right wing Brother Outlaw.

  17. Win – choosing a simple colour theme, (yellow), to make a simple bring a plate meal more interesting.
    We had eggs, smoked salmon, mayo, parmesan garlic bread, turkey, mango/lime chutney, yellow pasta salad, corn, roast sweet potatoes. and yellow flowers and crackers.

    Lose – not choosing Pink as our theme to keep the preschooler happy. Maybe next year…..

  18. I love seeing what people eat on the holidays! My dream is to cook up Christmas lunch for everyone, sadly it will probably never happen and I will continue to be the girl who brings her food in a lunchbox FOREVER. Win for me was finding a new, delicious, organic vegetarian gravy, and lose was putting too much sugar in my caramelised onions so my savoury pie was a bit too sweet. And of course, mega win was the vegan Christmas potluck, and then eating all the leftovers.

    I got Ottolenghi’s Plenty for Christmas also, can’t wait to start cooking out of it.

  19. I roasted a turkey for the first time. Turns out my oven sucks even more totally than I thought, but I managed to not completely dry out the breasts while not completely undercooking the thighs. Uneven heat is annoying – I wonder if could retrofit a fan-forced rig to it. It’s all very well when you can pull stuff out and rearrange it a few times, but that don’t work for a 5kg boid.

    Win: leftover turkey chopped up and made into a chilli bean mexican thing, per a Jamie Oliver show recommendation. Delicious, and effective at rehydrating the dry bits and properly cooking the underdone bits.

    Fail: making stock from the carcass, but letting it boil dry and burn and ruin my stockpot.

  20. FDB I feel your pain about small, uneven generally crappy ovens. A couple of years ago I did the whole bird thing for Christmas in my rubbish oven. Got there in the end, but couldn’t do anything else (roast potatoes, heat the vegetarians’ meal) while that was going on.

    Don’t you just snort cynically when Nigella, Delia et al say in Christmas recipes “If you don’t have two ovens…” How many people have two ovens?!

  21. I had one family xmas in rural Pennsylvania staying in a lodge in the snow (though not a ski resort per se), and our kitchen had 2 ovens. It was totally awesome, and we did a crazy maxed-out roast-everything meal. One oven was about the size of mine now, the other about twice that. Both fan-forced electric, with elements top and bottom. It was a 3-day dessert baking frenzy after that.

  22. I bought an Istra ham (Win!) and forgot to take any of the leftovers home (Fail!), the veggie roulade was ok but not as good as last year (lets call it a draw).

    Then we went travelling for two weeks, six nights of which were spent in caravan parks. I am now very pleased with my tiny oven, dark stove and metre of benchspace. It’s better than electric bbqing.

  23. I am late to this but my outstanding christmas win was the cured salmon that was a first for me but so outstandingly easy peasy I don’t know why I am not making it every week. I actually enjoyed the brunch we had with family just before christmas most: gravad lax, waffles, cinnamon rolls, fruit salad, bacon, sourdough. My not-so-good was the chocolate orange cheesecake. It just tasted like particularly good cake batter but you really only want a spoon of cake mix not a whole slice of it.

  24. I had a reasonably successful xmas – two of them. A week before we had my mob over – 26 of ’em.
    They spread themselves out a bit because two of them were invited to a famous friend of theirs birthday or something. The friend is famous for a series of cutting edge/groovey / hip melbourne eateries. So I think they thought that they would get swishier food there.

    I had 2 kgs of Big Ozzie Prawns and could only get 12 or so Garfish with their heads and pointy noses left on. I made lamb burgers/kebabs with onions, greek flavours mixed in the night before.

    A few Kg of nice loin chops, a few interesting sausages and some plain sausages for the kids.

    Everyone else bought salads and sweets and grog.

    Went well – if a bit on the chilly cloudy side – rain sort of just held off till 3.30pm – then it pissed down.

    Went well no ,major dramas, no big family stoush – nice collective semi drunken singalong and guitar jam for an hour or so – “Wild Horses”, “Dead Flowers”, “San Antonio Rose”, Fairytale of NY”, “King o The Road”, etc etc finally pushed the last of them staggering out the door around 10pm.

    The next week we had the Feral Christian mob. They don’t drink or smoke – never have. They like to say grace – I like to contrive to make it hard to know when to say it – so they often revert to a sly silent one by themselves. They don’t care about quality but have a keen eye for quantity.

    Its not a meal to them if it doesn’t have a 44 gallon drum of cheap icecream somewhere in the meal washed down with 4 gallon bottles of generic soft drink.

    I usually drink too much in front of them with the strain and prove to them, once again, that “He likes his drink”. However this time due to an oversight, all that was out with me at the BBQ, was an esky of light beer.

    I did them good prawns – not too spicy, nice lamb burgers (not too foreign spiced), nice chops – simple and cooked, sausages not too spicey.

    Naturally tensions run high as the kids are feral, their mothers usually have some new bogan “fiance” with enough badly executed facial piercings to pass for a porcupine, in tow and without grog family tensions seem to escalate.

    (I can never work out if they would be more bearable if they drank or not)

    Only highlight was some of the more feral kids were given super sized machine gun-like water pistols as you would.

    You pump them up and squirt gallons of water a long way.

    Ms FX was a bit on edge as all the kids were getting soaked. “Perhaps you might slow down – or do it outside”

    But when they filled the guns with the aforementioned cheap lime and raspberry soft drink and were squirting fizzy red and green sugary stuff all over each other and our clothes on the line and etc – she lost it for a moment or two and the kids handed in the pistols.
    ( Possible to first time they have ever obeyed a commandment from anyone over 16 _ I’m not sure if I should have recorded it as a milestone and sent it to their caseworker.)

    All in all a good xmas.

    Only took two days to clean up and get over it.

    Two days after New Year I had to go out and buy a small ham – my first xmas without a ham leg at all and by then I was missing being able to go to fridge and slice off a bit, slap it between two hunks of dodger and spread with mustard and chomp with a beer or a cuppa tea.

    I only have one concern I haven’t worked out. One present I got was a Borders voucher for $30, but in the chaos of Kris Kringle I initially got someone else’s – but theirs was $40!!.

    I haven’t mentioned it yet – much.

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