Letters from March 2000

St Patrick’s Day

Really, St Patrick’s Day has an extraordinary impact worldwide, it just occurred to me that it is the only national day that is celebrated virtually all over the globe with parades, from Sydney to New York, Macroom to Lanesboro. This year I was in America yet again. The Aer Lingus plane from Dublin to JFK Airport was bulging at the seams with politicians from North and South, musicians of every hue, brass bands, journalists, radio and television personalities and a myriad of people going over for the premiere of Riverdance on Broadway.  When we arrived in New York it was on a Wednesday afternoon, it was warm and summery and over 50º Centigrade, but by St Patrick’s Day however, the temperature had plummeted. Nothing however seems to dampen the spirits of the St Patrick’s Day crowds. The parade doesn’t start until 11am, yet thousands of cheery revellers of all ages, colour and creed were lining the streets by 8.30am. They seemed totally oblivious to the falling snowflakes as they waved to the television cameras with their faces painted 40 shades of green, green rig-outs, whacky hats, green hair and colourful banners with good wishes for St Patrick’s Day or for relatives at home. One eager chap frantically waved his banner saying MARRY ME MELISSA any time the cameras came anywhere close – Hope Melissa saw it!  The New York Police were out in force, so many had Irish names, often second or third generation. Everyone was good humoured despite the freezing cold, great badges everywhere, VIP stood for Very Irish Person, HIP for Honorary Irish Person, RIP Real Irish Person, GIP Genuine Irish Person. Many had never actually been to Ireland – some didn’t even have a drop of Irish blood but wanted to join in the celebrations with their Irish friends.  The shops were decorated in shades of green, white and gold. Everything that could possibly be made in the shape of a shamrock from candies to pasta was there.
Everything that could possibly be dyed green was transformed for the festival, from beer to muffins to yummy meals. Even Aer Lingus gave their lady passengers green carnations.  I was over in New York to appear on Sara Moulton’s ‘Cooking Live’ programme on the Food Network. Sara chose Bread as the theme so I made White Soda Bread and variations, Orange Scones with Orange Butter and Rhubarb Bread and Butter Pudding, all simple but delicious recipes. The response was phenomenal, the phone lines were jammed, Kitchen Arts and Letters, New York’s most famous bookshop sold out of books at the book signing next day, and we got masses and masses of e-mails from people who said they had thought they couldn’t cook but now felt they would have a go. The response really delighted me and made me realise yet again that whether we live in New York or Shanagarry, that what most of us want most of the time are simple and delicious recipes that are quick to make and look terrific.

 

White Soda Bread and Scones


Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses. It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1 lb (450g/3¼ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon/½ American teaspoon breadsoda
Sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-412 ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Knead lightly for a second, just enough to tidy it up, flip over. Pat the dough into a round about 1½ inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.

White Soda Scones


Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).

White Soda Bread with Herbs


Add 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) of freshly chopped herbs eg. rosemary or sage, thyme, chives, parsley, lemon balm to the dry ingredients and continue as above. Shape into a loaf or scones and bake as for soda bread.
Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones
Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.
Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones
4 ozs (110g/1 cup) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Egg wash
Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.
Rosemary and Olive Scones
Add 1½ tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.
Rosemary and Sundried Tomatoes
Add 1-2 tablespoons (1½ – 2½ tablespoons) of chopped rosemary, 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) of chopped sundried tomatoes to the flour and continue as in the basic recipe. Form into a loaf of bread or scones.
Olive Scones
Make a white soda bread dough with or without herbs. Flatten into a 1 inch square. Dot the top with whole olives. Brush generously with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut into square scones and bake as above.

Rhubarb Bread and Butter Pudding


Serves 6-8
We’ve been having fun ringing the changes with our recipe. Bread and Butter Pudding is also delicious with apple and cinnamon or even mixed spice. I can’t wait to try gooseberry and elderflower as soon as they come back into season.
12 slices good-quality white bread, crusts removed
55g (2oz/½ stick) butter, preferably unsalted
450g (1 lb) red rhubarb
Sugar
450ml (16 fl oz/2 cups) cream
230ml (8 fl oz/1 cup) milk
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
175g (6oz/¾ cup) sugar
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) sugar for sprinkling on top of the pudding

Garnish:
Softly-whipped cream
1 x 8 inches (20.5cm) square pottery or china dish
Slice the rhubarb in pieces, put into a dish and sprinkle with sugar leave to macerate for an hour.  Butter the bread and arrange 4 slices, buttered side down, in one layer in the buttered dish. Sprinkle the bread with half the rhubarb, arrange another layer of bread, buttered side down, over the rhubarb. Cover with the remaining bread, buttered side down.  In a bowl whisk together the cream, milk, eggs, vanilla essence and sugar. Pour the mixture through a fine sieve over the bread. Sprinkle the sugar over the top and let the mixture stand, covered loosely, for at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.
Bake in a bain-marie – the water should be half way up the sides of the baking dish. Bake the pudding in the middle of a preheated oven, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 1 hour approx. or until the top is crisp and golden. Serve the pudding warm with some softly-whipped cream.


Crunchy Orange Butter Scones


Makes 18-20 scones, using a 3 inch (7½ cm) cutter
2 lbs (900 g) plain white flour
6 ozs (170 g/1½ sticks) butter
Pinch of salt
2 ozs (55 g) castor sugar
3 heaped teaspoons baking powder
Rind of one orange
3 free-range eggs
15 fl ozs (450 ml/scant 2 cups) approx. full cream milk to mix
Egg wash (see below)
2 ozs (55 g) granulated sugar for top of scones
Orange Butter
3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind
6 ozs (170 g) butter
7 ozs (200 g) icing butter
Preheat the oven 250C/475F/regulo 9.

First make the Orange butter.  Cream the butter with the finely grated orange rind. Add the sifted icing sugar and beat until fluffy.
Sieve the flour into a large wide bowl, add a pinch of salt, 3 heaped teaspoons of baking powder and castor sugar. Grate the rind of one orange on the finest part of the grater over the dry ingredients in the bowl. Mix the dry ingredients with your hands, lift up to incorporate air and mix thoroughly.  Cut the butter into cubes, toss well in the flour and then with the tips of your fingers, rub in the butter until it resembles large flakes. Make a well in the centre. Whisk the eggs with the milk, pour all at once into the centre. With the fingers of your ‘best hand’ outstretched and stiff, mix in a full circular movement from the centre to the outside of the bowl. This takes just seconds and hey presto, the scone dough is made. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Turn out the dough onto the floured board. Scrape the dough off your fingers and wash and dry your hands at this point. Tidy around the edges, flip over and roll or pat gently into a rectangle about ¾ inch (2cm) thick.  Spread the soft orange butter over the surface. Roll up lengthwise and cut into pieces about 1¼ inch (3cm) thick.  Brush the tops with egg wash (see below) and dip the tops only in granulated sugar. Put onto a baking sheet.  Bake in a preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Egg Wash
Whisk one egg thoroughly with about a dessertspoon of milk. This is brushed over the scones to help them brown in the oven.
Practical Tip
Scone mixture may be weighed up ahead – even the day before. Butter may be rubbed in but do not add raising agent and liquid until just before serving.

Spring is here at last

Rhubarb – Spring at last. The fruit garden which is underneath the dining room of the cookery school has been specially under-planted with Spring bulbs to cheer us up in late Winter and early Spring. First theWinter Snowflakes (Leucojum) come and then a carpet of snowdrops and violets, followed soon by hellebores and drifts of little daffs.  All of this is a delight but it’s the gradual unfurling of the rhubarb and the emergence of the tender pink spears which brings most joy to my heart.  I adore rhubarb, its clean sharp fresh taste seems the perfect antidote after heavy winter meals. Waiting for it to be ready to pick requires infinite patience on my part, almost unbearable, so I often nip across the road to Walshs farm to get a bunch of theirs which year in year out seems to be ahead of ours and so delicious.
We’ve just made our first rhubarb tarts, we’ve got several we love and usually add a variation each year. Apart from tarts or compotes, a rhubarb sauce is delicious with roast pork, just stew the rhubarb with a little sugar and a tiny drop of water, as soon as it disintegrates it is ready. The acidity counterbalances the richness of the pork beautifully. Here are several of our favourite rhubarb recipes.

Rhubarb & Raspberry Jam

 


Makes 3 pots approx.
18 oz (500g) rhubarb
11oz (300g) raspberries (use frozen fruit when not in season)
1lb 12 oz (800g) sugar
Chop the rhubarb, put in a bowl, cover with sugar and leave overnight to extract the juices.  Next day, heat the raspberries in a stainless steel saucepan until juicy and boiling.  Transfer the rhubarb mixture to a stainless steel saucepan, place on the heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the raspberries. Bring to a quick boil and boil for 8-10 minutes until setting point is reached. Test by putting a teaspoon of jam onto a cold plate, wait for a few seconds. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger.
Fill into sterilised jars and cover with tightly fitting lids. Store in a cool dark place.

 

Rhubarb Sauce


This bitter sweet sauce is delicious served with roast pork instead of Bramley Apple Sauce
Serves 6 approx
1 lb (450g) red rhubarb cut into 1 inch (2.5cm) pieces
4 oz (110g) sugar
Put the rhubarb into a stainless steel saucepan, add the sugar and toss around, leave for 5 or 10 minutes until the juice from the rhubarb starts to melt the sugar. Then, cover the saucepan and put on a gentle heat, cook until soft. Taste and add a little more sugar if necessary. It should not be too sweet but should not cut your throat either. If you have a spoonful of really good redcurrant jelly stir it in at the end, otherwise leave it out. Serve warm with roast pork.

Cullohill Rhubarb Pie

This pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from ‘hot hands’ don’t have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
Serves 8-12
Pastry
8 ozs (225g/2 sticks) butter
2 ozs (55g/1/3 cup) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (340g/2½ cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
Filling
16 ozs (450g) sliced red rhubarb (about ½ inch thick)
6½ – 7 ozs (185-200g) sugar, approx.
Castor sugar for sprinkling
To Serve
Softly whipped cream
Barbados sugar
Rectangular tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.
First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over cream). Add the eggs and beat for several minutes, it may look curdled but don’t worry. Reduce speed and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 1 hour otherwise it is difficult to handle.
To make the tart Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Put the sliced rhubarb into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the rhubarb is tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked sprinkle lightly with castor sugar. Serve cut into squares with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar.

Rhubarb & Almond Tart

Serves 8

Pastry
5 oz (140g) butter, diced
12 oz (340g) plain flour
4 tablesp. castor sugar
1 tablesp. flaked almonds
5 tablesp. cold water
Filling
3½ ozs (100g) butter
3½ ozs (100g) castor sugar
3½ ozs (100g) ground almonds
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
12-16 ozs (340-450g) rhubarb
9 inch (23cm) flan tin with a removable base.
First make the pastry.
Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and separate out 3 ozs (85g) of the mixture. Add 1 tablespoon flaked almonds to this portion and set aside for the topping. Finish the pastry by gradually adding the water to the remainder of the mixture until the dough binds. Rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6.  Roll out the pastry and line the tin, cover with kitchen paper, fill with baking beans, then bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the baking beans and return to the oven for a further 5 minutes. Leave to cool on a wire rack
Meanwhile make the filling.  Cream the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs and yolks, then the almonds. Spread on the bottom of the pastry case.  Cut the rhubarb into ¾ – 1¼ inch (2-3cm) pieces and scatter on top of the filling, you may need to add a little sugar. Bake for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven. Sprinkle over the reserved topping.  Reduce the heat to 180C/350F/regulo 4 and bake for a further 35 minutes.  Cool slightly. Dredge icing sugar over the top and serve.

Greetings from Shanagarry

The term has whizzed by and already we are into week ten of the January 12 Week Certificate course. The students from ten different nationalities are a bright and lively bunch. They are cooking well and several are enjoying cooking in the wood burning oven.
Haulie’s latest excitement on the farm is a new litter of saddleback pigs born in the field behind the Garden Cafe. They are adorable and now beginning to emerge from the shelter to delight the students who can’t bear to think of them eventually turning into sweet juicy pork.
Eileen, Kay and Charlie are racing against time to get the seeds planted and to get the gardens clipped into shape before Easter.The fruit garden under the dining room window which has been under planted with spring bulbs is just gorgeous this year. Huge beds of little daffodils, Iris, wintered snowdrops and hellebores are all in bloom at present and the first of the new season rhubarb.
We’ve had some lovely spring days so it has been possible to sit outside after lunch. Norbert Platz, the basket maker extraordinaire from West Cork came over last weekend to put new wings on the willow dragon and to prune the living willow tunnel beside the palis des poulets.
Lydia and Emily our two wandering daughters are now travelling around New Zealand. They say it is utterly beautiful and have visited Colleen Blackers sister and plan to look up past student Mark Woller and his Waterford born wife Tia.
They hope to be home for Toby and Penny’s wedding at the beginning of April. Penny is an adorable Scottish girl whom Toby met when he was cooking in a ski chalet in Verbier. The wedding will be in Edinburgh and apparently the Scots have organised a Ceidli for us also.
The social event of the past week was the world premier of the Alistair Mc Gucians musical ‘The Halfpenny Bridge’ at the Opera House in Cork. A very glamorous evening with Corks glitterati out in force. The performance was vibrant and exciting with memorable songs and dance. After the show 180 people dined at the Crawford Cafe.
On Tuesday I was in London to do a demonstration at Fortnum and Mason to promote Irish food for Bord Bia. It was enormously well received and over subscribed. Fortnum and Mason have been very supportive of artisanal producers.
Altogether this is quite a hectic week cos Wednesday morning I am off to New York to do Sara Mottous TV show on the Food Network for St Patrick’s Day. It will be a flying trip but I am hopping to touch base with Zanne Stewart and Madhur Jaffery while I am over, catch up on all the latest excitement on the New York food scene! Keep in touch. More news soon……………….

   The great café culture

The sunny Australian climate lends itself to a great café culture. Many restaurants have outdoor tables on balconies, verandahs, or just on the sidewalk with great big canvas awnings or umbrellas shading the diners from the sun.  Décor is often bright and funky or minimalist but always fun and relaxed. The Asian influence is apparent everywhere and the fusion of Eastern and Western flavours and cooking techniques is evident on virtually every menu. Italian and Mediterranean are still there and nestled among them are the old favourites like Spicy Potato Wedges with sour Cream and Sweet Chilli Sauce.  Turkish bread was served everywhere with various dips, from Tzatsaki, Roast Red Pepper Puree and Dukkah, Seared meat and vegetables, Baba Ganoush, Spiced Crusted Fish, Thai Chicken Salads, Hoisin Duck with Pancakes, Chicken Satay with fragrant Rice and lots of fresh coriander. Sushi and Snow Pea Sprouts were everywhere.
Desserts were a luscious and irresistible mix of familiar favourites like Crème Brulee, Chocolate and Honeycomb Cake, Sticky Rice and Mango and Icky Sticky Toffee Pudding.. Melting Moments, unquestionably the flavour of the month were my absolute favourites and a Tira Misu Cake, a twist on the Italian original was a discovery from the Valley Cafe outside Margaret River.

Crispy Potatoes with Sweet Chilli Sauce & Sour Cream

 

All the rage in Oz.
Serves 4
1½lbs (680g) potatoes
Sweet Chilli Sauce
Sour cream
Scrub the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water until tender. Cool. Cut into wedges
To serve
Deep fry the wedges in hot oil until crisp and golden. Drain on absorbent kitchen paper. Season with salt .
Serve immediately with a bowl of sweet chilli sauce and sour cream on each plate.
You can buy Sweet Chilli Sauce in specialist outlets such as Mr Bell’s stall in the English Market in Cork or make this Tomato and Chilli Jam.

 

Tomato and Chilli Jam

 

This zingy jam is great with everything from fried eggs to cold meat. Terrific on a piece of chicken breast or fish or spread on bruschetta with goat’s cheese and rocket leaves.
500 g (18 ozs) very ripe tomatoes
2-4 red chillies
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 thumbs of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
30 ml (1 fl oz/scant ¼ cup) Fish sauce (Nam Pla)
300 g (11 ozs/1½ cups) golden castor sugar
100 ml (3½ fl oz/scant ½ cup) red wine vinegar

Purée half the tomatoes, the chillies, garlic, ginger and fish sauce in a blender. Skin the remainder of the tomatoes and chop into ½ inch dice. Put the purée, sugar and vinegar in a stainless steel saucepan and bring to the boil slowly, stirring all the time. Add the chopped tomatoes and simmer. Cook gently for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent sticking.  When cooked pour into warmed, sterilized glass jars. Allow to cool. Store in the fridge.

 

Melting Moments


Flavour of the month in Australia at present.
Makes 16 biscuits approx. depending on size
9 ozs (250g) unsalted butter, softened
3 ozs (85g) icing sugar
2½ ozs (70g) cornflour
6½ ozs (185g) plain flour
Icing
6½ ozs (185g) icing sugar
3 ozs (85g) butter, softened
3 teasp. pure vanilla essence
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/regulo 3
Line a baking sheet with Bakewell Paper.
Cream the butter with the icing sugar, gradually beat in the cornflour and flour. Mix well. The dough will be very soft so roll into balls about the size of a walnut or pipe into rosettes. Leave room for them to spread.
Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and firm.  Cool on a wire rack.
To make the icing  Cream the butter and icing sugar together until soft and fluffy and add the vanilla essence. Sandwich two biscuits together and repeat until all the biscuits are paired.

 

Tiramisu Cake

 

Tiramisu is all the rage, this luscious cake looks stunning and is very easy to serve.
Serves 8
2½ packets of Boudoir Biscuits.
1 pint approx.(570ml/2½ cups) strong espresso coffee (if your freshly made coffee is not strong enough, add 1 teaspoon of instant coffee)
4 tablesp. (5 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) brandy
4 tablesp. (5 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) Jamaica rum
6 ozs (170g) dark chocolate
6 eggs, separated, preferably free range
6 ozs (170g) castor sugar
18 ozs (500g) Mascarpone cheese
Unsweetened cocoa
4 ozs (110g) toasted hazelnuts, chopped
9½ inch (24cm) round spring form angel cake tin
Line the bottom and sides of the tin with Bakewell paper.
Mix the coffee with the brandy and rum. Roughly grate the chocolate (we do it in the food processor with the pulse button.) Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it reaches the ‘ribbon’ stage and is light and fluffy, then fold in the Mascarpone, a tablespoon at a time.  Whisk the egg whites stiffly and fold gently into the cheese mixture. Now you are ready to assemble the Tira Misu.
Dip each side of the boudoir biscuits one at a time into the coffee mixture and arrange side by side in the tin. Spread half the mascarpone mixture gently over the biscuits, sprinkle half the grated chocolate over the top, then another layer of soaked biscuits and finally the rest of the mascarpone. Cover the whole tin carefully with cling film or better still slide it into a plastic bag and twist the end. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours – I usually make it the day before I use it.  Unmould on to a serving plate and pat the toasted hazelnuts onto the sides of the cake.  The Tiramisu Cake will keep for several days in a fridge, but make sure its covered so that it doesn’t pick up ‘fridgie’ tastes.

 

Chicken/Prawn Satay – Malaysian Barbequed Chicken


This is one of the delicious Malaysian recipes that Naranajan Kaur McCormack who  lives near Fermoy shares with us when she demonstrates to our students. They love it. There are endless “satay” variations, using different meat and marinade combinations. Try to include a little fat with each piece of meat, or the satay will become dry when cooked. For the most authentic and optimum flavour, cook the satay on a charcoal barbeque. Satay is usually served with rice, eaten as a snack with drinks (the many fruit drinks available or chilled beers) or served with cucumber salad and “longtong” (compressed rice). This is a very popular “hawker” food. Street traders selling food from kiosk-like stalls are a very popular feature in Malaysia. Naranjan says that  this is an all time favourite summertime barbeque dish with her family and friends. She has found that the chicken satay is by far the most popular of meat satays. The marinade helps to tenderise the meat hence the chicken meat seems to simply melt in your mouth!

1 lb (450 g) skinned and boned chicken meat
20 bamboo skewers (soaked overnight to prevent them burning on the barbeque)
Marinade
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) brown sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Cut up the chicken into small pieces roughly to about one inch by one inch cubes. Place the cubed chicken into a bowl and season with the marinade. Leave to marinade for about 6-8 hours or preferably overnight.  Heat the grill on a high heat for a few minutes. Skewer pieces of chicken onto the bamboo skewers. Thread the meat until the skewer holds about 3 inches of meat at its pointed end. Grill the skewered pieces of chicken on the hot grill for about 15-20 minutes turning the skewers to ensure even cooking.  Serve with a peanut sauce, a side salad and the “longtong” (compressed rice)

 

Peanut Sauce


6 ozs (170 g/generous 1 cup) unsalted peanuts
2 ozs (55 g/scant ½ cup) chopped onion
2 ozs (55 g/generous ¼ cup) demerara sugar
1 rounded teaspoon salt
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon chilli powder
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) cornflour mixed into ½ pint
(10 fl oz) water
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) peanut oil
Juice of 1 lemon
A piece of tamarind the size of a golf ball dissolved into 2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) water (Using the tips of your fingers dissolve the tamarind pieces into the water and strain the liquid through a sieve. Retain this mixture (tamarind water)  Fry the peanuts in a dry pan till lightly brown. Leave the peanuts aside to cool, then peel off the brown skins and discard the skins. (Place the peanuts on a tray and when cool, rub off the skins between your thumbs and fingers and “blow away” the loose skins).
NB: Peanuts retain the heat for quite a long time and you can obtain a nasty burn from hot peanuts!  Then pureé the peanuts in a food processor and when the peanuts resemble biscuit crumbs, add the chopped onion, garlic, chilli powder and salt and liquidise together until well mixed together.  Heat the peanut oil in a shallow frying pan and add all the liquidised ingredients into the frying pan and fry on a medium heat. Add the strained tamarind water, the lemon juice and the brown sugar and mix well together. Then add the cornflour mixture and simmer until the sauce thickens.
Serve with an assortment of Satay and a side salad. Can be served hot or cold.


A Chinese meal

Chinese restaurants have long been favourites on the Irish food scene, always there as a standby or treat when one was too busy to cook or felt like something sweet and sour or spicy as a change from the interminable meat and two veg, Some were simple, others opulent establishments serving everything from irresistible Dim Sum to veritable Chinese banquets. Despite the familiarity with the local Chinese restaurant, many of us know very little about real Chinese food.
What distinguishes Chinese cooking from other food cultures lies not only in the preparation and cooking, but also the way the food is eaten. A Chinese meal doesn’t follow the conventional Western sequence of soup, fish, meat, cheese and dessert. An everyday Chinese meal, served at home or in a restaurant, is like a buffet, with all the dishes (including soup) arranged together in the centre of the table. Everyone just helps themselves to whatever they like, not from every dish on the table, but from one or two dishes at a time. Each person will be given a bowl of rice to accompany these dishes. Only on formal occasions are the dishes served course by course. Even then they will appear in groups rather than singly, soup is the only course served in an individual dish.
The sequence of courses for a formal dinner or banquet will be more or less the following:
Assorted cold starters, 4-6 hot starters, soup, 4-6 main dishes, rice or noodles, desserts (both sweet and savoury). According to Deh-ta-Hsiung in ‘The Chinese Kitchen’, the reason for serving Chinese food this way is the Chinese division between fan, grains and other starch foods known as staples, and cai, cooked meat and vegetable dishes. Grains in the various forms of rice or wheaten flour (bread, pancakes, noodles or dumplings), make up the fan part of the meal; vegetables and meats, cut up and mixed in various combinations into individual dishes constitute the cai part. It is in the successful combining of various ingredients and the blending of different flavours for the preparation of the cai that the fine art and skill of Chinese cookery, its haute cuisine lie.
While an everyday meal must be equally balanced between fan and simply prepared cai dishes, for a formal banquet the emphasis is shifted very much on to the cai dishes which are mostly lavish and elaborate. The rice at a formal banquet is only served at the end of the meal as a token offering, because by then, everyone is too full to want any starchy food.
To achieve the perfect balance in a Chinese meal requires the harmonious blending of five elements – colour, aroma, flavour, texture and shape, – a principle which applies to the making of each individual dish as much as to the meal as a whole.
One of the long-standing Chinese beliefs about food is the close relationship it has with the state of one’s health. The Taoist school of philosophy (which has run side by side with Confucianism for many years) developed an entire nutritional science of food, which was based on familiar yin-yang principles.
This Taoist approach classifies all foods into those that possess the ‘yin’, meaning cool quality, and those that possess the ‘yang’, or hot quality. When the yin-yang forces in the body are not balanced, illness results. To combat this disorder, it is necessary to eat the foods that will redress the balance. This belief was documented in the third century BC at the inception of herbal medicines and the links between nutrition and health, and it is still a dominant concept in Chinese culture today.
Whether amateur or professional, every cook works to the yin-yang principle – a dish must have a harmonious balance and/or contrast of colours, aromas, flavours and textures. So we find one of the best manifestations of the yin-yang principle in Chinese cooking in the way we blend seasonings in complementary pairs: salt (yin) with pepper (yang); sugar (yin) with vinegar (yang); spring onion (yin) with ginger (yang); soy (yin) with wine (yang) and so on. No rules can be set for the exact yin-yang combination, since it is all done by subtle intuition and a feel for the whole process – an experienced cook knows by instinct what does and does not go together to achieve a balance.
The following recipes are from ‘The Chinese Kitchen’ by Deh-Ta-Hsiung – a book of essential ingredients with over 200 authentic recipes, published by Kyle Cathie, London 1999.

 

Spring Roll Pancakes

 

Popular in northern China, these savoury pancakes can be served on their own as a snack, or as the fan part of a meal with othercai dishes.
Makes 10-12
Preparation time 30-35 minutes plus 30 minutes standing time.
Cooking time 45-50 minutes.
450g (1lb) plain flour
300ml (½ pint) boiling water
about 50ml (2 fl.oz) cold water
dry flour for dusting
4-5 spring onions, coarsely chopped
1 tablesp. large grain sea salt
100g (3½oz) lard or shortening
3-4 tablesp. vegetable oil

Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and gently pour in the boiling water. Stir for 5-6 minutes, then add the cold water and knead to a firm dough. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to stand for 25-30 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a sausage and divide it into 10-12 sections. Roll each section into a flat pancake about 20cm (8in) in diameter. Sprinkle each pancake evenly with the chopped spring onions, salt and lard or shortening. Fold up the pancake from the sides, then roll again to make a 5mm (¼ in) thick pancake.
Heat the oil in a pre-heated frying-pan and fry the pancakes, one at a time, over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, turning over once. They should be golden brown and crispy on both sides. Shake and jiggle the pan while cooking so you have a flaky pastry finish.
Serve hot. Cut each pancake into small pieces, or tear into pieces and eat with your fingers. The pancakes should have a strong spring onion flavour, with the occasional sharpness of the salt crystals – absolutely delicious.

 

Cold Tossed Noodles

 

The dressing for this dish can be varied according to season and personal taste. The basic seasonings are ginger, soy, vinegar, spring onions and sesame oil.
Serves 4
Preparation time 10-15 minutes plus soaking and cooling time.
Cooking time 3-4 minutes.

2 tablesp. dried shrimps
3 tablesp. rice wine
3 tablesp. light soy
2 tablesp. rice vinegar
1 teasp. chilli sauce
2 spring onions
450g (1lb) fresh egg noodles or 350g (12oz) dried noodles
1 tablesp finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablesp. Chinese Preserved Vegetables (a canned Chinese mustard pickle)
1 teasp. sesame oil

Soak the dried shrimps in warm water for 10-15 minutes, drain, coarsely chop, then soak in the rice wine for a further 15 minutes.  Mix the soy, vinegar and chilli sauce. Finely shred the spring onions.  Cook the noodles in a pan of lightly salted water for 2-3 minutes, drain and rinse in cold water. Spread the noodles on a serving dish.  Evenly sprinkle the preserved vegetables, shrimps, the soy mixture and ginger. Garnish with spring onions and sesame oil. Mix and toss at the table before serving.

 

Rapid –Fried Lamb with Spring Onions

 

This recipe originated in Shandong. The rapid cooking method known as bao means ‘explosion’ and is even quicker than standard stir-frying.

Serves 4
Preparation time 10-15 minutes plus marinating time.
Cooking time 5 minutes.

350g (12oz) leg of lamb fillet
about 600ml (1 pint) oil
6-8 spring onions, cut into short sections
3-4 small bits of fresh ginger
1 tablesp yellow bean sauce
1 tablesp Worcestershire sauce

For the marinade:
½ teasp sugar
pinch of ground white pepper
1 tablesp. dark soy
1 tablesp rice wine
2 teasp cornflour paste
1 teasp sesame oil
Cut the lamb across the grain into slices the size of large postage stamps, then marinate for several hours.  Heat the oil in a preheated wok until smoking. Stir-fry the lamb in the oil for about 30-40 seconds until the meat changes colour. Then remove the slices and drain.  Pour off the excess oil, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the wok. Stir-fry the spring onions and ginger with the yellow beans for about 30 seconds, then return the lamb to the wok, blend well and add the Worcestershire Sauce. Stir-fry for about another minute and serve hot.
Note: The timing and temperature are vitally important in this dish: the heat must be very high at all times and the cooking should be extremely rapid!

 

Crispy Spring Rolls


Makes about 20 rolls
Preparation time – about 1 hour, plus soaking, marinating and cooling time.
Cooking time – about 10minutes.

6-8 dried Chinese mushrooms
225g(8oz) pork or chicken fillet
1½ tablesp. light soy
1 teasp. rice wine
1 teasp. cornflour
125g (4½oz) bamboo shoots, drained
175g (6oz) tender young leeks or spring onions
2-3 tablesp. oil
100g (3½oz) peeled and cooked prawns
½ teasp. salt
1 teasp. sugar
20 sheets ready-made spring roll skin
1 tablesp. cornflour paste
dry flour for dusting
oil for deep frying

Soak the mushrooms in warm water for about 40-50 minutes, or in cold water for 4-5 hours. Squeeze dry and discard any hard stalks. Cut into matchstick-size shreds.  Thinly shred the meat and marinate with about 2 teaspoons soy, the rice wine and cornflour for 25-30 minutes. Thinly shred the bamboo shoots and leeks or spring onions so they are the same size as the mushrooms and meat.  Heat the oil in a preheated wok. Stir-fry the leeks or spring onions with the shredded meat for about 1 minute, then add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots and prawns. Stir-fry for another minute or so. Add the salt and sugar with the remaining soy, blend well and cook for a further minute. Remove from the heat, drain off any excess liquid and leave to cool.
Peel off the skins one at a time and lay diagonally on the worktop. Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling on each one. Shape the filling into a sausage running from  your left to right. Lift the corner of the skin nearest you, fold over the filing and roll once away from you. Fold in both ends loosely and roll again – this is an important point, for if you fold the ends too tightly, the roll will not be very crispy when cooked. Brush the last corner with the cornflour paste and roll into a neat package.  Lightly dust a tray with dry flour and place the spring rolls in rows with the flap sides down. Repeat the wrapping process until all the filling is used up. Do not cook the spring rolls until a few minutes before serving in order to retain their crispiness. Finished rolls can be kept in the refrigerator for a day or two, or they can be frozen for several months and then cooked from frozen.
To cook: heat the oil in a wok or deep-fryer until smoking a little, then reduce the heat and fry the rolls in batches (3-4 at a time) for 2-3 minutes or until crispy and golden. Remove and drain. They should stay crispy for 15-20 minutes, and in a warm oven will stay crispy for up to 45 minutes before serving.  Serve hot with a dip such as soy, rice vinegar, chilli sauce or plum sauce.