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Bia Sasta

Don't stress about Christmas Day dinner

Thursday, 12th December, 2019 8:03am

The countdown is on for the most important dinner of the year. Stress levels are high and shopping lists are written, checked twice and invites are sent. I'm not sure how we end up every year with the same stress levels, as most of us will have cooked Christmas dinner already a few times!


And what is the worst that can happen? You’ll end up with a cheese plate and crackers. I can think of worst things to happen to me.

Christmas dinner in my childhood home was stressful as it was the only day of the year when my dad took over the kitchen. He got stressed a lot when he couldn’t find the whisk etc. I was happy with having Yorkshire pudding (my dad is English), red cabbage, roast potatoes and awesome gravy – it is still my perfect Christmas dinner.

You might have noticed the absence of meat – my mum used to cook meat as per instructions and then added about 15 hours to make sure it was cooked. I am suffering from the trauma ever since and still can’t stand turkey! And who says that it has to be turkey each year?

A lot of meat ends up in the bin, unless you have a hungry dog, as there is only so much of the same meat you can eat. Depending on the size of your gathering, why not try pheasant? It cooks quicker, has a lot more flavour and looks just as stunning on a platter.

Pheasants are available from O’Sullivan’s at the English Market. But, oh the horror, what do you cook when a vegan is visiting (no offense to vegans)?

Fear not, there are options, just stay away from the many processed offerings available in supermarkets.

Stand out by cooking an amazing centerpiece. Most vegans would be happy with a nut roast but to be honest, I think that the majority of vegans will have eaten their own body weight in nut roasts by now. What about a layered mushroom and onion pudding?

The late Gary Rhodes had a fantastic and easy recipe for it but you will have to use vegetarian suet. Serve drizzled with gravy made from the mushroom juices, and you will be a top favourite to all vegans this year. The recipe is freely available on the web.

We watched Jamie Oliver the other day cooking a roasted cauliflower as a centerpiece and we are seriously considering cooking it for our Christmas dinner. We are talking about it but knowing us, we will turn back to the old fashioned options.

Don’t get me wrong, it looked great, topped with nuts and herbs and served with rice but for Christmas?

When cooking the traditional Christmas dinner, I like to have different vegetables like minted peas, carrots tossed in orange butter and hazelnuts and green beans topped with fried breadcrumbs (try it – you’ll love it) but I really don’t like cooked or steamed Brussels sprouts.

I find them bitter and ‘cabbagy’ and most of the time quite watery. Some people say to cut a cross in the centre of the stem to ensure even cooking but I think it only leaves water into the sprouts. Dennis Cotter of Café Paradiso cooked them once, thinly shredded in a pan and they were delicious. I think bacon goes very well with the little green sprouts.

Heat a frying pan and add the bacon pieces and let the fat render into the pan. When enough fat has escaped into the pan, add the shredded sprouts and sauté until tender. Adding some gentle flavourings to your vegetables will give your dinner a festive touch that will impress your guests.

And to answer JP Mahon’s (chef in Michelin starred Aniar in Galway) question ‘What is wrong with fish for Christmas?’ – nothing at all.

Get yourself a nice fish like salmon. Fill it, if whole, with sliced lemon and chopped herbs, cut slashes into the skin and drizzle with a herb and oil mix and bake it on a bed of potatoes and vegetables. You will see happy faces around your Christmas table.

Check with your fishmonger on other sustainable fish available, if salmon isn’t your cup of tea.

If you still have room for dessert, why not create a stunning Irish cheese board? You don’t have to slave away in the kitchen but can enjoy the end of the meal with your family and friends. From experience, I can ensure you that there is always room for some cheese – always!

Last but not least, please consider buying in season vegetables from Irish growers, as well as Irish meat and fish. We have the best produce cooks could ask for. And at the end of the day, drag yourself into the living room for the obligatory snooze in front of the telly!

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