A real taste revelation for the traditional Christmas feast

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Cooking Christmas Dinner can be a real hassle.

You have a full bird, ham, stuffing, roast potatoes, mash, sprouts, carrots, other vegetables, gravy and cranberry sauce.

Nobody would dream of serving that amount of food at any other time. Last year I used eight rings and two ovens to cook for 12 people and had enough food left over to serve a small army Christmas dinner!

Buying a steamer saucepan is probably the best way of freeing up room – you can do the sprouts, mash and any steamed vegetables in it. This way you’re only using one ring. When the turkey and ham are resting, use the oven for roasties and a mixed vegetable gratin or roast vegetables. Sprouts, carrots, peas and a gratin of vegetable is a sufficient mix for any table. This time last year beetroot would have been at the top of my list of foods I really didn’t like but a raw shaved beetroot salad served in Shu restaurant in Belfast set me on course to fall in love with this vibrant root. Before that I’d avoided it’s rich, irony blood like taste, but the sweet, crisp, lightly pickled variety served by Shu chef Brian McCann was a revelation. Now I can’t get enough of it, and it might be psychological, but I feel the better for it.

Beetroot and Kale are two major superfoods that work serendipitously well together. As it’s Christmas the addition of double cream, buttery crumbs and a hint of cheese is a welcome addition – plenty of time for juicing in January! The recipe for one of this week’s dishes of a kale and beetroot gratin, can be slipped into the oven while the meats rest and freeing up valuable ring space for your gravy and other vegetables.

Frank McCook’s Slemish market garden in Ballymena is a great source for these two vegetables plus many more.

Another taste revelation for me this year has been Will and Alison Abernethy’s smoked version of their excellent hand churned and rolled butter. It’s lightly smoked so doesn’t have that bitter over smoked flavour that some foods have. I basted a turkey breast with it last week and it was spectacular – juicy, smoky and flavoursome. Adding some to the pan juices when you cook a steak is all the sauce you need and it peps up roast vegetables no end.

Rather than stand and peel and chop carrots, I cut them in half lengthwise, lightly boil them, drain and dry them and toss them in some Broighter gold garlic and rosemary oil - give them a good roast and then toss them at the end in thyme infused smoked butter. You could do the same with baby roasties or parsnips. The recipe calls for more butter than you’ll need but freeze the excess or rub it all over the turkey before cooking.

Love it or loathe it you can’t have turkey without cranberry sauce. A Radio Ulster listener, Iris Hurst from Ballyclare, sent me a copy of May Byron’s Jam Book from 1923 (they didn’t mess around with flowery cookbook titles in those days!) and it’s a constant source of reference for me. Spiced Cranberries is a recipe from the book that I’ve adapted – the original recipe for five pounds of fruit would try the most fervent cranberry lover. It’s simple yet very effective and combined with the smoked butter takes your turkey to the next taste level.

Whatever you’re cooking have a lovely Christmas!