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Recipe: four last-minute Christmas lifesavers

Words by Melissa Blease

It’s the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature is stirring… apart from the person who has just remembered what they forgot!

Stuffing: Classic Sage and Onion (makes 12 balls; vegetarian)
Sauté 1 large, peeled, finely-sliced onion in a mixture of oil and butter (around 1 tbsp of each) until translucent. Add 1 peeled, crushed clove of garlic, 1½ tbsp dried sage and a bay leave and continue to sauté for another couple of minutes. Tip into a bowl and allow to cool for around 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir 1 large beaten egg into the mixture, followed by 180g fresh white breadcrumbs. Season with salt and white pepper, shape into 12 balls and bake in a medium-hot oven (180°C/gas mark 4) for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Bread, for the smoked salmon: Soda Bread (makes one large loaf)
Preheat the oven to 180°C/ gas mark 4. Dust a baking tray with flour or line with a piece of greaseproof paper. In a large bowl or blender, mix 350g plain white/wholemeal flour (or a mixture of both) with 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda together. Add 285ml buttermilk (or 50/50 plain yoghurt and milk plus a squeeze of lemon juice) and either bring together with lightly floured hands or pulse-blend in bursts until you have a neat ball of dough; if the mixture looks/feels too wet, just add a bit more flour. Place the ball of dough on the baking tray and cut a deep cross in the centre (this step is really important as it helps the centre of the bread to cook all the way through) and bake for around 30 minutes until golden on top and the base makes a hollow sound when tapped. Leave to settle down for around five minutes before slicing.

The vegetarian-friendly centrepiece: Herby Lentil Bake (serves 4; vegetarian)
Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5. Grease a 500g loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper. Simmer 200g red lentils with 400ml vegetable stock until the stock has been absorbed and the lentils are soft. Strain into a sieve and put to one side. Sauté 1 finely chopped onion and 1 diced red pepper in a little olive oil until translucent, adding 1 clove crushed garlic and 1 scant tsp each of dried oregano, thyme and sage for the final minute or so. Tip the lentils into a large bowl and combine with the sautéed onion/pepper mix, 1 beaten egg and a generous handful of grated Cheddar cheese. Season well, pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for around 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch. Allow to stand in tin for 5 minutes before turning out and serving in slices with all the typical roast trimmings.

The festive dessert: Bailey’s and White Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding (serves 4; vegetarian)
Whisk 2 large eggs with 200ml full fat milk, 150ml double cream and 50ml Bailey’s (or similar creamy liqueur of your choice). Slice 4 croissants or 6 thickly-cut slices of brioche into large cubes and tip half of them, in a single layer, into a liberally-greased, suitably-sized oven-proof dish. Smatter the bread with around 75g white chocolate (cut into small chunks) and top with half the creamy egg custard. Top with the rest of the cubed bread, another 75g white chocolate chunks and the remaining custard. Push the bread into the custard and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes (or up to 6 hours) before sprinkling the top with soft brown sugar and baking for 25-30 minutes in a preheated (180°C/gas mark 4) for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the custard semi-set. Serve warm, with double cream.

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