Nearly there…so hope that you are all feeling in a celebratory mood rather than completely exhausted and that you have had the love and support you need to create a festive spirit and fill the pantry with goodies.
My grandchildren adore the build up to Christmas, the more they are involved the more excited they become. They love to decorate the Christmas tree and squabble over where each and every bauble should hang. We play lots of cheesy Christmas music and they compete with each other with renditions of their favourite Christmas carols. We unpack the figures for the crib and solemnly reassemble it, chatting about the real story of Christmas as Jesus, Mary and Joseph are positioned in the midst of the straw, fresh moss and lichen in the little thatched crib made by a kindly neighbour in his carpentry workshop over three decades ago.
On Christmas Eve we continue the family traditions. We light the Christmas candle in the window to guide Joseph and Mary as they search for shelter.
How lovely is it to pop into a church and sit quietly for a few minutes in the midst of all the craziness. Then gather round the fire to count one’s blessings and remember loved ones and others less fortunate in these tumultuous times.
Christmas Eve is a big celebration in many countries but here it’s still Christmas Day. Santa will come here tonight, so how about a simple, comforting supper for all the family.
Let’s have a big bowl of risotto with grated Parmesan or a steamy mushroom mac and cheese… a bubbly potato gratin with little bacon lardons or chorizo might also appeal to all the family, followed by a lightly dressed salad of winter leaves to make you feel less full so you can tuck into a bowl of proper trifle with a generous glug of sweet sherry or a few mince pies. Or graze on one of those charcuterie and cheese boards that are all the rage now.
Have a lovely, peaceful Christmas and many
blessings for 2023.
Mac and Cheese with Mushrooms
Mac and cheese is a bit like apple crumble, simple fare but everyone loves it, plus you can add lots of tasty bits to change it up. Macaroni cheese was and still is one of my children’s favourite supper dishes. I often add some cubes of cooked bacon or ham to the sauce.
500g (18oz) flat mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 – 3 tablespoons marjoram, chopped
225g (8oz) macaroni or ditalini
50g (2oz) butter
150g (5oz) onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
50g (2oz plain flour
850ml (scant 1 1/2 pints) boiling whole milk
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
Slice the flat mushrooms thinly. Sauté in batches in olive oil on a hot pan. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, add marjoram – taste and correct seasoning.
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 just soft. Drain well.
Meanwhile, melt the butter over a gentle heat, add the chopped onion and garlic, stir to coat, cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6 – 8 minutes. 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 sautéed mushrooms and 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 (add some dried breadcrumbs if available for a crunchy top). Bake at 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 for 15 – 20 minutes.
Gratin of Potato and Mushroom with Thyme Leaves
This gratin is terrifically good with a few roast chicken thighs, lamb chops or on its own as a supper dish. It can be made ahead and reheated later.
1kg (2 1/4lbs) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
350g (12oz) flat or wild mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
350ml (12fl oz) light cream
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)
Ovenproof gratin dish 25.5cm x 21.5cm (10 x 8 1/2 inch)
Slice the mushrooms and stalks thinly. Peel the potatoes and cut into scant 5mm thick slices. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Tip in the potato slices. As soon as the water returns to the boil, drain the potatoes. Refresh under cold water. Drain again and spread out on kitchen paper or a clean tea towel.
Sprinkle the chopped garlic over the base of a shallow gratin dish. Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with the sliced mushrooms. Sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes.
Bring the cream almost to boiling point, pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the freshly grated cheese on top and bake for 1 hour approximately at 180°C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4, until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges.
are one of the rare vegetables that taste better when they are a few days
old. The stalks taste every bit as good
as the caps so don’t discard. If the
root end is still attached, trim it off and add it to the compost bin.
Radicchio, Parmesan and Parsley Salad
I’m crazy about this simple salad made with bitter Winter greens at the moment. Serve as a side or a starter.
1 head of radicchio
75 – 110g (3 – 4oz) Parmesan, coarsely grated
flat parsley, sliced into a chiffonade
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of sugar or 1/4 teaspoon runny honey
First whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together.
Quarter and slice the radicchio into roughly 4cm (1 1/2 inch) pieces. Allow 75 – 100g (3 – 3 1/2oz per person.
Just before serving.
Put the radicchio into a bowl. Sprinkle with the dressing, toss well so each piece of radicchio is glistening with dressing.
Add the shredded flat parsley. Toss once more, divide between 4 flat plates. Grate a piece of Parmesan evenly over the top with a coarse silvery grater.
Serve – fresh and delicious.
Radicchio Salad with Parmesan, Parsley and Pomegranate
Add 4 tablespoons of fresh pomegranate seeds to the salad. Toss in the dressing and continue and serve
Mum’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle
Trifle was a Christmas tradition at our house and was served in a special cut glass bowl kept especially for the purpose. My mother Lily O’Connell’s trifle was legendary. She made huge bowls of trifle at Christmas, with trifle sponges, (later she used sponge cakes when they were unavailable), homemade raspberry jam and custard, and lots and lots of good, sweet sherry. She had to become more and more inventive about hiding places, because the boys would search high and low to find it when they arrived home on Christmas Eve from a night out on the town. Eventually she hid it in her wardrobe to keep it intact for Christmas Day.
450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)
225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam
150 – 175ml (5 – 6fl oz) best-quality sweet or medium sherry – don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry (we use Bristol Cream).
5 eggs, preferably free-range and organic
1 1/4 tablespoons caster sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
700ml (1 1/4 pint) rich milk
600ml (1 pint) whipped cream
8 cherries or crystallised violets
8 diamonds of angelica
a few toasted flaked almonds
1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) capacity glass bowl
Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs.
Next, make the custard. Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract. Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture, whisking all the time. Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.
Cut the sponge into 2cm (3/4 inch) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with half the sherry as you go along. Pour in half of the custard and then add another layer of sponge. Sprinkle with the rest of the sherry and spread the rest of the custard over the top. Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge, to mature.
Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top or pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica. Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.
For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices
of Swiss roll.
An Irish Charcuterie and Farmland Cheese Platter
Serves … depends on how much you choose…
A beautiful timber board laden with a selection of artisan charcuterie and perfectly ripe farmhouse cheese is a delicious and relatively effortless way to entertain family and friends – perfect for a Christmas Eve supper.
Add some good crackers, a crusty sourdough baguette with some homemade butter and perhaps a chunk of membrillo (quince cheese). Maybe a few Medjool dates and fresh walnuts.
Charcuterie and cheese boards can be beyond ‘naff’ so keep it simple. Don’t get carried away and choose each item carefully. Resist the temptation to add lots of random chutneys and out of season fruit and rancid nuts….
The variety also depends on the number of guests. Choose 3 – 5 cheeses – there are so many to choose from, perhaps a ripe Durrus, a piece of Coolea or a mature Templegall, a soft Ardsallagh goats milk cheese, a beautiful piece of an Irish blue, perhaps a ripe Crozier or a Young Buck all the way from Belfast.
Fingal Ferguson of the Gubeen cheese family also led the way with a range of charcuterie in the 1980’s. He continues to add to his range and now many other artisans are following in his footsteps (www.gubbeen.com). Broughgammon Farm cured meats, from a small family farm near Ballycastle Co. Antrim are superb quality (www.broughgammon.com) as are Ispini, a range of cured meats from Moira Co. Down (www.ispinicharcuterie.com). They make delicious bresaola, fennel salamis and garlic and pepper salad.
Look out for the Wooded Pig cured meats made from ethically reared free-range pigs who roam freely in mature forests of ash, beech and oak on the family farm near Tara in Co. Meath – www.thewoodedpig.ie
Arrange the cured meats, salami, bresaola, prosciutto, coppa, lomo chorizo and farmhouse cheese randomly across the board. Cut the cheese into wedges, slices, cubes depending on the style. A few gherkins could be added to nibble with charcuterie. A piece of honeycomb can be very delicious with a slightly under ripe blue cheese. You may want to ruffle some of the cured meats into little fan shapes for ease of serving. It’s so easy to make the platter look irresistible.
Just provide a plate and knife and some good red wine and encourage everyone to tuck in and celebrate our artisan producers.