Christmas day is probably one of the most hectic days of the year for all home cooks the world over, with its marathon cooking sessions in humid and sweaty kitchens, unless you are a lucky duck and have wrangled an invite to dine elsewhere. The front runners of the Christmas cooking marathon traditionally being the turkey & ham closely followed by the sauces, vegetables and stuffing.
Desserts are usually a lighter fare as we are all usually stuffed from the two courses and sides we have devoured. That’s not saying that there won’t be more festive food later that evening as you can’t beat a good Irish cheese plate with all the extras such as water table biscuits, relishes, chutneys and of course another chance to break out the cranberry sauce while you watch whatever festive movie is on the box.
I usually start the festive food preparation a couple of days in advance just so I can actually get to chat with whoever will be sitting at my dinner table on Christmas day. Cranberry sauce is a stalwart of my Christmas table and I usually make enough to give a jar or two to my nearest and dearest and I am also always under instruction to make enough for the Christmas sandwiches which are traditionally eaten for breakfast lunch and dinner in my home, for at least two days after the big day itself (please don’t judge me but the sauce is so good!) Here is my recipe for the best ever cranberry sauce and rest assured there will not be even one spoonful lurking in the bottom after the festive season is over.
300g caster sugar
240ml orange juice
680g fresh cranberries
1/4 tsp salt
2 cinnamon sticks
6 star anise
Peel from a whole orange or 4 dried orange slices
- Combine sugar, orange juice, and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to combine. Add cranberries, Vermont and salt into the saucepan.
- Place the cinnamon stick, star anise orange peel in a piece of muslin, tie with cooking string so it resembles a pouch and place it in the saucepan. Bring the saucepan to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Continue cooking, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until all or most of the cranberries have popped. It’s nice to have a couple of cranberries not popped for a burst of flavour.
- Remove the muslin pouch with all the flavourings, add the hot cranberry sauce to sterilised jam jars and put on the lid and allow to cool in the jar. Let it cool completely and refrigerate until ready to use.
I love a quick and easy starter when I’m entertaining and adore shellfish, so this next decadent and aromatic sauce recipe is one you can prepare ahead of time and simply heat up and add whatever seafood you like. It is great with pasta of all shapes and sizes, meaty white fish, shellfish and if you really want to go for it, a lobster tail or two. Happy cooking, entertaining and eating this Christmas!
Shellfish bisque sauce
600g of whole prawns or gambas (with heads and shells)
30 g of butter
5 shallots (chopped finely)
2 cloves of garlic (chopped)
15 ml of olive oil
3 tbsp of tomato paste
3 star anise
4 bay leaves
Juice of half of the lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
- Remove the heads and shells from the prawns/gambas and put aside for later.
- Devein the prawns, use a small sharp knife to make a slit along the middle of the back to expose the dark vein which you can remove by scraping with a knife. Put the prawns/gambas into a bowl and refrigerate for use later with this sauce or something like a prawn cocktail.
- Heat a deep pan, add the olive oil and the prawns/gambas heads and shells, fry for 10 minutes until fully pink then add the shallots and fry for another 5-7 minutes until they are soft and translucent then add in the garlic and cook for further 1 minute.
- Add the vermouth to the pan and let reduce by half. Add water, bay leaves, tomato paste and star anise and stir. Simmer for 30 mins you can top it up with more water if the sauce is reducing too quickly.
- Now use a sieve to strain the sauce you may need to use back of a spoon to squeeze the juice from the mixture of heads, shells and shallots, discarding everything but the remaining sauce. If you are using the sauce the following day let it cool and refrigerate until you are ready to use it. Before serving gently reheat and add butter to add a glisten to the sauce. Finally, squeeze in the juice of half a lemon. Top Tip: The sauce will loosen with addition of butter and lemon so don’t worry if you think it’s too thick before you add these.