As a rule I don’t buy meat in supermarkets, but when I came across guinea fowl in the Lidl Deluxe range I admit I gave into temptation as I’m a big fan of this bird but find it very difficult to buy locally. The one on offer was frozen and reduced from €9.99 to €7.99 so I bought it as a midweek treat.
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 carrot
- 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
- 200g breadcrumbs
- 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
- Save yourself time and prep your veg day before!
You can get more safe cooking tips here:
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
- 50g butter
- 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
- 1 egg
- 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!