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The Lidl Christmas Coach meets the Cork couple keeping it traditional

In the third in our Christmas food series, inspired by Lidl’s Deluxe range, the Christmas Coach travels to Cork to meet two of the stars of Lidl’s Christmas ad

Mary Spillet, Elaine McDonnell The Christmas Coach, and Adrian Spillet in the grounds of UCC in Cork. Photograph: Claire Keogh
Mary Spillet, Elaine McDonnell The Christmas Coach, and Adrian Spillet in the grounds of UCC in Cork. Photograph: Claire Keogh

For Cork grandparents Mary and Adrian Spillett, retirement has turned out to be one of the most exciting times of their lives. Already the stars of three Lidl television ads, they have been swept up in a wave of activity fuelled largely by their own wonderful personalities.

You’ll recognise them from their Lidl “trolley cam” TV ad or from the Lidl sponsor spot ahead of the Irish version of the TV show Gogglebox. This Christmas, the fun-loving pair are two of the stars of the Lidl Christmas TV ad, choosing their turkey and all the trimmings in their local Lidl for their traditional Christmas dinner with family and friends.

Meeting them, it’s not hard to understand why they ended up on our screens: they’re a truly warm and welcoming couple with a lifetime of experience to share.Crucially, they’re full of passion for life. Stories of their six children and six grandchildren bubble up to the surface constantly and indeed it was their children who launched them into their latest career, they say.

“Our son entered our names into the competition to take part in the first Lidl TV ad, but we didn’t take much notice,” Mary explains laughing. “Little did we know what was ahead.”

“Mary is a naturally chatty person, a real people person,” Adrian explains with pride. “She ran our B&B for 12 years and was always great with guests and is an amazing cook. You wouldn’t believe her breakfasts. Everything would have a little handmade garnish – real attention to detail.” That attention to detail translates into everything she does, he explains, and his eyes light up at mention of her Christmas dinner plans.

The main rule is to be prepared. Have a plan in place and get your ingredients early. And then I think you have to try to enjoy doing it. If it’s not your thing you will probably find it hard but I absolutely love doing Christmas dinner

“Christmas is always such a special time for me,” Mary explains. “And the preparation starts early with my cake and mincemeat. I have a pastry recipe that came to me many, many years ago from an elderly aunt of Adrian’s. It’s a beautiful pastry and I use it for my mince pies and sausage rolls.”

For the Spilletts, Christmas will always be a wholly traditional affair. “I think if I tried to change anything my family would not be too impressed,” Mary says laughing. Adrian agrees, smiling as he describes the family’s Christmas routine and the wonderful cooking smells that fill the house with festive atmosphere.

The making of Christmas. Mary and Adrian Spillet's shoot for the latest Lild Christmas ad
The making of Christmas. Mary and Adrian Spillet's shoot for the latest Lild Christmas ad

“The children and grandchildren all come over on Christmas Eve and hang around the kitchen eating spiced beef sandwiches. It’s a wonderful time. The youngest child puts the baby in the crib, the star on the Christmas tree and the light in the window.”

“I will be cooking for everyone,” Mary says.

"The main rule is to be prepared. Have a plan in place and get your ingredients early. And then I think you have to try to enjoy doing it. If it’s not your thing you will probably find it hard but I absolutely love doing Christmas dinner".

Ultimately though, for Mary and Adrian Spillett, the key is doing things in traditional ways that have meaning for them. Traditions are something we can create ourselves, they suggest, or they can be handed down from generation to generation. The secret recipe? Great ingredients, people you love and lots of patience – that’s all it takes.

Here are some of their favourite Christmas tips and recipes:

The star of the show: Turkey

Only the best turkeys make the Lidl shelves and they have lots of choice, no matter how big or small your guest list.

The perfect turkey in five easy steps:

1. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Place your turkey on a roasting tray, remove the neck and giblets from the cavity and tuck the wings underneath.

2. Stuff the cavity with a quartered onion, a crushed garlic bulb, a halved lemon and sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme.

3. Brush the outside of the turkey liberally with butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover it loosely with foil and place in the oven. Reduce the temperature to 180 degrees C after 20 minutes. Remove foil for the last 25 mins.

4. Cooking time depends on the weight of the turkey, but a general rule is to cook it for 45 mins per kilo, plus an extra 25 mins at the end. To be sure that your turkey is cooked, use a meat thermometer. The temperature should read at a minimum of 82 degrees C in the thigh. The juices should also run clear when the meat is pierced.

5. Finally you need to allow your turkey to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

The co-star: Ham

All Lidl hams are picked for their superior flavour. Try the Deluxe Smoked Bacon Loin Joint wrapped in Bacon or Deluxe Smoked or Unsmoked Half Horseshoe Gammon Joint.

Lidl’s perfect Christmas ham in three easy steps:

1. Place your ham in a large pot with an onion, halved and studded with cloves. Fill with water to cover, bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes per kilo.

2. Drain your ham and preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Using a knife, carefully remove the outer layer of fat and score the fat diagonally in both directions to make diamond shapes. Stud with a clove between each diamond and brush all over with our delicious ham glaze.

3. Roast for 25 minutes until the top is a rich brown colour. Rest for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Mary's garlic potatoes

Mary and Adrian serve three types of potatoes with Christmas dinner: roast, mashed and garlic. This is their creamy garlic potatoes recipe.

Ingredients (serves: 4 to 6):

      • 6 - 8 potatoes. (large, peeled and sliced)

      • 4 cloves garlic, sliced

      • Half litre cream. Enough milk to just cover potatoes

      • Grated cheese to sprinkle on top.

Method:

      • Heat oven to 175C / Gas 5

      • Layer potatoes and garlic in a large pot

      • Add cream and milk to just cover the potatoes

      • Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 mins or until almost cooked

      • Be careful it doesn’t burn, so stir now and again

      • Transfer toan ovenproof dish and sprinkle with cheese

      • Cook in the oven for about 30 mins.

Mary's pastry for mince pies

The Lidl Deluxe range includes jars of readymade mincemeat in three flavours: Spiced Brandy, Rum and Raisin and traditional. They will be a perfect filling for Mary’s traditional pastry.

Ingredients (makes 12 mince pies):

      • 10ozs plain flour

      • A pinch of salt

      • 8oz block of margarine

      • Very cold water

Method:

      • Put the margarine into the freezer for two hours

      • Sieve salt and flour into a bowl

      • Grate the frozen margarine into the flour, mix with a knife and slowly add cold water

      • Keep mixing with knife to a soft dough

      • Bring together with your hand and put into the fridge for 40 mins

      • Roll out and, using two cutters (one bigger than the other), cut out rounds

      • Put larger rounds into cake tins, add 1 tsp of mince and cover with smaller rounds

      • Brush top of each with a little beaten egg so they are firmly closed and brush over also

      • Bake in the oven, 175C / Gas 5 for around 20 mins. Dust with caster sugar and enjoy

(If reheating later, remember to always use the oven – not a microwave)

Top tip: perfect roast potatoes

      • Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C

      • The best potatoes to use are floury ones such as Roosters or Maris Pipers

      • Cut the potatoes into even sizes then par-boil the peeled potatoes for approximately 5-6 minutes. Drain well

      • Sprinkle some semolina over the potatoes. Shake the pot to roughen the edges. Heat some Lidl Deluxe goose fat in a tray in the oven

      • Add potatoes when the goose fat is hot and bake for 40 mins or until crisp

Next week: How to have an Easy-cook Christmas

The Lidl Christmas Coach

Christmas offers so many ways to celebrate with food and drink.

To help plan for success, we asked cook, restaurant manager and party planner Elaine McDonnell to take Lidl’s Deluxe range as her inspiration and coach us through the Christmas party season.

Over the four-part series she’ll tackle cocktail parties, a traditional Christmas and lots more.

More for everyone this Christmas

Everyone’s favourite time of year is fast approaching and here at Lidl, we want to make every moment as easy for you as possible. We’ve put together an amazing range this year and we think you’ll be as excited about it as we are.

With top-quality, fresh turkeys and hams, locally sourced fruit and veg as well as our premium Deluxe and Favorina ranges on offer, you’re sure to have the most special Christmas yet when you shop with us – while stocks last.

(Fresh Irish turkeys on sale from December 20th)

For more great offers, see lidl.ie/en/christmas

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