Sandy's Kitchen

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From the moment, I was tall enough to reach and momentarily teeter to thread a shiny bauble through the prickly needles of our pine Christmas tree, I was smitten. Enchanted by jingles and melodies of Boney M blasting from our scratchy old vinyl player, enamoured by the twinkly lights that flickered in an effort to bring Father Christmas sooner, enticed by the spicy aroma of mince pies, and sweet sticky smell of honeyed ham and marmalade chipolatas. It was all there, once a year, a perfect, happy holiday of love, family and of course festivities.

The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood.

– Richard Paul Evans

Christmas has long been one of my favourite holidays, steeped in family tradition and rich and warm in the comfort of memories and nostalgia, I simply love everything Christmas has to offer. As a caterer and stylist, it’s possibly my best time of year when I get to kick off my shoes and let my hair down. It’s a time when I get lazily busy in my kitchen to the swing and beat of Boney M’s ‘Little Drummer Boy’. Every December I shut down shop, pack up the car with both my old dogs in tow and drive down to our Plett house – my December downtime gives me time to think, recharge my batteries, experiment with new recipes and create my Christmas table décor – I pull, pluck, borrow and choose my table décor from a selection of inspirations, making use of the local fauna, the local craftsmen (skilled in bead, wire or basket work) and the local butcher, baker and candle stick maker.

Christmas is a time of sharing, of giving, so in order to celebrate, I’m giving you a selection of my best Christmas table décor settings tips and ideas – some fresh, unique and bedecked tables to get you into the Christmas spirit.

I’m going heavy on the Christmas lookbook this newsletter, while most of the Christmas meal preparation goes into the meal – we all (most of us) know how to make a ham and turkey (or at least buy one readymade) – I believe it should be a 50/50 split – décor/food, and the great thing about your Christmas table is that you can set it up at least 2-3 days earlier so it’s out of your way and you can focus on the food.  Our family tradition is to celebrate on the eve of Christmas with all the bells and whistles and spill over onto Christmas day with a much more relaxed and lazy lunch.

Do.Christmas table decor #1

This Christmas, my intention was to set an elegant tone with a of sparkle gold and shimmer of silver, interlaced with silvery evergreen foliage and soft bunches of iceberg roses that add a touch fallen snowflakes.

With my ‘snow’white table cloth as a starting point, I’ve created a dreamy white Christmas mood on which to build.

My place settings are intentionally stark, keeping the emphasis and attention on the table centrepiece. Each place setting sits simply with a large (bigger than normal) white plate, adorned with a large linen napkin, each setting a different shade of purple, from; mauve, taupe, to heavy tones of plum and aubergine. Plain silver cutlery lies informally astride the plate, a cracker at its side – glittery, patterned, golden or silver. Crackers are always my Christmas table splurge, I don’t support plastic and instead opt for the more expensive handmade crackers that contain actual gifts. These extravagantly coloured crackers definitely glam up the uncluttered plate settings, seamlessly knitting them together with elaborate centrepiece.

My Christmas centrepiece is where I have laid on the lavish. Drawing directly from the washed-up shells on the beach, the collected fynbos and foliage from my garden, the borrowed golden tea candle holders and local beautifully handmade woven angel. I have a passion for shells and spend a considerable amount of time hunting for my favourite family tradition Pansy Shell. And as such, I’ve incorporated a generous sprinkling of shells, some which I have spray painted gold and thickly lacquered with a high gloss, while others I have left raw (The pumpkin shells) which offset the gold and work well with the soft pickings of variegated foliage. While I have kept most of the greenery green, I have subtly sprayed the edges of some of the leaves a shimmery gold, which works beautifully in the flickering candlelight – accentuating a soft golden glow from the table.

Opting for raw centrepiece candelabra instead of gold, I’ve kept the tone earthier and more natural. Candles, candles, candles of all shapes and sizes dot centre table isle – different heights and widths are essential when trying to create a dramatic table setting.

The flowers are delicate, fusing subtly into the tablescape of white, silver, green and gold. Dainty cuttings of iceberg roses brim over in little vases that are placed amongst the centrepiece. The colour choice of white is deliberate once again hinting at a white and wonderful Christmas

Do.Christmas table decor #2

xmas 2 #19
xmas 2 #10

My Christmas theme that I opted for here is beach safari – tortoise shell lazy days infused with perfect pastel pool party! I particularly enjoyed this setting as it was so different to the traditional take on Christmas tables, rather wintery given we celebrate our Christmas in full mid-summer, but just as festive and fun.

My tablecloth of thick weighted hessian sets a natural feel on which I have built a collage of ‘down-to-earth opulence’ Starting with my beautiful smoky green stained handmade plates, trimmed with a thick coloured band of anthracite. The cutlery is a stunning duo of gold and black, placed simply, standing proud. I love this contrast of black bone handles with polished

gold tips, they are simply gorgeous and pick up the flecks of the animal print crackers. The crackers are my fabulous splurge and simply roar with style, tied with a deep Renaissance blue velvet ribbon, they sit royally atop large white napkins and hold the setting perfectly together.

The centrepiece is blend of contrasting colours that fight and surrender to create this take on a traditional Christmas table. Bowls of burnt red cherries and Barbeton Daisy’s dot the table in between large heads of soft-hued pink and blue hydrangeas – while arms of Penny gum ‘branches’ weave and snake around candelabra and ornaments to create a sense of jungle indulgence. Golden reindeers hide beneath petals and pine cones, while others dance between the soft purple glassware. I’ve incorporated a number of special ornaments, my Nico Masemola mermaid, gifted Grecian white water jugs and my speckled owl all add a touch of sentimental Christmas spirit. I’ve kept the candles white, which perfectly pick up the napkins – merging the highest object with the lowest one is a great way to create balance and synergy.

I’m mad for Hydrangeas, and purposely included them in this set up as they liken themselves to huge pastel snowflakes, that have landed with their fine snowflake shaped petals.

Do.Christmas table decor #3

My urban jungle of Christmas fynbos and African flavour is a combo of nature and contemporary pattern. I have done away with the gaudy customary colour of Christmas greens, supplementing them instead with the soft hues and tones of contoured, textured fynbos. Creating a mosaic of indoor indigenous wonderland.

I have opted for a simple predominantly white tablecloth, branded with two blue thick blue stripes that run parallel on either side of the centrepiece. I have placed large round handwoven placemats directly on top, keeping them free from plates (so as not to divert from their gorgeous patterned colour) They are accompanied by simple alternate pink and navy-blue linen napkins, and finished off with white crackers, decorated with a simple African motif. I’ve added a ‘ribbon’ of hessian cord, an accent of nature, and earthy tones.

The Western Cape is particularly rich and diverse in its offering of fynbos and as such I wanted to showcase our natural and bountiful landscape with an equally lush and abundant tablescape of our local flora.

To create this different take on Christmas tables, remember to vary your both the shape size, and material of your vases or containers – bring in wood (to add texture and keep the nature theme) here I opted for a long rectangular shaped box, which works well as an anchor to work around. From recycled glass bottles, to puta brushed old cake stand, cement planters, I’ve created a mix of textures, which instantly exudes a warmth to your guests.

I’ve gone big on plants, and have used a variety of different textures and colours – while some hang over vases, others sit neatly inside. Don’t be afraid to bunch together odd shapes and opposing greens this helps to build on the table ‘landscape’

After all you want to achieve a Christmas table of natural beauty that will get your guests to stop and smell the fynbos

May you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve. – Unknown

Eat.

The preparation for Christmas is a family affair – with everybody mucking in. Sometimes I stop and catch myself amongst the whizz and blur of blenders, mixers, chopping, chatter and lots of laughter and think how truly lucky I am to be able to celebrate the luxury of Christmas, with the people that I love and care most about in the world.

French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange

Ingredients:

  • 400g French beans
  • 400g mangetout
  • 70g unskinned hazelnuts
  • 1 orange
  • 20g chives, roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp hazelnut oil (or substitute with another nut oil)
  • coarse sea salt and black pepper

Green beans are a perfect side for a Christmas feast, especially combined with the tangy flavours of oranges and the Christmas crunch of hazelnuts – offering a wonderful balance of freshness and earthiness. The great thing about this recipe is that you can cook the beans the day before and leave them to chill overnight.

Sugarsnaps, green peas and broad beans can substitute any of the other two beans or be added to the salad.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C
  2. Trim both the French beans and the mangetout, and keep them separate. In a large saucepan bring plenty of unsalted water to the boil. Make sure you have lots of room for the beans, as this preserves their colour.
  3. Blanch the French beans in the water for 4 minutes, then drain into a colander and run under water until cold. Leave to drain and dry.
  4. Repeat with the mangetout, but this time only blanch for 1 minute.
  5. While the beans are cooking, scatter the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, rub them in a clean tea-towel to get rid of most of the skin. Chop the roughly some can even stay whole.
  6. Remove the zest from the orange in strips (Using a vegetable peeler) remember to avoid the peeling the bitter white pith.
  7. Slice each piece of zest into very thin.
  8. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, toss gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve at room temperature.

Roast peppers & eggplant lettuce salad with lemon mustard dressing and parmesan

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • Salad
  • 1/2 med eggplant cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup mixed peppers sliced 1cm pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cup lettuce, any type, tear into large pieces
  • 1/4 bunch of fresh coriander (optional)
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • shaved parmesan cheese

Ingredients for the dressing:

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 21/2 tbs lemon juice
  • 2 tbs seed mustard
  • Pepper to taste
  1. Put the oven on to 180 degrees.
  2. Slice peppers and eggplant into pieces, place in an oven dish with olive oil and toss to coat well.
  3. Roast both the aubergine and peppers are soft and starting to blacken, set aside and cool.
  4. Whisk ingredients for the dressing together, set aside.
  5. Mix coriander and lettuce together.
  6. Toss in the roast veggies and sprinkle in the tomatoes on top.
  7. Pour as much or little dressing as you like (the more, the zestier) over salad.
  8. Top with generous amounts of parmesan.
  9. Serve and enjoy

    Crushed Carrots with Harissa and Pistachios

    This North African inspired dish makes the perfect Christmas side with its sweet, sour and spicy taste and texture it spices up any Christmas meal.

    Ingredients:

    • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to finish
    • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
    • 10 large carrots  peeled, sliced thickly.
    • 1 cup vegetable stock
    • Grated zest of 1 orange
    • 1 clove garlic, crushed
    • 2 tsp harissa paste
    • Grated zest of 1 lemon,
    • plus 1 tbsp
    • lemon juice
    • 1 cup Greek yogurt
    • 3-1/2 tbsp shelled unsalted pistachios, coarsely chopped
    • Salt and black pepper

    Instructions:

    1. Place olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat.
    2. Add carrots and sauté for 6 minutes, stirring often, until they’re soft and are gently coloured.
    3. Add stock, turn heat to medium-low, cover pan, and cook another 25 minutes, until carrots are completely soft and there is hardly any liquid left.
    4. Transfer carrots to food processor, add a pinch of salt, and blitz to form a coarse paste.
    5. Leave to cool, then add orange zest, garlic, Harissa, half the lemon zest and black pepper to taste. Stir to combine.
    6. Mix yogurt, lemon juice, remaining lemon zest, and a pinch of salt.
    7. Spread yogurt mixture on a serving platter and spoon carrot mixture on top. Sprinkle with pistachios, drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve.

    Christmas Pavlova Wreath

    The perfect Christmas dessert, not only is a show-stopper and absolutely delicious, but you can also prepare it in advance and add the toppings just before you’re ready to serve. One less thing to stress about!

    For the meringue:

    • 180g egg whites (6 large eggs)
    • 400g caster sugar
    • 3 tsp cornflour, sifted
    • 1 tsp cream of tartar
    • 1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)

    Filling:

    • 500ml double cream
    • 200g icing sugar
    • 1 tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
    • 500g mixed berries (strawberries, red and black currants, blackberries etc, defrosted if frozen)
    • Seeds from 1 pomegranate

    For the berry coulis:

    • 100g raspberries, strawberries or mixed berries
    • 50g sugar
    • juice of 1 lemon
    • 4 tbsp water

    Method:

    1. Preheat the oven to 120C. Use a 23cm cake tin to draw a circle on a large piece of baking paper. Turn the paper over and place on a large, heavy baking tray.
    2. Put the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of your mixer. Lightly whisk together with a hand whisk until frothy.
    3. Start whisking at high speed. Once the meringue forms soft peaks, start adding the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.
    4. Once all the sugar has been added, stop the mixer and sift the cornflour over the meringue. Add the vanilla and continue whisking at high speed until the meringue is glossy, forms stiff peaks and doesn’t feel gritty if you rub it between your fingers.
    5. Spoon large dollops of the meringue onto the prepared tray, following the traced circle so that you form a ‘wreath’
    6. Bake your meringue wreath for 1 1/2 hours. Don’’t open the oven during that time!
    7. Turn the oven off, open the door slightly and leave the meringue in the oven until completely cool.
    8. Whisk the cream, vanilla and icing sugar until you have soft peaks.
    9. To make the coulis, put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, mix the berries with a potato masher and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the sauce through a sieve, pressing down with the back of a spoon. Cool before using.
    10. Spread or pipe the cream over the wreath and then top with your berries and pomegranate seeds.
    11. Drizzle with your coulis and serve.

    Mum's best ever Christmas cake recipe

    I had to include my mum’s Christmas cake recipe – every year for Christmas. her three sisters, myself and my two sisters would get a beautifully wrapped (always in fabric) unbelievably delicious Christmas cake – it was moist and sticky with the perfect mix of brandied nuts and fruit, it was sweet and crunchy, crumbly and the most delicious Christmas cake I have still to this day ever tasted…Our cakes usually didn’t last long, quickly nibbled and sliced at, every tea until only crumbs were left sticking to our fingers. Although mum no longer makes our annual Christmas cakes, I’m passing on her special legacy for you to enjoy and indulge in this festive season. 

    Wishing you a fabulously
    Happy Christmas
    xxx
    Sandy

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