The perfect festive season meal

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

I love the European tradition of starting the Christmas celebrations on Christmas Eve – any excuse to sit around the table with family and friends is always a good idea in my camp. This is not the day for locking yourself in the kitchen, though, so a simple menu you can prepare ahead is the way to go. You can marinade the birds, make the shortbreads and have a tray of figs waiting in the fridge, ready for the oven. Even the vegetables for the salad can be sliced and kept chilled ready to be tossed together at the last minute. Easy!

STICKY SPATCHCOCK, POMEGRANATE AND ORANGE WITH SALAD

The fruit in this recipe will add plenty of punch. Serve every last drop of the sticky sauce.

http://images.dailylife.com.au/2012/12/03/3859871/353spatch.jpg?rand=1354501884866

SERVES 6

6 spatchcocks

juice and grated zest of 1 orange

3 tbsp brown sugar

3 tbsp pomegranate molasses

2 garlic cloves, crushed

3cm piece ginger, peeled and chopped

2 small oranges, sliced

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup chicken stock

1 pomegranate, seeds removed

For the salad

150g green beans, trimmed

2 fennel bulbs,

thinly sliced

1 red onion, thinly sliced

bunch mint, leaves picked

bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked

bunch dill, roughly chopped

grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1½ tbsp olive oil

1 green chilli, finely chopped

For the salad, cook beans in salted boiling water for 3 minutes, drain, then refresh in cold water. Toss all salad ingredients together, then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To flatten birds, lay them breast side down with neck away from you. Take a pair of strong kitchen scissors and, starting with neck end, remove backbone by cutting about ½cm from either side of bone; you'll then be able to remove it easily. Turn birds over and flatten them with palm of your hand.

Make a marinade by combining orange juice, sugar, pomegranate molasses, garlic and ginger. Put spatchcocks in a shallow dish with orange slices and rub them all over with marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.

Heat a barbecue or oven grill to hot. Remove birds from marinade, reserving remainder for later, and cook for 5 minutes on each side, then move to a cooler part of barbecue or reduce grill to low and continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, turning regularly, until birds are golden and juices run clear. Leave to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, place vinegar and onion in a small pan and bring to boil. Simmer until most of the vinegar has evaporated, then add reserved marinade and chicken stock. Boil until sauce becomes thick and syrupy, then stir in pomegranate seeds and orange zest. Serve spatchcocks with a drizzle of sauce and fennel, green bean and herb salad.

GRILLED FIGS, ORANGE BLOSSOM YOGHURT AND CARDAMOM SHORTBREAD

These are super-easy, a good crowd-pleaser and on the healthy side – the best kind of dessert!

http://images.dailylife.com.au/2012/12/03/3859797/353figs.jpg?rand=1354501898122

SERVES 6

10 small ripe figs

15g unsalted butter

3 tsp soft light

brown sugar

2 drops orange blossom water

½ cup Greek yoghurt

2 tsp honey

45g toasted pistachios, roughly chopped

For the shortbread

4 cardamom pods

90g butter, cubed

¼ cup caster sugar

1 cup plain flour

Preheat oven to 160°C. Lightly grease and line a 20 x 30cm baking tin with baking paper.

For shortbread, crush cardamom pods, pick out seeds and grind them using a mortar and pestle. Place butter, sugar, ground cardamom and flour in large bowl and rub together with your fingertips, until mixture starts to look like moist rough breadcrumbs. Press mixture firmly into base of prepared tin and chill in fridge for 10 minutes. Bake for 25 minutes or until light golden. Score shortbread into triangles and set aside. Once cooled, snap it into pieces along score marks.

For figs, preheat grill to medium. Tear figs open and place them on a baking tray, cut side up. Dot each half with a little butter and sugar, then grill for 2 minutes. Stir orange blossom water into yoghurt, then swirl in honey. Serve warm figs with a dollop of yoghurt and cardamom biscuits.

BOXING DAY BRUNCH

The big day is over, but there’s still plenty of good eating to be had the morning after. After all the frivolity and excitement of Christmas Day, I can think of no better way to relax and start to slow down than by enjoying a long, leisurely Boxing Day brunch. I like to wake up early, so I usually will make the cake and have it cooling by thetime the rest of the house starts getting busy. Then it's just a case of preparing the mixture for the fritters and waiting for the first signs of hunger.

POTATO AND FETA FRITTERS, GRAVLAX, POACHED EGGS AND MUSTARD DILL DRESSING

After the feasting of Christmas Day, get your morning off to a fresh, light start.

http://images.dailylife.com.au/2012/12/03/3859870/353salmon.jpg?rand=1354501888391

SERVES 4

500g potatoes, peeled and grated

6 eggs

4 spring onions, trimmed, thinly sliced

2 tbsp freshly chopped mint

2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley

25g crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup plain flour

⅓ cup light-flavoured oil

To serve

cucumber slices

8 slices gravlax

Mustard dill dressing

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp caster sugar

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

¼ cup light-flavoured oil

1 tbsp freshly chopped dill

For the dressing, whisk mustard, sugar, salt and vinegar together in a bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in oil in a thin stream. Stir through dill.

Place potatoes in a colander with a large pinch of salt and set aside to drain for 15-20 minutes. Place 2 eggs in a bowl and beat lightly. Squeeze excess moisture from potato and add to eggs with spring onions, mint, parsley, feta and flour. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add 2 tbsp of mixture per fritter to pan, squash slightly to make 7cm-diameter fritters. Cook for 2-3 minutes each side or until golden brown. Keep warm.

To poach remaining eggs, fill a shallow frying pan with water until it is 5cm deep and place over a high heat. Once water boils, turn off heat and break eggs directly into water. Crack shells open at water surface, so eggs simply slide into water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and leave to cook for 3 minutes, or until egg whites are opaque. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and drain on a clean tea towel.

To serve, place 2 fritters on each serving plate with some cucumber slices and gravlax. Top each with a poached egg and drizzle with a little mustard dressing.

CRANBERRY AND COCONUT BUTTER CAKE

For an extra treat serve with ice-cream. If there is any left over, this is delicious the next day.

http://images.dailylife.com.au/2012/12/03/3859748/353bgcake.jpg?rand=1354501902513

SERVES 10-12

2¼ cups plain flour

5 tsp baking powder

2 cups caster sugar

1¾ cups desiccated coconut

175g butter, melted, cooled

4 eggs

1 cup milk

½tsp vanilla extract

1 cup frozen cranberries

To serve

icing sugar, to dust

shredded coconut, lightly toasted, to sprinkle

Preheat oven to 170°C. Lightly grease and line a 24cm-round springform tin with non-stick baking paper.

Sift flour and baking powder into a large bowl, add 1¾ cups sugar and coconut and stir to combine. Whisk butter, eggs, milk and vanilla together, then add to flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Pour two-thirds of mixture into prepared tin. Place cranberries and ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl and toss to combine. Scatter cranberry mixture over cake batter, then top with remaining cake batter. Place in preheated oven and bake for 50-60 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted into centre comes out cleanly.

Remove and set aside on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from tin and set aside to cool completely. Serve dusted with icing sugar and sprinkle with shredded coconut.

Food photography by Kate Whitaker. Food styling by Marina Filippelli. Prop styling by Rachel Jukes. Recipes by Bill Granger.

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