Nessa Robins knows a lot about Christmas. As a food writer, cook and mother, she has become an expert at preparing the Christmas feast without losing your mind. Here, she shares her top tips, and one of her favourite recipes.
What’s your first Christmas food memory?
My most vivid Christmas memory is gathering around the radio at half five on Christmas Eve, to listen to Santa’s report from the North Pole. Tea on Christmas Eve was the same each year, an egg in a cup with buttery toast. While eagerly anticipating all that Santa had to say, this simple tea somehow tasted sensational.
What is unique to your family and Christmas – what tradition will you quite simply not be without?
Each Christmas Eve evening we briefly visit the houses of friends and relative. Our last stop is always the crib at our church in Mount Temple, and we light candles for the loved ones who are no longer here to celebrate Christmas with us. When we return home, hot chocolates are made for all, and we sit around by candlelight and sing our favourite Christmas carols together. As Christmas Time can be so hectic I savour this peacefulness on Christmas Eve.
Do you follow your mother’s recipe for Christmas dinner or have you tweaked it?
My mother was a wonderful cook, and there was always great preparation put in place many weeks in advance for the Christmas feast. I pretty much follow what my mother would have cooked, as in turkey, ham, stuffing and all the trimmings. However, most of the recipes I have tweaked. There are so many ingredients available to us that our mother’s or grandmother’s didn’t have access to, but all-in-all the basis of the dinner is the same.
What unusual addition is unique to your Christmas dinner?
I poach a turkey breast in place of roasting the turkey. A number of years ago I saw Richard Corrigan cooking his turkey crown in a similar way, and when I tried it for myself the result was so deliciously moist and flavoursome I’ve been cooking my turkey that way ever since.
What are your top three tips for someone cooking their first Christmas dinner?
First off, you want to enjoy the experience of cooking Christmas dinner. If it’s too much stress you won’t be too keen on taking on the cooking for this special occasion again. So, I would advise them to cook dishes that they are familiar with. As I mentioned above, poaching a turkey breast is a great option and especially good for a novice Christmas cook. Not only will the result be delicious, but as it bubbles away on the stove, the oven is completely free for the turkey accompaniments. Therefore, no worries about taking a turkey out in time to make room for the roasties, stuffing and vegetables.
Lastly, to limit the time cooking on Christmas day, I would advise everyone to prepare as many of the Christmas dishes as possible in advance.
What’s the most important part of the day for you and why?
I absolutely love the moment that the children wake and realise that Santa has been. There is something so magical about that early-morning creeping down the hall, and once the sitting room door opens the excitement that ensues is sensational.
Nessa has just released a free-to-download Christmas e-book called Nessa’s Christmas Kitchen, available for a limited time as a free download, either from Nessa’s blog www.nessasfamilykitchen.com or Smashwords.
Potato Cakes with Smoked Irish Salmon
Poached & Butter-Basted Turkey Breast
Sage, Date & Pistachio Stuffing
Creamy Potato & Leek Gratin
Mulled Berry Trifle
Lemon Meringue Pudding