Angela Casley's traditional Christmas dinner with a twist

Angela Casley knows how to make the festive meal a bigger highlight of Christmas Day than the presents.


All props from Romantique. Picture / Babiche Martens.

I love Christmas and everything that surrounds it: the fun, yet slightly mad lead-up, rushing about, ordering the turkey in advance to ensure it's ready to be picked up, phoning the South Island supplier for cherries to be delivered, and sorting out who will bring what on the big day to ease the pressure on everyone concerned. The food is the easy part for me.

When we wake on the 25th, we want to feel relaxed and have the day totally under control. A glass of Champagne and freshly warmed croissants with home-made jam will get the day under way before our traditional morning gathering. I am hoping for a sunny day so we can spend it at the beach before we embark on the evening meal.

Simplicity is the key to this traditional Christmas dinner with a twist. Some of us thrive at the thought of cooking for a crowd, others cringe and immediately go into panic mode. For those people this is a great menu. Christmas shouldn't be stressful for anyone. It is a time to enjoy being with your nearest and dearest.

With our pre-dinner drink, I'll serve these stuffed mussels. Make the filling for them a few days in advance; that way, you just need to stuff and crumb them in the morning, then give them a quick fry before serving.

We usually do scallops, with an Asian dressing, cooked in the shell on the barbecue, but these mussels will be a pleasant change. The coriander pesto is a taste explosion with the crunchy crumbs, which will surprise your guests. I make my own pesto but feel free to buy one to make life simple.

To ensure you get to spend more time on the beach or outside while you're having your pre-dinner drinks, try cooking your turkey on the barbecue.

If you cook it whole it will take about four hours of slow cooking. To speed up the process, butterfly the turkey. This involves removing the backbone, so the bird can sit flat and cook faster. My brother-in-law then puts tinfoil over the bird, held down with a heavy brick or rock, which works a treat.

I like to put the turkey in a brine for 12 hours before cooking, and a bucket is perfect for this job. Once brined, the bird will remain juicy and tender.

Baste with the marinade as it cooks and serve with your favourite roast vegetables, fresh new potatoes and a salad.

For dessert, it's a tradition in our family to dim the lights and sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas as the pudding is brought, flaming, to the table. Lashings of brandy applied to the pudding ensure foolproof ignition. It's a true highlight of the meal.

At this stage, we often find neighbours and their guests arrive to join in and share the pudding with lashings of Mum's brandy butter, meringues, strawberries and plenty of sticky wine, conversation and laughter.


Recipes:

• Crumbed mussels stuffed with coriander pesto

• Barbecued butterflied turkey with nut stuffing

• Christmas pudding



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