Sneak Peak at Holiday recipes

Ham  swiss strata rsz

Let me be the first to remind you that depending on when you’re reading this, there are about 156 days until Christmas! Shocking I know, but you can get a head start on shopping for all the chefs in your family by taking advantage of the ‘Christmas in July’ preview of my latest cookbook ‘Festive Flavors of Ireland’. However, if you’ve only just digested your July 4th barbecue and it’s too early to think about Christmas (shopping or eating), here are a few recipes from the cookbook that will be just as delicious all summer long as they are during the holiday season . Visit to order autographed copies (see the ad in today’s paper).

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SERVES 6 to 8

The recipe for this salad comes from Kerrygold, the company that imports Irish butter and cheese, including Cashel Blue, Ireland’s first farm blue cheese. At Christmas, the colorful red and golden beets, blue cheese and shiny red pomegranate seeds give this salad a holiday touch; but now that the beets are in season, it also makes a great salad for the summer months. While it takes some effort to roast the beets and make the pecans (both can be done well before assembling), the results are well worth the effort. This recipe is featured in Chapter Two, “Best Beginnings: Appetizers, Soups, and Salads.”


3 tablespoons light corn or golden syrup, such as Karo or Lyle’s

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups pecan halves


3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard


Ground black pepper


3 small gold beets

3 small red beets

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

5 ounces mixed baby vegetables

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

1/2 cup candied pecans

1/2 cup crumbled Cashel blue cheese

A Make pecans. Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

TWO In a large bowl, whisk together the corn syrup, sugar, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Add pecans; stir well to coat the nuts. Spread over the prepared pan.

THREE Bake for 5 minutes; stir with a fork to distribute the coating. Bake for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or until the pecans are lightly browned and the coating is bubbling. Spread the nuts on another baking sheet or piece of parchment paper; quickly separate the nuts before letting them cool completely. (Keeps up to 2 weeks in an airtight tin).

FOUR Make vinaigrette. In a small pot, combine olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, salt, and pepper; shake to mix.

FIVE Make a salad. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut green tops and root tips from beets. Toss golden beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and wrap in a foil packet. Repeat the process with beetroot.

SIX Place the beet packs on the baking sheet and roast for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the beets can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. (Roasting time may vary depending on beet size; larger beets may take up to 90 minutes to roast). Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the beets from the packages. (To avoid staining hands, wear gloves or rub skin under cold running water). Cut the beets into quarters.

SEVEN In a large bowl, mix the mixed vegetables with half of the vinaigrette; throw in beets.

EIGHT To serve, arrange greens and beets on salad plates; sprinkle with pomegranate seeds, pecans and cheese. Pass the remaining vinaigrette.



I include this recipe in chapter five, “Yuletide: Celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas.” It includes suggestions for celebrations after Christmas, such as St. Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day, and Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas). These layers and the quiche that follow are a great way to use up holiday leftovers like cheese and ham. For best results, refrigerate the layers (the name means “layers”) for at least two hours or overnight

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 large shallots, finely chopped

4 Portobello mushroom caps

1 ounce unsalted butter

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 bread brioche, challah, or baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces

10 ounces Emmentaler, Gruyere, or Jarlsburg cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

6 large eggs

3 cups of milk

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

A In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of oil. Add shallots; cook for 5

minutes, or until soft but not brown. Transfer shallots to a medium bowl.

TWO Cut the mushroom caps in half; cut halves into 1/4 inch thick slices. Return the skillet to medium heat; melt butter. add mushrooms; cook, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes, or until tender and browned. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl of shallots; stir in parsley.

THREE Coat a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place half of the bread cubes in the dish; top with two-thirds of the mushroom mixture. Sprinkle with two thirds of the cheese. Top with the remaining bread, mushroom mixture and cheese.

FOUR In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cream, salt and pepper. Pour evenly over the layers, making sure all the bread cubes on top are moist. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap; refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

FIVE Preheat oven to 375F. Bake the layers, uncovered, for 90 minutes or until golden brown and puffed. (Check the layers after 60 minutes; if the top is browning too much, cover the dish loosely with foil.) Remove from oven; let a wire rack cool for 5 minutes before slicing into squares. Serve hot.


SERVES 6 to 8

Use a refrigerated pie crust for the bottom of the quiche or bake it without the crust for the same delicious taste.

1 refrigerated pie crust (optional)

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard, divided

8 ounces chopped ham

8 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

6 large eggs

3/4 cup heavy (whipped) cream

Ground black pepper

A Preheat oven to 375°F. Slowly roll out crust (if using); place in an ungreased 9-inch glass pie plate. Press firmly against the side and bottom. Fold the crust under and press together to form a thick crust edge; flute edges (do not poke the bottom or sides of the crust). Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly browned; let cool on a rack.

TWO Brush 1 tablespoon mustard over bottom of crust to seal; Sprinkle ham, cheese and chives over the crust.

FOUR In a medium bowl, beat eggs, cream, remaining 1 tablespoon mustard, and pepper; pour over the crust. Place the pie plate on a baking tray

FIVE Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until filling is set (if edge of crust browns too quickly, cover with foil or pie crust after 15 minutes to prevent over browning). Remove from oven; let cool for 15 minutes before slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Margaret Johnson’s ‘Recipes’ page is expanding this year to include ‘Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink and Travel’. For more information about her work or to order a signed cookbook, visit