Christmas Eve Dinner


Tick, tick, tick, such a joy to be able to cross off some of the ‘must-dos’ off my interminable list.

How come Mummy somehow managed to arrange her life so that virtually everything was organised by Christmas Eve (and there were nine of us!). The tree decorated, paper chains looped from corner to corner across the ceiling, holly tucked coyly behind picture frames, Christmas cards on every mantel piece, log baskets filled, candles primed and the pantry bursting with Christmas goodies. Mincemeat, plum puddings, brandy butter, cranberry sauce… the stuffing was made, the ham glazed and several batches of soda bread weighed up ready to just mix and pop into the oven when we needed freshly baked loaves over Christmas. The Christmas cake took pride of place on the sideboard, simply decorated with a snow scene embellished with a scattering of silver dragees and Christmas decorations that re-emerged every year from where they were stored in the old Jacobs biscuit tin box.

Mummy’s legendary trifle laced with oodles of sweet sherry, hidden well away so the boys couldn’t demolish it on their return from midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

In later years, we’d all travel back home from far and wide on Christmas eve and gather around the fire while Mummy cut the aforementioned Christmas cake. We’d catch up with each other’s lives over many cups of tea and moist crumbly cake with a thick layer of marzipan – that’s what memories are made of….and then there was supper…

Somehow, simple comforting nursery food is just what’s needed for Christmas Eve supper.  How about a delicious dish of bubbling mac’ and cheese or croque monsieur (they too can be prepped ahead). Fish pie also hits the spot. Maybe add a few prawns or shrimp for an extra ‘lux’ version and don’t forget lots of creamy mash on top or could be scrunchy filo.   Good juicy sausages in a sweet chilli and mustard glaze or Ballymaloe relish and mayo in a soft bun are also a crowd pleaser.  It’s good to cook and glaze your ham (or loin of bacon) on Christmas Eve or even the day before.  It will keep brilliantly and be a super standby for snacks, sandwiches.  Slice or dice to add to ‘mac and cheese’ or a St Stephen’s Day pie. Just a few suggestions… here are some recipes for standby dishes to have ready to pop into the oven. Pour a glass of fizz for yourself, give thanks for the many good things during the year and share the joy with your family and friends.

Everyone’s Favourite Mac and Cheese

Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to ‘zhuzh’ it up. Maybe a few cubes of smoky bacon, mackerel, chorizo or a layer of melted leeks to the sauce.

Serves 6

225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini

50g (2oz) butter

150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped

50g (2oz) plain flour

850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk OR 700ml (1 1/4 pints) milk and 150ml (1/4 pint) pint cream

1/4 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)

225g (8oz) freshly grated mature Cheddar cheese or a mix of Cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan

25g (1oz) freshly grated Cheddar or Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on top (optional)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring 3.4 litres (6 pints) water to the boil in a large saucepan and add 2 teaspoons of salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. Drain well.

Meanwhile, melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the chopped onion, stir to coat, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6–8 minutes until sweet and mellow. Add the flour and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 1–2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Whisk the milk in gradually, season well with salt and pepper, then return to the boil, stirring constantly. Add the mustard, parsley, if using, and cheese. Add the well-drained macaroni and return to the boil. Season to taste and serve immediately.

Alternatively, turn into a 1.2 litre (2 pint) pie dish and sprinkle the extra grated cheese over the top. Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15–20 minutes.

Good things to do with leftover Mac & Cheese

* Mac & Cheese Fritters

You can’t imagine how sinfully delish this is…

Heat olive oil in a deep-fat fryer at 180°C (350°F) or a deep saucepan with 5–7.5cm (2–3 inch) depth of oil. Roll the leftover mac and cheese into ping-pong-sized balls. Roll in seasoned flour, beaten eggs and fresh white or panko crumbs to coat. Fry for 4–5 minutes until crisp on the outside and melting in the interior. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper and toss in freshly grated Parmesan. Serve with spicy mayo made by mixing 110ml (4fl oz) homemade mayonnaise with teaspoons of sriracha, 2 teaspoons of sambal oelek or harissa and lemon juice to taste. Alternatively, allow the baked mac and cheese to get cold in the gratin dish. Cut into fingers or squares, dip in seasoned flour, egg and breadcrumbs and shallow-fry in olive oil for 3–4 minutes until crisp and golden on both sides. Serve with a dipping sauce or with the spicy mayo.

* Smoked Salmon or Smoked Mackerel or Chorizo

Add 225g (8oz) smoked salmon or smoked mackerel or chorizo dice to the mac and cheese before serving.  Add lots of chopped parsley too.


A croque-monsieur is the quintessential Parisian sandwich.   It’s really no more than a grilled ham sandwich topped with grated cheese, but it appears in many different guises.   Sometimes a croque-monsieur is topped with a thick Mornay sauce or transformed into a Croque-Madame with the addition of a fried egg on top.  

Makes 1

a dab of butter

2 tablespoons well-seasoned béchamel sauce (see Mac and Cheese recipe)

2 thin square slices best quality white bread (Pain de mie in France) – We use Ballymaloe Bread Shed ‘Family’ pan

1 slice best quality ham, cut to fit bread

2-4 slices (25g/1oz) of Gruyère cheese, grated

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Dijon mustard

Preheat the grill.

Butter one slice of bread.  Turn over and spread half the béchamel on the other side.  Top with a slice of Gruyère cheese, a slick of mustard, a slice of ham and add another slice of Gruyère, cover with the other slice of buttered bread.

Heat a frying pan on a medium heat and cook on both sides until golden.  Transfer to a small baking tray.  Slather the top with the remaining bechamel.  Sprinkle with grated Gruyère and Parmesan.  Pop under the preheated grill and cook until golden and bubbly. 

Serve immediately on a warm plate with a little salad of Winter leaves.

Fish Pie with Saffron

Who doesn’t love a fish pie? This easy-peasy recipe can be used for almost any round fish, including cod, pollock, ling, haddock, salmon or grey mullet. I love to cook up a big batch to make several pies, which can be covered and popped in the fridge or frozen and reheated another day. Omit the saffron if you don’t have any. A chopped hard-boiled egg and 110g (4oz) cooked peas add extra deliciousness and even more flavour. One can have a scrunchy filo topping, but I often make a crispy Cheddar crumb or mashed potato topping.

Serves 6-8

1.1kg (2 1/2lb) cod, hake, haddock or grey mullet fillets, or a mixture

15g (1/2oz) butter, for greasing

600ml (1 pint) whole milk

a generous pinch of saffron stamens

1 tablespoon water

approx. 20g (3/4oz) Roux (made by blending 10g (1/3oz) softened butter with 10g (1/3oz) plain flour – melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally)

1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard

150–175g (5-6oz) grated Gruyère or Cheddar cheese OR 75g (3oz) grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

110g (4oz) shelled cooked mussels

110g (4oz) peeled cooked shrimps

1/2 tin of chopped anchovies, approx. 4 fillets (optional)

Fluffy Mashed Potato

melted butter, for brushing

flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

a little extra saffron if you have it to spare

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Soak the saffron in a tablespoon of hot water.

Skin the fish and cut into 6-8 portions. Season well with salt and pepper. Lay the pieces of fish in a lightly buttered 26cm (10 1/2 inch) sauté pan and cover with rich milk and saffron. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 4–5 minutes until the fish has changed from translucent to opaque. Remove the fish to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Bring the milk back to the boil and whisk in enough of the roux to thicken the sauce to a light coating consistency. Stir in the mustard, grated cheese and chopped parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the cooked fish together with the mussels, shrimps and chopped anchovies, and stir gently to coat with the sauce.

Pipe a layer of fluffy mashed potato over the top.

Bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes until the pie is bubbling and the potato topping is crisp and golden. Drizzle a little saffron here and there over the top for an extra treat but it will still be gorgeous without it. I sometimes save a few whole shrimps or mussels in the shell for garnish too.

Glazed Christmas Ham with Pineapple and Cloves

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.  Loin or streaky bacon is less expensive but equally delicious.

Serves 12-15

1 x 4.5kg (10lb) fresh or lightly smoked ham (ensure it has a nice layer of fat) and the rind still on.

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

350g (12oz) 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 250˚C/ 500˚F/Gas Mark 9.

While still warm, gently 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.

Serve hot or cold with accompanying sauce of your choice.


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.

Sausages with Honey and Grainy Mustard and variations

Cocktail sausages are a brilliant product to have on standby.  Everyone loves them, even if there are lots of other fancy bites.

Makes about 30

450g (1lb) good-quality cocktail or breakfast sausages

2 tablespoons Irish honey

2 tablespoons Irish grainy mustard (such as Lakeshore wholegrain mustard with honey)

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Prick the sausages and cook in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, shaking occasionally, until cooked and golden.  Baste several times during cooking. 

Mix the honey with the mustard. Toss the sausages in the honey and mustard mixture and serve hot or warm.

Here are a few other ideas for glazes.

Sesame and Honey Sausages

Add 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds to the above recipe and omit the mustard.

Honey and Rosemary Sausages

Add 2 tablespoons of freshly chopped rosemary to 4 tablespoons of honey.

Sweet Chilli Sauce and Lime

Add 4 tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce and juice of 1/2 to 1 lime, depending on size.

Ballymaloe Mince Pies with Irish Whiskey Cream and toppings

We have so much fun with mince pies and do lots of variations.  Sometimes we press out a star shape from the top so the mincemeat is visible, then we use that star to cover the next one.  A tiny heart can be put on top of another.  All mince pies with a pastry top need to be brushed with egg wash before going into the oven.

Makes 20-24 mince pies


225g (8oz) plain flour

175g (6oz) butter, chilled and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) approx. cubes

1 dessertspoon icing sugar, sieved

a pinch of salt

a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind

450g (1lb) Ballymaloe Mincemeat (see recipe)

egg wash

To Serve

Irish Whiskey Cream (see recipe)

Sieve the flour into a bowl.  Toss the butter into the flour and rub it in with your fingertips. Add the icing sugar and a pinch of salt. Mix with a fork as you gradually add in the beaten egg (do this bit by bit because you may not need all the egg), then use your hand to bring the pastry together into a ball: it should not be wet or sticky. Wrap in parchment paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about 3mm (1/8 inch).  Stamp out into rounds 7.5cm (3 inch) in diameter and line shallow bun tins with the discs.  Put a good teaspoonful of mincemeat into each tin, dampen the edges with water and put another round on top.  Brush with egg wash and decorate with pastry leaves in the shape of holly berries, etc.

Bake the mince pies in a preheated oven for 20 minutes approx. Allow them to cool slightly, then dredge with icing or castor sugar.

Serve with a blob of whiskey flavoured cream.

Irish Whiskey Cream

1 tablespoon Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon icing sugar, sieved

225ml (8fl oz) softly whipped cream

Fold the whiskey and sugar into the whipped cream.

Ballymaloe Homemade Mincemeat

This is the classic Ballymaloe Mincemeat recipe passed down in Myrtle Allen’s family for several generations.  It contains suet, so it’s moist and juicy and best eaten hot.  Ask your butcher for some suet.

Makes 3.2 kilos (7lbs) approx.    

Makes 8-9 pots

2 cooking apples, such as Bramley’s Seedling

2 organic lemons

790g (1lb 12oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

450g (1lb) beef suet

450g (1lb) sultanas

225g (8oz) currants

110g (4oz) candied citrus peel (preferably homemade)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz) Irish whiskey

2 tablespoons Séville orange marmalade

pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Core and bake the whole apples in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and pips and mash the flesh into pulp. 

Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless-steel grater, squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp. 

Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for two to three years in a cool, airy place.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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