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Photo/Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot. Thanks to Harmony Meats for Taupō Beef, Regal Salmon for fresh salmon, Curious Croppers for heritage tomatoes.

Christmas recipes: A fuss-free feast that you can make in advance

There’s nothing like being prepared for a big festive lunch. We’re tough on ourselves in Aotearoa, expecting to serve a gargantuan feast fit for Northern Hemisphere climes and traditions. New Zealand’s summer weather – let’s hope it co-operates – is all wrong, and what’s more, by Christmas, many of us have already decamped for our holiday spot or plan to hit the road right after the meal.

This year, our family will share simple finger food – tasty chicken sandwiches and seafood fritters – with my mother; at 96, she’s not planning to go anywhere far from her cosy rest-home residence, but still loves to see the family on Christmas Day.

So this made-in-advance dinner will be perfect to come home to as we celebrate the season with the next generation. Like many busy working families, we appreciate shortcuts that can make the preparation easier. I have made recommendations of artisan products that can go with this menu. Head to the bottom of the article to see a guide for when to make each recipe.

Photography by Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot.

Spicy Salmon with yogurt, dill and cucumber

1 side of salmon (about 1kg)
4 tbsp dry spice mix (Wild Fennel’s salmon spice or similar)
3 limes
2 cups greek yogurt
1 cucumber, seeds removed and cut into very thin strips or grated
½ cup dill
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C. To prepare the salmon, remove the pin bones. Place the fish skin side down in a large oven tray lined with baking paper.

Rub the spice mix into the flesh.

Thinly slice two of the limes and arrange down the centre of the salmon.

Put the fish in the heated oven and bake until just cooked through and the surface is golden. This should take no longer than 15-20 minutes.

Combine the yogurt, cucumber and dill. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Remove the salmon from the oven, cool a little and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the extra lime cut into wedges and serve with the yogurt, cucumber and dill sauce.

Can be prepared ahead and served at room temperature.

Serves 10
Wine match: champagne or chardonnay 

Photography by Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot.

Roast eye fillet of beef with anchovy, caper and herb dressing

1 large eye fillet of beef (about 2kg)
salt and pepper
2 tbsp chopped thyme
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter


4 small red radishes, finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
6 anchovy fillets
2 tbsp capers
½ cup chopped fresh summer herbs (parsley, mint,basil, etc)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil


½ cup horseradish sauce 

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Carefully trim surplus fat and sinew from the beef. If the fillet is large, tuck the thin end back under itself and tie the beef neatly with string along the length. This will keep it in shape and ensure it cooks evenly.

Sprinkle the surface with salt, freshly ground black pepper and chopped thyme.

Heat the oil and butter in a very large frying pan or in a heavy roasting dish. When very hot, sear the beef on all sides until the surface is caramelised and dark.

Transfer the meat to a roasting pan (unless you are using the pan to brown the meat) and place in the oven to cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven, cover loosely and allow to rest for at least 15 minutes for the flavours and juices to be reabsorbed.

This can be cooked ahead and refrigerated, but remove from the cold at least an hour before serving.

To make the dressing, combine the chopped radishes and red onion in a bowl with the red wine vinegar and allow to stand at room temperature for an hour. Finely chop the anchovies, or pound in a mortar and pestle with the capers to form a paste. Add the paste to the radishes, red onion and red wine vinegar with the herbs and olive oil. Whisk together and taste for saltiness, adding a little as needed. Refrigerate unless serving immediately.

To serve, ensure the beef is warm or at room temperature and carve into thin slices. Arrange on a platter and garnish with extra fresh herbs. Spread a spoonful or two of the dressing over the carved meat and serve the rest in a small bowl, along with a small bowl of horseradish sauce.

Serves 8-10
Wine match: syrah or pinot noir

This fresh salad is a summer tomato celebration. Find as many varieties and sizes of tomatoes as you can. It’s a salad dressed with lemon zest, basil and olive oil, but not with vinegar or lemon juice as the tomatoes have plenty of natural acidity.

Tomato and buffalo cheese salad

2kg mixed or heritage ripe tomatoes, chosen from the following: 2 large beefsteak tomatoes, sliced horizontally; 1 punnet yellow cherry tomatoes; 1 punnet orange or yellow cherry tomatoes, cut in half; 3-4 crimson-pink acid-free tomatoes, cut into wedges; 3-4 Roma tomatoes, cut into wedges; 3-4 small to medium ripe round tomatoes, sliced
1 jar marinated buffalo cheese (Clevedon)
zest of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch sugar
4 tablespoons light, fruity extra virgin
olive oil
handful basil leaves to serve

Wash and dry the tomatoes, then cut as suggested above. Arrange on a large flat platter. Don’t pile on top of each other as they become clammy.

Crumble or break the cheese and add, with the lemon zest, over the top of the tomatoes. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar.

Finally, drizzle over the olive oil and scatter over freshly picked basil leaves.

Serves 8-10

Aubergine, courgette and red pepper quinoa salad

2 cups quinoa
1 large aubergine, cut into chunks
4 courgettes, thickly sliced
2 sweet red peppers
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chilli flakes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup vinaigrette (as below, or your favourite prepared vinaigrette such as Genevieve’s saffron and orange dressing)
4 tbsp parsley, chopped
4 tbsp pomegranate arils


4 tbsp olive oil
1 lemon or orange, juice and zest
1 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper

To prepare the quinoa, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Rinse the quinoa under cold running water, drain and throw into the pot of boiling water. Allow the quinoa to simmer for 15 minutes until it softens and the “tails” start to show.

When the quinoa is cooked, drain it in a sieve.

Meanwhile, place the prepared aubergine, courgettes and red peppers in a roasting pan, tossing well with the combined cumin, chilli flakes, salt and pepper and oil. Roast at 190°C until the vegetables soften and start to brown, which should take 25 to 30 minutes.

To finish the dish, tip the quinoa into a serving bowl. Toss in the cooked vegetables and combine gently with a little vinaigrette to keep everything moist. Stir the parsley through and decorate with pomegranate arils. Season to taste.

Serve warm or at room temperature

New potatoes, peas, butter and mint

2kg new potatoes
2 cups baby peas (fresh or frozen)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp butter
½ cup mint leaves, sliced

Scrub the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender.

Steam the peas until tender.

Drain the vegetables and dress with butter, season and top with mint leaves.

Serve hot
Serves 10

Photography by Liz Clarkson; styling by Kate Arbuthnot.

Blueberry and raspberry trifle

500g blueberries, boysenberries and raspberries (4-5 punnets)
1 packet savoiardi sponge fingers (Vittoria)
2 packets blackberry jelly crystals
700ml boiling water


6 egg yolks
160g sugar
600ml milk
1 vanilla bean


300ml cream
100g white chocolate

Pick over the raspberries, boysenberries and blueberries, keeping about 12 of each for the top.

Layer the remaining berries with the sponge fingers in a large clear cut-glass dessert bowl.

Dissolve the jelly crystals in the boiling water. When this cools and is almost at setting point, tip it over the sponge and berries, allowing it to soak in well. Refrigerate until the jelly sets.

For the custard, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until light and thick.

Heat the milk with the vanilla bean in a heavy-based saucepan until it is about to boil. Tip the hot milk on to the egg mixture in the bowl and stir well to combine.

Rinse the pan that the milk was heated in, return it to the heat and strain the egg, sugar and milk mixture in.

Carefully heat this mixture, stirring constantly until it thickens and coats the spoon. Don’t allow to boil or the mixture will curdle. If it begins to curdle at the sides of the pan, immediately remove it from the heat and whisk it vigorously until it is smooth again.

Discard the vanilla pod and allow the custard to cool before tipping it over the jelly and allowing it to cool completely. (Alternatively, use shop-bought custard such as Pams Finest or Dollop.)

Finally, lightly whip the cream and spoon it over to cover the custard. Top with the reserved berries and grate over the white chocolate. Chill before serving.

Serves 10
Wine match: sparkling asti spumante or a rosé champagne

Getting ahead

When serving this meal remember that food from the fridge needs to come to room temperature to taste best.

1-2 days in advance:

  • Make the sauces: Yogurt and dill for the salmon, Radish and red onion for the beef, Vinaigrette for the quinoa salad, Jelly and custard for the trifle.
  • Make the trifle.
  • Dry rub the salmon.
  • Prepare, tie and season the beef.
  • Cook the quinoa and roast the vegetables.
  • Choose the tomatoes.
  • Scrub the potatoes.
  • Set the table and put sauces in bowls.

On the eve or early on the morning of the feast:

  • Cook the salmo.
  • Roast the beef.
  • Assemble the salads (quinoa and tomato).

Last minute:

  • Cook the potatoes and peas
  • Relax with a glass of bubbles, knowing it’s all ready to go

This article was first published in the December 14, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.