Top 10 Festive Foods with a Twist

Dec 10, 2020 | Catherine's Blog

Festive flavours are what creates memories in homes and there are particular ingredients that we traditionally enjoy over this period.

I’m not one for changing traditional too much but here is some inspiration to make your festive food even more flavourful.  I had the pleasure of being on the RTE Radio 1 show, Today with Claire Byrne, this week and its was these tips that I shared.  Thank you all so much for your messages on my social media and to us at Ballyknocken Cookery School asking for this info – and here it is.

I hope you enjoy the flavours! And don’t forget to check us out here on for my new on-line cookery school –a fully comprehensive on-line learning platform where the emphasis is on cooking with curiosity.  There are lots of short courses including a full Christmas course there too along with Italian and 7 Nights, 7 dinners, 1 Plan – plus a 13-week student and transition year certificate course – now that’s a Christmas gift worth giving!

Top 10 Festive Foods with a Twist

More than ever our annual festive feast on December 25 is the highlight of our calendar. It’s a time to create memories and whilst we may have smaller gatherings, that does not mean that what’s gracing our festive tables should be less extravagant.

 Here’s my Top 10 Festive Foods And inspiration for the Christmas table

1. Smoked Salmon is great but why not try

  • smoked trout with roasted beetroot slices, watercress and horseradish or smoked trout pate with a walnut dill frisee salad and crostini.
  • Another one is apple (a granny smith apple) and smoked trout towers with creamy horseradish dressing and microgreens on the top.
  • Hot smoked trout is delicious and works well with cucumber ribbons, a creamy wasabi sauce.

Tip: Keep starters simple especially when you are using smoked or hot smoked trout as it is a wonderful product.

2. Stuffing

The all-important stuffing, remains a classic in all households which is the sage and onion bread stuffing.

  • Adding a variation like dried fruits – prunes, chopped apricots, cranberries or sour cherries or fresh fruits like diced apples, plum or pears.
  • Nuts are a great addition especially for texture so try almonds, pistachios, walnuts.
  • Add the classic chestnuts for a delicious stuffing. Pancetta, sausage meat or bacon is also an option.
  • There is so much that you can add to the classic recipe. Try ciabatta or sourdough breadcrumbs as well as adding orange juice, whiskey and stock to bind.
  • Use plenty of fresh herbs like chopped parsley, chives, rosemary and thyme.
  • Cook the stuffing in balls or a gratin dish.

Top tips with Turkey

3. Turkey

  • For smaller gatherings, use a turkey crown or the whole turkey.
  • If it’s a whole turkey, fill the cavity with bay leaves and orange and lemon slices.
  • You can always brine the turkey which will give you a moist meat. To brine is 10% salt water in a saucepan filled up with water, add 2 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp black pepper corns, orange peel, bay leaves and thyme and leave the turkey in there for 12 to 24hrs.
  • Other method for ensuring moisture turkey: Rub butter under the skin, this bastes the bird and allows extra flavour.
  • A turkey should be basted often, about every 20 minutes. Basting flavours: Cider and butter; or Cranberry juice, thyme and butter.

A rough guide for serving, we probably won’t be needing a large turkey this year, here are guidelines.

2 to 2.5kg                      4-6 people

3kg                                 6-7 people

3.5kg                              7-8 people

4 to 4.5kg                       8-10 people

5.5kg                              10 – 12 people

6 to 6.5kg                       12 to 15people

How to calculate the weight and cooking time – Weigh and calculate the roasting time for the turkey, generally this is 25 – 30 minutes per kg plus an extra 30 minutes. has a calculator and you can just enter the weight and it gives the cooking time.

How to cook the turkey.

Add a little oil to the roasting pan, place the turkey in, breast side up.  Rub butter over the skin. Season with salt and pepper. This is now ready for basting.

  • Use a Fresh Turkey (as opposed to frozen one wherever possible)
  • Fill the cavity with a lemon or orange, bays or thyme and even a little stock.
  • Don’t tie legs too tight as this will prolong the cooking time.
  • Sit the bird on a trivet of veg – such as carrots, celery & onion.  This creates a wonderful base for making gravy.
  • Retain the cooking juices from the roasting tin – use to make your gravy
  • Always allow meat to rest before carving

4. Ham

Baked Glazed Festive Ham generally has a sweet glaze

Glaze ideas:

  • brown sugar, mustard, orange and cinnamon.
  • treacle and whiskey glaze
  • pomegranate juice and tamari
  • or even a salt crust instead of a sweet glaze, cumin, coriander, lemon and salt.
  • chilli jam makes a fabulous glaze if you like it a bit hot and spicy.

Serve all these with a mango and cucumber salsa.    Another option would be smoked ham.

5. Brussels Sprouts

  • To prepare in advance: Trim and slice them in wedges the day before – blanching is adding prepped vegetables into rapidly boiling water and cooking for 4 to 5 minutes and then into iced cold water. Rinse off and store in a little water in a sealed container. You then can, drain them, pat them dry and pan fry them on Christmas day.
  • Add orange zest and pancetta to Brussels sprouts.
  • Chestnuts work well with sprouts as does smoked paprika.
  • Roast Brussels with honey butternut squash and spoon over lemon syrup and pomegranate seeds.
  • Stir fry Brussels sprouts and sprinkle dukkah (a mix of nuts, sesame seeds, coriander and cumin) on top.

6. Nut Roast

  • The comfort food, pistachio nuts make a great roast but any of your favourite nuts with do, pack them in with vegetables like red peppers, roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, red onion, cranberries and lentils, black garlic and herbs for great flavour.
  • Serve with a tomato and garlic sauce or even a cranberry, ginger and orange sauce.
  • Instead of the loaf shape you could bake individual round moulded ones, lifting them to another level.

7. Roast Potatoes

Roast potatoes are the favourite at the dinner table. They should be crispy outside and fluffy inside.

  • Steam potatoes lightly and then break the edges again the pan.
  • Use duck fat or rapeseed oil and you will be roasting them at a fairly high temp.
  • Flour them with polenta or semolina or seasoned plain flour.
  • Add rosemary and thyme.

You wouldn’t want to move too far from the classic recipes but here are some alternatives:

  • Thinly slice potatoes, neatly pack in an oval dish and then pour melted butter, rosemary, garlic and thyme over top and baked for 40 minutes or until crisp.
  • Dice medium potatoes on one side but not all the way through the potato and roast them, adding garlic, butter, thyme and lemon zest.
  • Hasselback potatoes are great and add bay leaves or sprigs of rosemary in between, sprinkle parmesan, paprika and sesame seeds over the top halfway through the cooking time.
  • Adding a topping to roast potatoes gives them a change up, using some of our wonderful heritage potatoes and as well as sweet potatoes makes a great change.

8. Cranberry Sauce

Make your cranberry sauce in advance and keep in the fridge – it’s easy to do and all those wonderful flavours will improve. It also freezes well.  Cranberry sauce is the most versatile of all the fruit sauces

  • you can add a range of ingredients from vanilla to all the Christmas spices to fruits like plums, blackberries, kumquats or lime and then whiskey, orange liqueur, sherry or red wine.
  • Add the zest and juice of pink grapefruit to your cranberry sauce to give it a lift.
  • Pink peppercorns also add to a great flavour.

9. Gravy

Make the gravy ahead of time to minimize the stress in the kitchen.  It will also freeze well.

  • the best results are from the caramelization of the meat cooking and all those delicious juices so use a gravy separator and use the juices in the gravy.
  • Add a few new flavours – a little miso paste (a Japanese seasoning made with fermented soya beans) or some sherry.
  • How about a chestnut and thyme gravy or port and porcini gravy? Mushrooms, garlic, thyme and white wine works really well
  • or even a red onion and thyme gravy.
  • For some extra seasoning – add 2 tsp of redcurrant jelly, ½ tsp mustard or some chopped rosemary and parsley.

Tip: If gravy is too salty – add a squeeze of lemon juice or simmer the gravy with diced potatoes in it – potato will absorb the saltiness. Take the potatoes out before you serve.

Catherine Fulvio #cookwithciurisity Christmas tart

10. Desserts – Christmas Pudding & Trifle


  • In my home the Christmas pudding has been waning in popularity over the last few years.
  • Chocolate has come to the front. I still love the pudding shape so how about trying Chocolate biscuit pudding
  • or a fig and walnut pudding with toffee.
  • Everyone loves a sticky toffee pudding but them individual and add some cranberries.
  • An ice cream bombe with cranberry orange marsala sauce.
  • Cranberry velvet chocolate bombe with warm orange chocolate sauce.


It is still a favourite but not as the original classic with the sprinkles on the top – I’m leaning towards more decadent flavours have been introduced like;

  • a brownie and cranberry trifle
  • or Christmas pudding trifle, hazelnut and orange trifle
  • or a black forest cake trifle.

Tip: Theme the flavours for trifle and you will be on a winner.



Fine foodCatherine FulvioGood living