Culinary query

Hi Food Fixers,

After a long two years, we’re really looking forward to my daughter’s Communion in May. It’s going to be a nice, relaxing day with about 20 family members, including kids.

It will be the first time both my family and my in-laws have been together since the pandemic so I want to create a lovely spread. However, as I want to enjoy the day myself, I’d like to get most of the prep done in advance so I can lay everything out and people can help themselves throughout the day. That way, I can sit back and relax with a glass of wine.

Speaking of wine, I’d also love a few recommendations. I can’t spend a fortune but given that it is a small enough party and as some people will be driving, I want to get some nice wine that will compliment the food well. Looking forward to your suggestions.



Salads and nibbles

• Nutty bulgur salad

• Classic German potato salad

• Maple Dijon baked ham

• Green salad with red wine vinaigrette

• Chunky Greek orzo salad with Kalamata olives and feta

• A variety of crudité, crackers and Irish cheeses with creamy dill dip


• Waldorf Chicken Croissant Sandwiches

• Baked Salmon with Herbed Breadcrumbs

Sweet stuff

• Triple chocolate sheet-pan brownies

• DIY pavlova station


I am in a similar position, with my eldest making her First Communion this year and so I’m happy to share what I plan to serve up – a menu (above) which is equal parts hearty and satisfying, while also really easy to prepare in advance.

I created this menu for a few reasons. First of all, the majority of these dishes can be made one or even two days before the planned event.

Second, they are made in large quantities – you can easily double up on the ingredients and they are simple to execute. Third, and most important – I’ve made all these dishes before and I know they are guaranteed to be delicious and crowd-pleasing. They aren’t very fancy, but they’re easy to pair with whatever you’re drinking, kids and adults will enjoy them equally and you can easily eat these things whether you’re sitting at a table or standing up and chatting. Perfect party food!

With a cheese board, I always follow the basic rule: something old, something new, something stinky and something blue. For old, I would choose a well-aged chunk of Derg Farmhouse Cheddar. For new? In my opinion you just can’t beat a log of ash rind St Tola goat’s cheese. For something stinky I would forego a super smelly cheese and instead use a crowd-pleasing wheel of smoked Gubbeen or a nice wheel of Durrus, and for a blue you can’t go wrong with some Young Buck or classic Cashel Blue.

For desserts, I’m keeping things really basic with dishes which can be made well in advance as well as a DIY pavlova station with store-bought mini pavlovas, homemade Chantilly cream, plenty of fruits and chopped chocolate for guests.

Food safety is key when entertaining so remember: hot food should always stay hot, cold food should stay cold and after 90 minutes any food out at room temperature is officially in what we call the “temperature danger zone” for bacteria growth. So with colder salads and sandwiches, put them out in batches and for hot food a great investment are bain maries which you’ll often find in the middle aisles of Lidl and Aldi. The key to feeding a crowd is to not get carried away with making everything “perfect”.

People are at their happiest when relaxed and if you, the host, are relaxed, your guests will be, too.


That sounds like such a lovely relaxing day and a great celebration. What better way to start it all off than popping some bubbles? When people think of a bubbles for a party, Prosecco always pops to mind but I’m partial to chilling the Cava. It’s a bit of an unsung hero and as a result, represents fantastic value for money, given the quality in the bottle. Would you believe Cava is made in the same way as champagne, by bottle fermentation resulting in vibrant bubbles and the good ones have some toasty notes, all the good qualities of champagne without the big price tag.

One of my favourites is the Torre Oria Cava (Simply Better range, Dunnes Stores €12 special offer) and from the first sip, I feel like I am back under the Mediterranean sun of Spain. Produced by the Oria de Rueda family in Valencia, this wine is aged for a minimum of 12 months resulting in a vibrant fizz on the tongue, complimented by flavours of peach. It’s not too dry so it’s the perfect glass to welcome people to your home and for those that keep on sipping it with your spread, it will work great with Janine’s salmon with herbed crumbs.

If your party isn’t too partial to bubbles, then another great drink is rosé. It’s light and refreshing so it works great as an áperitif but don’t underestimate its food-pairing qualities. If you think that your party will enjoy the rosé, stock up as it’s a wine that will carry you through the day. A bottle that is really good value for money is the Tesco Finest Pinot Grigio Blush ( Tesco, €9).

This is the essence of a crowd pleaser as it’s quite delicate with soft peach and strawberry notes, but it’s also quite crisp and refreshing so again, people can happily sip away on it. When the food is laid out though, I’d recommend taking a sip with the delicious nutty bulgar salad or the Waldorf chicken croissant sambos.

Of course, a good red and white will always go a long way.

For white, I am recommending is the Duffour Pére & Fils from O’Briens Wines (€10, down from €13.45).

It’s made from a blend of grapes that you might not be too familiar with – Colombard, Gros Manseng and Ugni Blanc, and there is also a little Sauvignon Blanc also in there. Together they create a fantastically crisp white wine with bright fruit flavours such as crunchy red apple and ripe tropical fruit. It is coming from a really reputable and consistent vineyard in Gascony which means you’re getting a good quality wine without the price tag that comes from more famous French white wine regions such as the Loire Valley.

For red, let’s keep it light.

Pinot Noir is always my classic choice here. It’s light enough that people can sip away and won’t be smacking their palette with an overload of tannins waiting for you to serve up the food. A nice glass of Pinot (potentially lightly chilled if it’s a warm day) is going to be perfect with a good thick slice of maple Dijon-baked ham and then I’d be heading straight to the cheese board slathering a cracker in some Durrus. Pinot Noir likes to command a hefty price tag which is why I often look to retailers such as Lidl and Aldi instead. They may not be the very best expression of the grape that you’ll taste of the wine, but for a party they are perfect. This Prestige Pinot Noir Bourgogne (Lidl, €9.99) has pops of red cherry and plums with a little earthiness on the finish and will transition easily from your herbed salmon to your triple chocolate brownies.


Waldorf chicken salad croissant sambos served with nutty bulgur salad. \ Philip Doyle

Nutty bulgur salad

Serves 12-15

500g bulgur wheat

1 large red onion, very finely diced

1 bunch green onion, finely sliced

1 large bunch each: coriander, flat leaf parsley and chives, finely chopped

200g chopped walnuts

200g sliced almonds

100ml extra virgin olive oil

Juice and zest from two lemons

2 tsp salt and 2 tsp pepper

  • 1 Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the bulgur wheat. Cook for 7-8 minutes, until it’s tender. Strain and spread the bulgur out onto a parchment-lined casserole dish so it cools more quickly and set aside.
  • 2 Prep your red and green onion and chop the herbs. Place them in a small bowl and mix lightly. Set aside.
  • 3 In a non-stick pan over medium heat, toast the almonds and walnuts until they turn light brown and start to release their natural oils. Add the olive oil and salt. Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the lemon juice and zest. The oil will sputter a bit here, so be careful. Once it calms down, remove the pan from the heat and pour the whole thing over the cooled bulgur wheat.
  • 4 Add the prepared vegetables and season with salt and pepper (I usually put on some gloves and use my hands here) mix everything together really well. Refrigerate for 1-2 days before serving or serve immediately.
  • Waldorf Chicken Salad Croissant Sambos

    Makes 12 sandwiches

    3 large roasting chickens, seasoned with salt and pepper and roasted until cooked through

    4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped into a small dice (store in lemon water to avoid browning)

    500g chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

    ½ head of celery, as finely diced as possible

    1 bunch green onions, finely sliced

    2 tbsp Dijon mustard

    250g mayonnaise

    100g sour cream

    2 tsp salt & 2 tsp black pepper

    1 head romaine lettuce, washed and spun

    12 croissants (store-bought or frozen and baked at home are your best options here)

  • 1 Once the chickens are roasted, let them cool completely. Then, shred all of the meat from the carcass (I use gloves and do this by hand) being careful not to get any small bones mixed into the meat. You can then use the carcasses to make chicken stock or freeze them to do that at another time.
  • 2 Add all of the ingredients (except for the romaine lettuce and croissants) into a large bowl with the shredded chicken. Mix well. This can be done the day before, cling filmed and stored in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the sandwiches.
  • 3 When ready to serve, slice each piece of romaine lettuce in half. Slice the croissants in half (lengthways) and on a tray, lay out the bottom pieces of the croissant. Then, add 1-2 pieces of lettuce and a large dollop of chicken salad.
  • 4 If it’s still a few hours before serving, place another piece of lettuce on top before topping with the remaining croissant halves (the lettuce will protect the bread from getting soggy). Serve immediately or wrap tightly in cling film and store in the fridge until ready to serve.