There will always be those prepared for Christmas in September and while we may admire their industriousness for most of us it just isn’t practical. So here we find ourselves in the first week of December, the Christmas lights are up, the Christmas songs are playing in the shops and it’s time to get festive. It’s time to focus on what Christmas is all about – family, friends and, oh yes, food. Even if this year it may be a Christmas like no other, it’s more important than ever that we celebrate with great food wherever we are and whoever we are celebrating with.
Of course the trick is to make it tasty but simple. I enjoy the process of choosing ingredients, preparing them all and cooking so I don’t see it as a big chore but I am aware that some people see it as a job, and a taxing one at that. Either way I believe that the very nature of the food we eat at Christmas makes preparing meals quite a joy. For a start once the food for the main event is cooked, you then have the basics for ‘easy’ meals for several days.
Now I’ve heard all the usual moans about how we are all sick to death of turkey and ham by December 27th, but really it is just lack of forethought and imagination that is the real issue. If you insist on just serving slices of turkey and ham and the frazzled and dried up leftover veg at every meal for three days with the only choices being hot or cold, then inevitably it gets boring.
Instead make sure you have some good chutneys or savoury jellies and jams to hand. These really liven up leftover meat and there is quite a range of local produce to choose from if you haven’t made your own. Having said that whizzing them up yourself is no longer the torture it once was and so don’t negate trying it. Crème Fraiche is a fantastic tasty treat when added to a little stock for a pale sauce to bathe turkey and ham in. One of our favourites is from our friends in West Cork Glenilen Farm. You can serve it as a sauce on the side; you can immerse the meat into it or how about making a pie filling with it instead.
Also our fellow Tipperary Food Producers, Ayle Farm produce mouthwatering Chutneys, Relishes, and Preserves in small batches. We just love their Beetroot Chutney and always great to have in the cupboard or fridge. You can’t go wrong.
Indeed use your bun tray to make small individual savoury pies by making a pastry base and topping the filling with a little cranberry sauce and covering the top with some pastry. These are really gorgeous. Also don’t be afraid to freeze leftovers, just be sensible and do it as quickly as possible once they have cooled down. So now is the time to either make the pastry or buy the pastry and freeze it to have it to hand. Keep plenty of it to hand as it’s great to parcel sweet or savoury treats that you’ll use all through December.
The store cupboard and the freezer are your best friends at this time of year.
You could try cooking some full dishes over the next two weekends or simply keep the raw ingredients such as some braising steak or lamb pieces in the freezer. Our friends at Bord Bia have some really great recipes that never fail to please and are so simple to prepare such as Spicy beef tagines, Slow Cooked Lamb Curry or a delicious Beef & Stout Casserole are all great one pot meals that while they require time to cook, are quick and easy to prepare, warming and will stretch a long way.
Another great source for delicious beef recipes for dishes like this are in my Beef Book, which is available for sale in store and through our online shop.
Stock the store cupboard with tins of tomatoes, good quality stocks and various rice and noodles and you won’t be caught off guard. So this weekend check the store cupboard for all those handy spices, flours and condiments. Make sure you have enough rice, pasta, couscous or other favourites ready to go.
Breakfast fit for a King!
Another area sorely neglected in my view at this time of year is breakfast! Now is the time to beef up the breakfast menu arsenal. Remember that at Christmas there will be mornings where you can take a leisurely approach to breaking your night time fast. Don’t just cobble together cold turkey and a few withered nibbles from the night before along with three Quality Street, a choc mallow and a bag of Tayto! (Don’t say you’ve never done it). This Christmas by planning ahead, learn how to make Eggs Benedict, try something different and even make breakfast the ‘star meal’ of one of the days. A favourite of ours is a mix of freshly chopped vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes with some slices of our blackpudding, baking in the oven, then topping with a poached egg or two.
Now you might be thinking that I’m getting ahead of myself, but as you’re reading this there are probably only around 20 days left to Christmas Day! The first thing is to stock up on good Tipp sausages and bacon; we have some of the finest in the land right on our doorstep and available in all our 10 shops around the country and online, so there is no excuse. Now I’m not suggesting that you stick to the usual full Irish, but make it festive by adding some corn fritters for example. Use the bacon to top some French bread with maple syrup, chopped bananas and nuts or even American pancakes. Cook the sausages and instead of frying the eggs, bake them in small buttered ramekins for a real treat. Try some different bread: with the great breads available locally you will be spoiled for choice. How about taking some of the leftovers and making a great Christmas omelette!
Finally, I can’t say enough about keeping some fresh fruit, herbs and spices around at Christmas. Ginger, garlic, nutmeg, coriander, basil, chives, cinnamon, a chilli or two, lemons, limes; the list is endless but it is about the ones you like. Having things like this at your disposal can transform leftovers. For example, the basis for most curries is a combination of garlic, ginger and chilli. Go easy on the chilli depending on how hot you like it. If you like mild curries then try a trinity of cinnamon, clove and cardamom. Fresh coriander, one of my favourites, can be chopped into dishes as a garnish or an ingredient; from soups to salads or as a marinade it gives a lovely flavour and a little basil added to a risotto makes all the difference. By the way if you do overindulge at any stage a little bit of fresh ginger chopped into a cup of boiling water can help soothe a sore throat and also ease nausea and hangovers.
Good food doesn’t have to take a long time or create drudgery for one person. We have some great local produce and products that will not only excite the taste buds but might also create a good talking point. Plan ahead now and make your meals a pleasure this Christmas rather than drudgery. Enjoy
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher and farmer, cookbook author and the CEO of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market in Rathcoole & Kilmacanogue and in Dunnes Stores, Cornelscourt, Rathmines, The Pavillion Swords, Blanchardstown, Bishopstown Court – Cork, Naas Town Centre and Jetland Centre – Limerick. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers