Darina Allen: Food you can prepare in advance for Christmas

— and it's so easy when you know the secret: how to freeze dishes with a potato border around the edge
Darina Allen: Food you can prepare in advance for Christmas

None of us can predict what’s ahead but we can still make some comforting plans this Christmas. Picture: Denis Minihane.

My heart goes out to all who are hoping against hope that travel restrictions will be lifted so children, grandchildren and dear friends can make it home for Christmas. We’re all craving a time when we can sit round the kitchen table together and enjoy a meal and maybe a little singsong without worrying about social distancing. It truly is heartbreaking.

So let’s keep positive and try to focus on happier times. None of us can predict what’s ahead but we can still make some comforting plans. Pour yourself a glass of something delicious to sip on, make a soothing pot of tea. Grab a pad and write some lists, plan a week of delicious Christmas meals and treats. Then tick off what can be made ahead and frozen or pickled, so if all goes well you can spend as much precious time with the loved ones you’ve been yearning to see.

In the worst-case scenario, you can enjoy some delicious comforting food after Christmas. There are so many good things that can be happily be made ahead without suffering in any way. I’ll be making lots of soups and freezing them in recycled containers. Quarter, half and one-litre milk cartons work brilliantly, stack neatly in the freezer and can be defrosted quickly. I’m loving root vegetable soups at present. Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil costs just cents to make. I’m also loving Jerusalem Artichoke soup with Avocado and Crispy Croutons, Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup. And Curried Parsnip Soup is a favourite as is the combination of Parsnip and Fennel Soup.

Recipes for both Bread Stuffing and Potato Stuffing freeze perfectly and will be brilliant to stuff a chicken, pheasant, turkey, goose or duck. Apple sauce and Red Cabbage will help complete your meal.

You’ll need something fresh tasting to flit across the tongue after a deeply satisfying meal. Who wouldn’t love a clean and fresh-tasting citrusy Tangerine Sorbet or Compote of Pears with Saffron to round off a Christmas feast?

Have a wonderful joyful Christmas counting our blessings.

Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil

Serves 6-8

  • 1 tablespoon sunflower oil
  • 150g (5oz) rindless streaky bacon cut in 1cm (1/2 inch) dice
  • 110g (4oz) onions, chopped
  • 110g (5oz) potatoes, diced
  • 350g (12oz) swede turnips, diced
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 900ml (1 1/2 pints) homemade chicken stock
  • cream or creamy milk to taste

Parsley Oil

  • 50ml (2fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
  • 50g (2oz) parsley, chopped

Garnish

  • fried diced bacon
  • tiny croutons
  • flat parsley sprigs or coarsely chopped parsley

First, make the Parsley Oil: whizz the parsley with the olive oil until smooth and green.

Next, make the soup.

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bacon and cook on a gentle heat until crisp and golden. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

Toss the onion, potato and turnip in the oil. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper to keep in the steam, and sweat on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked. Liquidise, taste, add a little cream or creamy milk and some extra seasoning if necessary.

Serve with a mixture of crispy bacon, tiny croutons and chopped parsley sprinkled on top

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Croutons

Serves 8-10

Artichoke soup with croutons
Artichoke soup with croutons

  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped
  • 1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock
  • 600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.

Garnish

  • freshly-chopped parsley
  • crisp, golden croutons

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx.

Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.

Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons.

Note: This soup may need more stock depending on the thickness required.

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup 

Serves 6

  • 425g (15oz) celeriac, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
  • 110g (4oz) onions, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
  • 150g (5oz) potatoes, cut into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice
  • 40-50g (1 1/2-2oz) butter
  • 1.1L homemade chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 100-225ml (3 1/2 – 8fl oz) creamy milk (optional)

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped
  • a few tablespoons whipped cream
  • sprigs of chervil or flat parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes, onions, and celeriac and toss them in the butter until evenly coated.

Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid, and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Discard the paper lid.

Add the hot chicken stock and cook until the celeriac is soft — about 8-10 minutes.

Liquidise the soup; add a little more stock or creamy milk to thin to the required consistency. Taste and correct seasoning.

To prepare the hazelnuts: 

Put the hazelnuts into an oven, 200°C/gas mark 6, on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes or until the skins loosen.

Remove the skins by rubbing the nuts in the corner of a clean tea towel. If they are not sufficiently toasted, return them to the oven until they become golden brown.

Chop and keep aside to garnish.

Serve the soup piping hot with a little blob of whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts and a sprig of chervil or flat parsley.

Curried Parsnip Soup with Parsnip Crisps

A fantastic recipe which transforms parsnip soup to a gourmet meal.

  • 50g (2oz) butter
  • 110g (4oz) chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 375g (13oz) parsnip, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1.1L (2 pint) chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 150ml (5fl oz) creamy milk

Garnish

  • crispy croutons or parsnip crisps (see below)
  • snipped chives or parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.

Add the onion, garlic and parsnip, and season with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Toss until well coated. Cover and cook on a gentle heat until soft and tender — about 10 minutes.

Stir in the flour and curry powder and gradually incorporate the hot chicken stock.

Simmer with the lid on until the parsnip is fully cooked, liquidise, taste and correct the seasoning, add creamy milk to taste (the soup should not be too thick).

Serve with crispy croutons and sprinkle with finely-chopped chives or parsley.

Parsnip Crisps

Serves 6 - 8

  • 1 large parsnip
  • sunflower oil
  • salt

Heat good quality oil in a deep fryer to 150°C/300°F.

Scrub and peel the parsnips. Either slice into wafer-thin rounds or peel off long slivers lengthways with a swivel top peeler. Allow to dry out on kitchen paper.

Drop a few at a time into the hot oil, they colour and crisp up very quickly. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Fresh Herb Stuffing

This quantity is for a 12lb turkey or 3 chickens, pheasant or guinea fowl.

  • 170g (6ozs) butter
  • 350g (12oz) chopped onions
  • 400-500g (14-16ozs) approx. soft breadcrumbs made from good bread. (check that the bread is non GM) (or approximately 1lb 4ozs of gluten-free breadcrumbs)
  • 50g (2oz) freshly-chopped herbs e.g. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper

Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., on a low heat, then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste. Allow it to get quite cold.

If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.

Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end, or you may decide to do a different stuffing. Either way, tuck the remaining neck flap underneath the bird and secure with the wing tip.

Traditional Potato Stuffing (for goose or duck)

  • 25g (1 oz) butter
  • 150g (5oz) chopped onions
  • 150g (5oz) cooking apples e.g. Bramley Seedling, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon each thyme and lemon balm
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 300g (10oz) potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon finely-grated orange rind
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes; add the apples, herbs and orange juice.

Cook covered until the apples are soft and fluffy.

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their jackets until cooked, peel, mash and add to the fruit and onion mixture. Add the orange rind and seasoning.

Allow it to get quite cold before stuffing the turkey.

Bramley Apple Sauce

Make ahead and freeze in tubs to serve with roast duck, goose or pork.

  • 1 lb (450g) cooking apples, (Bramley Seedling)
  • 1-2 dessertspoons water
  • 2 ozs (50g) sugar approx. depending on tartness of the apples

Peel, quarter and core the apples, cut pieces in two and put in a small stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan, with the sugar and water.

Cover and put over a low heat. As soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness.

Serve warm.

Red Cabbage

Serves 8 - 10

Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Examine and clean it if necessary. Cut in quarter, remove the core and slice the cabbage finely across the grain. Put the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a cast-iron casserole or stainless steel saucepan. Add the cabbage and bring it to the boil.

Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into quarters (no smaller). Lay them on top of the cabbage, cover and continue to cook gently until the cabbage is tender, 30-50 minutes approx. Do not overcook or the colour and flavour will be ruined. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar if necessary.

Serve in a warm serving dish.

Note: Some varieties of red cabbage are quite tough and don't seem to soften much, even with prolonged cooking. Our favourite variety, Red Drummond, gives best results.

Mushroom with fresh herbs and cream

  • 85-100g (3-4oz) butter
  • 1.2kg (2½lb) sliced mushrooms
  • 180 ml (6fl.oz) cream
  • 4 tablesp. fresh herbs, eg. parsley, thyme, chives
  • 425g (15oz) onions, finely chopped
  • Roux as needed (equal quantities of melted butter and flour cooked together for 2 – 3 mins)
  • lemon juice
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper
  • 3 – 4 serving platters

In a hot frying pan, fry off the mushrooms a few at the time in a little butter, season with salt and freshly-ground pepper, and add them to the softened onions. Add more butter if necessary, but never too much. Add the freshly chopped herbs, cream, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for seasoning.

Bring to the boil and thicken with enough roux to thicken lightly. Set the mushroom a la crémè aside until you are ready to assemble the dish.

If serving on the day, pipe a generous border of Duchesse potato all around the edge of the dishes. Cool the dishes quickly, cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Reheat in a moderate oven 180C-190C/350-375F/regulo 4-5, for 30 minutes approx. until it is bubbling and golden on top. If necessary, flash under the grill to brown the edges of the Duchesse potato.

Garnish with generous sprigs of flat-leaf fresh parsley and serve.

Top Tip: If freezing the dishes with a potato border around the edge, freeze first and then cover tightly with strong cling film to prevent the potato from getting squashed.

However, for best results, freeze without the potato, but pipe it on just before reheating.

Roux

  • 110g (4oz) butter
  • 110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Duchesse Potato

Serves 4

  • 900g (2lbs) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr's Pinks
  • 300ml (10fl ozs) creamy milk
  • 1-2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 25-50g (1-2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a generous pinch of salt, bring to the boil.

When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for 'old' potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, put through a ricer or mouli legume while hot. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 300ml (10fl oz//1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil.

Beat the eggs into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, then beat in the butter, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes.

Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the Duchesse potato will be lumpy and gluey. If you only have egg whites they will be fine and will make a deliciously light mashed potato also.

Tangerine Sorbet

The quantity of ice below is enough to fill 10-18 tangerine shells. Clementines, mandarins or satsumas may also be used in this recipe — deliciously refreshing after a rich Christmas feast.

Tangerine sorbet
Tangerine sorbet

Serves 10-12, depending on whether people eat 1 or 2

Syrup

  • 175g (6oz) sugar
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 150ml (5fl oz) water
  • 20-28 tangerines
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • icing sugar (optional)

Garnish

  • Lemon Verbena or bay leaves

First, make the syrup. Heat the first three ingredients over a low heat, until they are dissolved together and clear. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes, Cool.

Grate the zest from 10 of the tangerines, and squeeze the juice from them. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop out the sections with a small spoon and them press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 1 1/4 pints (750ml/generous 3 cups) juice.

Add the grated zest, the lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice, if more sweetness or sharpness is required. Freeze until firm.

Chill the shells in the fridge or freezer, fill them with the frozen water ice. Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day. Serve on a white plate decorated with vine leaves or bay leaves.

Make the sorbet in one of the following ways.

1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetière and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.

2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.

3. If you have a food processor simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.

Pears Poached in a Saffron Syrup

This delicious compote will keep for 1 ½ to 2 weeks in a covered container in your fridge. Serve icy cold….

Serves 4

  • 200 g (7oz) sugar
  • 450ml (15fl oz) water
  • 6 whole cardamom pods
  • 1/4 teaspoon good quality saffron (the threads)
  • 45 ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 firm pears

Put the sugar, water, lightly crushed cardamom pods, saffron and lemon juice into a shallow, wide pan: we use a stainless steel sauté pan. Stir to dissolve the sugar and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile peel the pears, half and core them. As you cut them put then into the simmering syrup cut side uppermost.

Cover with a paper lid and the lid of the pan, cook gently for 20-30 minutes, spooning the syrup over them every now and then. Carefully take the pears out and arrange them in a serving dish in a single layer, cut side downwards. Pour the syrup over the pears or reduce first (see below). Serve chilled with some of the juice.

This compote keeps for several weeks covered in the fridge.

Tip: For a most concentrated flavour the syrup may be reduced a little after the pears have been removed to a serving dish. Be careful not to cook it for too long, or the syrup will caramelize.

Hot tips

Join me for a Ballymaloe Cookery School Online Live Stream Demonstration on Tuesday, December 15, from 5pm-6.30pm for ‘How to cook a Traditional Roast Stuffed Turkey with all the Trimmings with Darina Allen’ and ‘How to cook a Traditional Roast Stuffed Goose and all the Trimmings with Darina Allen’ on Friday, December 18, from 5pm-6.30pm. Check out our website cookingisfun.ie for lot of other options and gift vouchers.

Oriel Sea Salt: the only sea salt on the planet that is harvested through a sealed pressurised system — meaning all the goodness is retained. This means more minerals such as magnesium and lower sodium. And it’s Irish…. Oriel Sea Salt is located at Port Oriel only metres from the seashore in the village of Clogherhead near Drogheda , County Louth. It’s really worth checking out orielseasalt.com

Ballymaloe House at home – The chefs at Ballymaloe House have been busy in the kitchen making delicious sushi, homemade pasta, beautiful cakes and much more. Order online through Neighbourfood Midleton before midnight on Tuesday for collection on Thursday between 5.30pm -7.30pm. Check out neighbourfood.ie/markets/midleton/36

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