Friday, 21 December 2012


Every time I hear the Christmas countdown I shudder a little inside. As the children open one more window on their Advent calendars and chant "Seven sleeps till Christmas!" "Six sleeps till Christmas!" I freak out a little more (We are now down to four sleeps till Christmas, by the way. You're welcome.)

Because I haven't done anything. Barely anything. For those of us who are lucky enough to work at this lovely Market, this is the Big One. The busiest time of year. And when you're trying to ensure everyone else will have their stock of turkey and cherries and crayfish, it is entirely possible that you will let your own needs slip. A little. Hypothetically speaking, that is of course.

So, let's face the cold hard facts. Christmas is coming. You've done diddly. The thought of a major shopping centre is, frankly, unspeakable. What to do, what to do?  You can run around in a flap for a bit (circles are always good, I find). Then sit down, take a few deep breaths and concentrate.

Now, first go look here. This charming post points out all the things you could've should've would've done far, far in advance, if you had been that way inclined. You are NOT that way inclined and hence are reading this. But there are some good tips to be had here still. Figure out your numbers, write out a brief menu. This is NOT beyond salvaging at this point.

The bottom line is to get our good traders to do as much of it for you as possible and finish up the rest yourself. So, let's start.


Duck into our Deli Arcade and pick up some lovely nibbles. A little something for guests to enjoy with a glass of sparking wine or pomegranate punch from Sweet Greek. This array came from Chasos's Deli - the marinated mushrooms are a knockout! Tip the contents into little bowls, slice up a sourdough baguette from Noisette and BANG. Done. That will keep everyone happy while you cruise on to the next course.


Prawns. Prawns prawns prawns. The great Australian Christmas tradition. Get a generous amount of cooked king prawns (note that Claringbold's don't take orders, so you stand the same chance as everyone else on Christmas Eve!), scatter some peashoots on a platter and plonk the prawns on top. Open a jar of good quality tartare sauce - the Gluten Free Providore stock Doodles Creek - or mix Kewpie mayonnaise from Lee's Asian Grocery with Tabasco or ketchup for a quick sauce. Let everyone sit down and get to work with their hands on this crustacean treat - don't forget the napkins!


Organised people have had their leg of ham labelled, numbered and booked since September. They probably drive out to the country each Sunday to inspect their pig running around in a paddock. You are Not That Person and You Never Will Be and that's okay.

All our butchers use free-range pork for their hams. You might not have had the slightly obsessive pleasure of naming your pig, but you know what? It'll still taste good. Serve up cold or skin, score and bake in the oven for a hearty meal. Chef Walter Trupp has a recipe on our website for Honey Baked Ham and it only takes an hour. Seriously, anyone can manage that.

Throw together one of Louise Harper's summer salads or scrub some vegetables and toss them in the oven. You are Almost Done.

Neil's Meats will glaze and bake ham for you -24 hours notice

Ice Cream Pudding

The plum pudding gelato at Fritz Gelato is justifiably famous - they've won gold medals for it.  Pick up a take home tub and pop it into the freezer. On the big day, simply remove from the freezer 20 minutes before serving and invert onto a cake stand. Top with red currants or cherries from one of our fruiterers.

Coffee and Biscuits

You could always do instant (then again you could also put on lederhosen and yodel Christmas carols). Jasper Coffee and Market Lane are happy to grind freshly-roasted coffee beans for you. Just pop it in the plunger and bring out a selection of biscuits and chocolates. Sink into an armchair and open your presents.

That wasn't difficult at all, was it? I can hardly wait until next year .... (only 369 sleeps people!)


Friday, 14 December 2012

White Christmas Australian Style

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas .... and I'm going to have it. Yes, really. Right here, in sunny Melbourne. Under clear blue skies you too can choose the best of the lightest and brightest summer treats our fair city has to offer. Celebrate with a bit of sparkle this Yule!

Crayfish Rolls

One of the iconic dishes Andrew McConnell has introduced to Melbourne is his twist on the lobster roll. More of a delicious brioche-y bite than a roll, over 35,000 of these have trotted out of the Golden Fields kitchen since it opened. A platter of these will look beautiful on any Christmas table, the perfect little snack to knock back with a glass of champagne while people mingle and excited children run riot.

A basket full of brioche rolls from Noisette (essential to order), a cooked crayfish from Claringbolds, some Kewpie mayonnaise from Lee's Asian Grocery, some sliced shallots and watercress. Cut the rolls in half, fry gently in butter and assemble. Easily done and simply spectacular. Not many of your guests will had the chance to indulge in such a luscious mouthful, so pile them high.

Goat Curd

One of the loveliest cheeses to arrive at the Market this time of year is fresh goat curd. Angelo from the Cheese Shop Deli says that goat milk is at its best in the summer and he brings it in from the Meredith Dairy in Western Victoria. Tip it onto a plate, drizzle some lemon oil over, stick some crackers round. Or toss a light dressing over peashoots, then scatter slivered almonds and spoonfuls of this curd. This is summer in a bowl. Truly.

Ice Cream Pudding

It is sometimes Just Too Hot to get into the whole heavy plum pud thing here. Face it. But it is a rare person who will say no to a scoop of ice cream pudding, that particularly Australian inclination. Take home a tub of Fritz Gelato's vanilla gelato and some glacé fruit from the Sweet and Nut Shop or Pete n Rosie's Deli. Dice the fruit (add plenty of cherries) mix with brandy through softened gelato. Pop into a pudding mould and turn out for the big day. Delicious and delightful.


The quintessential Aussie summer dessert, this is also perfect to make ahead of time. The pavlova needs to cool slowly in the oven so this can done the day before. On Christmas Day, all you need to do is top with whipped vanilla cream and sliced white peaches and raspberries. A little bit of Billington's Golden Icing Sugar from Delicatess and you're done and dusted.

And there are plenty of other Australian offerings around the Market. This Desert Road from Pete n Rosie's Deli is an ironic twist on rocky road. Cut it up and pop on  a platter with some fruit and nuts. The perfect nibble for just when you think you can't eat one thing more. May your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white ...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas: Planning or Panicking?

It's coming. And there's nothing you can do about it. Inevitably, those little Advent calendar windows open one after one and before you know it, it'll be Christmas Eve.
There are the planners and then there are the panickers. There are also those who are firmly confident in both their traditions and their capabilities that they fall into neither category. They will calmly stroll through the Market on December 24, picking up a goose here, a box of cherries there, sublimely content in the knowledge that it will All Be Fine.

Most people are not like that though. The first step is to figure out which one category you fall into and take it from there. (Am not writing for the Firmly Confident, they know what they're doing .... ).

The Planning Type

Numbers. Menu. Sort out who's coming and who's bringing each dish. Unless you are a culinary martyr, do not take on the entire job yourself. Christmas is about sharing and what better way than to sweetly ask Dear Cousin Lucy to bring her beloved braised sprouts?

It's also a time of tradition. There's something enchanting about the familiarity of certain dishes appearing on the table year after year. I remember fondly the uproar that occurred when my mother decided to take her icecream pudding recipe and "mix it up a bit". Her children were as wounded and distraught adults as could ever be imagined.  Trust me, she will never, ever do that again.

So if someone has a particularly deft touch with a salad or side dish, ask them to bring it along. People love it when their speciality is noted and remembered. And one or two dishes is not much for anyone to put together for The Big Day.


If you want to be specific about the turkey or the ham you are ordering, free-range, rare-breed, from a particular farm, called Julian, you need to get in early. For many of these small producers, Christmas is their largest delivery however, they do have a limited stock. And you can wail and throw yourself on the tiles of Bracher Arcade all you like, Royce Hagen is not going to be able to magic up an organic turkey for you at 4pm on December 24. And nor will the folks at Kevin's Poultry, John Cesters, Arthur's Poultry or D & J Poultry.

Talk to your traders.  Michael Mow has been anticipating that the King Island garlic (the best in his opinion) will be in just prior to Christmas. Certain varieties of cherries and raspberries often only appear a few days before. Find out what's arriving and place your order. People who plan ahead Get Dibs.

Mud Bakers from The Essential Ingredient

Take Stock
The Night Before Christmas is not the time to discover that you are 3 chairs short or make a dash to the milk bar for paper plates. Map out your seating plan and take stock of tables, chairs, glasses, cutlery and crockery. Serving dishes are often left behind at home - many people pack food in storage containers for car travel and on arrival find their host has run out of platters.  One option is to buy everyone one of these stunning Mud dishes for Christmas so that you can fossick under the tree for servingware if necessary. A simpler, and less expensive option is to pick up a sturdy plastic platter from Donnallys Party Supplies. This costs a couple of dollars, can be jazzed up with laser-cut paper or whole fresh herbs and left behind at the host house without a care.


Many people leave setting the table to the last minute but not you planners. You will have looked through Christmas boards on Pinterest, ripped pages from interiors magazines and stocked up on table decorations at last year's Boxing Day sales.  One suggestion that does lead to calm on Christmas Day is to clear the table and set it for the main meal after breakfast. This means that even if guests arrive as you are cursing the bread sauce, the house is welcoming. The table (and the music you have cued up) set the scene. Pull some sparkling wine from the fridge and take a moment to enjoy before you saunter back into the kitchen.

Australian Sparkling Wine from Swords Select Wines

Start saving the tubes from paper towel rolls now. These, with cracker snaps and a bit of leftover wrapping paper make wonderful homemade Christmas crackers and there is nothing more special than being handed one with your own name on it, a handful of small goodies inside, chosen exactly for you. There are plenty of little treats, particularly from our delicatessens and Ripe the Organic Grocer, that will slide inside a beautiful handmade bonbon.


This is Melbourne. About all I can suggest is - pray.

Even if you are hoping for an al fresco festive dinner, make backup plans that include an indoor space. (Possibly also oil heaters, cardigans, sandbags and sunscreen. One never knows.)

So there we have it planners. Of course, you already know all this. You no doubt have a Christmas Folder with dog-eared recipes, seating plans and a laminated running sheet for 25 December 2012.  But we can all learn something from your type. If only one of the panickers takes something from this, it will have been worthwhile.

But don't worry last-minute Lukes. There'll be a guide to a No Hassles Last Minute Christmas on here soon. Of course, it'll probably only be posted on Christmas Eve ....