Christmas Dinner with All The Trimmings


What a rollercoaster it’s been for the past few weeks, hopes raised hopes dashed, then raised again. I eventually decided to carry on regardless and respond to reader’s requests for recipes for the traditional Christmas feast that so many happy memories are made of. This year of all years, we are nostalgic for the past and crave a comforting family Christmas.

Hopefully, your nearest and dearest will be gathered around you and our hearts go out to those who have also lost loved ones during this extraordinarily challenging year.

Here are all the favourite Christmas recipes you requested. A fine roast turkey or goose with all the trimmings, lots of gravy, roasties, Brussels sprouts and our house recipe for creamed celery (sounds so old-fashioned, there’s a ring of the Grand Hotel about it) but so good with the roast turkey particularly as it can of course be cooked several days ahead. Keep it covered in the fridge or pop into the freezer, and just reheat. Christmas is definitely a ton of work particularly for those who don’t normally spend much time in the kitchen.

So let’s make a plan so it’s easier and less stressful. I’m like a broken record about making lists. Lots of them are the way to go, allocate some fun roles to as many family as you can cajole or shame into helping but steady on, we often overestimate the amount of food we need.

If there are just two or four people, ask yourself do you really need a turkey, how about a beautiful organic chicken or a fat free-range duck. You can use the same stuffing as for the turkey or goose.

If it’s just the two of you, you may want to choose a beautiful organic chicken from Mary Regan in Enniscorthy ( or maybe try this delicious Turkey crown marinated in buttermilk, it’s juicy, tender and delicious. Half the crown will be plenty for your Christmas feast and you’ll still have lots to enjoy in your favourite turkey sandwich on Christmas evening. Could be just roasted but marinating in buttermilk is a revelation.

For me a well hung pheasant with game chips (homemade potato chips) is another of my favourite feasts. Bread sauce and Cranberry sauce are the traditional accompaniments and the buttery herb stuffing is perfect here too.

If like me, brown meat is your favourite, why not roast the turkey thighs. The drumsticks are quite sinewy in a bird that has been allowed to range freely but the flavour will be far superior to an intensively produced bird, reared in confinement. Internal temperature of legs or thighs will be 165°C (breast 105°C) when cooked, allow to rest 10 – 15 minutes before serving.

Try this Christmassy riff on Brussels sprouts – with a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds, and a few crunchy walnuts.

But here’s the ‘pièce de résistance’, I promised in last week’s column All in One Christmas Dinner on a Dish – This recipe dates back to the time when the United Hunt held its annual Hunt Ball in Ballymaloe before Christmas every year. They wanted the ‘whole works’ so my mother in law, Myrtle devised this delicious version which we prepared ahead and reheated for the large gathering. It became such a favourite that it was requested every year. It’s definitely a bit of a mission to make and you’ll need to cook the turkey and ham separately. Meanwhile make a creamy mushroom filling with lots of fresh herbs and then a creamy sauce to coat the lot.

The end result is an unctuous “Turkey and Ham Sandwich” that reheats deliciously in 10-15 minutes on the day.

Whenever you decide to choose, I wish you a happy, joyful and meaningful Christmas and so hope that you will be able to connect with your loved ones over the festive season, either in person or by Zoom. Good times will come again….We’ll just keep cooking and carry on!

 A special thank you to all our readers and Happy, happy Christmas.

Traditional Christmas Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

More than ever this year in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we all long for the comfort of familiar flavours.This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour from the fresh herbs and the turkey juices.  Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given. However, my top tip is to brine the turkey ahead it greatly enhances the flavour, and reduces the overall cooking time.

Serves 10-12

(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with neck and giblets

Fresh Herb Stuffing

175g (6oz/3/4 stick) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16oz) approx. soft white breadcrumbs (or approximately 1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, annual marjoram, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Stock – the base for a big jug of gravy

Turkey giblet, neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey

2 sliced carrots

2 sliced onions

1 stick celery

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns

For basting the turkey

225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter

large square of muslin (optional)

Darina’s Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)

Traditional Bread Sauce (see recipe)


large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress

Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate).  Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.

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.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end. 

Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 2 3/4-3 1/4 hours depending on the weight and whether the turkey has been brined. Brined turkey cook considerably faster – be careful not to overcook.  There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin.  The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with dampened parchment paper.  However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word. 

The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear.

To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear.  Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.   .

The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast

potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.

Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

Basic Brine for Turkey, Chicken, Duck or Pork

Brining greatly enhances the flavour of chicken, duck or pork.  We brine whole turkeys (48 hours), chickens and ducks (5-6 hours), chicken breast (30-40 minutes depending on size).

Soak the bird or joint in a brine mixture of salt and water.  The electrically charged ions of the salt plump up the muscle fibres, allowing them to absorb water. This changes the structure of the proteins, preventing the water from escaping during cooking. In addition to keeping the meat moist, the salt intensifies flavour.

To make basic brine, mix together 40fl oz (2 pints/5 cups) water and 3 3/4oz (105g/1/4 cup) salt in a suitable size container with a cover (stainless steel, plastic or enamel are ideal). A little sugar may be added to the brine, even a few spices. Add the bird or joint, cover and chill in a refrigerator or keep in a cool place and brine for chosen time.

Glazed Christmas Ham with Cloves and Pineapple

I know this sounds a bit old hat, but of all of the glazes that I do, this is the one that I keep coming back to. Or you could just use marmalade. You’ll know when the ham is cooked when the rind comes off the fat easily. I like to buy my ham with the bone in but order a boned ham if carving becomes a challenge. Don’t forget how delicious a piece of glazed streaky bacon can be and a fraction of the price.

Serves 12-15

1 x 4.5kg (10lb) fresh or lightly smoked ham (ensure it has a nice layer of sweet fat)

30 or more whole cloves, depending on the size of the diamonds

350g (12oz/1 1/2 cups) brown Demerara sugar

a couple of tablespoons of pineapple juice from a small tin of pineapple

If the ham is salty, soak it in cold water overnight and discard the water the next day. Cover the ham with fresh, cold water and bring it slowly to the boil. If the meat is still salty, there will be a white froth on top of the water. In this case it is preferable to discard this water, cover the ham with fresh cold water again and repeat the process. Finally, cover the ham with hot water, put the lid on the saucepan and simmer until it is almost cooked. Allow 25-30 minutes approx. to the lb of cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of ham (usually about 4 hours, but depends on the size of the ham). When the ham is fully cooked the rind will peel off easily and the small bone at the base of the leg will feel loose.

To glaze the ham: preheat the oven to 250ºC/ 500ºF/gas mark 9.

While still warm, peel the rind from the cooked ham, score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud each diamond with a whole clove. Blend the brown sugar to a paste with a little pineapple juice. Be careful not to make it too liquid. Transfer the ham to a roasting tin just large enough to take the joint.

Spread the thick glaze over the entire surface of the ham, but not underneath. Bake it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes or until it has caramelised. While it is glazing, baste the ham regularly with the syrup and juices.

Then toss the pineapple slices in the glaze and arrange on top for extra glam.

Serve hot or cold with Cumberland sauce.


Glazed Loin or Belly of Bacon

Both of these cuts are delicious glazed as above. The latter is inexpensive yet sweet and succulent. Boiled collar of bacon is also delicious.

Another Glaze for Ham or Bacon

Mix together 225ml (8fl oz/1 cup) of apricot jam, 225g (8oz/1 cup) of sifted golden caster sugar, 3 tablespoons (scant 4 American tablespoons) of whole grain mustard with honey and the juice of 1 orange. Spoon the glaze over the ham and cook as above, basting at regular intervals.

Ginger Glazed Ham or Bacon


5 tablespoons (6 American tablespoons) brown sugar

1 dessertspoon (2 American teaspoons) mustard powder

1 teaspoon grated ginger

grated zest of half an organic orange

20ml (3/4fl oz/scant 1/8 cup) orange juice

Mix together the brown sugar, mustard powder, grated ginger with the zest and juice of the orange. Spoon the glaze over the ham and cook as above, basting at regular intervals.

Roast Buttermilk Brined Turkey Breast

Inspired by Samin Nosrat

Serves 4-6

1 half turkey crown (breast) about 2 ½ lbs (1.1kg)

500ml (16 fl oz) buttermilk

1 ½ tbsp (33g) salt

24-48 hours before you plan to enjoy the turkey, pour the salted buttermilk into a large heavy resealable plastic bag. Put the turkey breast inside, seal carefully, expelling as much air as possible. Squish the bag a little to make sure the turkey is well covered with the buttermilk. Pop it into the fridge in a gratin dish for 24-36 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove the turkey about 2 hours before cooking, lay on a wire rack over a roasting tray to drain off the excess buttermilk.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Lay the rack on a baking sheet, roast until the turkey breast is fully cooked through, 40 minutes approximately for a boneless breast. It will register 150°C on a meat thermometer. Keep an eye and cover with parchment if it is browning too much.

Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with your favourite traditional or non-traditional accompaniments.

Darina’s Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also 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 several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade. Add a spoonful of port and quarter teaspoon of finely grated orange zest for a change but I love the clean taste of the original.

Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries

4 tablespoons (60ml/scant 2 1/2fl oz) water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – don’t 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.

Note: Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Note:  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Traditional 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!  Serve with roast chicken, turkey and guinea fowl.

Serves 6-8

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

75-110g (3 – 4oz) soft white breadcrumbs (see recipe)

2 medium onions, each stuck with 6 cloves

35 – 50g butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

75-110ml (3-4 fl oz) thick cream

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Taste, correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

Bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days and can be reheated, add a little extra cream or milk if it’s too thick.

Note: The bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated gently – you may need to use a little more milk.

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

Roast Potatoes

A big roasting tin of crusty roast potatoes always invokes a positive response. Everyone loves them. They are easy to achieve but I still get asked over and over for the secret of crunchy golden roasties. So here are my top tips:

•        Grow or seek out good-quality dry, floury potatoes such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks. New potatoes do not produce good roast potatoes.

•        For best results, peel the potatoes just before roasting. Resist the temptation to soak them in water, or understandably they will be soggy, due to the water they absorb. This has become common practice when people want to prepare

ahead, not just for roasting, but also before boiling.

•        After peeling, dry the potatoes meticulously with a tea-towel or kitchen paper. Otherwise, even when tossed in fat or oil, they will stick to the roasting tin. Consequently, when you turn them over as you will need to do halfway through the cooking, the crispy bit underneath will stick to the tin.

•        If you wish to prepare potatoes ahead, there are two options. Peel and dry each potato carefully, toss in extra virgin olive oil or fat of your choice, put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Alternatively, put into a plastic bag, twist the end, and refrigerate until needed. They will keep for 5 or 6 hours or overnight without discolouring.

Roast potatoes may be cooked in extra virgin olive oil, top-quality sunflower oil, duck fat, goose fat, pork fat (lard) or beef dripping. Each gives a delicious but different flavour. Depending on the flavour and texture you like, choose from the following cooking methods:

1       Toss the potatoes in the chosen fat and cook.

2       If you prefer a crunchier crust, put the peeled potatoes into a deep saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 2–4 minutes only and drain. Dry each blanched potato and score the surface of each one with a fork. Then toss in the chosen oil or fat, season with salt and cook in a single layer in a heavy roasting pan in a preheated oven at 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.

3       Drain the blanched potatoes, then put the saucepan with the potatoes inside over a medium heat, and shake the pot to dry the potatoes and fluff the blanched surface. Toss in your chosen oil or fat, season with salt and roast as above.

Note: some cooks, to create an even crunchier crust, like to toss the potatoes in a little flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper and maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika.


Rustic Roast Potatoes

For a more nutritious rustic roast potato, scrub the potato well, cut the unpeeled potatoes into wedges, toss in olive oil, dripping or duck or goose fat. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cook until soft in the centre and crusty on the outside, about 20–30 minutes.

Pan Roasted Parsnips

I have a real passion for pan roasted parsnips – we eat them three or four times a week during the parsnip season.  Buy them unwashed if possible. Roast Jerusalem artichokes are also super delicious. Scrub, no need to peel, half and cook in the same way.

Serves 6-8

4 parsnips

olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the parsnips, peel and cut them into quarters – the chunks should be quite large. Roast in olive oil in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, turning them frequently so that they do not become too crusty. We often roast them in the same pan as Rustic Roast Potatoes, see recipe. Cooked this way they will be crisp outside and soft in the centre.

Best Brussels Sprouts Ever

Not surprisingly many people loathe Brussels sprouts because so often they are over cooked.

The traditional way to cook sprouts was to cut a cross in the stalk so that they would, hopefully, cook more evenly. Fortunately I discovered quite by accident when I was in a mad rush one day, that if you cut the sprouts in half lengthways, or better still quarters, they cook much faster and taste infinitely more delicious so with this recipe I’ve managed to convert many ardent brussels sprout haters!

Top tip: they can be blanched, refreshed and drained and refrigerated the day before.

Serves 4-6

450g (1lb) Brussels sprouts, (cut lengthways top to bottom)

600ml (1 pint) water 

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

25-50g (1-2oz) butter or extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Choose even medium sized sprouts. Trim the outer leaves if necessary and cut them in half or quarters lengthways – cut into quarters if they are very large. Salt the water (its really important to add enough salt) and bring to a fast rolling boil. Toss in the sprouts, cover the saucepan just for a minute until the water returns to the boil, then uncover and continue for 5 or 6 minutes or until the sprouts are cooked through but still have a slight bite. Drain very well.

Melt a little butter or extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, roll the sprouts gently in the butter, season with lots of freshly ground pepper and salt. Taste and serve immediately in a hot serving dish.

Note * If the sprouts are not to be served immediately, drain and refresh them under cold water just as soon as they are cooked. Just before serving, drop them into boiling salted water for a few seconds to heat through. Drain and toss in the butter, season and serve. This way they will taste almost as good as if they were freshly cooked: certainly much more delicious than sprouts kept warm for half an hour in an oven or a hostess trolley.

Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds and Walnuts

Cook the sprouts in the usual way.  Meanwhile melt 25-50g butter in a frying pan, toss in about 25g (1oz) coarsely chopped walnuts. As soon as the sprouts are cooked, drain and toss in the walnut butter. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and a little chopped parsley and serve.

Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts and Crispy Bacon or Chorizo

Add 2-4oz (50-110g) of crispy bacon lardons or chorizo and 50g (2oz) of toasted and chopped hazelnuts to the above recipe and serve immediately.

Retro Celery

How retro does creamed celery sound but it’s really delicious and a much loved part of our Christmas dinner. It can also be cooked ahead and reheated. Florence fennel also tastes good cooked this way.

Serves 4 – 6

1 head of celery

salt and freshly ground pepper

Roux (see recipe)

4-6fl oz (120-175ml) cream or creamy milk


chopped parsley

Pull the stalks off the head of celery. If the outer stalks seems a bit tough, peel the outer strings off with a swivel top peeler or else use these tougher stalks in the stockpot. Cut the stalks into 1 inch (2.5cm) chunks.

Bring 1/4 pint of water to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped celery, cook gently for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until a knife will go through with ease. Remove celery to a serving dish with a slotted spoon. Thicken the remaining liquid with the roux, add the enough cream to make sufficient sauce to coat the celery. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, pour over celery, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate when cool and reheat later.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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