Christmas came early when Stockland at Wetherill Park invited us for lunch and a chat with celebrity chef, Miguel Maestre. They also invited thirty of their lucky shoppers, who were as excited about going as we were!

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Photo supplied by Stockland Wetherill Park

Stockland called this event, Unexpected Joy, which is exactly how it felt to be dining with Miguel. The Centre piece of the occasion was a beautiful Christmas table. It was laid with platters of festive food which were provided by the local food retailers. The banquet consisted of sushi, roast chicken, the freshest oysters and prawns from Zag seafood, antipasto, fruit platters and gourmet salads from Trims, and my favourite cannoli from Pasticceria Caruso.

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Stocklands Wetherill Park, Unexpected Joy . Stockland Wetherill Park Unexpected Joy

The reason Stockland brought us all together was to celebrate the season with community spirit, and raise awareness that over 500,000 Australians will be spending Christmas alone this year.  Thankfully there’s plenty we can do to make Christmas a happier time for everyone. For instance, we could invite someone who is on their own to join our Christmas table, or make a donation to Mission Australia. These simple actions will contribute towards a brighter Christmas for those who need it.

Miguel Maestre

Hardship or loneliness can happen to anyone during the festive season. Over lunch Miguel mentioned that when he first came to Australia he found himself alone for Christmas. Miguel said, “Australia is a great place to be in summer, but it can also be very isolating when you are away from your family.”

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Christmas means different things to different people, but all we really want is to be somewhere we feel we belong on Christmas day, so I think this is an excellent campaign to support.

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In our family, Christmas is all about the food, so while I had the opportunity, I asked Miguel for a few Christmas lunch suggestions. He shared some fantastic ideas which were delivered in the bubbly energetic manner he is famous for. Miguel is such an inspiration, during our chat I learnt so much!

I asked Miguel:

Can you suggest an easy Christmas cocktail everyone will love?

Sangria!! Make sure you get the cheapest red wine and marinate it for at least two days in the fridge with brown sugar, peaches, orange, lime, thyme, star anise Grenadine and Cointreau, then strain it into a jug and add chopped peaches and diced oranges. Freeze the oranges first, they will keep the sangria cold.

What will you be serving for Christmas Lunch?

Seafood, cooked on the barbeque in a tasty marinade. Swordfish and salmon are great, so are prawns, scallops, mussels and calamari. When it's time to eat, it's very easy to toss the seafood with the marinade and the cooking time is very fast. Anyone can do it.

What is your best tip for a stress free Christmas?

Let the food be the entertainment!! Get everyone involved in preparing the food, they will all have a great time together. Trust me no one will be bored they will be too busy. Send your uncle to cook the barbeque, give everyone a part to play.

What is a delicious Christmas treat we can make instead of mince tarts?

You don't like mince tarts? I love them, but they need to be good quality! Try some Nougat or my Olive Oil Shortbread, it’s one of my favourites at Christmas.

We love all of Miguel's Christmas suggestions, especially the one about letting the food be the entertainment!! Miguel is always so generous, he didn't mind us sharing his olive oil shortbread recipe (see below). Last weekend I made this shortbread using cute Christmas cookie cutters and Ma'amoul molds (available from Middle Eastern Grocers). My shortbread looked beautiful and tasted delicious, it's also perfect for gifting, which is another nice way to spread some unexpected joy this Christmas.

Olive Oil Shortbread

Olive Oil Shortbread

Recipe by Miguel Maestre

Ingredients:

450 ml Extra virgin olive oil
250 g Caster sugar, extra to sprinkle
900 g Plain Flour
2 tsp Ground Cinnamon
1 Egg, beaten

Olive Oil Shortbread

Method:

Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius
Line baking trays with non-stick baking paper
Combine oil, sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl (or on bench) until dough is formed
Roll dough out between 2 sheets of baking paper to 1cm thickness
Remove top baking sheet and using cutters, cut out different shapes (hearts, diamonds, squares and circles)
Transfer to prepared trays and brush with egg and sprinkle extra sugar. Bake  for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

olive oil shortbread . Olive Oil Shortbread