Merry Stressmas

Take the hassle out of the Christmas morning by going the brunch route, says Sophie White, who has recipes for delicious dishes that can be prepped beforehand, leaving lots of time to savour the big day’s atmosphere

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We all have big expectations when it comes to Christmas. The pressure to create impossibly perfect, magical memories for our adorable little loin fruit is pretty big.

Invariably the little tykes won’t play the game, however; tantrums are as big a part of Christmas morning (and as nerve-jangling) as the Christmas songs on repeat. And it’s not just the children acting up — and, let’s face it, they have a pretty good excuse; they’re on a considerable developmental back foot compared with say, the adult contingent of the family. The adult family members can be every bit as helpless as the toddlers in the face of timing turkeys and fielding presents. More often than not, I’m in need of a mild sedative by the time the Kildare cousins arrive.

Christmas is the good kind of chaos, and if we didn’t have it, we would be bereft. I do feel, however, that too much focus is given over to the main event of the day, the dinner, and thus we neglect the previous nine hours during which, in my experience, we are most in need of soakage. This is, after all, when all the drunken fallouts and dredging up of past festive misdemeanors tend to take place.

Pre-prep is your pal

Children, family and friends are basically nothing more than a hindrance when it comes to keeping the Christmas show on the road. They will thwart our every effort to have the perfect, Instagram-worthy Christmas.

It starts early, when the pesky spawn wake, hourly, from 1am, to ask if it’s time to open the presents yet. I eventually relent, and let them get up at the more civilised hour of 5am. This will come to be a deeply regretted decision as it dawns on me that I now have to wait approximately four hours until it is deemed reasonable to consume the first alcoholic beverage of the day.

“The baby will love this adorable novelty Rudolph babygro,” I might then mistakenly think, while trying desperately to compose a lovely family photo. Wrong. In reality, the baby is not happy. The adorable novelty Rudolph babygro is, in fact, more like an adorable novelty Rudolph hairshirt, and the baby will not countenance keeping the thing on long enough for the bloody photo.

Himself is no better than the kids in the making-me-want-to-tear-my-own-face- off-out-of-sheer-frustration stakes. His annual question: “What are we getting for my mother?” is never trotted out until at least 10am of a Christmas morning. Why does it take him this long to even begin to wonder if this aspect of the gifting is taken care of ? Similarly, he usually only thinks to “check” on the turkey status an hour before Christmas dinner.

I notice that I also always spend from December 20 to 25 being continuously questioned about the whereabouts of everything from Sellotape to wrapping paper, to Christmas lights to the tin of Roses. Time and again, I have tried to explain that I am not the keeper of all Christmas-related items — except probably the Roses, the location of which only I am privy to.

Spending Christmas with loved ones can be taxing on the soul, and many of us fall into the trap of surviving the day purely on adrenaline and low-grade rage directed at our relatives.

Dodge the festive hanger and inevitable sugar low by making an easy, prep-in- advance brunch menu that can be rolled out in tasty interludes throughout the day until Turkey Time hits.

Selected homewares and Christmas decorations from Dealz, see dealz.ie

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Baked Eggs in Brioche with Chorizo

Serves 4

You will need:

•2 brioche buns
•4 eggs
•100g mature white cheddar, grated •100g chorizo, peeled and finely diced
•2 ripe tomatoes
•1 clove garlic, crushed
•Generous pinch of chilli flakes
•2 tablespoons olive oil
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper •Fresh flat-leaf parsley to serve

1 Preheat the oven to 165°C, 325°F, Gas 3. Create a little well on the inside of each brioche-bun half, then put the halves, well-side up, on an oven tray.

2 Carefully crack an egg into each well in the brioche buns. Sprinkle with the grated mature white cheddar, then bake in the oven for about 8-12 minutes until the bread is lightly toasted, the cheese is melted and the egg is still slightly runny.

3 While the eggs are cooking, heat a non-stick frying pan over a high heat and fry the diced chorizo until it is hot and crisp. Drain it and set it aside for a few minutes. 

4 Finely dice the tomatoes and combine them with the crushed garlic, the chilli flakes, the olive oil and the sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5 Using a spatula, carefully transfer each egg-filled brioche bun to a
plate, top with the cooked chorizo you set aside earlier, and then add the tomato, garlic, chilli, olive oil and seasoning mixture. Scatter with the roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley.

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Smoked Salmon Bagels

Serves 10

You will need:

•200g smoked salmon

•400g cream cheese

•70g capers, drained

• 1 small red onion

•Juice of one lemon

• Freshly ground black pepper

• 5 bagels, halved and toasted
• Lemon wedges, to garnish

1 Finely chop the smoked salmon and combine it in a bowl with the cream cheese and the drained capers.

2 Halve, peel and finely slice the red onion and add it to the mix along with the lemon juice and the freshly ground black pepper. This can be made on Christmas Eve and stored in the fridge until Christmas morning.

3 Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. Halve the bagels and arrange them on an ovenproof tray. Put them in the oven for about five minutes, until they are golden and slightly crispy. Smear them with the salmon, onion, lemon juice and black pepper mixture and serve with wedges of lemon.

BRUNCH PIZZA WITH BLACK PUDDING, BERRIES, GOAT’S CHEESE AND CRISPY SAGE

Makes 12 mini pizzas

You will need:

•100g black pudding
•70g blackberries
•100g goat’s cheese
•2 tablespoons of sunflower oil

•10 sage leaves

•350g packet of puff pastry •1 egg beaten

1 Preheat the oven to 220°C, 425°F, Gas 7. First, prepare the pizza toppings. Slice the black pudding into 1cm rounds and fry them until they are crisp and cooked through. Roughly chop the blackberries, and slice the goat’s cheese into 1cm rounds.

2 Heat the sunflower oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry the sage leaves for about two minutes, turning them half-way, until they uncurl and become bright. Drain them on some kitchen paper and set them aside.

3 Cut the puff pastry into 8cm rounds. Using a sharp knife, make a light incision (be careful not to cut all the way through) around the top of each pastry round, to form a 2cm-deep border. Arrange the rounds on two oven trays and brush the 2cm-wide borders of each with the beaten egg.

4 Scatter the berries over each pastry round and top with the black pudding and goat’s cheese. Keep the toppings inside the border. If you are preparing these the day before, at this point, cover the trays with a sheet of baking paper (to prevent the cheese from sticking) and cling film and store them in the fridge.

5 Bake the mini pizzas in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until the goat’s cheese is melted and the edges have puffed up and turned golden. Serve with the crispy sage leaves scattered on top of each pizza.

CHRISTMAS CINNAMON CHURROS

Makes 10-12

For the churros, you will need:

•250ml water
•3 tablespoons sugar
•1⁄2 teaspoon salt
•2 tablespoons butter, melted

•130g flour, sieved

•Sunflower oil for deep frying

•100g caster sugar
•3 teaspoons cinnamon

1 To prepare the churros, put the water, the sugar, the salt and the melted butter in a pot. Bring to the boil, then remove the pot from the heat. Stir in the sieved flour to form a smooth ball of dough. While the dough is cooling, prepare a piping bag with a closed star nozzle (about 2cm in diameter), then fill the bag with the warm dough.

2 Fill a small saucepan with the sunflower oil and heat it over a medium heat. To check if the oil is hot enough, drop in a small bit of batter — if it sizzles and immediately rises to the top, then the oil is ready.

3 There are two ways to add the churros to the pan of oil. You can: Pipe the batter directly into the oil in batches of three finger-sized pieces, using a scissors to snip the batter at the nozzle as you pipe each one. Alternatively: you can pipe the churros onto a lined baking tray and then gently lower each churro into the oil with a plastic spatula. Fry the churros until they are golden, turning them halfway through, then carefully remove them and drain them on kitchen paper. See Note, below.

4 Mix the caster sugar with the cinnamon, then toss the cooked churros in the cinnamon-sugar coating to serve.

Note:

These churros can be made the night before — cook as above, and arrange them on a lined oven tray. Store them overnight at room temperature. Reheat them in the oven at 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6 for about five minutes or until they are hot and crispy. Toss the hot churros in the cinnamon-sugar before serving.

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CHOCOLATEY EGGNOG FOR THE CHURROS

Serves 8

You will need:

• 700ml milk
• 300ml cream
• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

• 2 cinnamon sticks
• Seeds from one vanilla pod

• 100g dark chocolate
• 5 eggs, separated
• 120g sugar
•180ml bourbon or rum

•Churros (see recipe, above)

1 In a saucepan, combine the milk, the cream, the ground nutmeg, the cinnamon sticks, the vanilla seeds and the vanilla pod. Bring to the boil over a medium heat. Once the mixture is boiling, remove the pot from the heat and allow the flavours to infuse. Remove the cinnamon stick and the vanilla pod from the milk, and add the dark chocolate, allowing it to melt.

2 In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the egg yolks and the sugar until they are combined and thick ribbons form when the whisk is lifted. Slowly whisk in the milk, cream, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla mixture, and continue to mix until everything is combined and smooth. Add the bourbon or the rum, whichever you’re using, and stir. Refrigerate the eggnog mixture overnight or for up to 3 days.

3 Before serving, beat the egg whites in a large bowl or stand mixer until soft peaks form. Gently whisk the stiff egg whites into the eggnog until they are combined. Serve, and garnish with the churros.

DECADENT POACHED PEARS AND PLUMS

Serves 6 approximately

You will need:

•200ml red wine
•1 litre water
•50g honey
•100g caster sugar
•3 dried cinnamon sticks •10 whole cloves

• 2 slices of lemon peel (use a potato peeler)
•4 small pears
•4 plums
• Chocolate and coconut granola with Greek yoghurt, to serve (see recipe, below)

1 To make the poaching liquid, put a medium wide-bottomed pot over a medium heat, and combine the red wine, the water, the honey, the caster sugar, the cinnamon sticks, the whole cloves and the lemon peel slices.

2 Peel and quarter the pears, and pit and quarter the plums. Bring the poaching liquid to the boil, reduce the heat, and arrange the fruit in the pot so that the poaching liquid just covers it. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the pears and plums are tender.

3 If you are preparing the fruit before Christmas morning, allow it to cool completely. Then gently transfer the fruit to sterilised jars using a slotted spoon. Pour some of the remaining poaching juice into the jars to keep the fruit moist, then simply heat in a pot before serving with the granola and Greek yoghurt on Christmas morning.

CHOCOLATE AND COCONUT GRANOLA WITH GREEK YOGHURT

Makes two large jars

You will need:

•100ml coconut oil

•100ml maple syrup

• 150g popped quinoa

•180g oats

  • 250g sunflower seeds

  • 4 tablespoons cacao powder

  • 150g chopped toasted hazelnuts

  • 200g coconut chips

  • Poached pears and plums, to

    serve (see recipe, above)

  • 200g Greek yoghurt, to serve

    1 Preheat the oven to 160°C, 320°F, Gas 3. Melt the coconut oil and the maple syrup in a pot

    over a medium heat.

    2 In a large bowl, mix the popped quinoa, the oats, the sunflower seeds and the cacao powder  together. Then pour in the coconut oil and maple syrup mixture, stirring well to ensure everything is coated.

    3 Line two trays with baking paper and divide the granola mixture between them. Toast in the oven for about 30 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes to ensure the granola doesn’t burn. Allow it to cool completely before adding the chopped toasted hazelnuts and the coconut chips. Then store the granola in clean, airtight containers until it is needed.

    4 To serve, spoon the poached pears and plums into bowls, top with the chocolate and coconut granola and add a generous dollop of Greek yoghurt.