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    Countdown to a delicious Christmas dinner!

    Christmas is nearly here!

    How did that happen??! Just the same way as it does every year… no need to panic or worry I’m sharing my own Eatwise Christmas Day menu and countdown to Christmas dinner plan which I hope will help you! Just make your lists, do a bit every day and most of all enjoy this lovely season by remembering the true Christmas spirit!

    Talking for a moment about gifts, I have a bit of a crusade going against buying

    presents of chocolates, biscuits and sweets… just think first whether you’d like all that temptation coming into your own house or not – if not then don’t buy it for others – chances are they’ll be right back with some calorific treat for you!! There are loads of other ideas, bath treats, candles, ornaments, plants, books or just a charity card – it really is the thought that counts! And for children we need to help them not to get hooked on the sugar wagon so if it’s a sweet treat, keep it tiny and add a non-edible gift or a few Euro for the piggy bank.

    Christmas is a time to celebrate and enjoy time with loved ones; of course we want to have special food and drink but just take a fresh look at your own traditions for the festive season… if you usually gain more than 2-3lb over the Christmas period then you really need to change something otherwise you’ll be getting the same result again this year! Really think carefully when you’re making shopping lists as to quantities. Here’s a few tips for making sure you don’t pile on the pounds over the festive season…Christmas advice

    Christmas dinner planning

    Now, down to the business of Christmas dinner itself! The turkey size guide below will allow for a good dinner and some leftovers for St Stephen’s Day.  I would say ½lb ham per person for the two meals is plenty.

    1.5-1.75kg/3-4lb bird will feed 3-4 people

    A 3-3.5kg/7-8lb bird will feed 7-9 people

    A 4-4.5kg/9-10lb bird will feed 10-12 people

    A 4.5-5kg/10-11lb bird will feed 12-15 people

    A 5.5-6.5kg/12-14lb bird will feed 16-18 people

    A couple of years ago I tried buttermilk brined turkey and the results were so good, I swore I’d never do it any other way! Neven Maguire and Nigella Lawson are both ‘brining’ fans so if this sounds like a very strange idea you can look up their recipes for some reassurance!

    Turkey is a lean meat, without much fat to protect it from drying out. Brining is essentially marinating the turkey in a salt water solution with aromatic herbs and / or spices to add subtle flavour but the biggest plus is that this method adds extra moisture and tenderises the meat. It also cooks a bit quicker as the process breaks down some of the proteins. Just remember to buy a roasting bag, it’s the handiest thing to hold the turkey while it’s marinating, then you can place it into a plastic basin or any container that can go in the fridge. I love the dark turkey me

    at (it’s more nutritious too!) so I would always roast a whole bird and you can see my recipe for Roast buttermilk-brined turkey  here but if you like the white meat best and want a cleaner, simpler roast with no messy bones then order a turkey crown.

    With the vegetables, I recommend keeping them simple as a contrast to the richness of the meats and sauces, but one special vegetable I love at Christmas is braised red cabbage; this Spiced red cabbage really compliments the turkey and you can freeze it and enjoy with Sunday roasts again in the new year.

    Good starters are salads with seafood or a simple melon. If you want to do nibbles as a starter for people to have with drinks, just watch the amounts and keep it light not to fill everyone up before the main event!

    Kale crisps, Baba Ganoush dip or asparagus roasted with pancetta are all good options.

    Soup can be great too, especially if you want to draw out the meal over a long time as soup will fill you up for an hour or two so can be served at lunchtime followed by a break to get the main course ready and enjoy it a couple of hours later – this makes serving everything hot and fresh easier on the hosts as well! Do decide on your plan for the day in advance as you need to time things well.

    Here’s my own Christmas dinner menu and countdown which you can adapt to suit yourself… Happy Christmas everyone!


    My Christmas Day menu and countdown to Christmas dinner plan


    Eggs, mushrooms and tomato, a slice of wholemeal toast


    Coffee and mince pie

    Lunch / Dinner:

    Asparagus soup

    Seafood salad (for example, smoked salmon, prawns and crab claws with lemon and black pepper served with mixed organic salad leaves and a little balsamic vinaigrette – very simple and delicious) or try a delicious, fresh and crisp celeriac remoulade

    Roast turkey (pre-marinated in herbed buttermilk brine), cranberry sauce (homemade or bought) and gravy

    Celery, walnut and apricot stuffing

    Baked ham

    Spiced red cabbage

    Carrot and parsnip mash

    Steamed Brussels sprouts

    Roast potato

    Cheese and crackers

    Christmas pudding flamed with Irish whiskey and served with whipped cream (I cheat here and buy a good quality, small pudding!)

    OR other dessert of choice (in my house it’s my teenagers’ choice and they will be making it – the last few years it’s been Banoffi Pie – very easy to make and they love it – but it won’t be appearing on this blog, sorry!) A nice alternative dessert is this Festive Apple Cake with Christmas Spices – loaded with apples it’s not as rich as the traditional Christmas desserts but is delicious and has a wonderful flavour from the apples, dried fruit, brandy and spices.

    And now for the countdown….

    December 22nd (or sooner!) Make a shopping list. Make sure you have everything you need for the table (flowers or centrepiece / candles / tablecloth / cutlery, plates, bowls, glasses etc) as well as cooking equipment (for example you’ll need 3 roasting tins / trays for turkey, ham and potatoes if you’re cooking for more than 5-6 people). One thing I’d highly recommend is a digital meat thermometer,

    I find it invaluable for checking whether meat and fish are cooked, and it helps to ensure things don’t get overcooked too – really useful and saves you prodding, poking and cutting to get a good look at your turkey (or salmon, steak, chicken etc…)!

    December 23rd Shop for groceries and collect your turkey; take note of its weight, prepare brine and refrigerate turkey in the brine (marinade) for 24-48 hours. Make soup and braised red cabbage and refrigerate.

    December 24th Get other members of the family involved as much as you can (make a list of jobs in advance or it can just seem easier to do things yourself when you’re in the thick of it! And don’t forget the washing up and tidying jobs after dinner too – just keep dessert for later until the main job’s done!) Prepare a delicious Fish Pie or a simple baked salmon and salad for tonight’s dinner with plenty of extra salad ready for tomorrow’s starter.

    Prepare dessert for tomorrow. Make stuffing and refrigerate. Make cranberry sauce (or make sure you have a jar of it bought!)

    December 25th

    9.00        Breakfast (remember to drink a pint of water as soon as you get up to wake up the kidneys!). Get your helpers to start their jobs – this list isn’t designed for one person to do all the work!!

    9.30        Take turkey out of the fridge, discard marinade and carefully insert some stuffing under the skin of the breast (or you can just cook it separately as I’m doing, see later). Calculate cooking time unless your turkey is like mine, a 6Kg (13lb) one, so you can copy my timings   and if you’re brining the turkey you can reduce it by 30-45mins as it cooks more quickly using this method. Prepare Brussels sprouts, carrots, parsnips, set table, make sure wine is chilling (white) and that your red wine is opened to allow it to breathe. Arrange oven shelves to accommodate the turkey and another roasting tin for potatoes. Prepare roasting tin (see my Roast turkey recipe for details). Cook & mash carrots and parsnips and leave to cool. Put ham on to cook. This is a good recipe if you want to follow one

    11.00     Go for a brisk walk (or run!)

    12.00     Preheat oven and when it’s reached 190oC (fan oven) put turkey on – these timings are for a 6Kg (13lb) bird (that’s not including stuffing; I’m cooking that separately). Enjoy a coffee and mince pie (or your preferred treat!)

    12.30     Reduce oven temperature to 160 oC then take a break to shower and change for dinner!

    1.00        Put potatoes into cold, salted water to boil. Parboil for 3-4 minutes, drain, put back into the pot and shake over gentle heat to thoroughly dry them. Leave aside. Put stuffing into a shallow tin (about 5cm deep, like a small traybake tin) cover loosely with foil.

    1.30        Heat, serve and enjoy the soup!

    2.00        Put about 2tbsp olive oil into your roasting tin for potatoes and put into the oven to heat for about 5-10 minutes, then add potatoes to the hot oil, turning to coat and leave in to roast. Remove foil from turkey (fold and keep for later). Prepare cooked ham for glazing in the oven.

    2.30        Remove turkey from oven and put stuffing (in shallow tin) and ham in. Increase oven temperature to 190oC. Use meat thermometer / probe to check temperature in thickest part of thigh (avoid the bone) and thickest part of the breast, it should be 74oC (165oF). If it’s done, move turkey to a large platter or board and leave to rest for half an hour, very loosely covered with foil. Carefully pour fat off from roasting tin into a bowl to be discarded later when cold. Make roast gravy. Heat vegetables (carrot & parsnip mash and spiced red cabbage)

    3.00        Remove roast potatoes and ham if they’re done and put potatoes into a Pyrex dish. Turn off oven and place dinner plates in the oven to heat and veg to keep warm. Carve turkey and ham.  Cover with foil and if there’s space place in the oven to keep warm. Put on a steamer or water to boil, lightly salted, for the Brussels Sprouts.

    3.15        Serve seafood salad, after you’ve eaten, get someone to clear plates while you put on Brussels Sprouts to cook. Heat gravy jug by filling with a little boiled water, heat gravy in the saucepan, skimming off any fat or foam that rises to the top with a deep spoon or ladle.

    3.30       Everything should now be ready and hot: get plates and meat out of the oven and plate up, get helpers to serve veg and potatoes and take plates to the table and then sit down, pull a cracker and enjoy your dinner!

    Get your helpers on their feet before dessert to tidy up, then later everyone can enjoy dessert / cheese and a well-earned rest by the fire!