20 Feb // A very Aro Christmas

Right then. Enough putting it off. It's time to blog Aro Christmas. I know, I know. It's over a month late but you know what December was like? Hectic! And then January? Well, if December hit like multiple swift blows to the head then January hit more like a slow and painful flesh-eating disease. Slow, uninspiring and after a blissful state of holidaying and gins, being back to the daily grind has been, well, a grind. A come-down if you will. And all of a sudden it's February and I've been so busy getting overwhelmed and silly that I haven't even told y'all yet about the incredible duck I made for our flat christmas dinner! A travesty!

And so, with the silly-season food baby firmly still in place, allow me to tell you about Christmas dinner in Aro Valley.

A couple of years ago, I moved house about 5 times in 6 months. Anyone who has ever boxed up all their belongings (read: piles and piles of rubbish due to a wee hoarding problem) and strapped their bed onto the top of their friend's van, knows that moving sucks. When I moved into this here happy home I knew it was a keeper. Since during December 2010 there were only two of us here with no furniture and no TV, we decided this year, with a full house, to celebrate. A flat Christmas dinner was in order and a multiple course feast for five was planned (there was inklings from one of them that she may have organised me a date to keep the numbers even, but alas).

Christmas really got me this time around. I just totally and unashamedly loved it all - the Christmas music, our real-life tree and my tinsel covered halo-wreath which adorned my head to multiple Christmas parties. I was full of Christmas cheer and with the planning of Aro Christmas I infected the flatmates with enthusiasm, which included pre-Christmas Sundays baking gingerbread with Mariah Carey on repeat. Despite sighs of "are we really listening to this?" they embraced it for the night and everyone got excited with secret santa (two secret santas each), Christmas jerseys, music, and delicious, delicious food.

The very talented honorary fifth flatmate Nicola did canapés of cured salmon on egg pancakes with lemon aioli to begin. We moved the table into the centre of the lounge, finished setting it with crackers and spotty serviettes and mountains of hydrangeas, and cracked into the bubbly (nothing gets me juiced up on celebrations like bubbly, and I was very lucky to have been sent a case of Everwild Sparkling Reserve Brut from my cousin (thanks!); it was light and crisp the perfect way to start).

Being inspired by a recent trip to Crazy Horse the Steak House, Nicola then indulged us in Steak Tartare. Apprehensive about both raw meat and raw egg yolk, the combination of flavours - the cornichons, the pickled garlic, the red onion, the capers - was an absolute top notch combo and perfectly executed.

At this stage, everyone was home, the bombe alaskas were in the freezer and it was time to sit down for present swapping. Santa got me some cute new pyjama shorts for summer (I suspect Santa had been offended by my winter flannelette triple-XL Dalmation-print pyjama pants, but I was very grateful nonetheless) a magical mystical garden, and a mini bottle of Bombay Sapphire. Which I had to down on the spot. Other highlights of the present exchange were glamping equipment for upcoming holidays (Karen Walker blow up chairs anyone?), funny gag shot glasses and photoshopped framed family photos.


the mystical garden after growing overnight

 

Duck had been decided on for the main, and was slightly ambitious given I'd never cooked it before, and only eaten it on occasion in the past (for example at this dinner here). Moore Wilson's unhelpfully in the lead up to Christmas was out of duck breasts, but a frantic lunch break run up to Thorndon meant I nabbed New World's last 6 duck legs whilst cursing and ranting about how I could really do with a personal assistant during December.

It was going to have to be classic for it to work, and having had on loan earlier in the year Stephane Reynaud's amazing book Ripailles, I searched and found his tips for duck. This recipe was crash tested on the Guardian, so I decided to go very traditional and do Duck a l'orange.

Seasonal and non-traditional accompaniments were chargrilled asparagus and roasted baby carrots in three different colours. 

We sat up at the beautifully set table, and by this point we were all a bit merry. Behaving like your annoying great Aunt, Christmas crackers meant hats were compulsory at the table. There had been banter earlier in the month that we would actually be celebrating Festivus like the Costanza family - and it had been touted that over dinner we would participate in the "Airing of Grievances". We instead embraced goodwill and went around the table talking about what we were grateful for, and paying everyone a compliment. Having all indulged in a few too many christmassy beverages, details are hazy but there was belly-laughter to accompany what was quite simply, a fabulously festive celebration. 

The duck was well received, and everyone's favourite Christmas songs provided a hilarious background. I managed to slop sauce all over the table. Pretty standard behaviour.

Bombe Alaskas were something I'd never made but had always been intrigued by, and so when they were suggested we ran with it for dessert.

Although I'd ambitiously bought cornflour, and really truly believed I could make the sponge before the dinner rolled around, I realised when sprinting frantically around the supermarket like a mad-crazy bag lady, that I was not wonder woman, and I bought pre-made sponge cakes. I don't actually think supermarket sponge is that bad (having used it before here) and it worked a treat along Kapiti vanilla bean ice cream and boozy berries.

In usual Aro celebratory style, things then descended into debauchery and silliness. There was dancing, heart to hearts, deep and meaningfuls, a cheeky phone call, a swap of secrets, and then a trip to town. After a nameless flat member fell asleep at a nameless bar, and after indulging in drunk Burger King (I know, I know), someone else who shall remain nameless mowed the last duck leg sneakily at the kitchen bench once home. A very merry Christmas indeed.  

 

Stephane Reynaud's Duck a l'orange

Serves 6
(from his book Ripailles, and found online on the Guardian)

  • 3 breasts from fattened duck (I used duck legs and they worked extremely well, see below)
  • 4 oranges
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 200ml soy sauce
  • 50g butter

Take the zest from two of the oranges, the juice from three, and the peeled segments from one. Slash the fatty side of the duck breasts in a criss-cross pattern (the flesh should show through).

Mix the orange juice with the zest, cinnamon, honey and soy sauce. Place the duck breasts in a dish, skin side up, pour over the sauce. Chill for 24 hours.

Pan-fry the duck, skin-side down, for 10 minutes on a gentle heat (the fat needs to melt and brown). Drain off the fat and return the meat to the pan. Add the orange segments, half of the marinade, and allow to reduce for five minutes.

Remove the meat and whisk in the butter to make a sauce.

A few tips about the recipe - I used the marinade, but I cooked it very differently. Firstly, with time not on my side, I only marinated the legs for about 2 hours. Secondly, I put the legs straight into an oven dish, with the skin uncovered, but the main meaty bit of the leg submerged in marinade. What this did was ensure the skin was crispy and amazing, and the meat fall-off-the-bone soft. I cooked it for about one and a half hours at about 170C. I did reduce some of the oven juices with some butter to make a sauce, and it was one of the most delicious meals I've ever cooked.

Individual Bombe Alaskas

Serves 6
I essentially googled a whole lot of recipes and ended up mainly using this recipe from about.com. I also used a cookie cutter of 8cm across to cut out the sponge and went from there.

Ingredients

  • 6 rounds of sponge cake
  • 1 cup of frozen raspberries (roughly) cooked up with a splash of brandy and a little sugar (you can replace this step with good quality jam, or with different berries)
  • 6 scoops vanilla ice cream (I used Kapiti. So good!)
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

(I know that seems like a lot of eggs, but we started with half that and had to do an emergency egg run part way through because our meringue only covered 3 of them. You might be able to get away with less, but see how you go!)

Serve with blueberry sauce (click here, or see below)

Set cakes on a large baking sheet. Spoon raspberry mixture onto each cake - be generous! 

Top cakes with a scoop of ice cream. Top each scoop of ice cream with a little blueberry sauce. Set in freezer, pan and all. 

Beat egg whites until foamy; gradually beat in sugar and salt, beating until stiff peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, cover each dessert completely with meringue. Be sure there are not gaps or air spaces. Return to freezer.

Before serving, preheat oven to 230C. Place baking sheet with cakes on it in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on them, until meringue is lightly browned. 


Serve with extra blueberry sauce.

Blueberry Sauce

  • 2 punnets of blueberries 
  • A sprinkling of white sugar
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • A small pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Put the berries in a small saucepan and crush them with a fork. Add sugar, lemon juice and salt, stir well and bring to the boil. Add vanilla and stir through well. Use to spoon over the ice cream before covering in meringue, and serve alongside the finished product.