It's going to be a Christmas like no other for all of us - but cookery star Jenny Bristow is convinced that festivities in 2020 can be just as magical as ever.
With a pared-down guest list, and turkey off the menu in her house for the first time she can remember, the grandmother-of-nine is looking forward to a glass of bubbly on the beach, and putting her feet up to watch some Christmas movies.
"This is going to be the most unusual Christmas I think I'll ever have," says Jenny. "But after everything that's happened already this year, I'm going to totally support the efforts everyone has made and avoid getting into crowds of people or mixing very much.
"We're all used to being invited to this and to that at this time of year, but with the vaccine now on the horizon it would be a dreadful shame to scupper it all at the last hurdle."
So when it comes to Christmas Day 2020, Jenny and husband Bobby will drop gifts off to her son Robert and his family down the road, before enjoying a day with Jenny's sister Rosie.
"It will be absolutely lovely," says the chef, who lives near Cullybackey in rural Co Antrim. "Rosie is in a bubble with us, and the plan is for us to drop off some presents to the grandchildren, and then take a walk at Murlough Bay in Ballycastle.
"It's one of my favourite places, and we'll take a glass of bubbly and have our starter of smoked salmon there by the seaside. We'll come home after that and cook lunch with Rosie, and I imagine it will be just lovely.
"I don't think in all the years I can remember that I've ever had time to sit down and watch the Queen's speech or see any of the Christmas programmes or movies, and I think this year I'll be indulging in a bit more of that. It's lovely to have the option of a lazy Christmas for once."
Having grown up close to her parents and mum herself to three children - pilot sons Robert and Peter, and daughter Jane who lives in Edinburgh - Jenny's memories of Christmas are packed with warmth and stand-out magical moments.
"Growing up with mum and dad in Coleraine, at times we'd have as many as 40 around the Christmas table," she recalls. "It sounds incredible, but we'd bring the trestle tables, all the tablecloths, we'd have rows of tin buckets on the kitchen floor for peeling potatoes and carrots.
"That's my childhood memory of Christmas, and to be honest the thought of having 40 round my table, well I'd run away. But it was cousins, uncles, aunts, everybody. It was the home place so it's where everyone came and it was magic.
"Mum was totally undeterred and took it all in her stride, at least she appeared to, but the dining room table itself could probably take 20 or 25 people, and with all the extra tables and seats around the place we'd have many more than that.
"It was that way for years, and it was so wonderful. There were plenty of dishwashers around to get involved when the food was all eaten, and I particularly remember that we'd have a walk in the forest with the dogs. It was just magical."
And when it came to being a mother of her own young children, the former Home Economics teacher recalls the sense of wonder they felt at Christmas.
"It was just lovely," says Jenny. "Gosh it was so exciting, the prospect of Father Christmas on his way. I remember when my son Peter was small, he was outside playing with a lovely balloon he'd been given on Christmas Eve and it flew away into the sky.
"Now he was very upset that he'd lost it, but I reassured him and told him that his name was written on it. And lo and behold, the very next morning, there it was, tied to his presents inside the house. It was really magical."
And in another sweet memory of Christmases past, also involving Peter, Jenny remembers some festive magic when her son was halfway across the world.
"Both the boys fly, and on this particular Christmas, it was Peter's first year away from home," she recalls. "He was flying to Seattle and he'd joked with the Captain on the flight that he'd find out this year if Santa was real or not because he wasn't going to be at home.
"Well we of course knew what hotel he would be staying at on Christmas Eve, and when Peter came back to his room at 2am, what should he find there but a Christmas tree up, the lights on, and his Christmas sock at the end of the bed.
"We might not have been together, but that memory was a wonderful one, and I suppose that's what it's all down to. It's about the simplicity of creating those magical moments to look back on.
"It's not about lots of money, and it's not even about being together if that's not possible. I suppose despite all the difficulty of this year and how different Christmas is going to be, for lots of us we can still try to make it special and as magical as we can.
"Not being together doesn't have to spoil it for us. Perhaps we need to put our thinking caps on and think, in this moment in time, what can I do?
"I know it's different for everyone. We're very fortunate in that we haven't been affected directly and we haven't lost anyone to Covid, which must be heartbreaking for the people it has touched.
"So if we can make an effort to stay offside for as long as is necessary, we'll do that, and we'll try to make things as enjoyable as we can for as long as we need to do it."
The other big change this year, of course, is the Christmas menu as Jenny's house.
"It's the first year every I'm not cooking turkey," she says. "I might do it later in the year if we're all able to get together safely at some point but the plan is for us to have a nice rib roast as the main.
"We'll have something to do with smoked salmon for our starter on the beach if we can and of course, a Christmas pudding.
"We've missed out on a lot of things this year because of the pandemic, and we've changed our arrangements in many ways, so we're content to go along with different plans for Christmas if it means things will be easier next year.
"With the vaccine already being rolled out I'm feeling really hopeful about what comes next, so we'll make the most of the changes this year, and hope it's just as magical as ever."
"Muffins are a staple of American eating and are almost as popular here," Jenny says. "This lovely recipe is inspired by some muffins I tried in New England."
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
225g/8oz plain flour, sieved
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
1 Bramley apple, peeled, cored and chopped
50g/2oz caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
150ml/¼pt sour cream
Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C/Gas Mark 4. Lightly grease a muffin pan or line with paper cases - the mixture will make 8-10 muffins. Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and spices. Make a well in the centre of the dry mixture. Add the cranberries, apples and sugar. Pour in the eggs, butter and sour cream.
Lightly mix the wet ingredients, then quickly stir in the flour mixture. Do not over-mix - it does not matter if there are some floury patches. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin pans. Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes until well risen, browned and springy to the touch. When cooked, wrap in a tea towel and allow to cool.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
1.7l/3 pints water
225g/8oz granulated sugar
2-3 cinnamon sticks
2 bottles cranberry juice or red wine
1 apple and orange to serve
Roughly cut up the oranges and place in a saucepan with all the other ingredients, except for the red wine. Heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil, simmer for 30 minutes and strain. The syrup can be made up to this stage and then stored in the fridge until required.
To serve, return the syrup to the pan, bring to boiling point, add the cranberry juice, a slice of apple and orange and serve.
"This is one of my favourite starters - fresh pears, a light creamy blue-veined cheese, figs and a few mixed salad leaves," says Jenny. "This can be served as a garland on a large plate with crusty bread, salad, parma ham, smoked salmon or spiced meats in the centre."
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
Juice of 1 lemon
100/4oz pomegranate seeds
150g/6oz blue cheese, crumbled
100g/4oz walnut pieces
75g/3oz soft creamy blue cheese cut into chunks
3 fresh figs, quartered
2 dsp honey
Low fat dressing
2 dsp balsamic honey and chilli vinegar
¼ tsp mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Mixed Leaves, eg, watercress, lamb's lettuce or rocket
Other suggestions: Peaches, nectarines, pears, plums
Peel and quarter the pears and toss in a little lemon juice before cooking in honey and balsamic on a grill pan. Top the pears with cheese and heat below a hot grill with the figs for 1 minute until the cheese melts and the figs roast slightly. Arrange the leaves on a plate. Top with pears, figs, walnuts and pomegranate and spoon over a little dressing just before serving. To turn this dish into a light lunch, increase the quantities and serve with either crispy bacon. smoked ham, smoked salmon, or crusty bread.
“Whether you call this dish a casserole or a stew, it is simply a great dish for entertaining or when you want to cook something packed with flavour and spices,” Jenny says. “Other ingredients can also be added, such as walnuts and pomegranate seeds for extra texture but the colours and flavours in this dish are just so good. Serve with rice or sweet potatoes and a special dish to cook when entertaining.”
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
800g/2lb steak/lamb strips, finely shredded and tossed in 25g/1oz plain flour
2dsp olive oil
2 onions, white or red and cut into fine slices
2 carrots, coarsely grated
3 oranges, juice and rind, coarsely grated
200g/8oz spinach leaves
2 cardamom pods, seeds only
100g/4oz almonds, strips
50g/2oz pistachio nuts, chopped coarsely
200g/8oz baby tomatoes
1 cinnamon stick
4 dsp balsamic vinegar
1 dsp honey
250ml/½ beef stock cube
Pinch of paprika pepper
Salt and pepper
To serve: coriander or flat Italian parsley
Cooking time: 1¼ hrs on the hob or in oven.
Cut the beef or lamb into fine strips and toss in seasoned plain flour with a hint of paprika pepper. In a large casserole dish, heat the oil and butter and then add the beef strips. Cook well until golden, well sealed and packed with flavour.
Draw the beef to the side, then add the sliced onion to the same pan — add a little oil if needed and cook until the onions are well cooked but still translucent. In a separate pan, gently cook, over a low heat, the whole baby tomatoes with balsamic vinegar until softened and almost caramelised. Grate or cut carrots into fine strips. Grate the coarse zest from the oranges, squeeze the juice from the oranges, remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and chop the nuts.
To the beef and onion mixture add the cinnamon stick, cardamom, half orange peel, juice, grated carrot, roasted baby tomatoes, honey and seasoning. Continue cooking over a medium heat for 15-20 mins to intensify the flavours without the addition of the stock.
Next add the stock and either cook on the hob or the oven at 200°C/400°F for 45 mins. Cooking in the oven can be economical if making a dessert or other dishes at the same time.
Finally, add the spinach leaves, half orange peel, seasoning, half the pistachio nuts and half of the almonds. Heat through for 4-5 mins. Remove and serve garnished with coriander and the remainder of the nuts.
“The secret in a good Christmas dinner is to have a fresh local bird,” says Jenny. “I firmly believe if you can afford the little extra then a fresh bird gives added value in flavour and more option when it comes to the leftovers.”
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
1 turkey, approx 11lbs/5kg
4oz/110g softened butter
10 rashers streaky bacon
2-3 dsp olive oil
220g/8oz white breadcrumbs
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 lemons, rind and juice
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2-3 dsp parsley, freshly chopped
50g/2oz butter or poly unsaturated fat
Prepare all the above ingredients — make the breadcrumbs, chop parsley and celery, finely grate lemon, squeeze the juice, chop onion,
Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the celery, onion, thyme, parsley.
Add the breadcrumbs, mix well and finally the beaten egg. Bind well together then use the stuffing either for the neck of the bird or cook separately in an ovenproof dish covered with foil for 25-30 minutes.
Arrange 2 large sheets of foil across the roasting tray. Place the turkey on top of the foil and cover with softened butter. Sprinkle with black pepper and a hint of all spice.
Lay the rashers of bacon over the breast, just overlapping. Place 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 onion and bunch of herbs in the cavity.
Pour the stock around the turkey, fold over the foil and bake in the oven.
Place in a hot oven Gas mark 7/425˚F/220˚C for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to Gas mark 3/325˚F/170˚C for a further 2.5-3 hours.
Just before serving turn the temperature up to 200˚C/Gas mark 5, open the foil, remove the bacon and allow the turkey to crisp up. Remember to baste the turkey occasionally during cooking. When cooked, remove from the foil, place in a warm place and allow the turkey standing time to release before carving and serving.
Tips for best ever gravy: Remove the turkey juices from the foil along with the concentrated bits in the roasting dish. Reduce the liquid over a high heat, add 1-2 dsp redcurrant jelly, a little water or stock, seasoning and if liked a few bay leaves. Simmer gently for 2-3 minutes then strain.
Serve your Ultimate Christmas Turkey with Lemon Thyme, Celery and Stuffing with redcurrant flavoured gravy, cranberry sauce and oven roasted winter vegetables.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
1.5kg (approx. 3lbs) gammon joint
2 onions cut into large chunks
2 sticks celery
2 bay leaves
8-10 black peppercorns
Bunch of fresh herbs, eg parsley
4 pts water
2 pts apple juice (unsweetened)
To finish the gammon
2-4 tsp English mustard
50g/2ozs Demerara sugar
4 dsp honey
½ pt apple juice
¼ pt water or stock
2-3 small apples, halved
Firstly rinse the gammon well under cold water or if time permits place in a large basin covered with cold water and leave to steep for 1-2 hours. Place in large saucepan, cover with apple juice and sufficient water to ensure the ham is covered. Add the onion, carrot, leek, celery, herbs and peppercorns.
Place over a medium heat, bring to boiling point then reduce the temperature to simmering. Cover and leave to cook gently for 13/4 hours. Turn off the heat and leave to cook slightly before removing from the stock. Using a sharp knife carefully remove the skin from the gammon ensuring you leave a good layer of fat.
Score the knife through the fat in a lattice fashion then smear the entire skin of the joint with mustard. Pour over the warmed honey. Using whole cloves carefully slice the ham in a lattice effect.
Dust with Demerara sugar then return to a foil lined dish.
Pour around the gammon the half pint apple juice, sprinkling of 2 whole cloves and ¼ pint water and 2-3 apples halved.
Season well with black pepper and bake in the oven at 180˚C/350˚F/Gas mark 4 for 40-45 minutes approximately. Baste often.
There is no need to enclose the ham in the foil, I find it better to leave it open. The Christmas Ham takes on a wonderful honey coloured glaze.
To serve, sprinkle with the glaze.
“This is a lovely twist on the traditional Christmas cake and one which is lighter in texture and which will also double up as a dessert,” Jenny comments. “Packed with plums, roasted nuts, dark chocolate and orange it has all the ingredients of the festive season or any time of the year. This cake can also be made with dried rather than fresh fruit, so you may want to swap the fresh plums for figs or prunes. This will ensure the cake will keep longer. If you have a nut allergy, the quantity of nuts can be replaced with raisins or sultanas.”
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Springform cake tin 9-10 inches in diameter
100g/4oz dark brown sugar
50g/2oz softened butter
25g/1oz plain flour
50g/2oz ground almonds
450g/1lb plums, stoned and cut in half
1 tsp cinnamon powder
150g/6oz soft brown sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
250g/10oz cake making self-raising flour
2 oranges, rind only
100g/4oz each of walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chopped and roasted in a pan for 1-2 mins
1 tsp cinnamon powder
200g/8oz dark chocolate
1dsp cocoa powder
Oven temperature should be 350°F/180°C
Prepare the topping: mix together 4oz dark brown sugar, 2oz softened butter, 1oz flour and 2oz ground almonds. Gently mix or rub in until crumbly and softened.
Prepare the plums: cut in half, remove the stones and sprinkle with 1tsp cinnamon powder.
Prepare the tin: lightly grease a 9-10-inch springform tin with oil or butter. If preferred, line with greaseproof paper.
Prepare the chocolate: heat the broken chocolate pieces in a bowl over a pan of hot water until melted.
To make the cake: beat together the butter and soft brown sugar until soft and creamy. Alternately add the flour, cocoa powder and the lightly beaten eggs until the mixture is creamy and well mixed.
Add the orange rind, chopped nuts, 1tsp cinnamon powder and mix well. Finally, add the melted chocolate — this should still be slightly warm but not hot or the cake mixture will begin to melt and soften.
Pour into the prepared tin, then sprinkle the chopped plums on top. Press down slightly, then sprinkle with the almond crumb mixture before baking in the oven (at 350°F/180°C) for approximately 1¼-1½ hrs or when a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before turning out of the tin.