I always wanted to cook for a crowd at Christmas. With just two children in our household, the day was sometimes on the quiet side and I would glance with envy across the road to where our neighbours had uproarious parties until the early hours – charades and karaoke – while we dozed in front of the fire, sleeping off enough food to feed a cast of thousands. I used to feel tempted to rush out into the streets to rustle up a crowd but the most I ever served for dinner was six and one year it was just the two of us. I still produced the full Christmas dinner but it just didn’t seem quite right.
Well this year my dream looks set to come true in more ways than one. Santa is to make a return visit to our house for the first time in over 20 years, to do the needful for our little grandson’s first Christmas. Dermot, now aged 10 months, is arriving next Sunday from Beijing with his Mum and Dad, but that’s only the start of it. The following weekend eight of his Chinese aunties uncles and cousins and his Chinese Nai Nai join us to celebrate Christmas, Shane and Shan’s wedding and Dermot’s christening. And as if that’s not enough, our daughter Claire and her Welsh husband Mike, who have just acquired Australian citizenship, will arrive on Christmas Eve, Claire’s first time home for Christmas Day since she emigrated to Sydney six years ago.
But it’s not just a matter of cooking for Christmas Day. For most of Twelve Days of Christmas I will need to put together a meal for 18 people or more and make sure everyone has somewhere to lay their head at night. My excitement is building to fever pitch and planning has reached a nearly obsessive level as I make my lists and check them at least twice so that I can be well-prepared and able to join in the fun. As it’s Shan’s family’s first trip outside China we want to give them a real taste of an Irish Christmas and wedding but with a few touches that might make them feel a bit more at home.
So here’s the plan so far.
Day 1 – 23rd December – Chinese welcome buffet in Shankill
Shan’s relatives will arrive in the early evening, tired from their long-haul journey and we will have a Chinese meal ready for them before they transfer to Duncannon in Wexford – Beer Duck, Gong Bao Chicken, Braised Pork and a nice selection of vegetable dishes to ease them into the newness of Ireland.
Day 2 – Christmas Eve in Duncannon
Peking Style Duck barbecued on the Big Green Egg and served with all the trimmings followed by Adam Perry Lang barbecued rack of lamb - our Chinese in-laws are from Xinjiang Province and love their lamb – served with girdled marinated courgettes.
Oh and maybe some Jamie’s Italian Meatballs because it has been our family tradition for Claire to cook these on Christmas Eve whenever she is at home. She will be on the meatball detail.
Day 3 – traditional Christmas Day dinner
The works, but cooked 0n the Big Green Egg. I’ve had a practice run at cooking this for 17 in October and know I can pull it off if nothing goes wrong. Here’s the menu.
Day 4 – Lá le Stiofain
Cook will be on strike but there will be lots of leftovers and perhaps we can rustle up the turkey version of Bang Bang Chicken I never got to make last year.
Day 5 – Pizzas on the Big Green Egg
I figure if Shan’s MaMa could teach me how to make dumplings, I can return the favour by showing our visitors how to make pizza dough using Birra Moretti. Some of the pizzas we will bake on the Big Green Egg are in these blog posts - Lamb and Aubergine Pizza with a nod in the direction of the Old Silk Road with more typical italian toppings here.
Day 6 – Wedding Day
The 28th December, is Shane and Shan’s wedding day so the cook gets the day off , we all head for my hometown Wexford town to be joined by a much wider group of family and friends. Eunice Power will do the cooking in a unique Irish/ Asian fusion feast. Yeah!
Day 7 – Morning After BBQ
Shane and Shan’s friends from Beijing will be descending on an unsuspecting Duncannon and we will put together a casual BBQ including some typical Chinese street food to feed them all up before they adjourn to a local hostelry. The Big Green Egg and our old gas barbecue will be on the go all day. Cook will attempt to stay awake.
Day 8 – A Great Big Stew
This is the day we all return to Dublin so that our Chinese guests can sample some of the treasures of our capital city and environs. It’s also the day Claire and Mike will leave to visit Mike’s family in the UK. A VERY kind friend has volunteered to make a very large stew for me that day which we will serve with lots of vegetables and mash.
Day 9 – New Year’s Eve Buffet
I was a bit stuck for ideas as to how best to celebrate ringing in the new year so I used up my Rewarding Times voucher for Donnybrook Fair Cookery School yesterday and learned from my good friend Robert Jacob how to put together a New Year’s Eve buffet with bling. Sorted! Now all I have to do is cook it.
Day 10 – New Year’s Day Dumplings
We will greet the New Year in the manner familiar to our Chinese guests by making jiaozi. I’m hoping my guests will get stuck in when they come home from sight seeing and we can have a dumpling party. Lots of recipes for fillings are here.
Day 11 - Hotpot
Lot’s of coming and going planned for this day with a few side trips from Dublin so the meal will have to be easy to prepare – I’m thinking of variations on the hotpot I prepared for Claire’s friends last year.
The following day our visitors will spend the night in Kilkenny enjoying the hospitality of the Pembroke Kilkenny and an Italian meal at Rinuccinis. That day is also the first anniversary of my mother in law’s sad passing so it will be important for us to take some time out from the celebrations. It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly a year since I wrote this grief-numbed post about her – In Memory of Alice.
Day 12 – A Farewell Banquet at China Sichuan
Our guests return to Dublin to pack for their long trip back to Beijing, Shanghai and Urumqi. What better way to end their visit than with a farewell meal at China Sichuan Dublin. I’ve no doubt that Kevin Hui and his team will give them the send off they deserve with a unique Irish take on the tastes of home. Shane, Shan and Dermot get to stay on in Ireland for another few weeks so we will have time to re-group with them and absorb the memories of what promises to be a most extraordinary Christmas.
Table Talk at Donnybrook Fair
Now about that New Year’s Eve buffet, well Robert Jacob’s class yesterday was an inspiration and great fun too. He has a lovely, relaxed teaching style and it wasn’t just the food but his ideas for presentation that made this class special. Thanks to him my party menu will go something like this:
Cherry Red Gazpacho with Prawns
Maple Syrup and Mustard Glazed Wexford Ham
Smoked Haddock Leek and Gruyere Tart
Winter Pear and Goat’s Cheese Salad
Crab Salad with Goatsbridge Trout Caviar
Remoulade of Celeriac and Green Apples
Carrot and Broccoli Salad
Blingy Chocolate Chestnut Log
Peach and Raspberry Mock Trifle
That was a lot learnt in a four hour class. The chefs at Donnybrook Fair Cookery School including Niall Murphy and Robert put on a great selection of courses and they have lots of interesting guest chefs and food writers too. I want to attend them all!
In fact Robert and I are collaborating on a Discover China evening on 18th January. It will be Part 1 of their new Table Talk series. I will talk about Chinese food, he will cook recipes from the blog and dinner will be served afterwards. The honeymoon couple Shane and Shan will still be in Ireland so they will come along to share some of their insights and reminiscences about the food of Shan’s homeland. it would be lovely to see some of you there.
You can find out more about the classes here on DonnybrookFair.ie. It’s a great website for last minute Christmas gift vouchers for the food lover in your life.
Enjoy the run up to Christmas lovely readers. I will pop in from time to time to report on progress and the inevitable mishaps.