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Get cracking with your Christmas cooking

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She’s made a list, checked it twice, now Lady Claire Macdonald presents her recipes for a festive feast.

This is my favourite time of the whole year, this run up to Christmas. If I could, though, I would slot in a couple of extra weeks to the calendar – there is just never enough time to do everything!

People sneer at those who make lists. Well, I would never do anything without lists, especially at this time of year. My lists comprise what we are going to eat on which day, and what to take out of the freezer and when.

And there are so many dishes that can be frozen very successfully at this time of year, for a limited length of time.

All my stuffings, whether for goose or turkey, can be made three to four weeks in advance and frozen, as can bread sauce – that most delicious accompaniment for roast chicken, turkey or pheasant.

I realise that a trip around the supermarket aisles shows that we can buy any number of prepared stuffings and sauces, but they never match up taste-wise to those which are homemade. Ready-made food has to be safely seasoned and flavoured so for those of us who love flavour, they taste bland. And making your own food is much less expensive.

It is only a couple of weeks before Christmas Day. So here are some recipes which you could make early this week and freeze, if you haven’t already done so!

Bread sauce sounds so easy – which it is – but there can be a world of difference between a stodgy tasteless bread sauce and a creamy delicious bread sauce with its hint of cooked onion, cloves, and its buttery content. I freeze bread sauce in the dish in which it can be reheated and served, but it will need a good stirring before serving.

My turkey stuffing is based on skirlie, but it has more vegetables than traditional skirlie does. And chestnuts. I love chestnuts, and these days they are easily obtainable, vacuum sealed, and can even be found in our Co-op in Broadford, Isle of Skye.

Try roasting chestnuts with Brussels sprouts which have been steamed for three to four minutes, drained and allowed to dry, then tossed with the chestnuts in melted butter before roasting in a hot oven, 400F/200C/gas 6, for 20-25 minutes.

The dark chocolate roulade, filled with vanilla whipped cream, freezes beautifully. It needs to be taken from the freezer into a warm room temperature about two hours before serving. But you can vary the additions to the whipped cream filling by including diced stem ginger or boozy raspberries, drained of their alcohol, or cherries.

Even adding finely grated orange rind to the whipped cream adds another taste dimension. And a dark chocolate roulade makes a good alternative to Christmas pud for those who don’t like Christmas pud.

The main aspect of Christmas food preparation is that it should free up time for you, the cook. You have every right to enjoy Christmas as much as your family and friends.

And your enjoyment and ability to relax is directly relatable to how much they will enjoy this great day that is Christmas. A martyred hostess makes everyone else feel guilty. So please, have a very happy and peaceful Christmas.


Bread sauce freezes exceptionally well. But there are two imperatives – that it must be made using breadcrumbs from a baked, not a steamed loaf. And that whole milk must be used, not skimmed.
1 onion, skinned and stuck with 12 cloves
1 stick of celery, broken in two bits
1 pint of milk

6oz fresh whizzed breadcrumbs
1 rounded tsp salt
About 15 grinds of black pepper
Good grating of nutmeg
2oz butter

Put the clove-stuck onion, the bits of celery and milk into a saucepan over a gentle to moderate heat. As the milk gradually heats up, skin will form on the surface. Be careful not to do this over too high a heat, the milk shouldn’t boil.

When a skin has formed, take the pan off the heat and leave it in a cool place. As the milk cools, so it becomes infused with the flavours of the cloves, onion and celery.

When cold, fish out the onion and the bits of celery. Stir in the breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and nutmeg and reheat the milk – don’t worry about the skin, it will soon stir into the heating milk and breadcrumbs. Add the butter, and cook the sauce gently. Serve the bread sauce hot. It keeps warm in a low temperature oven, providing the dish is covered, for a lengthy time – up to an hour – without spoiling.


This stuffing is simple and extremely nutritious but most importantly, it is packed with taste. You can use it to stuff pheasant, partridge – especially French, or red legged partridge, which in my opinion need all the help with flavour they can be given, and it can also be served baked in a buttered dish, with roast grouse instead of buttery fried parsley breadcrumbs. This quantity makes enough to stuff two pheasants or four partridges.

2oz butter
1 onion, skinned, halved and finely diced
2 sticks of celery, trimmed at either end and each peeled with a potato peeler to remove the stringy bits, and then sliced very thinly
8oz pinhead oatmeal (if you have any difficulty sourcing pinhead oatmeal, a health food shop should solve your problem)
1tsp salt
About 15 grinds of black pepper
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon
1 large egg, beaten with a fork

Melt the butter in a sauté pan and fry the diced onion and finely sliced celery, stirring occasionally, for five to seven minutes. Then add the pinhead oatmeal to the pan, stir well and cook for a further five to seven minutes, stirring from time to time. Stir in the salt and black pepper, take the pan off the heat and cool the contents. Then, when cooled, mix in the finely grated lemon rind and the beaten egg, mixing thoroughly.

Divide between two pheasants or four partridges, stuffing the mixture into the body cavity. Alternatively, butter a fairly shallow ovenproof dish and put the mixture into this. Cut a further 2oz butter into small bits and dot them evenly over the surface.

Bake in a moderate heat, 350F/180C/gas 4, bottom right oven in a four-door Aga, for 40-45 minutes. The surface should be crispy.


6oz dark chocolate
4tbsp water
6 eggs, separated
6oz caster sugar
Icing sugar for finishing


pint of double cream, whipped

Grated rind of 1 orange
1-2tbsp orange liqueur
1tbsp caster sugar

Line a Swiss roll tin about 10x8in with a sheet of baking parchment
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk together the egg yolks, gradually adding the caster sugar, and whisking until they are thick and pale. Stir the melted chocolate into the yolk and sugar mixture. Whisk the whites stiffly, and using a metal spoon fold them into the yolk and chocolate mixture.

Pour this into the lined tin and smooth it evenly into each corner. Bake in a moderate oven, 350F/180C/gas 4, for about 15 minutes or until firm to touch. Remove from the oven and cover the roulade with a dampened tea towel. Leave for several hours until completely cold.

Put a fresh piece of baking parchment on a table or working surface and cover it with sieved icing sugar. Remove the tea towel from the roulade and, gripping both your courage and each of the shorter sides of the roulade paper, turn it over, chocolate side down, on to the sugared paper.

Carefully peel off the paper sticking to the roulade, in small strips. Instead of peeling the strips off vertically, peel them backwards parallel to the surface of the roulade – you will then have no trouble at all. This all sounds rather daunting – and something of a major operation – but please don’t be put off because when you are doing it, it is dead easy.

Flavour the whipped cream with the grated orange rind, orange liqueur and caster sugar. Cover the surface of the roulade with the flavoured cream, taking it right to the edges. Roll the roulade up lengthways, then slip it on to a flat plate or serving dish. It will inevitably split a bit down both sides, but this doesn’t matter. Cover and freeze at this point if you wish.

Thaw for about three hours if you have frozen the roulade, and sprinkle with more sieved icing sugar before serving.
Serve in slices, cutting with a serrated knife.

Christmas food preparation should free up time for you, the cook, so that you can enjoy the big day as well as your family and friends