A Family Celebration

This is the Holy Communion and Confirmation season. All over the country excited children and frazzled parents are preparing for the big day. Celebrations seem to gather momentum and become even more elaborate every year, a far cry from my childhood when one came home for a family breakfast of rashers and eggs, shared with grandparents, perhaps a favourite aunt and uncle and a neighbour or two and the godparents. There were presents of course, a little prayer book with a gold and white embossed cover, a little miraculous medal surrounded by a pleated white ribbon and a pretty blue or white rosary beads to treasure as special memento of the day.

The idea of collecting enough money to buy bike or a playstation was a long way off at that stage. 

A special meal to celebrate these special occasions – understandably many people choose to go to a favourite restaurant with family and friends - everyone can relax but if the party of extended family and friends continues to expand, this can prove to be an expensive option, so why not decide to do your own Communion or Confirmation party. With a little planning and some help from the pals it needn’t be a marathon task – no point in being a martyr. Decide on the menu and then delegate – friends are usually delighted to be invited to bring along their ‘signature dish’ or luscious pud.

A family celebration such as this often involves several generations so lets think of having something yummy for everyone.

However, its important to remember it’s a day for the children, not just for adults, so the menu must be designed with that in mind. Choose dishes that can be made ahead and don’t need last minute attention. It’s a neat idea to do a few little bites to pass around when people arrive from the Church. Make some zingy homemade lemonade for the kids (use sparkling water instead of still) and some bubbly for the grown ups.

The canapés could be as simple as really good smoked salmon on brown bread or a tasty pate on crostini,

Dips are also easy to whip up – how about Tortilla Chips with Guacamole and Tomato Salsa, Cumin pitta crisps with Tstatsiki or Hummus bi Tahina.

Both kids and adults love Spicy potato wedges with a garlicy mayonnaise dip.

Kids of all ages love sausages – serve some plain and toss the rest in a mixture of honey, wholegrain mustard and chopped rosemary – simple and lip smackingly good.

For main course – a white soda bread pizza with tomato and mozzarella and pepperoni topping or mushroom and marjoram topping would disappear with double quick speed. Chicken goujons with chips and sweet chilli sauce would get a similar reception from the kids- the grown-ups might even sneak a few. A big bubbly stew with scallion champ or a tagine with couscous, or a chicken and mushroom pie would be delicious and easy to produce.

Alternatively, a poached salmon with homemade mayonnaise and perhaps a few simple salads – tomato and mint, cucumber pickle, egg mayonnaise and potato and chive salad would be light and summery.

For pudding you’ll need to have lots of really good quality ice-cream for the kids and embellish it with a generous bowl of new season Irish strawberries or maybe make a fresh strawberry sauce to serve with vanilla ice-cream. Sticky toffee pudding or a buttery rhubarb tart would be perfect for a cooler day and then there must be a celebration cake or a meringue gateau – how about almond meringue with strawberries and cream.

If all this seems too much like hard work why not find a good caterer to take over and provide the food, or even order the desserts and cake from one of the many little great delis springing up all over the place - see Hot Tips.

Gratin of Chicken and Broccoli

Serves 4-6
This is one of those dishes that can be mouth-watering or a complete disaster. Its success depends on the broccoli being carefully cooked so that it is bright green and just tender.
1 x 32 lb (1.5kg) chicken*, free range if possible
2 carrots, sliced
2 onions, sliced
sprig each of thyme and tarragon
a few peppercorns
2 pint (300ml) homemade chicken stock
1 lb (450g) broccoli florets
4 ozs (110g) mushrooms, sliced
scrap of butter
6 fl ozs (175ml) milk
3 pint (150ml) cream
2 teasp. tarragon or annual marjoram
1 oz (30g) Buttered crumbs, see below
1 oz (30g) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Lasagne dish 10 x 8 inch (25.5 x 20.5cm)
Put the chicken into a saucepan or casserole with the onions and carrots add a sprig of thyme, tarragon and a few peppercorns. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1-13 hours or until the chicken is tender. 

Meanwhile cook the broccoli florets in boiling salted water until al dente (see recipe). Drain and refresh under cold water, keep aside. Saute the mushrooms in the butter on a hot pan season with salt and freshly ground pepper and keep aside also.
When the chicken is cooked remove the meat from one side and carve into bite sized pieces. Keep the rest for another recipe,* or double the rest of the ingredients.

Strain and degrease the cooking liquid, add the cream and milk, bring to the boil, add the tarragon or annual marjoram, simmer for a few minutes, thicken to a light coating consistency with roux, then add the chicken to the sauce. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Butter an ovenproof lasagne dish, put a layer of broccoli on the base, scatter the mushrooms on top and cover with the creamy chicken mixture.
Mix the Buttered Crumbs with the grated cheese and sprinkle over the surface. Reheat in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 for 15-20 minutes and flash under the grill until the top is crunchy and golden. Serve immediately.

Buttered Crumbs

3 oz (8g.) butter
2 oz (15g) soft white breadcrumbs
Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the breadcrumbs. Remove from the heat immediately and allow to cool.

Sausages with Honey and Grainy Mustard

1 lb (450g) good quality cocktail sausages

2 tablesp. Irish honey
2 tablesp.Irish grainy mustard (eg. Lakeshore mustard with honey)

Mix the honey with the mustard. Prick the sausages, coat with the honey and mustard mixture, cook in a preheated oven 200C/400F/regulo 6 for 20-25 minutes or until cooked and golden.
Baste several times during cooking.

Home-Made Lemonade

If you keep some chilled 'stock syrup' made up in your fridge all these fresh fruit drinks are simplicity itself to make. They contain no preservatives so they should be served within a few hours of being made. Many different types of citrus fruit may be used.
Stock Syrup
Makes 825ml (28fl ozs)
450g (1 lb) sugar
600ml (1 pint) water
To make the stock syrup: Dissolve the sugar in the water and bring to the boil. Boil for 2 minutes then allow it to cool. Store in the fridge until needed.

4 lemons
2 orange
500ml (16fl oz) approx. syrup
1.4L (2½ pint) approx. water – use sparkling mineral water
sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm
Juice the fruit and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste. Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.

Almond Meringue with Strawberries and Cream

We use this all-in-one meringue recipe for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines Day, or simply for a special dessert, its particularly delicious with strawberries, but raspberries, loganberries, peaches, nectarines, or kiwi fruit are also very good.
Serves 6
1½ ozs (45g) whole unskinned almonds
2 egg whites, preferably free range
4½ ozs (125g) icing sugar
½ pint (300ml) whipped cream
½ lb (225g) strawberries
Little sprigs of mint or lemon balm

Blanch and skin the almonds. Grind or chop them up. They should not be ground to a fine powder but should be left slightly coarse and gritty, (you could cheat and use nibbed almonds!)

Mark 2 x 7½ inch (19cm) circles on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet. Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free from grease. Mix all the icing sugar with the egg whites in the bowl, whisk until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks. Fold in the almonds quickly. Divide the mixture between the two circles and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake immediately in a cool oven, 150ºC/300ºF/regulo 2 for 45 minutes or until crisp. Turn off the oven and allow to cool. The meringue discs should peel easily off the silicone paper.

To assemble

Slice the strawberries. Sandwich the meringue discs together with the fruit and whipped cream. Reserve a little fruit and cream for decoration. Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and strawberries. Garnish with little sprigs of mint or lemon balm.

Note: If you chill for an hour before serving it will be easier to cut.
The meringue discs will keep for several weeks in a tin.
Basic Beginners Recipe –
Potato Wedges
Roasted Potato wedges with rosemary and garlic. Instead of Rosemary and Garlic you could dip the potato pieces in flour seasoned with Cajun spices or use one of the ready prepared sachets of seasonings for potato wedges which come in a range of flavours. 

2 lbs (900g) old potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders, or Kerrs pink.
Extra virgin olive oil
12-14 cloves of garlic
Rosemary sprigs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200F/100C
Scrub the potatoes well. Cut into quarters or eights lengthwise depending on size. The pieces should be chunky rather than skinny. Put into a roasting tin with the garlic cloves, drizzle with a little olive oil, toss to coat, sprinkle with salt and a few rosemary sprigs. Roast for 20-30 minutes.
Serve with garlic mayonnaise or a sour cream dip or your own favourite dipping sauce. 

Hot Tips

The Emporium Café at Stephen Pearce Gallery, Shanagarry, Co Cork – as well as providing delicious coffee and snacks, Mamie and Elaine also do outside catering, special occasion cakes, tempting meals to take away….021 4646343

Cuddigans Foodstore, Church Street, Cloyne, Co Cork – our much loved Mr. Cuddigan’s butcher shop is now home to Siobhan Cronin’s foodstore – you can buy a range of tasty ready meals all made on the premises – soups, main courses, desserts, cakes, breads and pastries – special orders welcomed – 021-4652762. 

Others to look up - O’Callaghans Deli, Mitchelstown, Cinnamon Cottage – Rochestown, Cork –The Granary, Midleton

Around the Country - Country Choice, Nenagh, Jim Tynan Portlaoise, Goyas in Galway, The Gourmet Parlour, Sligo ….. see the Bridgestone Shoppers Guide for lots of suggestions.

In Dublin –

It’s a Bagel - Pamela Black and her colleagues will cater for a Bagel Party – 01-8740486, 01-2360644 – info@itsabagel.com

The Butlers Pantry in Blackrock – Eileen Bergin and her team supply a wide range of delicious goodies - 01-2885505

Tim Dickson of Hooper Dickson Catering Co caters for Holy Communions and other special occasions – 01-6267349 www.hdcatering.com  email:tdickson@eircom.net 

Other Dublin caterers - Sarah Peelo at YUZU Catering Tel 01-8349748 www.yuzu.ie  Sarah O’Riain 087-2101861, Rachel Hegarty at Personal Chefs – 01-888 1272 

Joan O’Connell – 01-8532063

Coming up soon at Ballymaloe Cookery School –
Simply Delicious Food Fast 26-28 May, Discovering Tapas 28 May, Guest Chef Rory O’Connell 29 May, Taste of Thailand & Vietnam 30 May, Vegetarian 3 June, Sushi 6 June – for details of these and all our courses 021-4646785. www.cookingisfun.ie  

A book worth seeking out - Eat to Live by Sue Radd and Dr. Kenneth Setchell

Published by Newleaf 2003 in Ireland ‘Its not only what we eat that makes us sick – but what we don’t eat!’
Tel 021-4646785. www.cookingisfun.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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