Darina Allen: How do we keep the magic of Christmas alive

HOW do we keep the magic of Christmas alive at a time in history when we are all being mercilessly manipulated by commercial interests. 

Resentment is mounting, particularly among Mná na hÉireann, the mothers, grandmothers, aunties who are feeling intense pressure to deliver on the unrealistic expectations built up by constant advertising and clever marketing. 

Several people recently told me that they have to resist the urge to run and hide “until it’s all over” and what they are really looking forward to most is that delicious moment after Christmas when they can punch the air and say, Hooray — thank goodness that’s over for another year, how sad is that, but hardly surprising that we feel completely frazzled instead of festive.

Some feel like screaming when they hear, yet again, the words “Black Friday” or “Cyber Monday”. 

How many more shopping days to Christmas … such pressure, we can’t stop the clock or halt the relentless advertising.

We all know shopping doesn’t do it…. so let’s just snuggle up together, make some lists and start to cook some yummy things that we can share with family and friends. 

It’s really is a good feeling to know that much of the preparation is done and tucked neatly into the freezer or preserved in bottles and jars, ready for the off. 

I love to have lots of soup in the freezer to defrost at a moment’s notice or to give as pressies. 

So I’ve chosen a variety of recipes that can be used as gifts or to enhance you and your family’s Christmas.

 Recipes, for my traditional Christmas cake, mincemeat, plum pudding… will all be in my article next weekend, December 16.

Lily O’Connell’s Best Ever Plum Pudding with Mrs Hanrahan’s


It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made. 

The grandchildren can hardly contain themselves with excitement — somehow that plum pudding seems the most delicious, it’s our first taste of Christmas. 

The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. 

Everyone in the family helps to stir so we can all make a wish.

It’s fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day. 

Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.

This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings. The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones

12oz (350g) raisins

12oz (350g) sultanas

12oz (350g) currants

10oz (300g) soft brown sugar

12oz (350g) white breadcrumbs (non GM)

12oz (350g) finely-chopped beef suet

4oz (110g) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

4oz (110g) chopped almonds

rind of 1 lemon

3 pounded cloves (½ teaspoon)

a pinch of salt

6 eggs

2½ fl oz (62ml) Jamaica Rum

Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce

110g (4oz) butter

200g (7oz) Barbados sugar * (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

1 organic free-range egg

62ml (2½fl oz) medium sherry

62ml (2½fl oz) port

1.3-1.4litres (2¼-2½pints) lightly whipped cream

Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish! Next day stir again for good measure. Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.

Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for six hours. The water should come half way up the side of the bowl. Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary. After five hours, three hours, two hours depending on the size, remove the pudding. Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper. Store in a cool dry place until required.

On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further two hours.

 Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite. Serve immediately on very hot plates with brandy butter.

You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire — as well as the pudding! Love to use sparklers too.

Mrs Hanrahan’s Sauce

This recipe is so delicious that people ask to have more plum pudding just so that they can have an excuse to eat lots of sauce. This makes a large quantity but the base will keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can use a little at a time, adding whipped cream to taste.

Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and allow to cool slightly. Whisk the egg and add to the butter and sugar with the sherry and port. Refrigerate.

When needed, add the lightly whipped cream to taste. This sauce is also very good with mince pies and other tarts.

Pumpkin Soup with Coriander Salsa

This is our new favourite an excellent way to use up any stray pumpkin leftover from Halloween. 

This comes to us from the Autumn Certificate Course students who created this version to serve at the Slow Food Pop-up dinner in aid of the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project which teaches kids in nine local schools to grow and cook their own food. This is gluten free,

Serves 6

700g (1 1/2lbs) pumpkin or butternut squash (see below)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 red chilli, chopped (depending how spicy it is)

4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

1 heaped teaspoon of grated ginger

4 kaffir lime leaves (small ones), roughly chopped

1 stalk lemongrass, peeled and finely chopped

1 teaspoon chana masala

1 scant teaspoon tamarind paste (soak it in hot water and press through the sieve)

2 tablespoons fish sauce (Nam Pla)

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice

400ml (14fl oz) homemade chicken stock, a little more if too thick

350ml (12fl oz) coconut milk (we use Thai Gold)

salt to taste

Coriander Salsa

25g (1oz) fresh coriander

3 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds

75 ml (3fl oz) olive oil

salt to taste

To Serve

2 tablespoons roasted pumpkin seeds, crushed

Preheat the oven to 180/350/Gas Mark 4.

First roast the pumpkin or butternut squash.

Remove the outer skin and seeds from the pumpkin and cut it into slices 2 1/2cm (1 inch) thick. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, toss in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. 

Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes depending on the size, turn occasionally during cooking. The pumpkin is cooked when the tip of a knife inserts easily into the thickest part of the wedge.

Fry the chopped chilli, garlic, ginger and lime leaves for a few minutes.

Add the roasted pumpkin and chana masala to the spices and continue to cook stirring occasionally over a medium heat for 5-6 minutes.

Add the tamarind paste, lime juice, fish sauce and the chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Add the coconut milk, stir and reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for further ten minutes. Blitz in a liquidiser and sieve to make the soup really smooth.

Taste and add salt if needed.

Best to prepare in advance in order for all the flavours to blend.

To make the coriander salsa:

Roast the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray in the preheated oven for 5-8 minutes until golden at the edges. Allow to cool.

Put all the salsa ingredients into a food processor. Purée until smooth. The salsa should have a loose-ish texture. Taste and correct the seasoning.

To Serve:

Serve the hot soup with a blob of crème fraîche and a drizzle of coriander salsa, sprinkle a few crushed roasted pumpkin seeds over the top of each bowl.

Angels Hair (Carrot Jam)

This unusual jam is super delicious with ham or roast pork.

600g (1¼lbs) carrots

500g (18oz) caster sugar

zest of 2 large lemon, cut into strips

freshly squeezed juice of 2 large lemon

6 cardamom pods, split

Trim and scrape the carrots. Grate on a medium sized grater. Put into a pan with the sugar, lemon zest and juice and the cardamom pods. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then boil hard until the mixture is very thick.

Place into a warmed, sterilised jar and seal tightly.

Christmas Biscuits

This dough can be used for all kinds of shapes, round, square, rectangles, stars, hearts, teddy bears, animals, birds……

Makes 20-30

175g (6oz) flour

75g (3oz) butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

1/2 - 1 egg, free-range and organic

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

Sieve the flour into a bowl. Rub in the butter, add the caster sugar and mix well. Beat the egg. Mix the dry ingredients to a stiff dough with the beaten egg.

Turn out on to a floured board and roll out to a scant 5mm (0.25in) thickness. Cut the biscuits with the cutter of your choice. Transfer to a baking sheet.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes depending on thickness. Cool on a wire rack.

When cold, decorate as desired. Alternatively ice them together with butter cream or jam, or a simple dusting of icing sugar.

Pear or Nashi Chutney with Lemon Verbena

Makes 4 x 200ml (7fl oz) jars

2 large onions, chopped

1 organic lemon, quartered and thinly sliced

1 teaspoon fennel seed

175g (6oz) sugar

2 cloves garlic, chopped

200ml (7fl oz) white wine vinegar

6 Conference or Nashi pears (700g/1 1/2lb) peeled and diced into 5mm (1/4 inch)

60g (2 1/2oz) sultanas

1 tablespoon lemon verbena

Put the onions into a stainless steel saucepan, add the lemon, fennel seed, sugar, garlic and white wine vinegar.

Peel, core and chop pears and add to the saucepan with the sultanas.

Bring to the boil and simmer gently stirring occasionally for 25 minutes approximately until reduced by more than half its original volume. Add the lemon verbena and continue to cook for a further four to five minutes.

Pour into sterilised jars and cover. Allow to mellow for two weeks before serving. Keeps for six months or more.

Hot Tips

Christmas courses at the Ballymaloe Cookery School:

Rachel’s Festive Entertaining Course, December 11.

Come on your own or bring a friend to this 2½ day course. You will learn some delicious starters, main courses and festive desserts and several exciting little bites to enjoy with drinks. Rachel will share some of her favourite recipes for Christmas and lots of her special tips to entertain with ease.

Hands-on Christmas Parties, December 14 and December 15.

Start with a short demo, pop on an apron and into the kitchen with your friend and/or colleague to cook up a storm with the help and guidance of our tutors. Then into the dining room to enjoy the festive feast you’ve just made. A brilliant way to let off steam and have fun after a hard year’s work? Large/small groups or even you and a friend… 021 4646785 cookingisfun.ie

East Cork Christmas Market, gathers momentum every year

An opportunity to pick up brilliant Christmas gifts… Local producers of food and handmade crafts and delicious Christmas treats. Order your Christmas poultry, baking and locally grown vegetables. Admission by voluntary donation. Proceeds to Cork Arc Cancer Support. Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell will sign copies of their latest books Grow Cook Nourish, Simply Delicious Christmas, and Cook Well, Eat Well. December 10, 11am to 4.30pm.

Celebrate Slow Food Terra Madre Day, Sunday 10th December 2017, the annual opportunity to promote the Good, Clean and Fair philosophy. Learn about Slow Food’s “Menu for Change” campaign, to highlight how our food choices can help to reduce climate change For Slow Food events across Ireland and the world see slowfoodireland.com and slowfood.com

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