The holiday season can be a chaotic period of stress, little sleep and entertaining around the clock — but it doesn't need to be . So, we've called in the expert, MasterChef's Sarah Todd, to dish on all her secrets to enjoying the busy festive period.
Firstly, what are your childhood memories of Christmas?
One of my favourite childhood memories? It's those magical days when Mum and I would be knee-deep in flour and sugar, creating endless cookie jars for the whole family. It was more than just baking; we were whipping up jars of joy and love. That's when I realised the true power of food – filling the stomach and heart!
How do you celebrate the holidays now?
Now, my Christmases are a vibrant mix of cultures and flavours. Imagine a Christmas celebration in Goa with Mum, my son, and my nephew at my restaurant. We're blending Aussie spirit with Goan zest – it's as colourful and lively as it sounds! In Goa, we started this fun tradition of Secret Santa with my staff. Mum and I end up dashing around, buying tons of gifts to ensure everyone gets something under the tree.
And then, there's the 'Friendsmas' back in Melbourne, or sometimes, a big family Christmas where we all gather, sharing stories and laughs and everyone pitches in with the menu.
What are your tips for a stress-free Christmas lunch?
Hosting Christmas lunch for a big crowd? Here's my mantra – prep, prep, and more prep! I'm talking about skewering those tandoori spiced chicken skewers days in advance and having salads chopped and ready, just holding off on the dressing till D-day. My secret weapon? Shakeable dressing jars – they're lifesavers! And remember, every bowl on the table should be ready to go – it's like setting the stage for a grand food opera!
From table styling to food garnishes, what's the secret to decking out your home and dishes?
Table styling? Oh, I love to jazz it up with native flowers – they're like nature's own confetti! And a coloured tablecloth that's my canvas for a festive feast, something in bright citrus and peach fuzz! It's not food but a total necessity. Music sets the mood, so bring your favourite holiday tunes!
Incorporating nature's bounty into your table setting adds vibrancy and brings an element of simplicity and freshness that is often appreciated more than intricate, over-the-top decorations. Here are a few ideas to enhance this concept...
- Bowl of Summer Fruits: Feature a large bowl filled with summer delights like peeled mandarins and a separate bowl brimming with raspberries. Their vivid colours and natural sweetness make them delicious and visually striking centrepieces.
- Crisp Salad Loaded with Fresh Herbs: Instead of separate herb bouquets, incorporate a variety of fresh herbs directly into a crisp salad. Think basil, mint, or cilantro mixed with fresh greens. This adds flavour and a lush, green vibrancy to the table.
- Bowl of Freshly Cut Vegetables: A bowl filled with fresh, crisp vegetables, such as colourful bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, cucumber sticks, or baby carrots, offers a refreshing and visually appealing option for your guests.
- Water Pitchers with Infused Fruits: Serve pitchers of water infused with slices of fruits like lemons, limes, or cucumbers. This adds a decorative element to your table, encouraging guests to enjoy a flavorful, hydrating drink.
- Bread Basket: Present a basket of assorted bread, which can be a rustic and inviting addition to your table. The simplicity of fresh bread complements the other natural elements on the table.
By focusing on the natural allure of fresh produce and herbs, you create a table setting that is visually appealing and resonates with nature's simplicity and richness. It's a reminder of the joys of fresh, wholesome food and adds a lively, organic touch to your gatherings.
What should guests bring when they're told not to worry about bringing something?
As for what guests should bring to Christmas lunch, let's keep it simple:
- A Bottle of Wine or Sparkling or non-alcoholic Juice: Always handy for a festive toast.
- A Box of Chocolates or Christmas Cookies: For that sweet touch.
- A Festive Salad or Side Dish: Something simple, like a green salad or roasted veggies.
- Cheese and Crackers: Because who doesn't love a good cheese platter?
This way, everyone can contribute without any stress, and we can all focus on enjoying the day, the food, and each other's company.
Lastly, what's your go-to Christmas recipe that's guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser?
Spiced Boneless Lamb Shoulder with Pickled Red Onion and Mint Salsa
- 1 boneless lamb shoulder
- Your favourite spice rub (I love a mix of cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and a hint of cinnamon)
- Olive oil
- Salt, to taste
For the Pickled Red Onion and Mint Salsa:
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- A handful of fresh mint, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
And don't forget the Hummus!
- Preheat your grill. Rub the lamb shoulder generously with the spice mix and olive oil. Season with salt.
- Grill the lamb, calculating about 19 minutes per 500 grams. You're aiming for that perfect blend of crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
- For the salsa, combine the sliced red onion with vinegar and sugar. Let it sit for about 15 minutes, then drain and mix with chopped mint. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve the lamb with the pickled red onion, mint salsa, and creamy Hummus. It's a total crowd-pleaser!
Simonds acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn and work.