Every year I consider cooking something a little different for the main feast on Christmas Day, but year after year I return to the tradition that is turkey and ham. A number of years back I steered a little away from tradition and in place of roasting a whole turkey, I opted for a turkey breast and simply poached it and then butter-basted it in a pan before serving. I had seen Richard Corrigan demonstrating the same on a Christmas special and decided it was worth a try. The results were incredible. The meat was deliciously succulent and moist, and I found we were left without a scrap of waste. Poaching the turkey is also a wonderful way to keep the oven free for the many turkey accompaniments.
Happy Christmas!



Poached & Butter Basted Turkey Breast

To Poach:
1 large turkey breast, weighing about 3kg
1.5 lt chicken stock
200ml white wine
3 sprigs of thyme
2 bay leaves
10 peppercorns
1 onion, cut into chunks
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped

To Baste:
100g butter

Method

1. Weigh the turkey breast.
2. Place the stock, white wine, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, onion, carrots, and celery into a large saucepan and then add the turkey breast. Top up with enough water to cover the breast.
3. Bring to the boil and then turn down the heat. Allow to simmer for 20 mins per 450g of meat. A 3 kg breast would take just over 2 hours to poach.  Adding more hot water to the saucepan as necessary
4. Remove the breast from the saucepan and allow to rest, covered with tinfoil, for 10 minutes. Reserve the stock to use in another dish or soup.
5. Heat a large frying pan or a roasting tin that is suitable for use on a hob. Add the butter and once it begins to froth place the breast into the frying pan skin side down. Keep turning the breast until all sides are nicely browned, which will take about 15 minutes.
6. Allow to rest on a plate covered with tinfoil, for about 20 mins, before carving.

Every Christmas my mother would make a trifle to offer as an alternative to plum pudding on Christmas day. This trifle recipe may not be traditional but has become a real favourite in our house. Welcoming winter scents fill the kitchen, as the berries are being mulled, ones so pungent that I’m often tempted to bypass the trifle idea and pour it straight into a tumbler as a rather fruity hot toddy. The alcohol will naturally be burnt off in the simmering of the wine but for a more child-friendly version, apple juice would substitute the wine nicely. To keep some kind of tradition a little madeira cake is a must for my trifles. As much as I love cream, and generously add significant amounts of it to dishes, here I am choosing a healthier alternative. No need for apologies as this creamy yogurt topping of thick Greek yogurt, icing sugar and vanilla, makes a viable substitute. Finally, a generous sprinkling of grated white chocolate completes the layering process for a decedent and irresistibly delicious trifle.



Mulled Berry Trifle

Ingredients
Mulled Berries:
150g (6oz) caster sugar
300ml (11fl oz) red wine
1 tsp vanilla extract or reserved pod from creamy topping
½ tsp mixed spice
½ stick of cinnamon
600g berries of choice, fresh or frozen

Creamy Topping:
750g Greek yogurt
½ vanilla pod, seeds only
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g icing sugar, sieved

200g Madeira cake, homemade or shop-bought, sliced

To Serve:
50g white chocolate, grated
Fresh raspberries

Method

  1. To prepare the fruit, place the sugar in a heavy-based pan with the red wine, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and pinch/grate of nutmeg.
  2. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and syrup-like.
  3. Stir in the fruit and then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  4. To make the creamy topping, in a bowl combine the Greek yogurt, vanilla seeds & extract and icing sugar. Taste and add more icing sugar if necessary.
  5. To assemble the trifle, place the slices of Madeira cake at the bottom of four individual glasses or one large bowl pour in the mulled berry mixture. Add the creamy topping and if not serving immediately the trifles can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
  6. Before serving sprinkle generously with the grated white chocolate and scatter over a few fresh raspberries.
My mother would always boil the Christmas ham on Christmas Eve. The first cutting of it would be thinly sliced and packed between thick slices of batch bread. These sandwiches generally weren’t eaten until just before midnight mass and by far were the tastiest sandwiches of the year. I love baked ham at Christmas as it pairs so perfectly with turkey and the leftovers will keep you in sandwiches for 3-4 days.



Sweet Glazed Gammon

Ingredients
2.7 kg (6lb) unsmoked gammon
2 onions, cut in half and studded with 2 cloves in each half
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
500 ml cider
1 liter apple juice

For the glaze:
4 tbsp Redcurrant jelly
2 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

20 whole cloves

Method
1. Weigh the gammon and place in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, drain and then return the gammon to the saucepan.
2. Add the clove-studded onions, peppercorns and bay leaf. Pour over the cider, apple juice and enough cold water to cover the gammon completely.
3. Bring the liquid to the boil, skimming off any scum as it rises to the surface, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer gently for 20 mins per 450 g (1lb) — around 2 hours for a 2.7 kg (6lb) piece of gammon, adding more hot water to the saucepan as necessary.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and lift out the gammon. Set aside for 10 mins until it is cool enough to handle.
5. Preheat the oven to 200 ̊C /fan 180 ̊C/gas mark 6.
6. Use a sharp knife to remove the skin from the gammon, leaving behind a thick, even layer of fat. Score the fat into a diamond pattern and stud the center of each diamond with a clove.
7. Put the gammon, fat-side up, into a roasting tin lined with a double thickness of foil, and cover the sides of the gammon with the foil. This will avoid the sides of the meat from drying out.
8. For the glaze combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the piece of gammon.
9. Cook the gammon for about 30 minutes, regularly basting with the glaze and juices from the roasting tin.
10. Cover and set aside to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

With so much to do on Christmas day, from the starters to the turkey and ham, all the accompaniments as well as taking time to admire Santa’s gifts, one would be forgiven for taking an easy option for dessert. This is my effortless but very satisfying Christmas dessert. It couldn’t be easier to make and quite conveniently will sit in the freezer for up to a week without spoiling. The berry sauce can also be prepared a day or two in advance. So all that is needed on Christmas day is to take the pudding from the freezer, drizzle over the sauce and wait for your family to declare just how wonderful you really are.



Lemon Meringue Pudding with a Poached Berry Sauce

Ingredients
900ml soft scoop vanilla ice-cream
200g meringues, roughly crushed
200g lemon curd
zest of 1 lemon

Biscuit Base:
125g digestive biscuits, crushed
60g butter, melted

Poached Berry Sauce:
150g mixed berries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp port
50g caster sugar

To Serve:
A few fresh berries {optional}

Method
1. Line a pudding bowl with double cling film.
2. First make the biscuit base by combining the crushed digestives with the melted butter. Leave to one side to cool completely.
3. If not using the soft scoop ice-cream, take the ice-cream from the freezer 15 minutes before using and place in the fridge so it can soften slightly. Add the ice-cream to a mixing bowl. Whisk for a minute, using an electric beater, or beat with a wooden spoon. Acting quickly, to avoid the ice-cream completely melting, fold in the crushed meringues, lemon curd, and lemon zest and combine well. Transfer into a 1.5lt pudding bowl, leaving a little space for the biscuit mixture.
4. Spoon in the biscuit mix and gently press down. Cover tightly with two layers of cling film. Place in the freezer for 4 hours or preferably overnight.
5. To make the poached berry sauce, add the berries, port, and sugar to a small saucepan. Gently heat and then simmer for 2 minutes. Allow to cool completely before using.
6. Take the pudding from the freezer and turn out onto a plate. Gently peel away the cling film. Spoon over the poached berry sauce. If you have them to hand, dress with a few additional fresh berries and serve. 
This creamy potato & leek gratin is full of flavour and makes a wonderful accompaniment to any roast meat. It can take a little time to thinly slice the potatoes, but once sliced the gratin only takes minutes to assemble. If making for Christmas dinner, as a time-saving measure on Christmas Eve prepare and cook the gratin until it is just about ready, but leave the potatoes a little on the hard side. Allow it to cool, then cover and refrigerate. The next day place it back in a hot oven and continue to cook the dish through, which will take about 20 minutes.  




Creamy Potato & Leek Gratin

Ingredients
knob of butter
1 kg potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
150g / 1 leek, white part only, peeled and thinly sliced
250ml full-fat milk
250ml cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
100g white cheddar cheese, finely grated

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 200 ̊C /fan 180 ̊C/gas mark 6.
2. Grease a large casserole dish with the knob of butter.
3. Place the thinly sliced potatoes and leeks in a large saucepan. Add the milk and cream and season with a little salt and pepper. On a low heat gently bring to the boil and then simmer gently for 5 minutes.
4. Spoon the creamy potato and leek mixture into the casserole dish. Sprinkle over the fresh thyme and then cover with an even layer of the cheese.
5. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, when the potatoes and leeks will be cooked through and the top will be golden brown. Serve and enjoy.
Children will love to make these magical stained-glass cookies. They are the perfect cookies to hang on the Christmas tree, however, I would advise you to simply hang them just before eating, as if left for too long the cookies will begin to soften and the centre will begin to melt. You can use any hard candies you please, but the apple drops make the perfect centre, as their flavour marries perfectly with the cinnamon in the cookie.



Stained-Glass Cookies

Ingredients
Makes approx 15
300g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
200g butter
1 egg
25ml milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
A handful of apple drops


Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/Gas 6. Prepare two baking trays with sheets of parchment paper.
  2. Using a food processor blitz the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. In a cup combine the egg, milk and vanilla extract, and with the processor on a low speed gently drizzle into the mixture.
  3. Once the dough is together, turn out onto a floured board and knead it lightly. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to harden slightly.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to the thickness of a euro coin. Cut into shapes using festive cutters. Place on the baking, then carefully cut out a smaller shape in the middle of each cookie. Keep re-rolling the cut-offs into shapes until all the dough is used up.
  5. Place the apple drops into a freezer bag and carefully bash with a rolling pin until they are well crushed. Pour about half a teaspoon of the crushed sweets into the center of each cookie.
  6. Using a skewer make a hole at the top of each biscuit. Place in the oven and bake until golden or pale brown for 12–15 minutes, depending on their thickness. Place the ‘inner’ cookie shapes on a separate baking tray and bake for about 6-8 minutes, depending on their size.
  7. Remove from the oven. Check with a skewer that the hole at the top of each biscuit hasn’t covered over. Cool on a wire rack.
  8. When completely cooled thread with a thin ribbon and dust with some icing sugar.
  9. The cookies are now ready to hang on the Christmas tree, but they are best enjoyed on the day they are made.

If you are in search of something easy to make with the children, chocolate apples are a great choice. I find forks make the decorating and eating of the apples a lot easier than the traditional lollipop sticks. Pop the apples into the fridge the night before decorating them. The cooled apples allow the chocolate to stick to it with more ease.


Chocolate Apples


Ingredients
4 apples, rinsed and dried 4 forks 200g milk chocolate 50g white chocolate Toppings: sugar sprinkles


Method

  1. Refrigerate the apples for several hours or overnight.
  2. Dry any condensation from the apples with some kitchen paper. Insert a fork into each apple. Place some greaseproof paper on a plate. 
  3. In a heat-proof bowl over some simmering water melt the milk chocolate.
  4. Let the chocolate cool slightly for 2 minutes. Dip each apple into the milk chocolate, covering each apple completely. Allow excess to drain. Place on the greaseproof paper and leave to set, which will only take a few minutes.
  5. In a clean bowl, over some simmering water, melt the white chocolate.
  6. Once the chocolate on the apples has set, drizzle over the white chocolate.
  7. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice. Place the apples back on the paper and leave in a cool place until the chocolate hardens.

This is a regular chocolate truffle mixture, which I would normally scoop into balls and dip into chopped nut, however, since it is the spooky season, I’ve moulded the mixture into mouse-like shapes. With the addition of little eyes, ears and a tail, these tasty little creatures would make a welcome addition at any Halloween party.


Chocolate Mice

Ingredients
Makes 20 mice
200g chocolate, good quality, approx 46% cocoa
100ml cream
25g butter
40 flaked almonds
A strip of liquorice rope, cut into 20 1-inch pieces
40 white chocolate drops or white candy coated mini sweets

Method

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, over a saucepan of just-boiled water. In a separate saucepan, melt the cream and butter together. Just before it comes to the boil, remove from heat. Very gradually stir into the melted chocolate. Stir gently, for about 5 minutes, until smooth and thick. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill for about 2hrs.
  2. Place a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Scoop up a teaspoonful of truffle mix and using two spoons quickly mould into a ball, before gently moulding one side a little pointy to create a ‘mouse’ shape. The chocolate mix will melt with the heat of your hands so you must work quickly. Place on the tray. 
  3. Add two almond silvers, to each mouse, for their ears. Repeat with remaining mix, and then chill for another hour.
  4. Take from the fridge and with the assistance of a toothpick, guide the liquorice tail into place, and stick the white chocolate drops/white candy coated sweets on for the eyes.
  5. Pop back into the fridge to set. These Chocolate Mice can then be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Happy Halloween!


Young children love to make these spooky cookies. The biscuit base is a simple shortbread, but any round biscuits, such as digestives or rich tea, could take their place if time wasn't on your side for baking a batch. The shortbread dough is perfect for little hands to manipulate, and they tend to always turn out rather well, even if the ‘cook’ hasn’t the lightest touch. The cooled cookies can be easily decorated with a little icing and a few sweets to fit in perfectly at any Halloween buffet.



Halloween Cookies
Ingredients
Makes about 25 cookies
100g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g plain flour

Icing
250g icing sugar
2 tbsp water
15-25 liquorice allsorts circular sweets
1 tsp red food colouring, placed in a small bowl
1 tsp black food colouring, placed in a small bowl

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C/gas mark 5.
  2. Using an electric mixture, beat the icing sugar and butter until soft and well combined, which should take about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the vanilla extract and with the mixer on a low speed gradually add the flour. Don’t overbeat and once combined bring the dough together into a ball. Place it on a sheet of greaseproof paper, cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 30 minutes, to harden slightly.
  4. Sprinkle a little flour onto a work surface and roll out the dough to your desired thickness. Using a cookie cutter, or a glass, make circular shapes out of the dough.
  5. Prepare two baking trays with a sheet of greaseproof paper on each. Transfer the raw cookies to the trays and place in the preheated oven for 8-12 minutes, depending on their thickness.
  6. While the cookies are cooking prepare the icing. In a medium sized bowl combine the icing sugar with the water. Add a few more drops of water if required.
  7. Take the cookies from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool, which will only take a few minutes.
  8. Top each cookie with a teaspoon full of icing and smooth the top using the back of a knife. Place a circular liquorice allsorts into the centre and using a toothpick and the red food colouring draw a few lines to represent veins. For the ‘Jack Skeleton’ cookies simply use the black food colouring and another toothpick to draw the face. Allow the icing to set before serving. The cookies will keep in an airtight tin for up to 3 days.


The traditional Halloween barmbrack was a fun way to tell someone's fortune for the coming year. As a child, I remember inside each brack would be a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin and a ring. Each item was individually wrapped in greaseproof paper, as each would carry a meaning; the pea, the person would not marry. The stick, the person would have a year of disputes. The cloth, the person would be poor. The coin, the person would be rich. The ring, the person would be wed before the following Halloween. Most shop-bought bracks still come with a ring inside, but if you're baking your own this Halloween, just for fun, add the extra 'fortunes' but ensure each one is well wrapped with greaseproof paper and to avoid any chipped teeth always let the brack-eater know of these additions.

Barmbrack

Ingredients
200g sultanas
150g raisins
25g mixed peel
300ml tea, cold
250g self-raising flour
125g caster sugar
1 tsp mixed spice
1 egg, lightly beaten

Method
  1. Place the dried fruit into a bowl. Pour over the cold tea. Cover with cling film and leave to soak overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180°C/ fan 160°C/gas mark 4. Line the base of a 2 lb loaf tin with parchment paper and grease the sides with a little butter.
  3. Sieve the flour into the bowl with the soaked fruit. Add the sugar, spice and lightly beaten egg. Using a wooden spoon, stir well to combine.
  4. If using the 'fortune teller' items, tightly wrap each one in greaseproof paper and carefully add to the mixture.
  5. Transfer to the loaf tin, and place in the preheated oven for 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours, or until the brack has risen well and is cooked through.
  6. Cool on a wire rack. When cold, cut into slices and spread each with a thin layer of butter.

No matter how many children we have, whether we leave the house to work or are tied to the school-time runs, I think most parents have a similar approach to weekday family meals. Dinner needs to be nutritious enough to sustain the busy lifestyle a modern life dictates. They must be filling enough to carry us, and especially energetic little ones, to the next meal. But, rather important for the designated cook, it's paramount that the family meals we make can be rustled up with ease using as few pots and pans as possible. Stews, casseroles and any one-pot dish fit best into this category, simply served with a big pot of creamy mash, pasta or rice. This tasty fish dish will be prepared and on the table in just over half an hour. I like to serve it with some brown rice, but creamy mashed potato would also be delicious. I've listed cod in the ingredient list, but feel free to use your favourite fish of choice. 



Cod in a Rich Tomato Sauce

Ingredients
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, finely diced
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Sea salt and pepper
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
4 cod pieces, approx. 200g each
100g mature cheddar cheese, grated
A handful of fresh basil leaves

Method
  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C /Gas mark 6. Drizzle the oil into a frying pan and place over a medium heat. Add the onion and pepper. Turn the heat to low and sauté for 5 minutes, until the veg is soft.
  2. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika, season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes.
  3. Place half of the sauce at the base of a medium-sized, oven-proof dish. Place the cod pieces on top, and add the remaining sauce over. Place in the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
  4. After this time, take form the oven and sprinkle over the grated cheese. Return to the oven for a further 5 minutes.
  5. To serve, tear the basil leaves and sprinkle over the fish. Serve with boiled brown rice or mashed potato and steamed peas.
Pancakes are so easy to make, and this is one of the reasons I have loved making them with the children over the years. The pancake recipe below is a little different from the standard pancake mix, but it's still very tasty. These wholesome pancakes contain lots of goodness and nutrients from the porridge oats, eggs and banana. Within the pancake mixture, there's no need for any added sugar, as they're naturally sweetened by the ripe banana. These oaty banana pancakes make for a delicious low-sugar breakfast treat any day of the week.


Ingredients
50g porridge oats
2 eggs
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp olive oil

To Serve
Fresh berries & a drizzle of maple syrup or honey

Method

1. Combine the oats, eggs, banana and cinnamon using a Nutri-Bullet, a hand blender or in a food processor. Blend for about 1 minute or until the mixture is of a smooth consistency. Leave the batter to sit for 10 minutes to thicken slightly.
2. Place a large, non-stick pan over a medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Add 6 small ladlefuls to the pan. If using a small pan, do this in two batches. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until golden in colour.
3. Serve immediately with a few fresh berries.   
Last week, I was delighted to appear on an episode of Ear to the Ground. In the kitchen of The Merry Mill, I baked some gluten-free, oaty fruit muffins. This is the home to the Scully family, and together they grow, harvest and mill their oats on the family farm. These oats are organic and completely gluten-free. Isn't that fantastic! Both the Scully family and the crew from Ear to the Ground were so welcoming to me and Jack, and they were really lovely to work with. If you missed this episode of Ear to the Ground, and you'd like to see this family farm in action, you'll find the episode on the RTE player.



Here is the recipe for those tasty fruit muffins I made.

Oaty Fruit Muffins

These oaty muffins are packed with nutrients and flavour. Not all oats are gluten-free, so check the packaging to ensure they are packed in a gluten-free environment.  

Ingredients
225g gluten-free oats
1tsp gluten-free baking powder
2 small (150g) bananas
2 eggs
75ml sunflower oil
75ml milk
50ml honey/maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
75g raspberries
50g blueberries
2 tbsp oats


Method

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/ fan 170°C/gas mark 5. Line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases.
2. Place the gluten-free oats in a food processor and blitz until fine, which will take about a minute. Add the gluten-free baking powder and blitz to combine.
3. Mash the bananas and add to a jug with the eggs, sunflower oil, milk, honey/maple syrup and vanilla extract. Add to the processor and blitz together for 1-2 minutes, stopping at intervals to scrap the mixture from the side.
4.  Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cases. Top each one with either a few raspberries or blueberries and gently press to ensure they stick. Sprinkle some oats over each muffin.
5. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to cool on a wire tray. These muffins will keep for up to 3 days in an air-tight container. 

Some of the 'behind the scenes' pics.