The Christmas feasts of chefs - recipes

By JANIS KINNEAR Time of article published Dec 24, 2013

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Cape Town - Let’s face it, for many of us Christmas is all about the food.

And who better knows how to tantalise the tastebuds than some of Cape Town’s top chefs, who have shared some of their favourite scrumptious, artistically plated and even healthy – yes healthy – Christmas dishes and desserts.

Putting her personal “Christmassy” touch to a trifle, chef Vanessa Marx, head chef at Dear Me, an all-day brasserie, pantry and event space in the city centre, used red velvet sponge cake for the dessert, which is her personal favourite.

Having tied the knot only last month, the 28-year-old newlywed said she and her husband would alternate between their families for Christmas lunch. “Between the two of us we have quite a lot of family, so with Christmas we’ll have one person bring the turkey, another person the gammon, and there’s usually a whole dessert table,” she says.

 

While carefully assembling the brightly coloured trifle visible through a small jar in which it will be served, she says she is a big advocate of fresh seasonal fruit.

Adding passion fruit between layers of custard and strawberry jelly, Marx says she owes her “cooking gene” and love of trifle to her mother.

She adds the finishing touches – two strawberries perched on the last layer of cream, then sprinkled with edible glitter.

“Having travelled abroad, Christmas is a little different in South Africa because it’s usually pretty hot. So it’s nice having a light pudding as opposed to something heavy. But it is that time of year when anything goes. We over-eat, drink at like 10am, sleep and eat again,” she says.

On preparing a Christmas meal, she recalls her ouma scoring the fat of the gammon: “I would help glazing it for hours and hours, and then put pineapple and cherries on toothpicks.”

A chef for the past decade, Marx says she’s still inspired by the “creativity” of inventing new dishes, focusing on seasonal ingredients.

“My suppliers often source the most amazing things, and I also exchange ideas with fellow chefs and the people around me.”

This year, Marx says, it’s likely she’ll add pavlova to her Christmas feast.

And which gift is she hoping will be under her Christmas tree?

Maybe a KitchenAid.

Sharing good food and wine is top priority, a sentiment echoed by fellow chef Bertus Basson, 34, well-known as judge on TV show The Ultimate Braai Master.

Basson closes his Overture restaurant in Stellenbosch because “it’s family time”.

“I made a call about three years ago that I don’t want to be the person keeping my staff from their kids and family over Christmas. But I’m lucky that I’m in a position where I can, so we are all off, we all party, and then in the new year we’re back to business.”

 

With plans to tie get married in April, Basson says he’ll also be sharing the festive season with his own and his fiancée’s parents.

As a young child, “heavy” Christmas lunches were the norm, but now he prefers lighter meals – including platters of smoked meats, breads, braai and wine.

“Christmas is supposed to be comfy… taking it easy. Rather have less variety, and instead have one dish of great food in the sun with an open fire,” he suggests.

One of Basson’s favourite dishes is smoked trout, combined with fennel salad,

cream cheese and lemon rind.

“I love trout. It’s on South Africa’s green list and at home you can buy it and just slice it up yourself.”

Trout is among a group of fish species on the green list of Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative that are fished and farmed in a sustainable manner.

And what’s he hoping for for Christmas?

“Some more time off?” he jokes. If not, a book or a bottle of riesling, his favourite local wine.

Peter Tempelhoff, 43, executive chef at The Collection, whips up a pumpkin pie, that favourite Thanksgiving dessert.

With a side of pumpkin seeds and vanilla mascarpone, an Italian cream cheese, and scattered with white chocolate shavings, Tempelhoff says it’s a good way to get children to eat vegetables.

Stuffed turkey is a “special” part of his Christmas tradition.

“Cook it slowly so you avoid it drying out,” he says. For stuffing? Sage, onion, breadcrumbs and chestnuts.

On Christmas Day, Tempelhoff says he will probably be at his new Mondial restaurant at the V&A Waterfront, but he’ll go home to share lunch with his wife and three children.

“The kids get so excited and still believe in Santa.

“Christmas is a celebration of family and getting together around the table in a spirit of sharing,” he says.

On his inspiration, Tempelhoff points to Cape Town’s scenic surroundings – and finding love.

“When I fell in love with my wife, my ingredients became more luxurious, and I believe I started cooking with more passion.”

His Christmas list includes “a new car”, or a camera to take “great food shots”, he laughs.

Despite working on Christmas Day, the Cape Grace Hotel’s head pastry chef, Lorraine Meaney, 34, says it’s always festive in the kitchen. Staff sit down to enjoy lunch together, and exchange gifts.

“Everybody would love to be at home, but sharing it with my ‘extended’ family is not a bad second,” she says.

 

With an Irish background, her family would import Irish salmon for Christmas to serve as a starter. A roast lunch would follow, then her favourite dessert, Christmas pudding, “well soaked in brandy”.

“We’ve been eating the same Christmas meal for as long as I can remember, and it’s usually a team effort,” Meaney says.

A special addition to their meal would be mince pies, which her mother would stock up on in November.

Meaney’s offering this Christmas is an unconventional red-and-white vanilla cheesecake, with each element displayed individually rather than stacked in layers.

Decorating the plate is red velvet cantuccini, a type of biscotti, surrounded by scoops of white chocolate cheesecake cream, raspberry sorbet, cocoa streusel and a variety of berries.

As you grow older, says Meaney, being around the table with your family becomes more important than receiving gifts.

“I don’t want anything, unless it’s something someone has made themselves, or if they’re just giving of their time.”

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RED VELVET & PASSION FRUIT TRIFLE

(Makes 1 large trifle or 6 individual servings)

Dear Me head chef Vanessa Marx

You will need:

1 batch of strawberry jelly (or another flavour if you wish), set and then stirred up into pieces

1 x red velvet cake recipe

1 cup of cream, whipped

1 x pastry cream recipe

6 passion fruits

Cake: Ingredients:

1¼ cup cake flour

½ tsp bicarb

½ tsp cocoa powder

½ tsp salt

½ cup buttermilk

1 egg

1¼ cup vegetable oil

½ tsp vinegar

2½ tsp red food colouring

½ tsp vanilla essence

Method:

Pre-heat the oven to 160°C. Sift together the flour, bicarb, cocoa powder and salt. Mix together to make sure all the dry ingredients are evenly dispersed.

Mix together the buttermilk, egg, oil, vinegar, food colouring & vanilla essence. In a big mixing bowl, mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated. Pour the batter into a baking dish or cake tin lined with greaseproof paper. It can be any shape, as long as the batter is at least 1cm thick in the pan.

Bake the cake for around 25min, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When the cake is baked, take it out of the oven and leave it to cool in the tin. Once it has cooled, tip it out of the tin on to a chopping board.

Pastry cream

Ingredients:

500ml milk

1 vanilla pod

125g sugar

50g corn flour

120g egg yolks

50g butter

Method:

Put the milk into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod down the middle lengthways, and scrape the seeds from the inside of the pod. Add the husk (skin) and seeds to the milk, and scald on a medium heat.

In a mixing bowl, lightly whisk together the corn flour, egg yolks and sugar. Slowly whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture. Add the mixture back into the saucepan and put it on a medium heat. Whisking continuously, cook the mixture until it is thick and glossy. Lastly, whisk in the butter and allow the pastry cream to cool.

To assemble the trifle:

You can either make one large trifle, or a couple of smaller ones. Trifle is really a personal taste. You can add nuts, alcohol or fresh fruit if you wish. It’s really up to you to make this recipe your own variation.

Slice the cake in half through the height so it is half the thickness and you have two sheets.

If you are making smaller trifles, you can then use a ring cutter to cut out the cake in rounds, or if you are making one big bowl, simply break the sheet of cake into pieces and line the bottom of the dish to create your first layer.

At this point you can drizzle any kind of liqueur over the sponge. Mix the passion fruit pulp into the pastry cream. Spread this over the sponge, about 1cm thick.

Follow with a layer of jelly, and then top with a layer of whipped cream.

Repeat the process, creating layers of colour, flavours and texture.

Remember, there is no set way or order that this needs to be assembled in, so be creative.

For some Christmas festivity, sprinkle the top of your trifle with some edible glitter.

 

PUMPKIN PIE, WITH VANILLA MASCARPONE AND PUMPKIN SEED BRITTLE

 

The Collection by Liz McGrath, a group of five-star hotels in the Western Cape, executive chef Peter Tempelhoff

Pie:

454g pumpkin puree, consistency of thick mashed potato

454g sweetened condensed milk, tinned

2 large eggs

1g ground ginger

2g ground cinnamon

2g ground nutmeg

3g salt

Method:

Preheat oven to 220ºC. Using a large bowl, mix the pumpkin puree, sweetened condensed milk and eggs. Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Pour into a pie shell and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 175ºC. Bake for another 30 minutes until set.

Pumpkin seed brittle:

40g sugar

100g toasted pumpkin seeds

Pinch of salt

Method:

Add sugar to a pan and place on a moderately heated stove, stirring continuously until it turns to a golden caramel. Remove from the heat and add the pumpkin seeds, stirring until they are evenly coated. Tip the brittle on to a surface to cool. Add the salt.

Vanilla mascarpone:

150g mascarpone cheese

1 vanilla pod – scraped

50g icing sugar

20ml cream

Method:

Add scraped seeds to the mascarpone cheese, as well as the icing sugar. Whisk together thoroughly with the cream. Store in the refrigerator until needed.

1 pie crust each (9 inch), unbaked

To assemble the dish:

Place a slice of pumpkin pie on a plate. With a warm spoon, scoop some mascarpone on to the plate. Finish with the pumpkin seed brittle and some grated white chocolate.

 

VANILLA CHEESECAKE (serves 10)

Cape Grace Hotel head pastry chef Lorraine Meaney

White chocolate cream:

188g cream cheese

250ml double cream

1 gelatine leaf

1 vanilla pod

50g sugar

75g white chocolate

Method:

Whip the cream to soft peaks, hydrate and melt the gelatine. Melt the chocolate. Mix the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together till smooth. Fold in the chocolate and then the gelatine. Fold in the whipped cream and set in the fridge or in a glass to layer with berries and jelly.

Red velvet cantuccini:

90g egg white

100g castor sugar

112g cocoa powder

1½ tbs red Moirs colouring

Method:

Make a stiff meringue with egg whites and sugar, then fold in flour and cocoa powder. Place into a small bread loaf tin. Bake at 170ºC for 45 minutes. Cool and freeze. Slice the cake into very thin slices and dry at 80ºC for two hours.

Cocoa Streusel:

80g cake flour

20g cocoa powder

100g sugar

100g butter

75g ground almonds

Method:

Rub all the ingredients together to a breadcrumb texture. Bake at 160ºC for 120 minutes.

Garnish:

Fresh berries

Raspberry sorbet or store-bought berry sorbet

 

SMOKED TROUT AND FENNEL SALAD

Overture restaurant at Hidden Valley, co-owner and chef Bertus Basson

 

Ingredients:

4 radishes

1 cucumber

2 red onions

300g cream cheese

50g dill

50g picked fennel

1 trout, filleted (ask your fishmonger to fillet or buy ready-made smoked trout)

100g salt

100g sugar

1 lemon rind

30g crushed coriander seeds

1 lemon, juiced

Method:

Mix together the salt, sugar, crushed coriander and 25g of picked fennel together. Rub the mixture on the fish. Leave the fish overnight to cure (ready in the morning).

To smoke:

Line a wok with foil. Add 200g sugar and 30g of rooibos tea. Place a wire rack on top of the wok. Place the fish on top of the wire rack. Cover the wok with foil tightly.

Put over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Rest until wok is cool.

Thinly slice all vegetables. Mix the cream cheese with 20g of picked dill. Season with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice.

To serve:

Toss the vegetables with olive oil and lemon juice and season.

Flake the fish into big chunks.

Add a dollop of dill cheese. - Janis Kinnea, Weekend Argus

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