Foodie resolutions: Rachel Allen and Darina Allen

Renowned TV chef, cook and cookbook author whose latest book is Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen.

Rachel Allen

On Christmas Day

What time we get up completely depends on when the kids get up. We have a young family now so we are going to be at home, we’ll go out visiting or people will visit us and then we’ll eat. I’m not sure how many will be with us this Xmas, anything from 12 to 16. And then it’s off to Ballymaloe House to join up with the extended Allen family.

My Christmas ‘guilty pleasure’

It’s actually the one time I don’t feel guilty, mind you, I wake up the next day thinking I probably had a bit too much of absolutely everything!

My ideal ‘food present’ would be

More hens, because ours have all gone, a combination of foxes and two puppies. Last year, we had seven hens and two ducks and now nothing. [one of Rachel’s small children in the background asks what happened. “Em, they went away,” says Rachel delicately. “No, the fox ate them,” says the small voice. “Yep, the fox ate them,” says Rachel.]

What is the strangest place you’ve eaten Christmas dinner

Mexico, when we were all away before the kids, that was kind of different being in the sun, on the beach. It didn’t really feel very Christmassy. I’ve been away with family before, in Canada and in Iceland but that’s very festive because of the gorgeous snow.

Other than family and friends, guests at my fantasy Christmas dinner would include:

Rick Stein, a great cook and great fun; Jamie Oliver, always great fun and loves his food; and [food writers] Elisabeth David, Madhur Jaffrey and Claudia Roden. Or Marcella Hazan and Nat King Cole to sing the carols.

I would serve

I would serve Anne and Dan Ahern’s organic turkey. We don’t eat turkey during the rest of the year but this is lovely. And a glazed ham, very traditional.

My ‘food’ resolutions for the new year include

I’m going to get my juicer out of the back of the bottom cupboard and put it on the counter. It’s only when it’s out in the open that I use it. I’d love to go to Terra Madre [the biennial international Slow Food movement gathering in Turin]. I’ve never been, it always clashes with work, but hopefully will get there at some stage. As for restaurants, there’s always a new one to discover!

My cooking tip this Christmas

If you overcook brussel sprouts, whizz them up in the food processor with some gravy, nutmeg and butter and they turn into an utterly delicious purée.

Darina Allen

On Christmas Day

Very often, we all go to Ballymaloe House for Xmas dinner so we have an early one before that. It’s a great big affair in Ballymaloe, Myrtle’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and everyone has a job, a little job, down to the youngest walking child. It could even be putting out tinsel. It makes it so communal and at the end the boys do the washing up. It’s all silly games and paper hats, it’s very traditional and nostalgic; nobody wants any new funky stuff, it’s all about wanting time to stand still and finding comfort in tradition.

My Christmas ‘guilty pleasure’

It’s not a guilty pleasure but native Irish oysters are such a joy to eat if we have them and a special blessing

My ideal ‘food present’ would be

I’d love a Pacojet [an ice cream and sorbet maker with multiple bells and whistles]. They’re horribly expensive, but it’s one of the few bits of that kind of cheffy kit I’d love to have.

What is the strangest place you’ve eaten Christmas dinner

Omigod, in Oaxaca in Mexico, just amazing. We had a wonderful Mexican Christmas dinner, including grasshoppers, it’s called Chapulines with guacamole, and I eat them every time I go to Mexico so I know I will have to return. They are lovely, crunchy, delicious, inexpensive protein.

Other than family and friends, guests at my fantasy Christmas dinner would include

Michelle and Barack Obama, Ban Ki Moon, Patrick Holden of the Soil Association and Angela Merkel so we could have ‘chats’ about a sustainable vision for Europe and [renowned American chef/author/activist] Alice Waters.

I would serve

Oysters, grape, melon and mint starter, the traditional roast turkey, potatoes, cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, bread sauce, Irish cheese, plum pudding with brandy butter, tangerine sorbets,

My ‘food’ resolutions for the new year include

I’m off to [Nordic restaurant of the moment, two-starred] Maaemo, in Oslo and I’m off to [another cutting edge Nordic restaurant] Faviken, in Sweden, [chuckling] all in the way of research!

My cooking tip this Christmas

Remember on a scale of one to ten, it’s just a Christmas dinner. Turkey is just a big chicken, scale it down in your mind. Delegate, it’s much more fun if everyone is involved. I don’t want to sound sanctimonious but try to incorporate as much Irish food into the dinner as you can. Ham is great, but glazed loin of streaky bacon is so divine and is a fraction of the price and will be so juicy and delicious.


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