Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas dinner

Christmas is without a doubt the best time of the year. This is when family and friends gather to celebrate what is for me the highlight of the culinary calendar.
The secret to really enjoying Christmas day is to be as organised as possible. Although most people tend to concentrate on the Christmas day dinner, all the other little things such as the crumbly mince pies freshly baked and still warm from the oven or maybe poached organic eggs with smoked salmon for breakfast, these are what make a Christmas truly memorable. A warm open sandwich of spiced beef and green tomato relish for Christmas Eve after the frantic last piece of shopping is finely wrapped up accompanied by a glass of good Vintage port. What better way to start off the Christmas holiday.

In this guide to Christmas food I hope to help guide you through the Christmas festivities in a way that you will enjoy this great time of the year to its maximum.
To start lets look at getting you organised. Any chef will tell you that it is preparation that gets you through even the most difficult service. Christmas dinner is complicated, even for an experienced chef. The number one rule is don’t let the Christmas dinner get too complicated. You don’t need six to ten different types of vegetable; rather have two or three types coupled with roast potatoes and maybe one other type of potato such as creamed or baby boiled tossed in a little farmhouse butter and chopped parsley. Its all about keeping it simple, this is the cooks Christmas as well so don’t spend it all in the kitchen.
The Christmas day dinner can be broken down into a number of stages. These stages again can be broken down into a number of steps. I have not included the Christmas cake or pudding in this list as these items can be cooked a number of months in advance depending of course on the recipe.

Stage one: Organising the food.
So what do you need to order in advance? The most important thing here is the turkey and ham. This is unless of course you opt for an alternative to the traditional turkey such as Goose, venison or maybe a tender leg of lamb.
Try to order your turkey and ham by the 15th of December. You can collect them all the way up until Christmas Eve providing your butcher is open. But if you don’t have the turkey ordered in time you may miss out on getting the turkey you want. You see a turkey is not just a turkey. What you want is a free range hen bird. A 6.5kg bird will be ample for six or seven people. If you prefer your turkey boned and rolled order a 3-4kg turkey this is the prepared weight, which again will very comfortably feed 6 or even more people. And remember that your butcher is there to help and will advise you on your turkey buying requirements.
Next up the ham, a ham fillet will be perfect in size to accompany your turkey. The ham should be ordered for collection at the same time as the turkey. Buy a low salt content ham if possible and remember a ham produced by a reputable butcher is in general well worth a little extra cost.
After the turkey and ham are organised it is time to think about what kind of vegetables you would like to serve for Christmas day dinner. The rule to follow is to stay with vegetables which are seasonal and fresh. Buy the best ingredients possible, cook them simply and let the real flavours of the food do the work for you. The recipes I have included will act to give you a few ideas. Don’t panic if you can’t find a particular vegetable or ingredient. The main thing is to buy what is best, fresh shredded winter cabbage sautéed with a little butter and bacon is a far better option than out of season asparagus picked two weeks ago and transported from half way around the world. Think slow roasted root vegetables with rosemary and thyme drizzled with some of the turkeys roasting juices, nice.
The starter, soup course and dessert are also important considerations.
The starter should be light, think fruit or seafood. This is a heavy meal that you are cooking so don’t over fill anyone at the beginning. A good starter should stimulate the palette and make you feel hungry and not in any way full.
The soup course should again be light and flavoursome. A consommé will work well but for me a well made parsnip and celeriac soup will go down a treat.
It’s a good idea to consider serving a sorbet or water ice after the soup course. This will help refresh the palettes of those lucky people you are cooking for before the main event. For dessert a well made trifle or maybe a meringue based dessert will always be a winner. Another good option is a Christmas pudding parfait maybe served with a butterscotch sauce.

So let’s get down to the cooking:

Dublin bay prawns sautéed with lemon and garlic butter served with marinated tomato salad.
Serves 6:
For prawns:
36 Medium sized Dublin bay prawns
35 grams butter
1 clove of garlic chopped fine (use two cloves if you like garlic)
20 grams parsley chopped fine
A little vegetable oil for frying
For tomato salad:
6 medium organic tomatoes
1 shallot finally diced
25 grams fresh basil shredded
For salad dressing
30 ml extra virgin olive oil
20 ml balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic chopped fine
Salt & Pepper to season

1. Make the salad in advance.
For dressing, mix the vinegar with the chopped garlic, season lightly, and add the olive oil.
2. Slice the tomatoes and place into a bowl, mix with the shallots and basil and dress with the balsamic and olive oil dressing. This salad can be made up to two hours before being served.
3. To cook prawns;
a. Heat a large non stick frying pan, add a little oil.
b. Place the prawns gently into the hot pan and allow cooking for about 1-2 minutes, adding the butter and garlic and turning down the heat to allow the prawns to cook. Finish the prawns with the chopped parsley and season to finish.

To serve:
a. Place a ramekin or similar serving dish onto the centre of each plate; arrange the tomato salad around each ramekin, fill the ramekin with six prawns per person and serve with a little lemon and maybe some crusty bread to mop up the butter and juices.

Trio of melon served with Serrano ham
This is a very simple yet elegant way to start a Christmas dinner. The only melon that will not accompany Serrano ham well is water melon, other than that any type of melon will do. Make sure that the melons you buy are ripe, the Serrano ham can be bought pre-sliced again making this a very simple to produce dish.
Serves 6:
18 slices of Serrano ham
1 green winter melon
1 ogen melon
1 netted charentais melon
If you can’t get these types of melon don’t panic, simply use what you can get.
1. peel and de-seed the melons
2. slice each melon into six wedges (if the melons are large slice into eight)
3. Wrap each wedge with a slice of Parma ham.
4. Arrange the melons decoratively onto the serving plates giving one of each type of melon to each person.

Smoked salmon filled with avocado and chive crème fraîche.
Staying with simple yet elegant starters this moulded smoked salmon dish will make even the novice cook look good.

Serves 6:
1 side smoked salmon
2 lemons
2 ripe avocados
50 ml crème fraîche.
25 grams chives
200 grams fresh rocket leafs

1. Make filling; peel, de-seed and puree the avocados, mix with the crème fraîche and the juice of half a lemon. Chop half of the chives and mix into the avocado mixture. Place aside.
2. Line six ramekins with cling film this will allow you to turn out the moulds with ease. Line the prepared moulds with smoked salmon, fill with avocado mixture.
To serve:
a. Turn out the moulds into the centre of a plate.
b. Remove the cling film,
c. Decorate with fresh rocket leafs tossed in the dressing used for the marinated tomato salad used in the prawn recipe. Serve with a lemon wedge and use the remaining chives to garnish the dish.

A good soup course is essential to a good Christmas dinner. The recipe I have included is not made with flour so this will work well with a heavy meal.

Cream of Celeriac and parsnip soup

1 celeriac chopped small
2 parsnips chopped small
2 onions chopped small
5 cloves garlic peeled
1 litre vegetable or chicken stock (a good quality stock cube will do if you don’t have time to make a stock)
30 gram butter
60 ml cream

1. Place celeriac, parsnip, garlic and onion into a large pot with the butter.
2. Cover with a lid and allow to sweat without allowing the vegetables to colour over a low to medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften.
3. Add the stock and allow simmer until the vegetables are soft and well cooked.
4. Add the cream, puree the soup (a hand blender will work well) this soup will hold hot, serve in pre-heated bowls. Freshly made croutons will work well with this soup.

The main event

Traditional Roast Turkey
The turkey replaced the Christmas goose as the main Christmas dinner in around the 18th century. Originally called ‘Indian chicken’ after the Spanish conquerors who thought they were still in the Indies were in fact in Mexico. Turkey prepared with a sauce containing chocolate is still a national dish in Mexico. A person who loves turkey is called a dindonophile.

The traditional roast turkey looks like a formidable culinary challenge. There is a fair degree of care required to get a roast turkey right but if you follow the rules you should have no major difficulty. Try to invest into buying a meat thermometer; timing the cookery process will always require a certain amount of experience. However when you arm yourself with a roasting thermometer, even the most inexperienced cook should be able to get their turkey cooked perfectly. Simply stick the probe into the thickest part of the turkey, just under the thigh. When the internal temperature of the turkey gets to 72 degree centigrade the bird will be cooked perfectly.

To prepare
First the safety rules:

1. There is never any need to wash a turkey, when you wash a turkey you will inadvertently contaminate a large area of the kitchen with a dripping wet uncooked bird.
2. Wash your hands before and after handling any raw foods with anti-bacterial hand wash.
3. When you buy your turkey the bird should be stored at around 3 degree centigrade and never above 5 degrees. If you are not sure about the temperature when you buy your turkey asks you butcher to check it. Temperature recording is a legal requirement for your butcher.
4. Store your turkey at the bottom of your refrigerator and never place cooked foods close to or under raw foods such as turkey. The same rule goes for any food other than raw meats. Keep white poultry type meats separated from red meats.
5. Most of all use common sense when handling raw foods or for that matter any foods. Be aware of cross contamination of foods at all time.

If you are stuffing the bird never stuff the main cavity of a turkey or for that matter any poultry, only stuff the neck cavity. It’s best to stitch the stuffing in with a poultry needle and string. Your butcher should be able to advise you on this.
Any extra stuffing can be cooked separately; pouring some of the roasting juices over the stuffing will still give that just roasted and meaty taste to the stuffing.
After this preparation is completed it’s a good idea to tie or truss the bird, you will need to ask your butcher for around a metre length of butcher’s string to do this. This will allow the turkey to cook evenly.

To cook
1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 or 175 degree centigrade.
2. Place the turkey into a roasting tray, placing the bird upside down on the roasting tray is a good idea as the roasting juices will flow down into the breast and not away from it. This may make the bird seem a little less presentable as the breasts will become flattened but the meat really will be far moister.
3. Take a generous knob of butter and stuff under the skin of the turkey between the flesh and skin.
4. Season the bird well with salt and black pepper and cover the breast area with some good fatty streaky bacon.
5. Rub the turkey with some soft but not melted butter.
6. Cover the turkey with tin-foil.
7. Place into the oven and cook for 20 minutes for each pound weight of turkey.
8. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes.
9. Twenty minutes before the turkey is cooked remove the foil and allow the turkey to brown.
10. Use the roasting thermometer to judge if the meat is cooked. Once the internal temperature of the turkey gets to 72 degrees centigrade the turkey is good to eat.

There are a number of simple tips for making a well cooked turkey great.
1. Always allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. This will allow the meat to relax and let the juices settle back into the meat.
2. Always use a straight edged knife to carve a turkey as a serrated edge will tear the meat.
3. Always carve against the grain of the meat as this will give more tender slices of meat.

To make a traditional turkey gravy
1. Strain off the roasting juices from the base of the tray.
2. Pass the juices through a fine sieve into a sauce pot and skim any surplus fat of the top of the roasting juices.
3. Add one generous glass of red wine into the meat juice.
4. A sprig of rosemary will also give a nice flavour.
5. Allow the sauce to come to the boil and thicken with a little arrow root which has been mixed with a small amount of cold water.
6. A tablespoon of red current jelly will make a nice addition to this sauce.

For a traditional cranberry sauce
1. 500 gram frozen cranberries
2. 150 gram sugar
3. Juice of two oranges
Mix all the ingredients together in a thick based pot, gently simmer until the berries soften and the sauce takes on a bright jam like consistency.

Turkey stuffing

Each family in Ireland seems to have there own unique recipe which has been passed on through the generations.
For me the best is my Mums.

400 grams fresh white breadcrumbs
150 grams sausage meat
75 grams chestnuts chopped coarsely
75 gram butter
1 large onion diced finely
25 gram parsley chopped fine
15 gram fresh sage chopped fine
5 gram thyme chopped fine

1. Place the butter and onion into a saucepan and sweat until the onions become soft.
2. Remove from heat and mix in all the other ingredients
3. Bind well by hand.

This stuffing can be cooked separately from the roast by placing it into an earthenware dish and cooking at 160 centigrade for approximately 40 minutes.

Mustard Glazed Ham
A traditional mustard glazed ham is an essential accompaniment to a Christmas turkey dinner.
To cook a ham the following rules apply.
1. Soak the ham for at least 6 hours in cold water to remove surplus amounts of salt.
2. Place the ham into a large pot of fresh cold water and allow to come to the boil.
3. Reduce the heat and allow simmer for 20 minutes to each pound of ham.
4. Use a meat thermometer to judge if the ham is cooked, the internal temperature should be 72 degrees centigrade
5. When cooked remove from the water, place into a roasting dish and score the fat on the surface of the ham.
6. Get one jar of Colman’s English mustard and rub liberally over the whole service of the ham.
7. Sprinkle the mustard with dark sugar
8. Place the ham into an oven at 160 degree centigrade and allow to glaze to a rich golden colour

The vegetables and potatoes to go with your Christmas meal are in many ways just as important as the turkey.
The following are a few simple ideas to consider.

Roast root vegetables with rosemary and thyme.
This is a great roast turkey accompaniment which once cooked will hold hot and is very convenient for the serving up of your Christmas dinner.
Serves 6
4 organic carrots chopped into large chunks
1 celeriac chopped into large chunks
2 large sweet potatoes chopped into large chunks
4 parsnips chopped into large chunks
4 nice sized sprigs of rosemary
4 nice sized sprigs of thyme
20 ml olive oil
30 grams butter
Salt and black pepper to season

1. Mix all the vegetables together
2. Coat the vegetables with olive oil and mix in the butter
3. Place the sprigs of thyme and rosemary through the vegetables
4. Season with salt and pepper
To cook
Place the vegetables into an appropriate sized roasting dish. Place into an oven at 170 degrees centigrade for approximately 40 minutes or until soft and cooked.

Shredded winter cabbage with pancetta
Serves 6
1 large head of Savoy cabbage shredded very fine
50 grams Pancetta chopped into small pieces
40 gram butter
Salt and pepper to season

1. Toss the pancetta in a hot non stick pan till lightly crisped
2. Heat a large pot of water and allow to come to a rolling boil
3. Fill a large bowl with iced water
4. Plunge the cabbage into the boiling water, leave in the boiling water for 2 minutes and then remove, immediately plunge the cabbage into the cold water. This will give the cabbage a bright green colour.
This preparation can be done well in advance of serving the cabbage.
1. To serve simply boil a kettle of water
2. Heat the butter and pancetta in a pan but don’t allow the butter to colour.
3. Pour the boiling water over the cabbage to instantly heat the cabbage
4. Pour off all the water from the cabbage and place the cabbage into the butter and pancetta. Mix well and season to your taste.

Leeks cooked with butter.
Again a simple yet delicious vegetable dish ideal for serving with any roast.

2 – 3 leeks shredded
40 gram butter
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a thick based pot, add the leaks and cover with a lid. Allow the leeks to sweat until soft and well cooked. Season to your taste and enjoy.

Traditional roast potatoes
Serves 6
15 medium sized potatoes peeled, a dry variety is important such as pinks.
100 ml goose fat (This can be bought in a good food or gourmet shop)
Salt to season

1. Boil the potatoes till they are around half cooked.
2. Remove the water and gently shake the potatoes to allow them to fluff on the surface slightly. This is how the potatoes form a lovely crispy exterior.
3. Place the potatoes into a roasting tray and season them.
4. Cover the potatoes gently with the warmed goose fat
5. Place the potatoes into a pre-heated oven at 170 c and allow cook till crisp.
6. Keep the potatoes well basted while they are cooking.

For dessert there are many options. The traditional Christmas cake or puddings are always on hand but for a few different options you might like to try the following.
Make fresh fruit compotes is a great and convenient way in which to organise and produce some great desserts

To make a fruit compote simply chop up some fruit of your choice into small pieces, for each 500grams of fruit add 170 grams of sugar. Gently simmer in a thick bottomed pot until you gain a jam like consistency. Place into a preserving jar and seal. This compote should last at least one month.

Brown bread & whisky ice-cream:

1 brown soda bread
250 gram dark brown sugar
9 egg yolk
60 gram caster sugar
700 ml fresh cream
1 shot Irish whisky

To do in advance:

1. In a food processor make the brown bread into bread crumbs.
2. Mix the bread crumb with the brown sugar and place onto a flat roasting tray.
3. Place under a hot grill and allow the sugar & crumb mix to caramelise, you will need to mix the crumb often also be careful not to let the crumb burn. The breadcrumbs will form into small nuts. When completed let cool completely. A good idea is to store this mix in the deep freeze as it will be better to incorporate into the ice-cream.

To make Ice-cream:

1. Whip cream and place into the freezer, you don’t want to freeze the cream but you do want to get it as cold as possible.
2. Into a bowl place egg yolk & sugar. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk until the egg coats the back of a spoon, this is called a sabayon. The sabayon should maintain a smooth texture and never look in any way like scrambled egg as this would indicate the egg has become over cooked.
3. Add the cold crumb mix into the sabayon this will cool it instantly as a hot sabayon will make the cream loose bulk. Incorporate this mix with the fresh chilled cream and add whisky.
4. Place into a mould of your choice and freeze straight away.

A dessert idea which utilises the compote and brown bread ice-cream is as follows.

Into a martini glass place a dollop of crème fresh, place another dollop of seasonal compote and decorate with a sprig of mint. Now you have a good looking fruit fool. Place the martini glass onto a plate. Now take a slice of the brown bread ice cream, place on the plate beside the glass of fruit fool, beside the ice-cream place an edible flower such as a bunch of apple blossom. Now you have a cool looking dessert which tastes great and can be done a month in advance!!

But what about a sauce for this dessert? No panic, one of the most popular sweet sauces that you can make is also one of the most simplistic.

Butterscotch sauce.

200 ml cream
200 gram sugar
200 gram butter

1. Into a thick based pot melt the butter.
2. Add the sugar and with a wooden spoon allow the mix to caramelise to a light golden colour. This mix is dangerous and will approach a temperature close to that of boiling oil so be careful!
3. When the mix becomes golden pour in the cream this mix will splash so again take great care.
4. Allow mix to boil for a few minutes in order for the sugar crystals to melt.
5. This sauce will last for a week and can be served gently warmed or cold.

Another great dessert is a warm chocolate pudding with vanilla ice-cream
Warm Chocolate pudding
A one kg loaf tin will be needed for this recipe.
To do in advance:
Preheat oven to 180 c
Butter & flour loaf tin, if you can get your hands on one of the new high-tech silicon moulds use that but still lightly butter the mould.

250 gram Chocolate (75%)
75 gram butter
250 pastry flour
50 gram drinking chocolate
163 gram sugar
4 egg yolks

1. In a bowl place chocolate and butter, place over a pot of warm water and gently allow to melt.
2. Whisk sugar & egg yolk together until mix coats the back of a spoon
3. While egg is still whisking slowly pour in melted chocolate and butter.
4. Incorporate the flour and drinking chocolate into the mix and form into a smooth paste.
5. Place mix into prepared mould. A good tip is to wet your hands with cold water when handling mix as this will stop it from sticking to every thing.
6. Place mould into a deep sided oven dish again a good tip is to place a cloth on the base of the oven dish. Add water into the oven dish until it reaches half way up the side of the chocolate pudding mould.
7. Cover the dish well with tin foil; this must be air-tight.
8. Place in oven and allow cooking for one hour, taking care when removing the cooked pudding from the oven as the hot water bain-marie can cause a bad burn.
9. Allow pudding to cool before removing from mould.
Serve warm with butterscotch sauce and vanilla ice-cream

If a good crème brulee sounds like a good dessert choice maybe the following might tempt you
Trio of crème bruleẽ.

1 litre fresh cream
9 egg yolk
80 gram sugar

1. Place cream into a pot and bring to boil.
2. Mix egg yolk and sugar in a bowl gently mix with a wooden spoon. Do not whisk as any aeration of the egg will give the bruleẽ a frothy appearance.
3. Pour the hot cream onto the egg and mix well. It is a good idea to pass mix through a fine sieve.
4. Divide mix into three separate bowls and place a shot of a different liquor of your choice into each separate mix for example Baileys, Cointreau & Amaretto.
5. Place the mix into small ramekins or similar type moulds and place moulds into a water bain-marie.
6. The most important part of making a crème bruleẽ is the cooking. The water temperature must never exceed 90c. Cook bruleẽ’s until they become firm. This will take around one hour.
7. Allow to chill in the fridge.
8. To serve: Take a small amount of granulated sugar and place onto the top of each bruleẽ. Rub gently in a way that the sugar will evenly cover the top of each one. Place onto a roasting tray and place under a hot grill until the sugar starts to caramelise.
9. Remove from grill and finish caramelising with a blow torch.
10. Serve straight away.

Another good fruit based option for a Christmas dinner might be the following

Gooseberry yogurt with chilled plum soup and fresh fruits.

500 gram Gooseberries
100 gram sugar
500 ml natural yogurt

1. Cook gooseberries with sugar to a compote.
2. Allow to cool, mix with yogurt and place into an ice-cream machine, churn until a smooth iced yogurt has been made.
3. Place into deepfreeze.

For Plum soup.

500 gram very ripe plums, Victoria or Bonne de Bry are good.
100 gram sugar.

1. Chop plums into medium sized pieces and poach with sugar until almost completely disintegrated. You may have to add water as plums are cooking.
2. Chill well on ice.
3. Get a selection of the best fruits, there are no rules simply use whatever is available.
4. Place the plum soup into a long stemmed presentation glass; place a neat ball of ice-cream on top, simply decorate with selection of fruits available.

Traditional Rich Christmas Fruit cake
This is a traditional long lasting type cake mixture. This cake will work for many special occasions. To store this cake, place into an airtight container.

Cake tin size: 10in / 25cm round. 23cm/ 9 in square:
Baking time 3.25 – 4.25 hours
Currents 600 gram
Sultanas 350 gram
Raisons 200 gram
Almonds chopped 170 gram
Glacé cherries halved 150 gram
Mixed peel 120 gram
Lemon, rind grated 2
Brandy 3.5 tbsp
Plane flour 400 grams
Ground mixed spice 1.5 tbsp
Ground nutmeg 1 tbsp
Ground almonds 90 gram
Soft Butter 300 gram
Soft brown Sugar 350 grams
Black treacle 2 tbsp
Eggs size 3 beaten 7

1. Preheat oven to 140 centigrade / Gas 1
2. Place all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
3. Stir to combine and then beat well with a wooden spoon for about 7 minutes or until well mixed
4. Prepare the baking tin by lining with buttered grease proof paper.
5. Spoon the mixture into the tin and then smooth the surface with the back of a wet metal spoon.
Make a slight impression in the centre to prevent the cake from doming.
5. Bake in the centre of the oven. Test the cake about halve an hour before the end of the baking time. If the cake browns to quickly cover the top loosely with foil.
To test the cake insert a skewer into the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean the cake is done.
6. Leave the cake to cool in the tin. When completely cool, turn out of the tin. The lining paper should be left on in order to keep the cake moist.

To ice the cake you will need about 1 KG of marzipan, 3 tbsp of apricot jam and around 1 kg grams of Royal Icing.
1. Brush the cake with the jam.
2. Roll out the marzipan on a service slightly dusted with icing sugar and use it to cover the cake, leave to dry for around 2 hours
3. Flat ice the cake with two layers of icing sugar
4. Decorate the cake with remaining icing sugar or with leafs of holey and red berries.
Christmas pudding
This is a Christmas dish that can be made up to a year in advance.
To make a 900gram pudding

115gram self-raising flour
1 level tbsp mixed spice
1 level tbsp ground ginger
1 level tbsp salt
175 gram unsalted butter
115 gram wholemeal breadcrumbs
115 gram ground almonds
115 gram sultanas
115 gram raisins
115 gram candy pineapple, chopped
75 gram candy ginger chopped
75 gram candy apricots, chopped
75 gram glace cherries chopped
75 gram chopped mixed peel
Grated rind of one orange & one lemon
175 gram dark muscovado sugar
3 eggs
6 tbsp Cointreau
200ml sweet white wine
1. Sieve flour, spices and salt into a large mixing bowl.
2. Add breadcrumbs, sultanas, almonds, raisins, pineapple, ginger, apricots, cherries, mixed peel, orange & lemon rind and sugar.
3. Beat eggs with Cointreau and white wine.
4. Mix with ingredients in bowl.
5. Grease 2 one litre pudding bowls and fill with mixture.
6. Lay a piece of grease proof paper on top of the mix in both bowls
7. Seal the bowls well with lids or tin foil.
8. Steam for 6 hours keeping and eye on the water level.
9. Let the puddings cool then over wrap with kitchen foil and store in a cool dark place.
To make brandy butter simply Cream a 100 gram of butter with 40 grams of sugar and on shoot of brandy.

Mince pies

It is far more simple to use a good quality ready made mince pie mix than make one your self. All that is required then is a well made short crust pastry to produce a fresh seasonal batch of mince pies.
Short crust pastry
Sift 225gram plan flour into a bowl and stir in a pinch of salt.
Add 50gram chilled butter and 50gram lard cut into small pieces.
Lightly rub into the flour until you gain a breadcrumb like texture.
Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of cold water over the mixture then use a tablespoon to mix the mixture.
The mixture will form into clumps; press these together by hand to form a ball.
Allow the pastry to chill for at least 30 minutes
Roll out and use as required

To make the mince pies.
1. Line some tartlet moulds with the pastry
2. Fill with mincemeat.
3. Cover with a thin layer of pastry and seal the edges
4. Make a small hole in the centre of each pie.
5. Brush with egg and bake in a pre-heated oven at 220 degree centigrade for 15 – 20 minutes.
6. Serve piping hot from the oven with some freshly whipped cream or a rich vanilla ice-cream.

An essential element to a successful Christmas, apart of course from the main meal are all them little snacks and various treats that most people spend the whole time picking at.
A good selection of cheese is vital. If you have access to a good cheese mongers or Gourmet store you should take full advantage and stock up. Ireland now produces a wide selection of cheese and some I would highly recommend include.
Ardrahan Farmhouse cheese, or maybe a Mature Cashel blue this being a far more complex cheese to the standard Cashel blue. Durrus handmade cheese from the West of Cork again is a good choice and will complement a nice glass of vintage port. A great choice of blue cheese might also include Crozier Blue which is one of the only blue sheep’s cheese made in Ireland and well worth a try. Another hard sheep’s cheese is Cratloe Hills and has a fabulous fresh after taste. A St Tola goat’s cheese will make an excellent addition to any cheese board.
Serve your cheese simply with some cook quality cheese crackers and some good home made relish or chutney.

A good stock of fresh fruit should also be made readily available. The healthier option is important, even during the most indulgent day of the year. Make sure there is a good choice of non alcoholic beverages to balance out the alcoholic ones.
And don’t forget to have some good bread for the traditional late night turkey sandwiches.


  1. Thank you for the wonderful recipes and I appreciate the extra knowledge, to add to my usual recipes.