Christmas picknick by Rachel

Christmas picknick by Rachel @hellosweetandsauvage

It’s summertime in New Zealand, where we live. Visitors from the Northern Hemisphere understandably think that a hot Christmas is the craziest thing! I totally get it- we grew up watching festive movies with houses decked in snow, watching kids racing toboggans outside with woolly hats and warm gloves. So, in a ‘movie’ nostalgic (yet quite ironic) nod to the iconic Winter Christmas, our trees hang with snowman decorations and icicle ornaments; and we bake and decorate gingerbread houses- but the view out the window at home paints a very different picture. It’s a season of barbeques and eating outdoors- camping and swimming and kids playing until dark. At the end of a hot Christmas day, we fall asleep with sand in our hair, our bellies full of cherries and berries and the smell of sunscreen lingering on our skin. I love the festive season.


This year, I’ve decided to cook ahead of time, so that Christmas day is low-key and spent doing the really important things- like playing backyard cricket together and maybe catching a wave or two. These lamb shanks don’t require a lot of fuss, but definitely feel like a ‘special occasion’ meal once served (stacked atop a pile of risotto or mash). They last well, and their flavour only gets better with time.

Our kids love risotto, so that’s an easy choice for the table- and the slow roasted vegetables always make my eyes and tastebuds sing! Finally, this flourless chocolate cake has been a frequent guest on the menu at home lately, and I love its versatility. Serve with cream or yoghurt and fresh fruit or preserves. It’s also delicious heated and served with vanilla ice cream.


Meri kirihimete (or Merry Christmas), from our family to yours! x

(serves 4)

For the spice rub:

  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ground pepper
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 4 medium lamb shanks
  • 1-2 tsp olive oil

For the sauce:

  • 2 x 330g tins of cherry tomatoes (or whole peeled tomatoes)
  • 250ml vegetable stock
  1. Mix together spices, salt and sugar.
  2. Pat lamb shanks dry, then rub spice mixture all over so the shanks are coated with spices. Cover and place in refrigerator for an hour (or longer is even better! Overnight allows the flavours to infuse even more). We put ours in a sealed container and gave it a good shake around from time to time to distribute the spices evenly.
  3. When you’re ready to start cooking, heat oven to 165 °C / 330 °F / gas mark 3. Find a casserole dish large enough to fit the shanks- if you have one with a lid- that’s perfect. If not, no worries- you can seal it tightly with some foil.
  4. Heat a frypan over medium-high heat. Sear lamb shanks on all sides before placing in a large casserole dish. Set frypan aside, as you’ll use this again shortly.
  5. Add shanks to casserole dish, then pour over tinned tomatoes and stock. You want shanks as submerged in the tomato liquid as possible, so add a bit of extra stock if required.
  6. Place in oven for 90 minutes. While shanks are cooking, prepare barbecue sauce.


  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp djion mustard
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce (or substitute for soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp malt vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  1. Place all ingredients into used frypan. Over low temperature, heat until aromatic and combined- then switch off the heat and set aside. (Now is a good time to prepare the slow roasted vegetables!)
  2. Once 90 minutes has passed, remove casserole dish from the oven and stir through barbeque sauce. Cover and return shanks to the oven and cook for a further 60 minutes.
  3. After this time, check the shanks- the meat should be soft and tender- but not quite falling off the bone- if not, return to the oven for a little bit longer.
  4. Cover and keep warm until you’re ready to serve. (If you’re making these ahead, you can cool and store in the fridge for a day or two- then gently reheat in the oven until piping hot once ready to use. They’ll become even more flavoursome and delicious! They are lovely enjoyed with the roasted vegetables and lemon risotto (but a potato mash would also be perfect for soaking up all the sauce!)


(serves 4)

  • 400g pumpkin /about ¼ of a pumpkin, cut into 0.5 cm slices
  • 1-2 courgettes, in 1cm rounds
  • 10-12 baby carrots, trimmed (or 4-5 large carrots, halved longways)
  • 1 red onion, sliced into wedges
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, quartered
  • 2 capsicums (we used red and yellow)
  • 250g / 8.8 oz cherry tomatoes


  • 1-2 Tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  1. Prepare all vegetables. Place all (except for capsicum and cherry tomatoes) in a roasting dish.
  2. Mix marinade together and pour over vegetables in the roasting dish and toss to combine.
  3. Place in the oven (at 165°C / 330°F / gas mark 3) for 60 mins, then add capsicum and tomatoes return for a further 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven and keep warm until serving.


(serves 4)

  • 1 Tbsp butter or oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 ¼ cup arborio rice
  • 1 litre / 34 fl. oz stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • seasoning to taste

1. In a medium-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan, heat butter or oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until softened and onions are translucent.

2. Add rice and stir through until coated.

3. Start adding stock, one cup at a time- stirring frequently until all liquid is absorbed before adding the next.

4. Once you have added all your stock and it has soaked in, stir in cheese and lemon juice.


(serves 10-12)

  • 250g / 12 ½ oz dark chocolate
  • 100g / 0.8 sticks butter
  • 6 eggs
  • 200g / 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground coffee (or instant coffee)
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp salt (only required if you are using unsalted butter)
  • 200ml / 7 fl oz whipped cream (or yoghurt is delicious too)
  • Fresh or poached berries, fruit or preserves
  1. Preheat oven to 165 °C fan bake / 180° C regular oven / 350 °F / gas mark 4.
  2. Grease and line a 20cm / 8 inch round cake tin. Ensure the tin has high sides (around 8cm is perfect) as the cake will rise while baking (it will deflate slightly once out of oven, but the high sides mean no cake batter is lost!)
  3. Place a heatproof bowl over saucepan of simmering hot water- add chocolate and butter to bowl and gently melt. Then, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Carefully separate egg whites from yolks. Place whites and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand mixer) and beat until soft peaks form. Remove from mixer and set on the bench.
  5. Briskly whisk egg yolks into the melted chocolate, followed by vanilla, coffee, cocoa powder and salt (if required).
  6. Working gently, pour about ¼ of the chocolate mixture into egg white mixture and carefully fold chocolate through as to not lose all the air bubbles in the egg whites.
  7. Once incorporated, add a further ¼ measure of chocolate, and continue until all of chocolate mixture is mixed through.
  8. Scrape into cake tin and bake for 55 mins- 1 hour (or when a skewer placed in centre of cake comes out clean).
  9. Leave cake to cool in tin, then gently flip cake top down onto a board or oven tray. Slip the cake tin off the cake and place a serving plate or board facedown on cake. Flip cake back again and gently remove the oven tray. It’s now ready for toppings!
  10. Spread whipped cream over the top, then add berries or whatever topping takes your fancy.
  11. This cake keeps incredibly well- you can make it a day or 2 in advance and store in an airtight container. Then, pull it out and add any cream and any toppings and it’s ready to be served! It is quite rich, so a small slice may be enough.