Christmas is almost here again, my grandchildren are wild with excitement and anticipation…
Letters are already winging their way to Santa and some have been making Christmas cookies and helping to stir the plum pudding. They love to hear stories of Christmas when I was a child and are incredulous when I tell them how a little mandarin or clementine in the toe of my Christmas stocking was a huge treat to be eaten slowly and enjoyed segment by segment.
In fact one of the biggest challenges nowadays is to encourage children to think of those less fortunate and perhaps wrap up some of the toys and clothes they have outgrown to share.
Hopefully you’ve ordered a nice plump, free range turkey or goose for Christmas day and decided on the accompaniments. Many people start with the idea of doing something different this year but if you have family coming home for Christmas they usually don’t want you to change a thing. The traditional Christmas dinner is sacred in many families and that is what memories are made of, the favourite stuffing, Mam’s gravy, plum pudding, trifle and Christmas cake…
Every detail must be the same, I’ve given recipes for traditional turkey and goose on the Irish Examiner website in the past. My new favourite way to cook the turkey is to dry brine it the day before then roast it over the tray of stuffing so the juices can drip into the dish and flavour it deliciously. It cooks much faster than a whole bird and you don’t have to forgo the stuffing either.
Talking of stuffing, my new favourite stuffing (inspired by ‘the dressing’ used by US friends for Thanksgiving), is made with chunkier pieces of bread rather than the breadcrumbs we usually use.
Try to find duck, goose fat or good lard to roast the potatoes. The flavour will be a revelation. Peel, blanch and refresh the potatoes on Christmas Eve, dry and keep them in the fridge in a covered box. Sprouts can be halved or better still quartered and blanched in boiling water for 2-3 mins, then drained and plunged into ice to stop them cooking. Drain them well and refrigerate, ready to be reheated in boiling salted water just before Christmas dinner. Don’t forget lots of melted butter and freshly cracked black pepper to serve. I also love celery in a rich parsley sauce, another dish that can be tucked away in the freezer a week or two ahead. Cranberry sauce can also be made weeks in advance, make more than you need for presents or gift hampers for even busier friends.
Bread sauce can also be made several days ahead and reheated, even frozen, if that works better for you.
In our house we have both plum pudding and trifle, everyone loves Mummy’s plum pudding. Once again think about making an extra one or two for gifts to share with someone less fortunate.
If you decide to break with tradition why not try my Christmas meringue wreath served with pomegranate seeds and verbena leaves, it too can be made ahead and decorated before serving.
A glazed loin of streaky bacon is our secret favourite dish at Christmas it is super succulent and juicy and a fraction of the price of ham. The best discovery is that it can be reheated if cooked and glazed ahead.
So with all that preparation done you too can really enjoy Christmas day… Remember to allocate responsibility of different aspects of the festivities to different members of the family of all ages, thus sharing the fun and passing on the skills to the next generation – laying the table, arranging the flowers, as well as the cooking.
Have a wonderful fun filled Christmas with family and friends and look out for your neighbours too.
All your favourite Christmas recipes and many more besides are in my book Darina Allen’s Simply Delicious Christmas published by Gill Books.