When I was in college and living away from home for the first time I decided I would become a vegetarian. I have to to say it was more from economic than altruistic reasons … that and the fact I had a major aversion to handling raw meat!
This ‘phase’ lasted for about 14 years – and ended abruptly 3 days into my time studying in Ballymaloe Cookery School when I decided that if I was going to cook for a living I needed to know what everything tasted like And yes it was a rasher sambo that ‘brought me back’ 😉
During my years as a vegetarian I drove my poor Mum mad every Christmas by refusing point blank to touch turkey or ham and insisting on cooking my own dinner down to the vegetarian gravy!
Over the years this nut roast became a Christmas favourite tradition and even my very carnivorous brother gave it his seal of approval.
So if you’re looking for a veggie option for Christmas Day then your search ends here……….
Best Ever Cashew Nut & Mushroom Roast
No Servings: 6
Oven: 180ºC/ gas 4/350ºF
What you need:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
8 oz/225g cashew nuts, roughly chopped
4 oz/110g breadcrumbs
3 medium parsnips, cooked and mashed
1 tsp each fresh rosemary & thyme
¼ pt/ 150 ml vegetable stock
Good knob of butter
8 oz/ 225g mushrooms, sliced.
What you do:
Heat the oil in a large pan and sauté onion for few mins, Making sure to add a pinch of salt. Add the garlic then cook until soft
In a large bowl mix nuts and breadcrumbs together with the beaten egg.
Add in the mashed parsnips and the herbs, followed by onion and garlic. Make sure you add all the cooking juices in to avoid any dryness in roast
Stir in the stock and season to taste. Set aside
In your pan sauté mushrooms in butter until soft. I always add a little sherry or vermouth at this stage…. it gives a lovely flavour!
Butter and line 2 lb loaf tin. Put a line of your best mushroom pieces down the middle of the base – this will be the top of your roast when you turn it out so make sure they look good!
Then press in half the nut mixture. Cover with a layer of mushrooms and top with rest of nut mixture.
Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. When cooked remove from oven and allow to stand for 10 mins before turning out.
Serve it hot with all the usual Christmas accompaniments or have it cold with salad and chutney.
Note: You can half the recipe and use a 1 lb loaf tin if you want to cook this for 2-3 people
And if you’re looking for a delicious vegetarian gravy …….. all you need to do is put 1 pt/500ml water, 2 tbsp soy sauce and 2 tbsp redcurrant jelly in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the jelly. Blend 2 tbsp cornflour with 2 tbsp orange juice and 1 tbsp sherry. Stir a little of hot liquid into cornflour mix, then add back into saucepan, whisking well to ensure no lumps! Simmer over gentle heat until slightly thickened. Season to taste.
It’s that time of year again. Time to plan the Christmas Feast – turkey, ham and all the trimmings.
I don’t know about you but I’ve always found turkey rather dry despite trying all sorts of methods including cooking it in buttered muslin, breast side down, basting………….Then last year on our Fáilte Ireland food trip to Canada I had my eureka moment when we were treated to a Thanksgiving dinner in the lovely Elmhirst Resort – Brining!
This is so easy to do and you won’t believe the difference this will make to your bird – ask anyone who’s been to one of my Christmas Cookery Classes 🙂
What you need:
¾ cup salt
¾ cup sugar
1 large onion
¼ cup diced celery
2 large sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp. black peppercorns
¼ tsp. chilli flakes
¼ tsp. fennel seeds
7 litres of water
What you do:
Bring the salt, sugar and 1 litre of water to the boil, stir until dissolved, turn off the heat and add the remaining ingredients and 6 litres of cold water.
Add the turkey to your brine mixture and leave to brine for 24- 72 hours (make sure bird is fully submerged, place a plate on top to help)
Remove the turkey and pat dry
Cover the skin with softened butter
Cook as normal
This brine mix will work for up to a 16 lb. turkey.
I’ve changed the ingredients occasionally to suit what I have to hand. I did two turkey breasts last week using rosemary and pink peppercorns instead of thyme and black pepper and they were gobbled up (sorry I couldn’t resist!)
This year we’re having turkey wellington for Christmas Dinner . I’m going to brine a turkey breast for 48 hours, then remove it from the brine, split it in half (not going quite the way through ) and fill the ‘pocket’ with stuffing.
Then I’ll spread two sheets of puff pastry with cranberry sauce ; place turkey on one sheet and top with the second – sealing the edges together. To finish I’ll brush the pastry with beaten egg and cut a little cross in the top to allow steam to escape. My rule of thumb for cooking this is 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes.
This is one I prepared earlier !
I’m still deciding on which stuffing to use on the ‘Big Day’ but at the moment hazelnut & apricot is looking good:
What you need:
1 large onion, finely chopped
50 g butter
50 g hazelnuts, chopped
140g dried ready-to-eat apricots, chopped
Handful parsley, chopped
Juice & zest of 1 orange
What you do:
Melt butter in frying pan and sauté onions until soft but not coloured (about 5-10 mins).
Add hazelnuts and fry until golden
Stir in apricots, breadcrumbs, zest, juice and parsley. Remove from heat.
Allow to cool completely before using to stuff your bird.
Happy Cooking and Happy Christmas!
P.S. Here’s a few tips for safe cooking this Christmas
Make sure when you’re brining your bird to keep it in the fridge or somewhere cold.
Take turkey out of fridge an hour or two in advance – it will cook more evenly from room temperature
Cooking time depends on size and type of bird – see link below for cooking chart
Use a meat thermometer if you have one, and test thickest part of breast and leg. You want the temperature to hold at 70 C for at least 2 minutes
If you don’t have a meat thermometer use a skewer in the thickest part leg and breast – make sure juices run clear.
Allow the turkey to rest – will stay warm under foil for up to 2 hours. Use this time to cook vegetables
It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas around here – the tree is up, the lights are on and I’m doing up my Christmas menus which will include this Christmas Wreath Cake as an alternative to the traditional fruit cake
I may have mentioned that I’m not really a dessert person – give me savoury any day – but I love making desserts and watching others enjoy them! I came across this wreath cake a few years ago – in a copy of Good Housekeeping I think – and have been using it every Christmas since.
I should warn you that this is a cake for serious chocoholics and not for the fainthearted, but it makes a great centrepiece on Christmas Day!
It’s an easy cake to make and it freezes well (un-iced ) so you can make it in advance and take it out to decorate on Christmas Eve.
The only special piece of equipment you will need is a ‘wreath’ tin i.e. a 23cm spring form cake tin with a but missing in the middle! I use one I bought in Ikea but I know my local shop ‘Kit Your Kitchen‘ now stock similar .
Turn your oven to 180 C or Gas 4 before you start and grease your tin with butter.
What you need:
1 * 400g tin of pears (in natural juice)
50 ml milk
1 tbsp. espresso coffee
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
175g cocoa (I use Green & Black ‘s)
125g plain flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
340g caster sugar
6 egg whites
250g crème fraîche
175g dark chocolate (I use 70% )
What you do:
Drain the tin of pears and whizz in food processor to a purée.
Mix the pear purée with the milk, espresso granules, oil and vanilla extract.
In another bowl mix together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Whisk the egg whites and the sugar together at high speed until stiff and glossy
Add in the pear purée mix to the eggs and whisk slowly to blend
Finally fold the flour mix into egg and pear mix.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake in your preheated oven for 30 mins or until firm to touch
Allow cake to cool slightly in tin before turning out onto rack.
As I said, if you’re making this ahead of time , you can freeze it at this point. Just make sure you wrap it carefully!
The icing is very simple : heat the crème fraîche in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.
Then remove from heat and add in chocolate. Allow to melt and then mix in until smooth.
Place pieces of parchment paper under the cake to protect your cakeboard/plate. Then using a palette knife spread icing over the cake . Remember you want it to look like a wreath so it doesn’t have to be smooth
Then it’s time for your (or your children’s ) imagination to take over…..
You can make chocolate leaves …..
…. use sprinkles ….Santas…..Robins….Snowmen……..
……whatever you like!
But whatever you decide please be warned that this cake is INCREDIBLY rich and a little goes a long way!
PS I have been known to make this into an Easter Cake by covering it with flowers and mini eggs – you see a cake’s not just for Christmas!
When is a recipe a family recipe? Does someone in your family have to develop the recipe from scratch or can it be a recipe that is used a few times and then becomes a family favourite?
I’ve been involved in several conversations on this topic and my maths brain tells me that there has to be a finite (albeit large) number of recipe combinations so there are bound to be duplicates making it harder to credit the original originator of a recipe!
I believe that recipes evolve through sharing and experimentation. I have scraps of paper from family and friends glued into my recipe notebook including a very precious one dictated by my late Grandmother for her famous brown bread – once I figure out how much is in a ‘handful’ I’m sure it will work…..
I have a ‘to try’ box filled with recipes cut from magazines and papers that I want to try …..someday
I have a vast collection of cookbooks that I love to cook from – but more often than not I’ll change something as I’m going along.
Don’t you hate it if you ask somebody for a recipe and they refuse to share it as it’s a ‘family secret’?
I make a lot of Chocolate Roulades – in fact it’s one of my main desserts. I love making a mini version to go on a mixed dessert plate. I was given the recipe by the lady who owned the catering company I used to work for. I changed the quantities slightly to make it work in a bigger tin., and added the brandy! Years later I came across practically the same recipe in one of the Avoca books – so does the recipe belong to the person who first gave me the recipe, to the author or to me ???
I hate to think of myself as possessive so I’m more than willing to share this wonderful recipe, whoever it actually ‘owns’ it. I hope you like it.
What you need:
6 large eggs, separated
6 oz/175g dark chocolate
6 oz/175g caster sugar
3 fl oz/ 75 ml brandy
½ pt /300ml cream, whipped
What you do:
Melt the chocolate with the brandy, either slowly in the microwave or in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until you get to the ‘ribbon stage’ – you really need an electric whisk for this unless you have really strong arms!
Fold in the melted chocolate into the egg mix. Then in a clean bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff (the egg whites not your arms!)
Using a metal spoon fold the egg white in stages into the chocolate mix. Then pour into a lined large Swiss roll tin
Bake at 180 C/Gas 4 for 12-15 minutes, until firm to touch.
This is the important bit – cover with a damp towel and leave to cool completely
Dust the top of roulade with icing sugar and invert onto parchment paper.
Spread the cream evenly over the surface (feel free to add fresh berries as well)
Using the parchment paper to help roll it up like a Swiss roll
Decorate the roulade with icing sugar and strawberries or grated chocolate
Serve and watch it disappear!
PS This works really well as a Christmas Log – decorate it with chocolate leaves and a robin!
Anybody else got a favourite recipe they’d like to share ?
I can’t believe it’s 9 years ago since I did the 12 week course in Ballymaloe Cookery School! After the stress of the exams and as a parting gift Darina gave us signed copies of her Christmas cookbook.
In my enthusiasm I decided that straight away I had to make the cover recipe – the Chocolate Christmas Tree.
I have two memories of this experiment:
Why did I try ? – it was incredibly fiddly and I think my language may have deteriorated over the process! At that stage I was still insistent on boiling and peeling almonds and hazelnuts…….
That it was a very expensive tree and my family did not fully appreciate my efforts!
So why 9 years on did I decide to try again? Well I thought I could try a child friendly version so with my junior chef visiting for the weekend I set to………
We melted 300g of chocolate (200g milk and 100g dark) with a packet of mini marshmallows and then the junior chef stirred in masses of rice krispies – no quantities I’m afraid but you need enough to use up the chocolate. At this point I should say the constant question was ‘may I lick the bowl now?’
I had marked out parchment paper with 8 crosses for the tree branches – 7cm, 9cm, 11cm, 13cm, 14cm, 15cm, 16cm and 17cm. The engineer in me loved this bit and even dug out my scale rule to make sure all measurements were accurate. The junior chef took the opportunity to make a Christmas card for her parents.
I laid the chocolate mix out along the axes and the junior chef decorated each branch with candy snow and stars
Junior Chef at work
Then came the tricky bit – assembling the tree! We let the branches set and then having covered a large plate with tinfoil I melted some more chocolate, put a little on the plate to hold the largest branch in place, Then I added the branches in descending size, making sure that each alternate branch had it’s arms between the arms of the bottom branch (like a real tree!!)
Assembling the tree
We ‘glued’ each branch in place with the melted chocolate – this is where my nerves got a little fraught as some of the branches drooped. Darina suggests supporting the branches with matchboxes until they set – I only have a large box of matches for candles so that wasn’t an option!
I should point out at this stage the junior chef was very busy – licking the bowl!!
We finished off the decorating with melted white chocolate, sparkles and mini snowmen….but at this stage between falling branches and sneaky tastes by the junior chef we decided to rename it a chocolate mountain!!
Nana came to visit for tea as did the Junior Chef’s Daddy who came to collect her and her baby brother aka Taster No 2!
The cake may not have looked like the one on the cover of Darina’s book (as Junior Chef pointed out!) but I’d just like to say that there’s very little of it left!
Maybe, just maybe, I might try another tree before Christmas………..
I make a lot of canapés – both for business and home entertaining. This year I’ve been asked for easy canapé ideas at my cookery demos so I thought I’d share a few of my favourites. I hope you like them!
I used to make my tartlets from filo pastry – a rather long process but I came across the idea for these on holiday last year and they have made my life much easier!
You need a mini-muffin tray, a packet of wonton wrappers, some sunflower oil and a pastry brush – brush each wonton sheet with oil and mould it into the muffin tin to make a small case. (This is much easier to demonstrate than explain!)
When you’ve filled the mini muffin tray sprinkle the cases with a little salt and bake at 200 C for 4 mins. Allow to cool on a wire rack and then use or store in airtight container for up to 4 days.
This is what your end product should look like:
The possiblities are now endless….Some fillings I use are:
Avocado & crab topped with some créme fraiche and dill mustard
Red onion marmalade and Cooleeney brie (put in oven for minute or two to soften the cheese)
Thai beef salad
Sticky Christmas Sausages
This is another great recipe from my favourite Christmas book ‘Nigella’s Christmas’ and the best thing is that they can be prepared in advance and frozen – just put mix and sausages in plastic bag and take out of freezer a few hours before your guests are due!
What you need:
2lbs cocktail sausages (approx. 60)
125 ml sweet chilli sauce
60 ml cranberry sauce
60 ml soy sauce
1 tbsp. dark muscovado sugar
Juice of 1 small orange
Juice of 1 lime
What you do:
Mix together all the ingredients except the sausages to make glaze
Put sausages in foil tray (much easier than cleaning a roasting tray!)
Pour glaze over sausages and mix to coat.
Cook for 20 mins then turn and cook for another 10 -20 mins until they’re hot and sticky.
Smoked Salmon/Trout Wraps
This is another quick and easy idea which doesn’t really need a recipe!
What you need:
Tortillla wraps (I find the Discovery ones the easiest to roll!)
I LOVE Christmas and all things Christmassy! I know it’s still November but decorations are already starting to appear in my house – my mantlepiece has been dressed since last weekend as has the stairs thanks to Joanie of Flower Rangers!
My dream house is a large rambling one decorated with a big tree in the hall and lots of greenery everywhere, a large dining table dressed in white and gold and lots of festive smells emanating from the kitchen (the beautifully decorated one, that is!)
But back to reality in my current abode where it’s time to start planning the Christmas menus. Chestnuts are one of my favourite seasonal ingredients and here are some chestnut dishes I’ll definitely be cooking this year.
One of my favourite Christmas cookbook is Nigella’s Christmas and I love watching her do the Christmas thing on tv – I want to try the gingerbread with the tiny fir trees…
Two of my firm favourites from the book are the Chestnut Soup and the cranberry & soy sausages. The soup is worth making in advance and freezing – it’s a real winter warmer on Christmas Day!
Chestnut Soup with Crispy Parma Ham
I’ve changed the quantities as the original one would feed about two armies! I also don’t use the recommended garlic oil as personally I don’t like the taste!
What you need:
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
250g red lentils
1 ½ litres vegetable stock
200g pack of peeled, cooked chestnuts
Good big dash sherry
4 pieces of parma ham
What to do:
Heat the oil in large saucepan and cook the chopped vegetables for about 10 mins, until softened.
Stir in the lentils and then add the stock. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for about 30 mins, until the lentils are soft.
Add the chestnuts and purée the soup in the food processor, in batches if necessary. (Can prepare ahead to this point and freeze if requires)
Pour in the sherry and season to taste.
Crisp the slices of parma ham between two baking sheets in a hot oven for about 10 mins.
Crumble the crispy ham over the soup to serve.
We have potatoes at least 3 ways with our Christmas dinner. I tried this potato recipe after seeing Gary Rhodes making it a few years ago and it’s become another family favourite!
You can cook the potatoes on Christmas Eve and caramelise the potatoes and chestnuts about 3o mins before you serve dinner. This dish would also be great on Stephen’s Day with left over spuds!
Caramelised Potatoes & Chestnuts
What you need:
500g new potatoes, scrubbed
1 tbsp caster sugar
16 cooked chestnuts, quartered
What to do:
Steam the potatoes for 20-30 mins until tender.
Melt the butter in a shallow pan and add sugar. Cook over a low heat for about 2 mins then add potatoes and chestnuts.
Cook for 5 mins stirring occasionally so that they caramelise evenly. (May need longer if you are re-heating the potatoes)
Season and sprinkle with chopped chives to serve.
I love trying out new recipes and I was asked to test this one during the week – it was my first time making sausage meat stuffing and I have to say I’m a convert! I’m even thinking of adapting the mix into a Christmas canapé! (Thanks Ian)
Sausage Meat & Chestnut Stuffing
What you need:
200g good-quality sausage-meat
100g white breadcrumbs
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
1 tsp finely chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
50g chestnuts, coarsely chopped
8 slices streaky bacon
16 little sage leaves
Combine the sausage meat, breadcrumbs, apple, herbs, chestnuts and egg in a mixing bowl.
Season with black pepper and a little salt Mix well (use your hands!). Check your seasoning by frying off a little piece of the stuffing to taste. Correct seasoning if necessary.
Put slices of bacon on a chopping board and stretch with back of a knife. Half each slice.
Shape the stuffing into 16 mini sausage shapes, put a sage leaf on top and wrap each in a piece of streaky bacon.
Place on a baking sheet and roast at 180°C for about 20 minutes.
For all the recipes you can be a purist and roast and peel your own chestnuts – I did the first time I cooked with them. Now I ‘cheat’ and use the vacuum packed pre-cooked ones – so much easier!
By 1.30 everyone was tucking into canapés and prosecco (well except for the staff obviously!)
After a few last minute vegetable cooking, the guests (yes they were upgraded for lunch!)adjourned to my ‘new’ dining room where lunch was served to them.
I have to apologise for the lack of colour on the main course plate – I concentrated more on different ways of cooking the vegetables rather than working on the colour! In ‘real life’ I would probably serve something like red cabbage with the quail to add colour! There was a debate over gravy – it’s not a tradition in our house so I never think of including it!
Thanks to Kate for taking the photos at lunch – we were busy turning the kitchen into a flower arranging room!
Once the guests were fed and ‘watered’ they reverted to students and Joanie from Flower Rangers took over – introducing us to the art of flower arranging and seasonal centrepieces.
We rounded off the afternoon with more tea with vanilla shortbread, gingerbread cookies and more mince pies.
After much hilarity everyone left happy with their goody bags and recipe booklets.
And once the tidying up was done Joanie and I celebrated a job well done
A big special thanks to my sous – chef James who played a blinder – I hope he remembers me when he’s famous!