The year I nailed Christmas

Guillaume Brahimi’s Christmas-tree ice-cream.

Excited to have the Epicure Good Food cover today with this story on Christmas meals that went right:

Pressure. Expectation. Family. For people hosting Christmas lunch or dinner it’s a yuletide cocktail that is not always sweet. Although many breathe a sigh of relief when Christmas Day passes, there are a few of us who have cracked (at least, the culinary) Christmas code. From accompaniments, mains and desserts to novel alcoholic punches, here are the insights gleaned from some people who, for one year at least, have nailed Christmas.

The year: 2012
The chef: Carolyn Creswell, businesswoman
The advice: read the instructions

The owner of Carman’s Kitchen was in NSW’s Mossy Point with her family, about to host 15 people for Christmas lunch when she discovered the rental house didn’t have a proper oven. Lumbered with a smallish microwave convection unit instead, she sat down and spent 10 minutes reading the instructions and used a meat thermometer to turn out a perfectly roasted turkey (regular checks with a meat thermometer were key). “It was absolutely amazing, I think, because everybody’s expectations were disastrously low,” she says. Creswell’s other tips include keeping notes (including recipe tweaks and reminders) for each Christmas and setting the table early to give the impression to guests that you are on top of your game. “That was my mum’s housewife tip to me,” she says.

The year: unknown
The chef: Guillaume Brahimi, Guillaume
The advice: less is more

“Christmas is all about being organised and less is more,” says the Sydney chef. His sensible advice is best illustrated by a Christmas dessert recipe passed down to his wife Sanchia from her aunt. Each year the Brahimis fill a plastic Christmas tree mould with a mixture of vanilla bean seeds, chopped up Mars Bars, Bounty Bars and Fry’s Turkish Delight and a 2 litre tub of vanilla ice cream. After setting in the freezer overnight it’s turned out on Christmas Day with uniform success. “When you de-mould it – well, let me tell you, everybody is happy at home.”

Scott Pickett's dressed oysters.
Scott Pickett’s dressed oysters. Photo: Dean Cambray

The year: 2002
The chef: Scott Pickett, Estelle and Saint Crispin
The advice: keep them guessing

After years overseas Melbourne chef Scott Pickett flew back from London in 2002 to surprise his Adelaide parents. On the way there, after vigorously catching up with mates in Sydney on Christmas Eve, he fell asleep in the airport lounge and missed his plane. “They woke me up at 11.30am and the flight had gone at 9am. I was freaking out,” he says. Pickett got a flight in the end and took a $200 taxi ride to his Aunty’s place in Murray Bridge. He was five hours late but his parents thought he was coming home for New Year’s Eve so it was “surprise”, mission accomplished. These days Pickett has a young family of his own and fresh prawns, oysters and cold champagne are always part of the Christmas equation. Each year he makes a simple oyster dressing by frying shallots in peanut oil and adding them to a mix of rice wine vinegar, mirin, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Read on…