Saturday 18 November 2017

A new twist: Donal Skehan's contemporary Christmas dinner

Food blogger and TV chef Donal Skehan
Food blogger and TV chef Donal Skehan
Christmas cake trifle
Chilli jam salmon with wilted spinach
Cranberry stuffed chicken wrapped in pancetta with pan-fried Brussels sprouts

For first-time cooks, cooking a traditional Christmas dinner can seem like climbing Mount Everest. There is a lot to think of: the ham, the turkey, the accompaniments, the veggies (and that's just the main course!).

Christmas dinner can put the fear of God in to some of the best cooks out there, and unless you can channel your inner Delia, it can all be a bit stressful. In our family, we came up with the ideal solution of delegation, where everyone gets a different job in the kitchen.

This works well but you have to make sure you give the correct job to the right person!

However, if you are forced to go it alone in the kitchen, I've come up with a few recipes with a festive spin on them, to make things run smoothly in the kitchen.

My cranberry-stuffed chicken breasts wrapped in pancetta served with pan-fried Brussels sprouts are basically a stripped down Christmas dinner, which is most definitely a lot kinder on the waistline, and is also extremely easy to prepare.

In lots of European countries, fish takes a prominent role in the Christmas dinner, and that is the exact story you will have to convince your guests of when you serve up this delicious chilli jam salmon with wilted spinach, which (while not so traditional in our minds) features all the festive colours and literally takes just a few minutes to prepare.

Last but not least, every Christmas table needs a showstopper and if you don't fancy setting the dining room on fire with booze for the Christmas pud, this trifle is a total crowdpleaser.

Cranberry stuffed chicken wrapped in pancetta with pan-fried Brussels sprouts

This dish is full of festive flavours and makes life simple for anyone not completely convinced about tackling a full traditional Christmas dinner this year.

4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, finely chopped

1 onion, finely chopped

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

100g breadcrumbs

60g cranberries

60g walnuts, toasted and finely chopped

1 sprig each of rosemary and thyme, finely chopped

1 teaspoon allspice

Zest of 1 orange

4 chicken breasts on the bone

8 rashers of pancetta

600g Brussels sprouts, washed, outer leaves and stalk removed, and halved

Sea salt and ground black pepper

Rapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.

Place large frying pan over medium-high heat, melt butter until it foams, then fry bacon until golden.

Add onion and celery and cook until tender. Add breadcrumbs, cranberries, walnuts, rosemary, thyme, allspice, orange zest and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Stir through until combined.

Using a sharp knife, slice open chicken breasts to make a little pocket big enough to add stuffing.

Fill each of the chicken breasts with stuffing and then wrap each one with pancetta. Place chicken breasts in a roasting tin and give a final seasoning of sea salt and ground black pepper and a drizzle of oil before popping in the oven.

Cook chicken breasts for approximately 45 minutes or until cooked all the way through.

Remove chicken from the oven and cover with tinfoil while you prepare the Brussels sprouts. Place large frying pan over a high heat and add knob of butter and melt it until it foams.

Add in Brussel sprouts and cook until tender and a nice golden colour. Season with sea salt and ground black pepper and serve alongside chicken breasts.

Chilli jam salmon with wilted spinach

If turkey and ham isn't your thing, try this festively coloured alternative Christmas dish. Unlike the hassle of a traditional Christmas dinner, this dish can be made in a matter of minutes.

Serves four

4 tablespoons chilli jam

1 tablespoon rice wine

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

4 salmon darns

1 tablespoon rapeseed oil

2 cloves garlic

400g spinach

2 red chillis, finely sliced

1 bunch of spring onions, finely sliced

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6.

In a bowl, whisk together the chilli jam, rice wine and soy sauce.

Place salmon in a roasting tin and coat completely with chilli jam mixture.

Cook in the oven for approximately 15 minutes or until just cooked all the way through. While salmon is cooking, heat a wok or a large frying pan over a high heat and add oil.

Stirfry garlic for 30 seconds and then add in spinach, tossing until it has all wilted down. Season with sea salt and then place a little pile of cooked spinach on serving plates and top with the salmon.

Garnish with the finely-sliced fresh chilli and spring onion and serve immediately.

Christmas cake trifle

This trifle is adapted from one of my favourite Australian cookery writers, Donna Hay, and it truly is a crowd-pleasing dessert. It is important to get your hands on the correct-sized trifle dish for this. You can order them on Amazon or

270g strawberry jelly

800g Christmas cake, crumbled

100ml of butterscotch schnapps (or sherry)

500ml cream

60g flaked almonds

560ml cream

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out

6 egg yolks

75g caster sugar

1 tablespoon cornflour

Make jelly according to the instructions on the pack and pour into an eight-inch (3.25 litre) trifle dish. Cover with clingfilm and place in fridge to set completely.

Make custard by placing cream and vanilla bean and seeds in a small pot over a medium-high heat and bring to a simmer.

While cream is heating, whisk together sugar, egg yolks and cornflour in a large bowl.

When cream is hot, slowly pour into egg mix, whisking continuously until combined.

Transfer mix back into the pot and place over a low heat, stirring every now and then for six minutes until custard is thickened.

Remove from heat and place a sheet of clingfilm directly on top of custard to prevent a skin from forming.

Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Line eight-inch cake tin with parchment paper and then press Christmas cake crumbs in so you have a flat surface. Pour over the alcohol and allow to soak through.

Whisk cream in a large bowl until it just forms peaks and place in fridge until you are ready to assemble.

Toast almonds in a frying pan over a medium high heat for about three minutes, making sure not to burn them. Remove to a plate and allow to cool completely.

When jelly has set, carefully layer Christmas cake base on top of jelly. You can cut it into quarters for easier assembly if you wish.

Top with custard and then whipped cream.

You can place trifle back in the fridge at this stage or serve straight away with a sprinkle of the toasted almonds.

This article originally appeared in Mistletoe magazine

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