Christmas in July: Sneak Peek at Holiday Recipes, Part 1

Let me be the first to remind you that, depending on when you read this, there are fewer than 165 days until Christmas! Shocking, I know, but you can get a head start on shopping for all the cooks in your family by taking advantage of the “Christmas in July” preview of my newest cookbook "Festive Flavors of Ireland." However, if you’ve barely digested your Fourth of July BBQ and think it’s too early to start thinking about Christmas (shopping or eating), here are a few recipes from the cookbook that are as delicious throughout the summer as they are during the holidays. Visit to order signed copies (see the ad in today’s paper).

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            The flavorful combination of smoked salmon and avocado is highlighted in Chapter One: “Moreish Mouthfuls.” It’s an impressive appetizer from Graham and Saoirse Roberts, smoked salmon producers at Connemara Smokehouse in picturesque Ballyconneely, County Galway. They suggest serving it in small glass containers known as verrines, but you can make the layers in shot glasses or small jars.

 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

8 ounces smoked salmon, chopped

2 avocados

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon white pepper

Fresh dill, cilantro or caviar, for garnish

Bread stick or grissini, for serving

ONE In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese, parsley and chives until smooth. Spoon or pipe into twelve 2-ounce glass containers.

TWO Divide smoked salmon on top of cream cheese mixture.

THREE In a medium bowl, mash avocados; stir in lemon juice and pepper; spoon over salmon. Garnish with dill, cilantro or caviar. Serve with a bread stick or small spoon. 



Smoked Irish salmon acquires its inimitable dark orange color and subtle flavor from the traditional method of smoking over an open wood fire or in a kiln. Its flavor and texture is determined by the quality of the fish, with some of the best in the world originating in pristine Irish waters. Salmon purists like nothing better than to eat it on a potato cake or on a slice of brown soda bread, but serving it as a pâté makes for great party fare at any time of the year.         

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature 

4 ounces crème fraiche 

8 ounces smoked salmon

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon horseradish 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

Brown soda bread or water crackers, for serving

Caper berries, for garnish (optional)

ONE Combine cream cheese, crème fraiche, salmon, lemon jest and juice, horseradish, dill and pepper in a food processor; pulse 5 to 6 times, or until mixture is roughly chopped but not completely smooth.

TWO Taste; adjust seasoning, adding more pepper or lemon as needed. Transfer to a Kilner jar or serving dish. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate). 

THREE Serve with soda bread or crackers; garnish with caper berries (if using).



            The mix of crunchy nuts, salty cheese and popular seedless holiday citrus like mandarins, clementines, tangerines and satsumas make this light, refreshing salad perfect for Christmas lunch. Why so popular at Christmas? Typically, these citrus varieties don’t become ripe until late autumn and winter, so they’re seen as a signal that Christmas is upon us. For a lovely summer salad, use orange and grapefruit segments.


2 tablespoons minced shallots

3 tablespoons Champagne or white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons walnut oil


Ground black pepper 


1 1/4 cups pecan halves

Segments from 2 seedless oranges, tangerines, Clementines or satsumas

5 ounces Bibb, Boston or butter lettuce, roughly torn

5 ounces rocket (arugula) 

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

ONE Make vinaigrette. In a lidded jar, combine shallots, Champagne or white wine vinegar, mustard, olive oil, walnut oil, salt and pepper; shake well.

TWO Make salad. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread pecans out in a shallow pan; toast for about 8 minutes, or until lightly browned and fragrant. Let cool.

THREE In a large bowl, combine romaine, butter lettuces, and rocket. Toss with half the vinaigrette.

FOUR To serve, divide salad among salad plates. Arrange citrus segments, blue cheese, and pecans on top. Pass remaining vinaigrette. 



            Crab cakes are a great addition to a holiday party and a classic summer dish as well. This flavorful mayonnaise is a perfect topping, especially if you grab some fresh herbs and make it a few hours before serving. If you wish, put the sauce in a squeeze bottle and pipe or drizzle a little on the top of each cake.


1 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flatleaf parsley

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Dash of Tabasco sauce


Ground black pepper


8 ounces fresh crabmeat, flaked

1 large egg, beaten

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon chopped fresh flatleaf parsley 

1 teaspoon fresh tarragon

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 

1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce


Ground black pepper 

Seasoned breadcrumbs, for dredging

Canola oil, for frying 

ONE Make mayonnaise. In a medium bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, chives, parsley, tarragon, lemon juice, Tabasco, salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate).

TWO Make crab cakes. In a large bowl, combine crabmeat, egg, mayonnaise, chives, parsley, tarragon, cayenne, lemon juice, Tabasco, Worcestershire, salt and pepper; stir until blended. Shape into 24 evenly sized cakes; dredge in breadcrumbs. Place on a baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

THREE In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Cook crab cakes for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until golden. Remove cakes from oil; drain on paper towel-lined plate. 

FOUR Arrange cakes on serving plate; pipe or spoon mayonnaise on top.

Margaret Johnson’s “Recipes” page expands this year to “Ireland Hopping: Adventures in Food, Drink, and Travel.” For further details on her work or to order a signed cookbook, visit her website here.