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FESTIVE MAIN EVENTS

Christmas is a time of celebration and festive foods. And if dishes can be prepared ahead — well great! The more time spent with family and friends the better.

Turkey is an excellent special occasion meat and it can always be prepared in the slow cooker — if you have one large enough. This allows you can use the oven for baking and roasting vegetables without any hassles. 

Make a sling for the turkey from a length of folded foil. Place some veggies on the base of the cooker then — using the sling — add the turkey. Leave the sling in place until the turkey is cooked so you can remove it with ease. Ensure the foil is tucked in so the cooker lid closes tightly.

If using stock for sauces or gravy then make your own using meat bones and vegetables or purchase fresh stock that is sold in some supermarkets in clear pouches from the chiller. Christmas demands the best. At least sauces can be prepared ahead.

Roast veggies are a tradition and a combo of pumpkin, potatoes and different varieties of kumara is always colourful. These can all be peeled and cut up the night before and kept in a basin of cold water in a cool place. Ensure they're well dried before adding to the hot oil in a roasting pan. Rice bran oil will ensure they are crispy on the outside. Add a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme for extra aroma and flavour.

SLOW-COOKED MOROCCAN TURKEY

If you have a large slow cooker that will hold a 4.5kg turkey then follow this recipe but only use 1 cup of water. Free-range Crozier Turkeys are available from butchers and some supermarkets nationwide. Check at www.croziersturkeys.co.nz  I cooked the couscous stuffing separately and piled it in the turkey cavity just before serving.

4.5kg free-range Crozier Turkey
1 tablespoon each: flaky sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 medium lemon
1 bunch fresh herbs eg, parsley, mint, rosemary, bay leaves
6 cloves garlic
75g butter, softened
2-3 tablespoons Moroccan seasoning
Couscous Stuffing: 1 packet Alexandra’s Apricot & Currant Moroccan Couscous

Remove the giblets from inside the turkey and pat the cavity dry Rub the turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. 

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Place a rack in a roasting pan just large enough to hold the turkey. Add 3 cups of water. 

Stuff the turkey with the lemon, herbs and garlic placing some in the neck cavity as well. Tuck the wing tips underneath. Tie the legs together with string.

Place the turkey on the rack breast-side up. Rub with half the butter. Sprinkle well with the Moroccan seasoning. Cover the whole pan with foil.

Cook for about 4 1/2 hours or until the legs ease away from the body with gentle pulling.

Remove the foil and brush the turkey with the remaining butter.

Increase the oven temperature to 190°C. Return the turkey to the oven and cook for 5-7 minutes until the skin has browned. Cover with foil and a heavy towel. Rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. 

Meanwhile, make the stuffing according to the packet instructions. Serves 8-10.

WHOLE CAULIFLOWER WITH PUY LENTILS

This makes a great vegetarian main or a side dish for meats.

1 medium head cauliflower
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
4 each: shallots, diced, portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon each: crushed garlic, thyme leaves
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup white wine
2 cups finely sliced washed spinach
1 cup Puy lentils, rinsed
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups vegetable stock

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Trim the major leaves from the cauli. Remove any thick stalk from the base and trim it so the cauli sits flat. Place in a large microwave-proof bowl with 2 tablespoons of water. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large pan suitable for the hob and oven. Add the mustard seeds and heat over medium until they start to pop. Add the shallots and cook until lightly browned. Add the mushrooms, garlic and thyme and cook for a few minutes. Add the tomato paste and wine and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the spinach stirring until wilted.

Mix in the lentils. Season. Make a well in the centre and add the cauli. Pour the stock around the cauli. Cover and cook for about 50 minutes until the cauli and lentils are cooked. 

Brush the cauli with the remaining oil. Great served sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese, ground paprika and chopped fresh herbs. Serves 6-8.

FIVE-SPICE DUCK BREASTS

I used Quack a Duck duck breasts available from New World Supermarkets. If preferred, prepare the sauce a day ahead and reheat. 

Blackberry Sauce: 1 shallot, finely diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons each: brown sugar, red wine vinegar
2 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
1 cup good chicken stock
Duck: 4 boned duck breasts
salt to taste
3-4 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons finely grated root ginger
4 cloves garlic, crushed

To make the sauce, sauté the shallot in the oil in a small saucepan, until softened. Add the brown sugar and vinegar and half the blackberries and simmer for 4-5 minutes until the berries are soft. Mash and add the chicken stock. Simmer until reduced by half. Sieve to remove the seeds.

To cook the duck, first preheat the oven to 220°C.

Divide the breasts into two. Score the skin in a diamond pattern as you would for a ham. Sprinkle evenly all over with salt and the five-spice powder. Make a paste with the ginger and garlic and rub into the skin.

Heat a heavy, non-stick frying pan on medium. Place the duck breasts skin-side down and cook until the fat has rendered and the skin is golden brown, about 7 minutes.

Cook the duck in the oven for 10-12 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Add the remaining blackberries to the sauce and heat through. Serve with the duck. Serves 4.



Columns by Jan Bilton
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