Most of us have our go-to recipes for the holidays, from turkey and gravy to what we’re making for the annual cookie swap. So the question is, “Do we need a Christmas cookbook?” Australian author Donna Hay makes a fairly convincing argument for the genre with her new book, Christmas Feasts and Treats (Fourth Estate; $29.99). This is a beautiful book, full of the charming, modern photography for which Hay has become known. Just flicking through it will get you in the holiday mood. And then there are the recipes. The book is not surprisingly divided into “feasts”—the savory stuff that includes snacks for your holiday party as well as Christmas dinner—and “treats,” which covers everything from dessert on the big day to edible decorations and candies to give as gifts. She offers instructive, traditional recipes for your turkey (or ham, roast pork or lobster), but also some creative options and some that will work for smaller Christmas crowds.
While you might not want to take a chance with a new turkey preparation method, the side dishes are often open to a bit more creativity. I tried the honey and almond hasselback pumpkin with butternut squash (known as butternut pumpkin in Australia). You make ¼ inch slices through your peeled half squash, stopping just short of the bottom, so that it all holds together. Roast this until it’s tender and golden, and then pour over a syrup made of honey, vinegar and bay leaves, wedging the leaves between the slices, and roast a little longer. To serve, sprinkle with toasted almonds. This was delicious, and it also offers a lot of visual appeal for little effort.
This is an Australian book, so there are some cultural differences: There’s a lot of seafood, and dessert pies are replaced with trifle and pavlovas. But much of it is very relevant to the average North American holiday celebrations. If you’re stuck in a holiday rut, hosting for the first time this year, or just looking for ideas that stretch through the whole of the holidays and not just Dec. 25, Christmas Feasts and Treats will provide a lot of festive inspiration.
Wendy Underwood tests out cookbooks weekly on Instagram at @kitchenvscookbook.
Excerpted from Christmas Feasts and Treats (C) 2019 by Donna Hay. Reproduced by permission of Fourth Estate. All rights reserved.
Honey and Almond Hasselback Pumpkin
1 x 1.8kg butternut pumpkin (squash), halved lengthways, peeled and seeds removed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ cup (180g) honey
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
14 bay leaves
½ cup (80g) almonds, toasted and chopped
sea salt and cracked black pepper
Preheat oven to 220°C (425°F). Line a large baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Place half the pumpkin, cut-side down, on a chopping board. Place a chopstick, lengthways, on each side of the pumpkin. Using a very sharp knife, carefully slice through the pumpkin to the chopsticks at 5mm intervals. Repeat with the remaining pumpkin half.
Place the pumpkin on the tray, cut-side down, and drizzle with the oil. Cover tightly with aluminium foil and roast for 1 hour. Uncover and roast for a further 20 minutes or until golden.
Place the honey, vinegar and bay leaves in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil and cook for 4–5 minutes or until slightly reduced. Spoon half the honey glaze over the pumpkin and place the bay leaves in the incisions. Roast the pumpkin for a further 5–10 minutes or until tender and golden. Sprinkle with the almonds, salt and pepper and drizzle with the remaining honey glaze to serve. Serves 6
Chewy Caramels with Salted Peanuts
3 cups (420g) salted peanuts
1.1kg white (granulated) sugar
1.125 litres single (pouring) cream
1 cup (350g) golden syrup
100g unsalted butter, chopped
Line a 20cm x 30cm slice tin with non-stick baking paper. Sprinkle the base with half the peanuts and set aside.
Place the sugar, cream, golden syrup and butter in a large saucepan over high heat and stir with a metal spoon until the butter and sugar have melted. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for 20–25 minutes or until the temperature reaches 122°C (251°F) on a sugar (candy) thermometer. Working quickly, pour the caramel into the tin and carefully sprinkle with the remaining 1½ cups (210g) of peanuts. Allow to cool completely at room temperature for 3–4 hours. Refrigerate for 25–30 minutes or until firm.
Turn the caramel out onto a board and, using a large sharp knife, cut into pieces+. Wrap each caramel in brown wax paper, twisting the ends to seal. Keep refrigerated and bring to room temperature to serve. Makes 50
+ If the caramel becomes too soft to cut, simply return it to the refrigerator for 5 minutes.
Tip: Store caramels, wrapped in paper, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Prosecco Brined Turkey Breast with Brussels Sprouts and Speck
¼ cup (75g) rock salt
¼ cup (45g) light brown sugar
2 sprigs tarragon
2 bunches thyme (about 12 sprigs)
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1.25 litres water
3 cups (750ml) prosecco
2 x 1.5kg turkey breast fillets, skin on
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and cracked black pepper
350g speck or bacon, chopped
500g Brussels sprouts, halved
1 bunch thyme (about 6 sprigs), extra
lemon garlic butter
100g unsalted butter, softened
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind
Place the salt, sugar, tarragon, thyme, lemon and 2 cups (500ml) of the water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil and cook for 4 minutes, stirring to dissolve the salt. Allow to cool slightly. Pour the brining liquid into a large (5-litre-capacity) non-reactive container+. Add the prosecco and another 2 cups (500ml) of the water. Using your hands, carefully loosen the skin from the flesh of the turkey breasts. Lower the turkey, skin-side down, into the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours (but no longer).
To make the lemon garlic butter, place the butter, garlic and lemon rind in a small bowl and mix to combine.
Remove the turkey from the container, discarding the brine, and pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper. Using your hands, spread the lemon garlic butter under the skin.
Place the oil in a large heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper. Add 1 turkey breast to the pan, skin-side down. Cook for 4 minutes each side or until golden brown. Remove from the pan and repeat with the remaining turkey. Return both turkey breasts to the pan, skin-side up. Add the remaining 1 cup (250ml) of water, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Remove the turkey from the pan, loosely cover with aluminium foil and reserve the cooking liquid.
Wipe the pan out and return to medium heat. Add the speck and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes or until crispy. Remove and set aside. Increase the heat to high, add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until lightly charred. Add the extra thyme and reserved liquid and cook for 2 minutes.
Serve turkey with the sprouts and crispy speck. Serves 4–6
Non-reactive materials include glass, plastic and stainless steel.