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How to fancy up any dish this festive season

A look at what makes festive food fancy and how you can hack your classic dish to be a little more wow-worthy for the festive season.

by: Andrea Fedder | 20 Dec 2019
christmas food

Just in case you’re like me and have given out your allotment of ‘cans’ for the year, I’m going to share the secret of how to make a Christmas meal feel fancy when it’s really just an ordinary lovable dish. The fancy of Christmas food lies in all the fixings.

Deconstructing the fancy in festive food 

Not only is there a dish, but the dish has stuffings, layers, toppings and glazes, all of which have to be added at variable intervals – something I think the festive food gods invented to watch us dart around like headless turkeys while enjoying a chuckle at our expense. But if you deconstruct some of the toppings, you can mix and match them on ‘ordinary’ dishes (ones you’ve made before and are likely a pro at), and fancy them up without breaking a sweat on an already-hot summer’s day.

Much ado about nutting

Many Christmas recipes have nuts added into them for extra crunch and complexity.

- In baking, almond flour can accompany or replace flour to make more decadent biscuits.

- Nut butter can also replace flour-type batters and crumbed crusts.

- Nuts make for a festively sweet snack all on their own.

- Chopped up and mixed with an infusion of herbs and spices, it can be sprinkled atop as a tasty garnish.

pecan nuts on tray

How to use nuts to fancy up easy food

- Chop some walnuts and pecans in a dry pan then sprinkle them on top of your go-to mac and  cheese with Parmesan. Voila, it’s mac and cheese.

- Roast macadamia nuts in the oven with some sweet paprika and rosemary for a bowl of welcome snacks. It won’t matter what you’re serving. The whole house will smell warm and festive.

- Glaze almonds with honey in the pan, allow to cool and serve as crushed brittle with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Do it in a cone to eliminate having to wash dishes. That layered torte after a filling meal is overkill and exhausting to make anyway.

Goodness gravy gracious

Ah, the oozy, rich sauce made from other stuff you'd normally pour off becomes a concentrate for gravies. Add butter and it becomes festively decadent.You don’t have to cook a giant hunk of meat (if that’s your thing) to validate a gravy. 

- Simply roast an oven tray of drumsticks and turn all the sticky goodness left in the pan into a gravy sauce. It takes a third of the time and everyone fights over the drumsticks anyway.

- A diced bacon fry-up makes an excellent gravy base for regular baked potatoes. Or a decoy for anyone not wanting to eat their broccoli florets.

- Plant-based foods can go gravy-great too. Add vegetable stock to butter with some thickener and let it reduce into a silky sauce. Serve with veggie nuggets or steamed baby potatoes.

gravy being poured over chicken

The right stuffing

If you put the word ‘stuffed’ in front of any dish title, it automatically suddenly sounds super impressive. So why not stuff some regular foods to make them extra special for your festive spread?

- Grab some of that herbed silver-foiled garlic bread (the one we all generally use for braaing) and bake it in the oven. Let it cool for a bit then break it into small chunks. Crack an egg in and you’re good to go. Now you can pop it into any veg for roasting and it becomes chic: roasted red peppers, butternuts or baked portobello mushrooms.

- Add some cheese to the garlic bread crumb and use it to stuff some large Jalapeño chillies to make stuffed poppers.

How to sassy up everyday desserts to make them fancy

When it comes to desserts, things get really easy. Basically, all you need to know here is ‘booze and berries’. You can give whatever dessert you’re good at making a festive makeover by injecting it with some tipple or topping it with berries.

- Chocolate cake gets instantly more exotic with rum and cherries.

- Milk tart works beautifully with brandy and tart berries like gooseberries.

- Cheesecake is just begging for flambéed strawberries.

- Bake a tray of classic cupcakes, core the centre and pipe in some blueberry compote (the same one you make with flapjacks on Sunday mornings) and you’re all set.

vanilla cupcakes

My basic rule of thumb is to cook what you’re comfortable with then see which of the above festive toppings you can dress it up with.

Happy uncomplicated holiday-cooking, everyone!

Read more on: festive  |  cooking tips

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