Friday, January 2, 2015

My Christmas Menu

For some time now my son has been asking me to document my Christmas dinner, so this year I decided to do that. My Christmas dinner evolved, starting with dinner at Granny's house. ( See Chapter 1 of Peeling The Onion for a full description of what that was like). I never knew how the food was cooked as my grandmother hired a cook for that and besides I was too young to care, but later on, when Christmas at Granny's stopped and my mother took over, I learnt a lot helping her. Over the years I have put my own slant on how I prepare and cook, and even what I prepare and cook.

I do always have the traditional Irish boiling bacon and roast, stuffed turkey. Now that I am living in Texas I order my bacon well in advance from Food Ireland and it arrives frozen, there is a lot of ham here, but that is not the same. I also order Irish rashers for breakfast on Christmas morning. We have a traditional 'fry up' on Christmas morning, less traditional is the fact that we use paper plates and plastic knives and forks for breakfast - anything to minimize the cleanup is a good idea.

A very important part of the preparation is to soak the bacon in cold water for about 2 days before Christmas, this water is changed at least once every 24 hours, more is better. This minimizes the salt content.

The menu is:

Turkey broth

  • Roast Stuffed Turkey & boiled Bacon
  • Brussels Sprouts (cooked in the water with the bacon)
  • Carrots sauteed with onion & parsley ( I like to add a couple of shallots but that is optional)
  • Belgian Endive (I grew up knowing this as Chicory) sauteed
  • Roasted potatoes
Traditionally in Ireland we had plum pudding & brandy sauce for dessert, but I no longer do that because almost no one I currently feed likes it and it is a huge amount of time to prepare and cook. This year we have a choice of either apple pie or berry pie with ice cream and / or whipped cream.
I like to finish off with an Irish coffee.

So, how do I prepare and cook all of this? Well, a tradition my mother started was to prepare as much as possible on Christmas Eve, minimizing the work to be done on Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve:

What can we do the day before? Remember at least two days before we started soaking the bacon and changing the water regularly. Everything can be cooked on Christmas Day, but the more you can prepare the day before, the more time you have to play those boardgames Santa brought the kids, or table tennis, or trains.. or Super Flight Deck and Barbie Dolls and Stretch Armstrong.


Also known as Belgian Endive, is not easy to get in Texas so I keep an eye out for it coming up to Christmas and as soon as I see some I buy it and cook and freeze it. Naturally it is better if it is freshly cooked, but it does OK being frozen and that is better than none at all. Chicory is an acquired taste - it is the dandelion family along with Radicchio, so I am sure you can imagine, it is bitter. Braising it in butter reduces much of the bitterness however.

To prepare it, cut the end of the stalk off, remove any damaged outer leaves, slice from stalk to tip into quarters and wash. Then melt butter over a gentle heat, more is better - but how much depends on how much Chicory you managed to get and how much you like butter. Toss the chicory in the melted butter over the heat add a pinch of salt and a small amount of water, cover and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes stirring occasionally. If you were lucky enough to get this just before Christmas, then cook it on Christmas Eve and it will heat up nicely the next day in the microwave. Otherwise freeze it and heat up in the microwave from frozen.


I used a little over half a pound of carrots - I always buy organic when I can get them - half an onion, three shallots (optional) and half a bunch of parsley.
  • top and tail, peel and thinly slice the carrots
  • peel and chop the onion into small chunks
  • peel and slice the shallots
  • remove the stalks from the parsley
  • melt butter over a slow heat - I used about 2 ounces of butter for 10 ounces of chopped carrots
  • toss the sliced carrots in the butter and then add the onion, shallots and parsley and a pinch of salt
  • stir and allow to saute for a few minutes
  • add half a cup of water and cover 
  • reduce the heat and simmer for approximately 15 minutes
  • place in a microwave safe serving dish and when cool store in the refrigerator
  • this will microwave in a few minutes before dinner next day


turkey giblets, neck and wing tips
chicken broth
carrots (I used six medium sized)
large onion
chopped parsley
chopped baby spinach leaves - optional but I love spinach and if chopped well, non spinach lovers don't even notice
salt and pepper

When my kids were growing up I used to make my own chicken broth. We normally had a roast chicken on Sunday, so coming up to Christmas I would boil the carcass in a little water and strain and freeze the broth. Nowadays I just use packaged broth.

Place the giblets, neck, wing tips, peeled and chopped carrots and onions in a pot with chicken broth and chopped parsley and spinach if using. Add salt and pepper and bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for about an hour. Let cool and store in the refrigerator.


I use french bread for this, and how much depends on how big your turkey is.  For a 10 pound turkey I used a full loaf. Normally I buy the bread about 3 days before Christmas and leave it out to slightly harden. Then I chop it into chunks and put it in my food processor, in no time I have breadcrumbs. It may look like a whole lot, but they will shrink down.

So, Ingredients for the stuffing:

  • Breadcrumbs - these have got to be fresh not those awful things sold in packages for deep frying!
  • Half a large onion finely chopped
  • One shallot finely chopped (optional - notice a trend here?)
  • bunch of parsley finely chopped
  • two teaspoons of mixed herbs
  • 1 teaspoons of paprika
  • half teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and pepper


mix the garlic powder, paprika, salt and pepper with the breadcrumbs, add the onion, shallot and parsley and mix well then.... and here I have to mention that a critical piece of equipment in my kitchen has always been surgical gloves. I use them for any task that is messy and in particular for handling foul... so then don your surgical gloves (these you will throw away after each use) add 4 beaten eggs and using your surgically gloved hands mix well.

Sit your turkey in a pan because you are going to stuff the neck. don't stuff the body of the turkey, there are a number of schools of thought on this, some say it is dangerous to stuff the body. The juices from the uncooked turkey.. OK the blood ... drips into the stuffing in the body of the turkey and may or may not get fully cooked. Also, I like to be able to slice the stuffing rather than spoon it out of the body cavity. So, sit your turkey comfortably in a pan. You may need to trim some fat from inside the neck but be careful not to pierce the skin.

I found the easiest way to stuff the turkey is to make balls of the stuffing and wad them down into the neck cavity. When it is finally completely full, use wooden tooth picks to hold the skin in place while cooking. My mother  used to use a large darning needle and thread, but it was so hard to find the thread to remove it after cooking that I found toothpicks to be a much easier way to do this.

Place the cleaned, stuffed turkey in a turkey bag and put it in the refrigerator. By now the refrigerator is getting pretty well stuffed.

Both the potatoes and the sprouts can be cleaned and prepared the day before, but should not be cooked in advance. If preparing them the day before, then place in a covered container in cold water overnight. It isn't necessary to put them in the already stuffed refrigerator, though it is preferable. They can stand on the stove overnight in cold water - covered of course.


Peel, wash and par boil them - for about 15 minutes, until almost done, strain and they are ready to place in the oven about 30 minutes before dinner. Make that 40 minutes if you like them crispy, which my husband does.

Back in the days before oven bags for cooking a turkey, we placed the potatoes around the turkey to cook, however they will get crispier if they are in a tray on their own, so I usually add a mixture of butter and oil to a baking tray and place the par boiled potatoes in this to cook.

A 10 pound turkey takes about 4 hours to cook at 325 degrees, roasting potatoes really requires a much hotter over, more like 425 degrees, so I normally add the potatoes about 10 minutes before the turkey is ready, 10 minutes later I take the turkey out and turn the oven up to 450 degrees. The potatoes will cook while the turkey rests.

Bacon & Sprouts:

Prepare the sprouts by removing any damaged outer leaves, trip the stalk and cut an X into the stalk - this ensures a more even cooking of leaves and stalk.

Change the water one more time on the bacon and bring to the boil. Ideally you want to boil the bacon for 30 minutes per pound, adding the sprouts to the water approximately 30 minutes before cooking finishes. My piece of bacon is almost 4 pounds so it will take two hours to cook.

I used to bake pies from scratch, now I buy them frozen - they are perfectly fine and there is really no need to show off after the dinner I just prepared.

I have found it helps to set out a timetable of when to do what, particularly on Christmas Day, in order to 1. Not forget anything and 2. Have it all ready at the same time.

Time table:

Christmas Day:

5 hours before dinner:
Heat the over

4.5 hours before dinner
Place turkey in the over
set the table

2 hours before dinner
bring bacon to a boil then simmer

1 hour before dinner
bring soup to a boil and allow to simmer
place potatoes in the over

10 minutes later remove turkey
add the sprouts to the bacon water
heat the carrots and chicory in the microwave
turn the potatoes
make gravy if required (I don't like it so I use Bisto - instant gravy)

30 minutes later
remove the potatoes and add the pies to the oven

ready to serve:
strain the sprouts
remove the giblets, neck and wing tips from the soup (grosses a lot of people out)
taste the soup and season if required
carve the bacon and turkey and serve

The Christmas Crackers are also from Food Ireland.

Merry Christmas!!!

After that, if you have room, whip the cream and serve pie and cream and or ice cream

Finally! an Irish coffee for the chef (and anyone else) with the remainder of the cream.

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