The Darina Allen Column

Darina’s secret for a stress-free Christmas is to write lists and plenty of them - and she shares some great recipes that are suitable for smaller gatherings and will make for a calm kitchen and a relaxing festive day. 

What a rollercoaster it's been in recent weeks, hopes raised hopes dashed, then raised again. I eventually decided to carry on regardless - this year of all years, we are nostalgic for the past and crave a comforting family Christmas.

Hopefully, your nearest and dearest will be gathered around you and our hearts go out to those who have also lost loved ones during this extraordinarily challenging year.

Christmas is definitely a ton of work particularly for those who don't normally spend much time in the kitchen. So let's make a plan so it's easier and less stressful. I'm like a broken record about making lists. Lots of them are the way to go, allocate some fun roles to as many family as you can cajole or shame into helping but steady on, we often overestimate the amount of food we need.

If there are just two or four people, ask yourself do you really need a turkey, how about a beautiful organic chicken or a fat free-range duck. For me a well-hung pheasant with game chips (homemade potato crisps) is another of my favourite feasts and you can use the stuffing and accompaniments that are traditional for turkey with other poultry or game birds.

If it's just the two of you, you may want to choose a beautiful organic chicken from Mary Regan in Enniscorthy or perhaps a smaller turkey joint (see below - marinating in buttermilk is a revelation). Half the crown will be plenty for your Christmas feast and you'll still have lots to enjoy in your favourite turkey sandwich on Christmas evening.

If like me, brown meat is your favourite, why not roast some turkey thighs. The drumsticks are quite sinewy in a bird that has been allowed to range freely but the flavour will be far superior to an intensively produced bird, reared in confinement. Internal temperature of legs or thighs will be 165°C (breast 105°C) when cooked, allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Whenever you decide to choose, I wish you a happy, joyful and meaningful Christmas and so hope that you will be able to connect with your loved ones over the festive season, either in person or by Zoom. Good times will come again...We'll just keep cooking and carry on!


With their light texture and delicate flavour, Jerusalem artichokes have become more recently so they’re easier to buy - and these members of the sunflower family are also very easy to grow, so if you have a garden why not keep some back and pop them into the ground to enjoy next year. Serves 8-10

50g (2oz) butter
560g (1 1/4 lb) onions, peeled and chopped
1.15kg (2 1/2 lbs) Jerusalem artichokes, scrubbed, peeled and chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock
600ml (1 pint) creamy milk approx.
Garnish: freshly chopped parsley & crisp, golden croutons

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.
Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons.
Note: This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Inspired by the American chef, Samin Nosrat, this small alternative roast is ideal for a smaller gathering and the cooking time is not long. Similarly, cooking a large ham does not make sense for a small group, so Loin or Belly of Bacon can be used instead (the latter is inexpensive yet sweet and succulent) and glazed in the traditional way. Boiled collar of bacon is also delicious. Serves 4-6

1 half turkey crown (breast) about 2 ½ lbs (1.1kg)
500ml (16 fl oz) buttermilk
1 ½ tbsp (33g) salt

24-48 hours before you plan to enjoy the turkey, pour the salted buttermilk into a large heavy resealable plastic bag. Put the turkey breast inside, seal carefully, expelling as much air as possible. Squish the bag a little to make sure the turkey is well covered with the buttermilk. Pop it into the fridge in a gratin dish for 24-36 hours, turning occasionally.

Remove the turkey about 2 hours before cooking, lay on a wire rack over a roasting tray to drain off the excess buttermilk.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Lay the rack on a baking sheet, roast until the turkey breast is fully cooked through, 40 minutes approximately for a boneless breast. It will register 150°C on a meat thermometer. Keep an eye and cover with parchment if it is browning too much.

Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with your favourite traditional or non-traditional accompaniments.

Cranberry Sauce is delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best. It will keep in your fridge for several weeks. It is also great with white chocolate mousse or as a filling for a meringue roulade. You can add a spoonful of port and quarter teaspoon of finely grated orange zest for a change but I love the clean taste of the original. Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly. Serves 6 approximately

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries
4 tablespoons (60ml/scant 2 1/2fl oz) water
75g (3oz) granulated sugar

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – don't add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins. Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.
Serve warm or cold - it should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

Unlike other brassicas, red cabbage can be cooked ahead and reheated when required. Our favourite variety, Red Drummond, gives best results as some varieties can be quite tough, even with prolonged cooking. Serves 8-10.

1 lb (450g) red cabbage (Red Drummond if possible)
1 lb (450g) cooking apples (Bramley Seedling)
1 tablespoon approx. wine vinegar
4 fl oz (120ml) water
1 level teaspoon salt
2 heaped tablespoons approx. sugar

Remove any damaged outer leaves from the cabbage. Examine and clean it if necessary. Cut into quarters, remove the core and slice the cabbage finely across the grain. Put the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a cast iron casserole or stainless steel saucepan. Add the cabbage and bring it to the boil.
Meanwhile, peel and core the apples and cut into quarters (no smaller). Lay them on top of the cabbage, cover and continue to cook gently until the cabbage is tender, 30-50 minutes approx. Do not overcook or the colour and flavour will be ruined. Taste for seasoning and add more sugar if necessary. Serve in a warm serving dish.

I have a real passion for pan roasted parsnips - we eat them three or four times a week during the parsnip season. Buy them unwashed if possible. Roast Jerusalem artichokes are also super delicious. Scrub, no need to peel, half and cook in the same way.
Serves 6-8

4 parsnips
olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub the parsnips, peel and cut them into quarters - the chunks should be quite large. Roast in olive oil in a hot oven 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, turning them frequently so that they do not become too crusty. Cooked this way they will be crisp outside and soft in the centre. We often roast them in the same pan as Rustic Roast Potatoes: cut the unpeeled potatoes into wedges, toss in olive oil, dripping or duck or goose fat, season and cook until soft in the centre and crusty on the outside, about 20–30 minutes.

How retro does creamed celery sound but it's really delicious and a much loved part of our Christmas dinner. It can also be cooked ahead and reheated. Florence fennel also tastes good cooked this way. Serves 4-6.

1 head of celery
salt and freshly ground pepper
Roux, as needed (equal quantities of melted butter and flour cooked together for 2-3 mins)
4-6fl oz (120-175ml) cream or creamy milk
Garnish: chopped parsley

Pull the stalks off the head of celery. If the outer stalks seems a bit tough, peel the outer strings off with a swivel top peeler or else use these tougher stalks in the stockpot. Cut the stalks into 1-inch (2.5cm) chunks.

Bring 1/4 pint of water to the boil, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the chopped celery, cook gently for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until a knife will go through with ease. Remove celery to a serving dish with a slotted spoon. Thicken the remaining liquid with the roux, add the enough cream to make sufficient sauce to coat the celery. Allow to bubble for a few minutes, pour over celery, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately or cover and refrigerate when cool and reheat later.

The quantity of ice below is enough to fill 10-18 tangerine shells. Clementines, mandarins or satsumas may also be used in this recipe – deliciously refreshing after a rich Christmas feast. Serves about 10-12, depending on whether people eat one or two.

175g (6oz) sugar
juice of ¼ lemon
150ml (5fl oz) water

20-28 tangerines
juice of ½ lemon
icing sugar (optional)
Garnish: Lemon Verbena or bay leaves

First make the syrup. Heat the first three ingredients over a low heat, until they are dissolved together and clear. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes. Cool.
Grate the zest from 10 of the tangerines, and squeeze the juice from them. Cut the remaining tangerines so that they each have a lid. Scoop out the sections with a small spoon and them press them through a nylon sieve, (alternatively, you could liquidise the pulp and then strain). You should end up with 1¼ pints (750ml) juice. Add the grated zest, the lemon juice and the syrup to taste. Taste and add icing sugar or extra lemon juice, if more sweetness or sharpness is required. Freeze until firm.
Chill the shells in the fridge or freezer, fill them with the frozen water ice. Replace the lids and store in the freezer. Cover with cling film if not serving on the same day. Serve on a white plate decorated with vine leaves or bay leaves.
Make the sorbet in one of the following ways:
1. Pour into the drum of an ice-cream maker or sorbetiere and freeze for 20-25 minutes. Scoop out and serve immediately or store in a covered bowl in the freezer until needed.
2. Pour the juice into a stainless steel or plastic container and put into the freezing compartment of a refrigerator. After about 4-5 hours when the sorbet is semi-frozen, remove from the freezer and whisk until smooth, then return to the freezer. Whisk again when almost frozen and fold in one stiffly-beaten egg white. Keep in the freezer until needed.
3. If you have a food processor simply freeze the sorbet completely in a stainless steel or plastic bowl, then break into large pieces and whizz up in the food processor for a few seconds. Add one slightly beaten egg white, whizz again for another few seconds, then return to the bowl and freeze again until needed.


New Site Supporting Local Small Businesses
Check out a new website created here in East Cork which features a huge array of small Irish businesses and is a great one-stop-shop to ensure you shop local and buy Irish this Christmas.
Get to know your local butcher...
Local butchers really know the source of their meat, how the animals are reared and what they feed on – All immensely important to the quality of the meat you feed your family. Plus you can get to know and enjoy the less well known but equally delicious cuts.
Fresh Seasonal Fish...
Hake and Haddock are particularly good at present, loving them in a comforting fish pie and maybe add some Irish mussels. Such incredibly good value – Check out the English Market for a superb selection and some Farmers’ Markets too have beautiful freshly caught fish for brilliant value.

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