All wrapped up

Make your Christmas a cracker with top tips from celebrity chefs, plus advice on creating the perfect festive table. Joe McNamee and Áilín Quinlan ask the experts.

Martin Shanahan

Fishy Fishy Restaurant, Kinsale, Co Cork, cookbook author and TV chef The trick is to prepare in advance, make out a plan, get as much prep as possible done on Christmas Eve and choose an easy starter that you can do beforehand, like a nice crab crumble. My favourite is some smoked salmon and prawns on brown bread with a bit of cocktail sauce.”

Catherine Fulvio

Catherine Fulvio, proprietor of Ballyknocken House and Cookery School in Wicklow, cookbook author and TV chef

If you are not too fond of pudding but like the tradition, buy a small one, mash it with vanilla ice-cream, and freeze it in a pudding bowl, so you have the taste and illusion of a pudding.

Dress up brussels sprouts with some grilled smoked bacon and diced chestnuts, or my favourite is to sauté the sprouts with a little garlic, then add some chicken stock and simmer. Sprinkle in parmesan just before serving. Delicious.

Paul Flynn

Chef/proprietor, The Tannery Restaurant, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, cookbook author and TV chef (Paul Flynn’s Irish Food Adventures, Surf ’n’ Turf)

People tend to cook too much, there’s too much excessive consumption — and I know about excessive consumption! Make a plan and stick to it, three veg dishes and so on.

And do as much as possible in the days before, there are better ways to spend Christmas morning than getting frazzled in the kitchen.

Do starters, desserts, the day before. I do mulled wine pears three days before and they get better each day, we can use the juice with prosecco.

Sprouts? I cook them with Cidona and a bit of butter — beautiful.

Paolo Tullio

Chef and food writer

Cheer up sprouts the German way. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with olive oil and add a little crushed garlic. Now add breadcrumbs and stir with a wooden spoon until the breadcrumbs are golden. If the breadcrumbs look dry, add more oil. When your sprouts are cooked and drained, toss them in the breadcrumbs. Suddenly sprouts become sexy.

Trish Deseine

Irish-born, Paris-based food writer, cookbook author and TV chef

If you don’t own a microwave, buy or borrow one.

Vital for landing all the parts of Christmas dinner hot on the plate at the same time or at least for quickly reheating the gravy to revive cooling second helpings.

Kevin Aherne

Sage Restaurant, Midleton

Best Newcomer (South), Good Food Ireland Awards 2012 and winner of Bridgestone/Irish Examiner Food Festival 2012 Best Dish Award My tip for the perfect Christmas dinner would be to buy directly from the producer whether it be turkey, pig, duck, veg, fruit or cheese.

It’s all available and will taste all the better for less time spent travelling and on the supermarket shelf. Start at your local farmer’s market or country market.”

Create a winter wonderland dinner table, courtesy of Franc

Brightening up the Christmas dinner table isn’t complicated — if your festive settings look tired, experiment, says stylist Franc. He’s not referring to big-ticket tableware or terrifying tablecloths — just a quick trip to the supermarket for ordinary household items: oranges, cloves, ground cinnamon, sugar, candles and inexpensive baubles.

Creating your own ‘winter wonderland’ dinner table is easy and cheap — with a little effort you can create a fantastic effect, says the wedding guru.

Here’s how: Cover cheap baubles in spray-mount glue and roll them in white, crystallised sugar — “this gives them a lovely sparkle,” Franc says. Or, roll them in cloves, ground cinnamon or artificial snow, which is on sale in €5 bags in Franc’s Christmas shop in Cork’s Glanworth Mill.

Next, layer your decorated, spice-scented baubles in large glass vases. If you’re a fan of rustic, stud a pile of oranges with cloves and arrange them on a pretty cake stand, or stand a nice plate on an upturned bowl and arrange them on that.

For an eye-catching look, pile pine cones in the centre of the table. To add colour and a wonderful, evergreen scent, snip the ends off your fresh Christmas tree and slip them in among the oranges and the pine cones.

A spare, but striking modern look can be achieved by filling a large vase with willow branches, winding LED lights through the twigs, and decorating with pretty baubles and eye-catching Christmas trifles. You can dress up your Christmas crackers — buy them cheap in an accessories shop, slit them carefully, and insert little gifts — then put them back together, and decorate with little bows or baubles.

Use your best dinner-ware and dress up your table in different levels of light — alternating tea lights with small candles: “Everything looks prettier in candle-light, particularly if you’re using natural decorations,” Franc says.

If you’re worried about faded wine stains on your trusty old Christmas table-cloth, make a fab Christmas table-covering out of a pretty duvet cover — there are nice ones in discount stores, says Franc.

If you’re feeling trendy, arrange your best pillowcases over the back of the kitchen chairs to act as covers. “This year is very much about going back to the traditional Irish Christmas,” Franc says.

Many people are feeling nostalgic for the tinsel-draped trees and paper chains of childhood Christmases in the 1970s and 1970s, Franc says:

“We’re starting to remember and appreciate the simple things,” he says, and he also says that the big emphasis in his Christmas shop, at House of Franc, this year is in line with this yearning for the DIY decorations of yesteryear.

These can be incredibly fun to make — particularly if you’ve got children.

One last tip from Franc: Carve your Christmas turkey at the table and pass around the vegetables in warmed bowls, so people can help themselves:

“It’s much more fun and it gives Mum a break from all that serving,” he says.

— Áilín Quinlan


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