I have a confession to make. I hate Christmas dinner.

Turkey, to be specific.

I love Christmas Day and being with our extended family, but what is it with the turkey? It’s not exactly traditional fare in Bethlehem.

It’s not seen on menus for the remaining 364 days each year, and that’s no surprise. It’s such a dry old bird.

I’m hosting Christmas dinner this year, for the first time since 2004. For several years after that, we escaped the Christmas chaos by going on holiday to warmer climes. The cost of this year’s building project put paid to that, so instead we are looking forward to a lively dinner for 13.

All our guests are excellent cooks and have hosted fabulous Christmas dinners for us in the past, so I want to put on a really impressive spread – but with no turkey.

Here’s my alternative Christmas menu:

Canapés

I like to serve canapés as people arrive, along with a glass of bubbly. The trick is to find something which I can get my kids to put together at the very last minute, because I’m probably going to be busy mopping gravy off the floor.

The perfect canapés must also:

  • be small enough to be consumed in one or two mouthfuls
  • not leave crumbs all over my floor
  • not dribble onto the clothes of my guests
  • be not too filling
  • be easy to make
  • include Primula (for I have previous form in this area and one must meet expectations)

Here are my little Primula blinis. Just a squeeze of Primula Cheese – original is best – and the fruit of your choice on top of a lightly toasted blini (shop bought). I’ve used grapes, figs and apple. They’re light, can be eaten in one bite and are full of sweet surprise.

If like me, you find Turkey a dry old bird, try this alternative Christmas menu including lamb shank - healthy, hearty and a real crowd pleaser.

Starter

Roasted tomato soup.

I’ve written up a tomato soup recipe before, which you’ll find here. I’ve refined it slightly since then – adding celery and carrots to the stock, substituting vegetable stock for chicken stock and adding basil. But the method is the same. For some reason just liquidizing vegetables is the easiest way to get my kids to eat their 5-a-day.

If like me, you find Turkey a dry old bird, try this alternative Christmas menu including lamb shank - healthy, hearty and a real crowd pleaser.

Main course

I needed to make a main course that suited everyone from a slightly fussy eight year old, to some of my older relatives, who prefer their food on the soft side! I also needed to batch cook it in advance, to avert any last minute Christmas Day disasters.

I started experimenting several weeks ago with lamb shanks. The first recipe was a straightforward slow-cook lamb in red wine and stock. It was tender, falling off the bone, but the sauce was bland.

During my second attempt I added prunes. Sounds weird, tastes amazing. The prunes add a natural sweetness and depth of flavour.

There are several ingredients, but don’t let that scare you off. After 10 minutes of preparation you can put this in the oven and walk away for 3 hours.

Here’s the recipe for Lazy Lamb Shanks in Red Wine and Prunes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 leek, halved and chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 peeled, whole garlic cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 350ml red wine
  • 600ml chicken stock
  • 15 fresh prunes

Method

Preheat oven to 150 degrees centigrade.

Heat oil in a heavy roasting tin, over a medium high heat. Toss the lamb in the flour until coated, shaking off the excess. Sear the shanks in the hot oil until brown all over.

Remove the lamb from the pan and set aside.

Add the leek, celery, carrot, onion and garlic to the pan and cook until soft. Add the bay leaf, seasoning, herbs, wine, stock and prunes. Bring to a simmer.

Place the lamb on top of the vegetables and stock, cover and bake until tender, which will take 2.5 to 3 hours.

If you make this the day before, you can remove the lamb from the bones, separate and cool the stock and remove the layer of fat. When you’re ready to serve, heat the meat in a little of the gravy and serve the remainder in a gravy boat.

I’ll be serving this with roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas, red cabbage and brussel sprouts. In my test version below, I served it with mashed potatoes.

If like me, you find Turkey a dry old bird, try this alternative Christmas menu including lamb shank - healthy, hearty and a real crowd pleaser.

Pudding

Or is it dessert? Well, either way, there’s going to be a shed load of it on Christmas Day. My sister in law is bringing banoffee pie, my mother in law is making a Christmas pudding and I’ll be doing a very simple apple crumble. All served with lashings of hot vanilla custard.

This will be followed by charades, a Christmas quiz and heavy snoring.

I can not wait!

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing this Christmas, I wish you love and happiness. And I sincerely thank you for reading my blog and supporting me this year.

Much love, Vx

[Disclosure: this post was sponsored by Primula]If like me, you find Turkey a dry old bird, try this alternative Christmas menu including lamb shank - healthy, hearty and a real crowd pleaser.

If like me, you find Turkey a dry old bird, try this alternative Christmas menu including lamb shank - healthy, hearty and a real crowd pleaser.If like me, you find Turkey a dry old bird, try this alternative Christmas menu including lamb shank - healthy, hearty and a real crowd pleaser.