Christmas Dinner


Let’s make this the first Christmas where the cook doesn’t have to be resuscitated by the end of the day – we’ll take it nice and easy.  Plan the menu well ahead and, keep it simple. Divide up the workload and do everything you possibly can ahead.  How about  the following menu.

A plate of locally smoked fish with Horseradish Cream, Dill Mayonnaise and Sweet Cucumber Pickle.

Traditional Roast Stuffed Turkey with Herb Stuffing and Gravy or Couscous Stuffing.

Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts, Ragged Roast Potatoes, Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce.

Plum Pudding with Muscovado Brandy Butter.   Clementine Granita.

Make the plum pudding any day now, but first seek out really plump and delicious dried fruit, fat lexia raisins, juicy yellow sultanas and Turkish currants.  If you enjoy making preserves why not make your own candied peel from citrus peel, it tastes sensational and costs very little, but it does take time.   If you can’t see yourself candying orange peel, try to find chunky peel in your local deli and while you are there look out for some old fashioned crystallized cherries, they will look dark red in colour, unlike some of the bright red ones we buy nowadays which were never ‘next nor near’ a cherry tree in their lives.   If you are going to have time to make a plum pudding it might as well be lip-smackingly good.

Rachel’s Leek and Potato Soup can be made well ahead and frozen. Make 2 or 3 times the recipe but don’t add the blue cheese until just before serving.

Cranberry Sauce can also be made weeks ahead, a few extra pots make a natty little present for foodie pals or a kind neighbour.

The stuffing for the turkey can also be made ahead and frozen in a plastic box, for perfection you may want to add the fresh herbs when you are reheating.

Its also worth making some chicken stock to have ready for soups and gravy.

Muscovado brandy butter can also be whipped up ahead.

Save any stale bread to make breadcrumbs, they can be popped into the freezer in 4oz bags read to use for stuffings, bread sauce and crumbles.

I adore Bread Sauce, I know it definitely doesn’t press everyone’s buttons, but ever since I was a child, Mum’s bread sauce was a must with Christmas turkey – this too can be made ahead and frozen.   You may need to add a little more milk when you reheat it on Christmas Day.

If Plum Pudding isn’t your thing make a Clementine Granita or Sorbet, well ahead.  It tastes like superior ‘iced lolly’ and will cause a riot on Christmas Day, everyone will be fighting over the last refreshing spoonful – it’s so welcome after ‘Christmas dins’.

More next week.

Hot Tips

Make lists -  what to order ahead,  what you can buy now and have in the storecupboard, what can be bought or made ahead and put in the freezer,  what has to be bought at the last minute – when you need to collect things – tick off as you do and you will feel very organised!   Planning is half the work and you should enjoy the run up to Christmas and not end up frazzled!





Make Plum Pudding or buy from your favourite source

Make Christmas Cake or buy from somebody you know makes good cakes and uses butter

Order your turkey from a trusted supplier or your local butcher – seek out free-range and organic – your local Farmers Market might be a good source – don’t buy a bigger turkey than you need otherwise you will be eating it for several days.

Ham, Bacon and charcuterie – order a ham or piece of ham from your pork butcher – look out for Caherbeg –Avril and Willie Allshire  Fingal    Frank Krawczyk- On the Pig’s Back, Grand Parade Market, Cork.

Again don’t buy more than you need.  A nice piece of loin of bacon is delicious for a smaller number if glazed and very tasty for a salad or sandwich.

Smoked Fish – You can order this ahead also and pick up a week or so beforehand – or buy online –,, www.clarke’  Bill



More online shopping –


Christmas Courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School –

Christmas Cooking – December 10th, Christmas Party Food – December 11th, Wine Appreciation for the Festive Season – December 12th – 021-4646785


Christmas Fair at Good Things Café, Durrus, Co Cork tomorrow Sunday 2nd December 11-4 –Cakes, Puddings, cookbooks, kitchenware, pottery, vouchers ……


New Farmers Market starting in Ballincollig, Co Cork in the New Ballincollig Shopping Centre,on Friday 7th December from 9.30-2 – everything from food to plants.



Leek, Potato and Blue Cheese Soup


Serves 4-6


25g (1oz) butter

2 leeks (about 300g/12ozs), dark green tops removed, white bits thinly sliced

2 potatoes (about 175g/6ozs), peeled and chopped

2 bay leaves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) light vegetable or chicken stock

75ml (3fl ozs) single cream

100-150g (4-5ozs) blue cheese, such as Cashel Blue, Stilton, Gorgonzola or Roquefort crumbled plus 25g (1oz) for serving


Melt the butter in a medium sized saucepan, add the leeks, potatoes and bay leaves.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and cover.  Turn the heat down to low and let the vegetables sweat for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then to ensure they don’t burn.  After 10 minutes, add the stock, increase the heat and simmer for a further 8 – 10 minutes until the potatoes and leeks are soft.  Remove the bay leaves, add the cream and the crumbled blue cheese and transfer to a liquidiser.  Whiz the soup until it is smooth and velvety.  Return to the saucepan to re-heat, tasting and seasoning if necessary. 


To Serve

Pour the soup into warm bowls and sprinkle with the extra crumbled blue cheese.


Rachel’s Tips

·            If making this soup with a strong blue cheese like Roquefort or Gorgonzola, I only add 100g (4ozs), but if you are using a milder blue cheese like Cashel Blue, you might need 125-150g (4 ½ – 5ozs).


·            When sweating onions or other vegetables for a long time, I like to cover them with a butter wrapper or a piece of greaseproof paper as well as the saucepan lid.  This helps to retain the moisture and makes sure they don’t burn.



Fresh Herb Stuffing

170g (6oz) butter

340g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft breadcrumbs (check that the bread is non GM)

55g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper



To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  Freeze in plastic boxes.



Couscous Stuffing

Claudia Roden used this delicious stuffing with roast chicken when she taught a course here earlier this year, halve the amount for a chicken or if you feel you need more add on half the recipe again.



500g (18ozs) packet couscous

800ml (1¼ pint) chicken stock


1 teaspoon cinnamon

8 tablespoons sunflower oil

225g (8ozs) blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

100g (4ozs) pistachios, coarsely chopped

100g (4ozs) pine nuts, toasted

100g (4ozs) raisins soaked in water for 30 minutes



Put the couscous in a bowl. Warm the stock, adding a little salt (take into account the saltiness of the stock) and the cinnamon. Pour 600ml (1 pint) of the stock – the same measured volume as the couscous – over the couscous, mix very well and leave for 20 minutes until the couscous has absorbed the stock. Then stir in the oil and break up any lumps with a fork. Rub the grain between your hands, to air it and make it light and fluffy. Stir in the chopped almonds and pistachios (you can chop them in the food processor), the pine nuts and raisins, and mix well. Cover the dish with foil. All you will need is to heat it through for 20 minutes in a 200ºC/400°F/Gas Mark 6 oven before serving. Pour the remaining stock on top.



Cranberry Sauce



Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for a week to 10 days or freeze if you want to make further ahead.


Serves 6 approx.


6 ozs (170 g) fresh cranberries

4 tablespoons (60 ml) water

3 ozs (85 g) granulated sugar


Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – dont add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.



Bread Sauce



I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!




1 pint (600ml) milk

3-4 ozs (85-100g) soft white breadcrumbs

2 onions, each stuck with 6 cloves

2 ozs (55g) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 fl ozs (75-100ml) thick cream

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices


Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and simmer gently on a very low heat or cook in a low oven 160C/325F/regulo 3, for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.


Quatre Epices is a French spice product made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.




Myrtle Allen’s Plum Pudding with Brandy Butter


Serves 8-10


Christmas puddings should be given at least 6 weeks to mature.  They will keep for a year.  They become richer and firmer with age, but one loses the lightness of the fruit flavour.  We always eat our last plum pudding at Easter.

If possible, prepare your own fresh beef suet – it is better than the pre-packed product. 


6ozs (170g) shredded beef suet

6 ozs (170g) sugar

7ozs (200g) soft breadcrumbs

8ozs (225g) currants

8 ozs (225g) raisins

4 ozs (110g) candied peel

1-2 teasp. mixed spice

a pinch of salt

2 tablesp. (8 teasp.) flour

2 fl ozs (60ml) flesh of a baked apple

3 eggs

2 fl ozs (60ml) Irish whiskey


1 x 3 pints (1.75 L) capacity pudding bowl


Mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Whisk the eggs and add them, with the apple and whiskey.  Stir very well indeed.  Fill into the greased pudding bowl.  Cover with a round of greaseproof paper or a butter-wrapped pressed down on top of the pudding.  Put a large round of greaseproof or brown paper over the top of the bowl, tying it firmly under the rim. 

Place in a saucepan one-third full of boiling water and simmer for 10 hours.  Do not allow the after to boil over the top and do not let it boil dry either.  Store in a cool place until needed.


Boil for 1½ – 2 hours before serving.  Left-over pudding may be fried in butter.


Serve with Whiskey Cream or Brandy butter.



Muscovado Brandy Butter

3ozs (90g) butter

3ozs (90g) Muscovado brown sugar or icing sugar

2-6 tablesp. brandy


Cream the butter until very light, add the sugar and beat again.  Then beat in the brandy, drop by drop.  If you have a food processor, use it: you will get a wonderfully light and fluffy Brandy Butter.




Clementine Sorbet


The quantity of ice below is enough to fill 10-18 clementine shells. Tangerines, mandarins or satsumas may also be used in this recipe.


Serves 10-12, depending on whether people eat 1 or 2



8 ozs (250g) sugar

Juice of ¼ lemon

¼ pint (150ml) water


20-28 clementines

Juice of ½ lemon

Icing sugar (optional)



Vine leaves or bay leaves


First make the syrup. Heat the first three ingredients over a low heat, until they are dissolved together and clear. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool. Grate the zest from 10 of the tangerines, and squeeze the juice from them. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop out the sections with a small spoon and them press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 1¼ pints (750ml) juice. Add the grated zest, the lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice, if more sweetness or sharpness is required. Freeze until firm.

Chill the shells in the fridge or freezer, fill them with the frozen water ice. Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day. Serve on a white plate decorated with vine leaves or bay leaves.



Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

1.         Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

2.         Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

3.         If you have a food processor simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.



About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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