This is what happens when you lack good food decoration skills

The weekend before Christmas, I helped my friends make some Santa Strawberries. They turned out very cute and all that so I thought, why not make these for my own Christmas meal?

My lack of decorative expertise really showed, especially in the weirdly shaped “eyes” hastily cut out of a gummy snake. The little Santas ended up looking more like zombies, prompting the important eternal question: do these belong at Christmas time or would they be better served at Halloween?

Zombie Santas. Photo: Tao Lin

Zombie Santas are coming to get you. Photo: Tao Lin

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Season’s greetings from “Pinchy”, the Christmas crayfish

It arrived on Christmas eve in a tightly sealed styrofoam box.

My scissors sliced through the billowing plastic and industrial strength tape surrounding the container.

I tentatively lifted the lid – but only a little – and promptly dropped it back down again. I had seen nothing.

I called my mum over to help.

We both glimpsed cautiously into the box when suddenly, she let out a small yelp of surprise.

I had received a text message, which caused a loud, sudden buzz to reverberate across the counter top. We both giggled ferociously.

Our laughter gave us the courage to throw the lid off, pull back the sheet filled with melted ice and uncover the greatly anticipated star of our Christmas – Christmas lunch, that is: a brilliantly orange and very much cooked crayfish.

I can’t explain the irrational fear I felt when first attempting to open the box and it doesn’t make sense to me why I chicken out at handling a once-living creature that still looks like an animal (spit roasts are a prime case in point). Whatever the reason, I couldn’t bring myself to drive a knife through the crayfish’s head to split it open so I asked Andrew to do it for me.

Being the endearing soul he is, he promptly named our little buddy “Pinchy”, before cracking open its head.

"I shall name him Pinchy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Pinchy."  Photo: Tao Lin

“I shall name him Pinchy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Pinchy.”
Photo: Tao Lin

Once he cracked open the crayfish, Andrew removed the mustard-coloured liver and some other soft gooey stuff before I brushed over the flesh with a mix of melted butter, a chopped red chilli, crushed garlic and grated zest of a lime (recipe by Nadia Lim). It then went onto a heated pan to grill, flesh-side down, for a couple of minutes before serving.

It was a surprise for my dad, who loves shellfish, and part of my Christmas gift to him. It was a nice feeling seeing his joy from something that is so basic and his enthusiasm in encouraging us all to enjoy the dish with him.

I hope everyone’s had such warm moments this festive season and a fabulously happy holiday!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

And so the festive season of eating too much begins…

Roast turkey, meat pie, oven-baked salmon, bread rolls, salad, chocolate cake, tiramisu. That was my lunch this weekend gone by and the start of some serious (over)eating.

My friends and I decided to do a shared lunch and Secret Santa. I was tasked with a main and dessert, both of which turned out pretty well. For the main, I made Guinness steak and mushroom pie and for dessert, tiramisu.

I’ve come to realise that pie takes a heck of a long time to make – much longer than it would take you to drive down to the local pub and order one there, and it would taste about the same too. However, I’m glad I made the effort this time because it turned out delicious. It’s based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for a boozy Guinness steak and cheese pie but I did my own thing with it by adding shiitake mushrooms.

Guinness steak and mushroom pie
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
About 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water overnight and cut into thin strips. Keep the water that the mushrooms have been in to top up the stew.
600g stewing beef
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
300ml Guinness
200ml beef stock
2 heaped tablespoons of flour
Puff pastry (I used store bought because I am terrible at making pastry)
One egg, beaten

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 190ºC. Heat olive oil over low heat in saucepan and gently fry the onions for about 10 minutes. Don’t let them color too much.
  2. Turn the heat up and add carrots and garlic. Mix it together before adding mushrooms. Stir together and add beef, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.
  3. Fry for 3-4 minutes and then add Guinness and stock. Stir in the flour and then top with the water saved from soaking the mushrooms.
  4. Bring to a simmer and then pour into an ovenproof dish. Cover with tin foil and place in oven for about 90 minutes.
  5. After 90 mins or so, remove from oven and stir. At this point I added more salt and pepper to taste because it tasted quite bland – it may pay to do the same but always check first!
  6. Place back in the oven for another hour or so the beef is tender and stew is thick.

For the pastry lid I took out a sheet of pastry, laid it over the top of the stew, folded the sides down to make a bit of a crust, sliced the top with a sharp knife, brushed it with the egg and popped it back in the oven for about half an hour.

When I was looking for a tiramisu recipe, I quickly came to the realisation that most recipes for the fluffy Italian dessert use raw egg. Considering I didn’t want to unwittingly give my friends food poisoning, I looked semi-hard for a recipe that doesn’t use raw egg. I trawled through some Google results and found one using cooked egg yolks. You can find the recipe here: http://www.askchefdennis.com/2011/04/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/ and trust me, you will love it. I had heaps leftover after lunch and I found the tiramisu actually tastes even better once it’s been in the fridge for a day. Not sure whether that’s because I wasn’t so stuffed when I ate it a day later or if it’s actually legitimately better.

I’ve been tasked with making Christmas lunch on the actual day again this year. So far, I have a crayfish. More ideas?

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin