Read: Irish Examiner | A cheat’s guide to Christmas cooking
An edited version of this feature was first published in the Irish Examiner on 3 December 2022.
With seasonal advice everywhere on subjects like curing your own salmon starter, baking bread for stuffing and even rearing the turkey, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have to make all the edibles yourself for the festive season. That’s not so. Food doesn’t have to be stressful to be special and clever cooks always have some cheat ingredients stashed away to make life easier.
Although we might be slightly out of practice, we’re looking forward more than ever to entertaining family and friends this year. Just remember one crucial thing: it’s so much more important to be together than to have everything perfect. Nollaig Shona dhuit!
Stock up for the season
My go to over the festive season is a really good frozen chicken stock: boil up the chicken bones after a Sunday roast with veg and seasoning and you have a great stock you can pop in the freezer. It makes a wonderful base for soup or risotto over Christmas. The other item that makes everything delicious is a roasted bulb of garlic, which is such an easy and low-cost way to transform a dish. I add this to soups, to roasts, to mash and it always makes everything better.
Chef-restaurateur of Myrtle Restaurant in London, Anna Haugh is a judge on BBC’s Masterchef the Professionals and recently opened pop-up restaurant Anna Haugh at Conrad Dublin. myrtlerestaurant.com
Doing it deli-style
Don’t feel guilty about sourcing some elements of your meal from your preferred deli or supermarket. Just order well in advance.
Stock up on pestos, olives, Irish cheeses, smoked salmon, and cured meats, including spiced beef. Have brown bread made and frozen in advance and I also make my oat biscuits the week before Christmas and have a batch of these in the freezer.
For a sweet option, make a shortbread dough and shape into a long sausage, wrap and freeze. Take out, thaw, slice and bake in 10-15 minutes for a delicious treat to have with tea or coffee. A homemade butterscotch sauce is a great item to have in the freezer for serving with vanilla ice-cream. Add a dash of rum to the sauce for extra richness.
Kenmare chef Maura O’Connell Foley’s Gourmand Award-winning book My Wild Atlantic Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections is available from mywildatlantickitchen.com and bookshops nationwide.
Puff the magic pastry
The one product I always make sure I have on hand is Roll It All Butter Puff Pastry. Without a shadow of a doubt, it’s my secret weapon in the kitchen. I love a product that’s Irish and has the versatility to be served sweet or savoury, hot and cold.
Over Christmas, it gets turned into apple turnovers or chocolate swirls for breakfast, vol-au-vents and pies for dinner and quick and easy mille-feuille for dessert.The one dish we look forward to the most? My now signature leftover Christmas dinner jambons on St Stephen’s Day!
With 23 years of kitchen experience under his belt, pastry chef Shane Smith launched his Online Cookery School in September. Chefshanesmith.ie
With three small children in the house, I like desserts that are quick to prepare. One traditional favourite for me is trifle. To make life easier I always make sure that I have a packet of lady fingers (also called boudoir biscuits), Chivers raspberry jelly and a tin of pears in the press. These were staple items in my mother’s press when I was growing up. The lady fingers are a great substitute for trifle sponge – just soak with a little sherry or liqueur – they last for ages unopened and are also good for serving with coffee.
Norma Kelly is the award-winning chocolatier and pastry chef behind Mitchelstown’s Praline Pastry and Chocolate Shop. praline.ie
Oil & vinegar
Our cheat is a flavoured oil and flavoured vinegar: we think oil and vinegar come as a pair so we cheated on the ‘cheat’ stipulation and turned one into two! Newgrange Gold Smoky Rapeseed Oil is a game-changing condiment. Add it to dressings, mayo and aioli for subtle smoky depth, stir through mashed potato to bring up the flavour or gently roast root veg in it. Wildwood Vinegars are made by Fionntán Gogarty in Co. Mayo and a drizzle of his barrel-aged balsamics always adds a stunningly deep dimension to dishes. Anoint over root veg, add a drop to an oyster, stir into a dressing, whisk into cranberry and port sauce or even drizzle over ice cream, especially the wild blackberry or cherry versions.
Based in the Boyne Valley, Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford – aka GastroGays – are food and travel writers. Hot Fat, their debut cookbook, was published in May by Blasta Books. Gastrogays.com
Whipped into a festive frenzy
My holiday cheat ingredient has got to be a tub of whipped cream. It’s a no-mess, no-fuss ingredient that’s super handy to have around. I make sure I have a few tubs on the go during the holiday season so I can whip something yummy up at short notice, like a trifle, or an Eton mess. You can use it to top off a hot chocolate when friends or family drop by and it can also be mixed with a little Irish cream liqueur and dolloped onto mince pies.
Photographer and Instagrammer Lili Forberg released her An Post Irish Book Awards-shortlisted cookbook Lili’s Family Favourites (The O’Brien Press) earlier this year. @liliforberg
Use everything up
You can’t go wrong with a sheet of Irish-made, Roll It All Butter Puff Pastry. It’s delicious when loaded up with leftover turkey and ham, Brussels sprouts, a little cranberry sauce and some oozy Ballylisk Single Rose Brie – divine! I’m all about reducing waste and seeking opportunities to use up what we have left over. Turn any extra mashed potatoesinto delicious Christmas potato cakes for lunch on St Stephen’s Day.
Cork-based Orla McAndrew is a wedding and event caterer with a focus on sustainable and zero waste food. omcatering.ie
I always have a jar of mole paste in my cupboard. After two days of turkey sambos we always get rid of the leftover turkey by making a mole so that paste comes in handy. Tortilla chips and a good jar of salsa is always a must. You never know when someone will drop in to visit and, while you whip up something easy, these are ready-made nibbles and everyone likes salsa and chips!
Mexican chef, food writer and shopkeeper Lily Ramirez-Foran is the author of Tacos (Blasta Books) www.picadomexican.com
My cheat options are the condiments so I will always pick up some really good quality lemon curd, delicious sweet mincemeat and a really tasty chutney. These three items help me to add that extra special element to various different soirées.
If I am entertaining informally, I will serve the chutney with some really fabulous cured meats, cheese and crispbreads to create a mouth-watering grazing platter. Spoon lemon curd into sweet pastry discs and bake in mini muffin tins to create cheats’ lemon tarts. I make delicious mince pie crumbles by lining a bun tin with sweet pastry, filling with good quality mincemeat and adding a crumble topping. Just 15 minutes in the oven will generate a tasty yuletide treat.
Remember there’s no point spending all the time in the kitchen: plan your dishes in advance, use up larder items – or buy really tasty homemade versions that were just made in someone else’s home and not yours!
Chef and food writer Edward Hayden is a regular on Ireland AM, presents a radio show on KCLR96fm and lectures in culinary arts at SETU Waterford. edwardhayden.ie