Party pay back time

Party Food - Its coming to the time of year when even the most intrepid cooks decide to gather up courage and ask a few people around. Its pay-back time for all those parties you’ve enjoyed. 
One could pop around to the local supermarket or deli and pick up some tempting treats. One could even splash out and take them all to a restaurant but that would put a serious hole in your bank balance.
Much more fun to gather a few pals together and to whip up a simple meal. Believe it or not, its not rocket science, a visit to Cork, or Temple Bar or Galway Market, or many of the Farmers Markets around the country will provide a selection of locally smoked fish. A plate of smoked mussels, eel, salmon, tuna and maybe a few roll mops with some horseradish sauce, sweet dill mayo and a cucumber pickle make a delicious starter with lots of brown crusty brown bead. Here’s a nice recipe, but if baking is not your forte McCambridge’s brown soda bread is available country wide. Many local shops sell freshly made soda bread. Alternatively, why not make a big pot of soup – so easy to serve – filling and comforting.
Thai Green Chicken Curry is simple to make even for novice cooks, get the pals to help with the chopping. Buy really good quality Irish free-range chicken as a base. This recipe can be made ahead and reheated, in fact it also freezes well so it could be cooked well ahead. Basmati rice and a few poppodums and a good green salad would complete the main course.
Have fun laying the table and decorating the house. Lots of candles to create a festive atmosphere, paper lanterns, sparklers and a real Christmas tree. Thread popcorn or dolly mixtures to make edible garlands. Dip chillies in chocolate for fun nibbles. Serve candied nuts with the drinks and a homemade choccie with the coffee. This Almond Meringue is a gem of a recipe, it can be filled with all kinds of fruit – kumquats, the baby of the citrus fruit family are in season and their lively taste cuts through the sweetness of the meringue. Decorate the serving plate with holly, add a few snowmen, dredge with icing sugar, add a few sparklers and bring to the table alight. Good coffee and a homemade chocolate and a glass of sloe gin will round off a terrific party. Don’t forget the crackers, silly hats and jokes.
Happy Christmas. 

A Plate of Locally Smoked Fish with Horseradish Sauce and Sweet Dill Mayonnaise

Serves 4
Occasionally we serve just three different types of smoked fish for example salmon, mussels and trout on tiny rounds of Brown Bread, topped with a little frill of fresh Lollo Rosso. A little blob of cucumber pickle goes with the smoked salmon, a blob of home made mayonnaise is delicious with Frank Hederman’s marinated smoked mussels and a blob of Horseradish Sauce and a sprig of watercress complements the pink smoked trout - These three delicious morsels make a perfect light starter. 

A selection of smoked fish - smoked salmon, smoked mussels, smoked mackerel, smoked trout, smoked eel, smoked tuna, smoked hake and smoked sprats.
segments of lemon
sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves

Cucumber, salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar, verjuice or rice vinegar

First make the horseradish sauce and sweet dill mayonnaise. 
Slice the salmon into thin slices down onto the skin, allow 1 slice per person. Cut the mackerel into diamond shaped pieces, divide the trout into large flakes. Skin and slice the eel. Thinly slice the tuna and hake. 
To serve 
Choose 4 large white plates drizzle each plate with sweet dill mayonnaise, divide the smoked fish between the plates. Arrange appetizingly, put a blob of horseradish sauce and cucumber pickle on each plate. Garnish with a lemon wedge and sprigs of watercress or rocket leaves and maybe a few very thin slices of cucumber, seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few drops of verjuice or rice vinegar.

Brown Soda Bread and Scones

Makes 1 large or 2 smaller loaves
560g/1lb 4oz brown wholemeal flour (preferably stone-ground)
560g/ 1lb 4oz plain white flour
2 teaspoons (10g) dairy salt
2 teaspoons (10g) bread soda (Bicarbonate of Soda/Baking Soda) sieved
1 ¼ - 1 ½ pints/700- 850 ml sour milk or buttermilk

First preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large wide bowl, make a well in the centre and pour all of the sour milk or buttermilk. Using one hand, stir in a full circle starting in the centre of the bowl working towards the outside of the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. The dough should be soft but not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, a matter of seconds, turn it out onto a well floured board. WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS. Roll around gently with floury hands for a second, just enough to tidy it up. Flip over and flatten slightly to about 2 inches (5cm) approx. Sprinkle a little flour onto a baking sheet and place the loaf on top of the flour. Make with a deep cross and bake in a hot oven 230C/450F/regulo 8 after 20-30 minutes reduce the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6 for approx. 30-50 minutes or until the bread is cooked (In some ovens it is necessary to turn the bread upside down on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes before the end of baking) It will sound hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.

Winter Celery Soup with Cashel Blue and Toasted Hazelnuts

Serves 8-10
13 lbs (560g) celery, finely chopped
12 ozs (45g) butter
5 ozs (140g) onion, chopped
5 ozs (140g) potatoes, cut into 3 inch (5mm) dice
salt and freshly ground pepper
12 pints (900ml) homemade chicken stock
3-2 pint (150-300ml) creamy milk
2 tablesp. hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped
2 tablesp. Cashel Blue or Crozier Cheese, crumbled
a few tablesp. whipped cream
sprigs of chervil or flat parsley

Use a potato peeler to remove the strings from the outside stalks of celery.
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes, onion and celery; toss in the butter until evenly coated. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid and sweat over a gentle heat for 10 minutes approx., until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Add the chicken stock and simmer until the celery is fully cooked, 10-12 minutes approx. Liquidise the soup, add a little more stock or creamy milk to thin to the required consistency. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Serve the soup piping hot with a little blob of whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with the crumbled Cashel Blue, chopped hazelnuts and a sprig of chervil or flat parsley.

Shermin’s Thai Chicken Curry

Serves 4-6
550ml (20fl.oz) coconut milk
1 tablesp. green curry paste
1 Thai green chilli, pounded (optional – if you like a hotter curry)
200g (7oz) chicken, cut into little finger size pieces
2 aubergines, cut into ½ inch (1cm) cubes
2 kaffir lime leaves
½ tablesp. palm sugar or a little less of soft brown sugar
2 tablesp. fish sauce (nam pla)
1 tablesp. soya sauce
1 large red chilli
10-20 basil leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the wok on a low heat. Pour 4 fl.ozs (125ml) coconut milk into the wok. Add the green curry paste and a pounded green chilli, and mix well. Add the chicken strips, increase the heat to medium. Cook until the chicken changes colour, then add the remainder of the coconut milk, aubergine dice, kaffir lime leaves, palm sugar and fish sauce. 
Stir constantly on a medium heat until the curry boils and foams up, then reduce the heat and simmer, continue to stir all the time uncovered otherwise the sauce may separate – It should be cooked for a total of 10-12 minutes. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Foolproof Food
Plain Boiled Rice
I find this way of cooking rice in what we call ‘unlimited water’ to be very satisfactory for plain boiled rice, even, dare I say, foolproof. The grains stay separate and it will keep happily covered in the oven for up to half an hour.
Serves 8

14 ozs (400 g) best quality long-grain rice, eg. Basmati rice 
8 pints of water
2 teaspoons salt
A few little knobs of butter (optional) 

Bring 8 pints of water to a fast boil in a large saucepan. Add salt. Sprinkle in the rice and stir at once to ensure that the grains don’t stick. Boil rapidly, uncovered. After 4 or 5 minutes (depending on the type of rice), test by biting a few grains between your teeth - it should still have a slightly resistant core. If it overcooks at this stage the grains will stick together later.
Strain well through a sieve or fine strainer. Put into a warm serving dish, dot with a few knobs of butter, cover with tin foil or a lid and leave in a low oven, 140ºC/275ºF/regulo 1, for a minimum of 15 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff up with a fork and serve.
* see Top Tips

Almond Meringue with Kumquats

Serves 6
12 ozs (45g) almonds
2 egg whites 
42 ozs (125g.) icing sugar
2 pint (300ml) whipped cream
2 lb (225g) kumquats – see recipe
wafers of chocolate, optional

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease. 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. At a pinch one could use nibbed almonds but they won’t taste quite so good. Mark two 72 inch (19cm) circles on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet. Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks. Fold in the almonds. Divide the mixture between the 2 circles and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake immediately in a cool oven, 1501C/3001F/regulo 2 for 45 minutes or until set crisp and just brown on top. Allow to cool.

To Assemble
Sandwich the meringues together whipped cream and drained kumquats. Chill for some hours before serving. Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and wafers of chocolate.

Kumquat Compote

½ lb (225g) kumquats
5 fl.ozs (150ml) water
5 ozs (150g) sugar

Cut the kumquats into four slices and remove the pips. Put the kumquats in a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, uncovered for half an hour.
Allow to cool and drain off excess juice before using as a filling for the meringue. 

Hot Tips

Sources of Smoked Fish – 
Smoked Tuna – Sally Barnes, Woodcock Smokery, Gortbrack, Castletownshend, Co Cork
Tel. 028-36232
Smoked Eel and Mackerel – Frank Hederman, Belvelly Smokehouse, Belvelly, Cobh, Co Cork. Tel. 021-4811089
Smoked Salmon – Sally Barnes, Frank Hederman, 
Anthony Creswell, Ummera Smoked Products Ltd., Timoleague, Co. Cork, Ireland (recently awarded Silver and Bronze medals in the UK Guild of Fine Food Retailers Great Taste Awards 2003)
Tel:023 446644 Fax 023-46419 www.ummera.com 

Bill Casey, Shanagarry Smoke House, Shanagarry, Co Cork. Tel. 021-4646955
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2004 – The International Year of Rice
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2004 the International Year of Rice – it is the staple food for over half the world’s population, including many of the poorest of the poor. To address the problems of hunger, food scarcity, malnourishment, poverty and inequality, there is an urgent need to develop rice based production systems in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way.

Ely Winebar and Café – 22 Ely Place, Dublin 2 – Tel. 01-6768986
Well worth seeking out if Christmas shopping in Dublin – around the corner from The Shelbourne – an unusual wine list offering a huge selection of carefully selected wines, with over 70 available by the glass.
Menus feature organic produce from the Robson’s family farm in Co Clare – including Burren lamb. Great coffee and delicious chocolates.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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