Chef, culinary instructor and caterer Darren McGrady knows a thing or two about hosting epic dinner parties: As the former chef to England's royal family — first for Queen Elizabeth II in the royal kitchen at Buckingham Palace and then as the personal chef for Princess Diana at Kensington Palace — he cooked not just for the royals, but for celebrities and dignitaries from all over the world.
After 15 years with the royal family, McGrady moved to the U.S. and became a personal chef to a family in Texas. He now runs a catering company in the Dallas area, where he helps his clients with high-end events, teaches cooking classes and leads culinary tours.
With those upper-crust credentials, you might assume that any recipes McGrady shares would be way too fussy for a home cook. But the recipes in his new book, "The Royal Chef at Home: Easy Seasonal Entertaining," are approachable for cooks of all skill levels and he includes plenty of timesaving tips and make-ahead options. McGrady told TODAY Food that he wanted to showcase "recipes that were foolproof — to the standard of what I did at Buckingham Palace but doable as a home chef."
With one of the year's biggest food holidays fast approaching, McGrady shared five recipes for a full Christmas dinner: Each dish has a connection to the royal family, but you don't need the skills of a royal chef to make them.
With a little planning, you'll be able to relax and enjoy the meal with your friends and family, instead of running back and forth between the kitchen and dining room. After all, says McGrady, your guests aren't coming over for a restaurant-style experience, but "they are coming over for your company."
This classic English teatime spread for toast is the perfect party appetizer. Plus, you can make it ahead!
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 8 ounces peeled cooked shrimp (about 90 to 110 count, tiny bay shrimp that you would use for shrimp salad)
- 1 stick salted butter
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
- Toast points, to serve alongside
1. Melt the unsalted butter in a sauté pan until hot and the foam has subsided. Mix in the nutmeg, cayenne and allspice. Pour over the shrimp and cook until shrimp and stir. Spoon into the ramekins. Refrigerate until the butter/shrimp mixture is firm.
2. Melt the remaining butter and stir in the lemon juice. Spoon this protective butter layer over the potted shrimp and refrigerate until set.
3. Serve with warm toast.
Potted shrimp — a buttery spread made with chopped, seasoned and cooked shrimp served on toast points — makes an elegant appetizer for your guests to nibble on before dinner. "At Balmoral Castle, the Queen would receive a delivery of Morecambe Bay shrimp each week to be served at afternoon tea with hot crusty Melba toast, so the spicy shrimp butter would melt into the toast," sa McGrady. He calls it the "ultimate comfort food after a chilly day in the hills."
This dish is a French classic that is becoming more and more popular in the U.K. at Christmas time. Whenever I make this dish I always double the recipe, with the intent to freeze half for later. Well, that rarely happens with guests coming back for seconds and even thirds. It is that delicious!
Buy the best beef chuck your wallet can afford and look for deep marbling throughout the muscle. It is that marbling that makes the final stew so succulent and satisfying. It is traditionally served over noodles but I just love serving this alongside a steaming hot bowl of mashed potatoes or a wedge of rich potato pie.
Technique tip: The recipe serves four, but can be scaled up easily for a larger crowd.
- 2 pounds beef chuck, diced into large chunks about 2 inches wide
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1 cup smoked thick cut bacon cut into 1/4-inch strips, about 1/3 to 1/2 of a pound
- 1½ cups red wine (I prefer Zinfandel, but any nice red will do)
- 1½ cups beef broth
- 2 cups mushrooms, quartered
- 1 cup of peeled pearl onions
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
1. In a large skillet heat the oil until smoking hot. Dry the beef off with a paper towel and season generously with salt and pepper. Carefully add the beef to the pan and sauté until brown on all sides. Don’t crowd the pan, leaving room between the pieces so they can properly brown and not steam. Brown in batches, if necessary. Strain the beef into a colander, discarding the oil.
2. Place the beef into a large eight-quart heavy pot and stir in the flour. Add the bacon, red wine and broth and stir. You want the meat to be almost fully submerged in liquid.
3. Add the quartered mushrooms and pearl onions and bring the pot briefly to a boil on the stovetop. Stir once more, reduce the heat to gentle simmer and place a lid on the pan. Stir the meat every fifteen minutes. Alternatively, you can place the covered pot in a low 325ºF oven, again checking every 15 minutes and giving it a good stir to prevent any sticking or burning. Cook until the beef is fork tender, about 2 hours.
4. Pour into a serving dish and garnish with chopped parsley.
Beef Bourguignon may be French in origin but it's an English royal family favorite. McGrady would make it with a special twist by using venison from royal shooting parties around Christmas and the New Year. "Shooting lunches at Sandringham and Balmoral Castle always had to be hearty meals — lots of stews with mashed potatoes," said McGrady. "Beef bourguignon could be made with beef or with venison off the estate." He added that the Queen preferred the latter. McGrady and his team would make a batch and send it out with the shooting party in special hunting boxes designed to keep the food warm.
I like to use a mandoline for this recipe or the shredder attachment on my food processor. It makes the whole process much easier and really shreds the sprouts into a lovely tangle of green. Of course, you can also just use a sharp knife and get the slices as thin as possible.
- 8 slices smoked bacon cut into ½ inch strips
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, sliced or shredded
- 2 medium onions, peeled, halved and sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 cup olive oil (as needed)
- Kosher salt and pepper to taste
- Juice of a lemon
1. Sauté the bacon until it starts to crisp in a saute pan. Add the sliced Brussels, onions, garlic, salt and pepper and olive oil (as needed) and toss together.
2. Saute on the stove for about 5-10 minutes until the sprouts and onion soften.
3. Transfer to a serving dish and pour over the lemon juice just before serving.
"The Balmoral Castle gardens were amazing and provided fresh incredible produce to the kitchens daily," said McGrady. This simple dish of Brussels sprouts cooked with onion and bacon is the perfect example of the type of dish he'd make with the bounty from the local produce. And "anything tastes good with onions and bacon," added the chef. But if you want to be really true to a royal feast, you'll have to omit one ingredient from this recipe: "Of course, we couldn't use garlic in the recipe when the Queen was at the table because she did it like it," said McGrady.
This comforting side dish can be made ahead and easily reheated when it's time to serve.
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1 stick unsalted butter, divided
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large bunch kale, stems discarded, shredded and rinsed thoroughly of grit
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup soft goat cheese, at room temperature
- Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Place the potatoes in a large stockpot with and fill with water to cover. Salt well and bring to a boil. Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes or until fork-tender.
2. Heat 1/2 stick of butter over medium heat in a large pan and saute the garlic and kale until tender, about 3-5 minutes, and set aside.
3. Drain the potatoes and return to pot. Mash with a potato masher and then add the cream gradually, mixing to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the kale and then the goat cheese, adjust the seasoning and serve hot.
"We served bubble and squeak — a traditional British dish of mashed potatoes mixed with chopped cabbage — a lot at Buckingham Palace," said McGrady. "That inspired me to create this dish using healthy and trendy kale." The mashed potatoes can be made ahead: Simply rewarm before serving (you can heat them in a casserole in the oven or in bowl set over simmering water).
This dessert is formed as a galette, which is just a fancy French cooking term for “round.” In this case, you don’t put the pastry dough in a pie or tart tin. Just roll it out, fill the center with fruit and then fold over the pastry edges on to the fruit and brush the pastry with a little egg wash.
For the pastry
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup lard or solid vegetable shortening
- 1 ⅓ cups all purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
For the filling
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 6-8), peeled, cored, quartered and sliced
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/3 cup honey
- 2/3 cup chopped walnuts
- 8 large Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
- 1 large egg
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 3 tablespoons demerara sugar
For the garnish
- 1 cup chilled whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
- 2 tablespoons sugar
1. In a large bowl rub the butter and lard/shortening into the flour, sugar and salt until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the water and vinegar and mix until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
2. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the apples and sauté until they start to soften — about 10 minutes. Add the cardamom and cinnamon and 1/3 cup of the honey, stir in and cook 1 minute. Take it off the stove and allow to cool to lukewarm.
3. Preheat an oven to 350°F. Roll out dough to about a 12-inch round and place on a baking sheet. Spoon half of apple mixture over crust, leaving 2-inch plain border. Sprinkle dates and nuts over the apples. Top with remaining apple mixture. Fold outer edge of crust over apples (dough is delicate; press together any tears). Whisk egg and milk in bowl. Brush edges generously with egg mixture. Sprinkle the crust with the demerara sugar.
4. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool for about 45 minutes. Whip the cream with the sugar, cinnamon and vanilla until stiff and serve with the pastry.
This easy date and apple dessert is another dish inspired by a royal retreat. "Sandringham House had its own apple orchard and would supply the royal kitchens," said McGrady. "This rustic twist on apple pie would be perfect for Sandringham royal picnics." And don't be afraid of the word "pastry" (which can be notoriously difficult to navigate) — the dough for this one is simply mixed by hand, rolled out and then shaped with your fingers — it's ok if it doesn't turn out perfect, remember it's supposed to look rustic!