Christmas is coming

C
For many people Christmas has totally lost its appeal– it has developed into a kind of tyranny, an ordeal that one braces oneself to survive. The traditional shopping expedition has become unbearable as many of our capital cities are in chaos both from traffic jams and road works. A despairing Cork city restaurateur told me last week that having already endured 6 months of disruption to her business, because of the city centre development plan, she was told last week by the City Council that the work would definitely be completed by November 2004 – her reply was unprintable.

Understandably, fewer people are prepared to endure the extra hassle to do their Christmas shopping in the city centre, yet no Christmas is complete without a visit to the English Market in Cork to source some extra goodies. 

A visit to your local deli, Farmers Market and specialist shop can provide a range of delicious foods to make Christmas less stressful.

If you stock up with pate and terrines, boudin blanc, artisan cured meats, salami and chorizo, a selection of smoked fish, black and green olives, some farmhouse cheese, Medjool dates and plump figs, you are ready for any occasion or emergency. Seek out a Paneforte di Siena or Pannetone wrapped in gold paper with a huge bow, these delicious confections could save you making either a Christmas cake or plum pudding.

If your family will allow you to break with tradition why not throw caution to the wind, forget about the standard fare and cook a simple meal. Make a huge pot of soup ahead, a silky leek and potato or a root vegetable soup, would be light and delicious. Just reheat on the day.

Smoked salmon carpaccio with a little dice of avocado and red onion would make a delicious second course.
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Main course could be a loin of free range, preferably organic pork with lots of crunchy crackling. I love to serve it with Spiced Aubergines and rustic roast potatoes. Alternatively, a haunch of venison served with Francatelli Sauce and a bubbly gratin dauphinois is a delicious combination and so easy.

The sauce and potato dish can be made ahead and the barded haunch just needs to be roasted, a mere 10 minutes to the pound, and allow a half hour’s resting time in a warming oven, so the juices redistribute evenly through the meat. 

Try this roulade filled with jewel like pomegranate seeds to round off the meal. We also love it filled with a kumquat compote.

Don’t forget to order in some bubbly or a delicious prosecco to get the Christmas spirit and a few stickies - delicious dessert wines to sip with the pud before you curl up in front of the fire.

Happy Christmas to all our readers.

Winter Leek and Potato Soup

Serves 6 - 8
The classic winter soup loved by all age groups.
55g (2 oz) butter
450g (1 lb) potatoes, peeled and cut into 3 inch (5mm) dice
110g (4oz) onion, peeled and cut into 3 inch (5mm) dice
340g (12oz) white parts of the leeks, sliced (save the green tops for another soup or vegetable stock)
salt and freshly ground pepper
900ml (12 pints) light home-made chicken stock
120ml (4 fl oz) cream 
120ml (4 fl oz) milk
Garnish
finely chopped chives

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, when it foams, add the potatoes, onions and leeks, turn them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid. Sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Discard the paper lid. Add the stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are just cooked. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose their flavour.
Liquidise until smooth and silky, taste and adjust the seasoning. Add cream or creamy milk to taste.
Garnish with a swirl of cream and some freshly chopped chives.

Vichysoisse

A tablespoon of finely sliced buttered leeks served in the centre of this soup makes a more substantial version.
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Carpaccio of Smoked Salmon with Avocado, Red Onion , Dill and Horseradish Cream
Serves 8

6-8 ozs (170g-225g) Irish smoked salmon very thinly sliced
1 avocado depending on size
1 small red onion finely diced
1 tablesp. chives
1 tablesp. dill
1 tablesp. chervil or flat parsley

Horseradish Cream

12-3 tablesp. grated horseradish

2 teaspoons wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 teaspoon mustard
3 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
8 fl ozs (250 ml) barely whipped cream

First make the Horseradish Cream
Scrub the horseradish root well, peel and grate on a ‘slivery grater’. Put the grated horseradish into a bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Fold in the barely whipped cream but do not overmix or the sauce will curdle. There will be more than enough for this recipe, but save the rest for another dish. It keeps for 2-3 days: cover so that it doesn=t pick up flavours in the fridge.

To serve:
Arrange the thinly sliced smoked salmon in a single layer over the base of four large plates. Peel and cut the avocado into a ¼ inch (5mm)dice. Drizzle some Horseradish Cream over the salmon then a sprinkle of avocado and red onion dice.

Garnish with snipped chives, chopped dill and chervil or flat parsley sprigs.
Finally a little freshly cracked pepper.
Serve with crusty brown yeast bread.
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Roast Pork with Crackling and Spiced Aubergines
Serves 6-8

1 x 2.25kg (5 lbs) loin of organic free-range pork with the skin rind intact. (You will most certainly need to order the joint ahead to ensure that the rind is still on – no rind – no crackling!)
2 tablespoons chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, perhaps very little sage or rosemary)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Spiced Aubergines (see recipe)
Rocket leaves

Score the skin at ¼ inch (5mm) intervals running with the grain – let your butcher do

this if possible because the skin, particularly of free range pork can be quite tough. This is to give you really good crackling and make it easier to carve later. 
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/regulo 5. Put the pork, skin side down on a chopping
board season with salt and black pepper, sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs. Roll up tightly and tie with cotton string. Sprinkle some salt over the rind and roast the joint on a wire rack in a roasting tin. Allow 25-28 minutes per 1lb (450g). Baste with the rendered pork fat every now and then. 

Meanwhile cook the Spiced Aubergines , see recipe

Just before the end of cooking time remove the pork to another roasting tin. Return to the oven and increase the temperature to 230C/450F/regulo 8, to further crisp the crackling. When the joint is cooked the juices should run clear. Put the pork onto a hot carving dish and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes in a low oven before carving. Serve two slices of pork per person with some Spiced Aubergine and garnish with Rocket. 

Rustic roast potatoes and a good green salad would also be great. 

Spiced Aubergine

Serves 6
1 inch (2.5cm) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely crushed
50ml (2 fl ozs) water
800g (1¾ lbs) aubergines
250ml (8 fl ozs) approximate vegetable oil (we use Arachide) 
1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
350g (¾ lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or 1 x 400g (14ozs) tin tomatoes + 1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander seeds
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric 
a teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like) 
Sea Salt
55g (2ozs) raisins

Cut the aubergine into ¾ inch (2cm) thick slices. Heat 175ml (6 fl ozs) of oil in a deep 10-12 inch (25-30cm) frying pan. When hot, almost smoking, add a few aubergine slices and cook until golden and tender on both sides. Remove and drain on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Repeat with the remainder of the aubergines, adding more oil if necessary. 

Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender. Blend until fairly smooth. 

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in the frying pan. When hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds, (careful not to let them burn). Stir for just a few seconds then put in the chopped tomato, the ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the spice mixture thickens slightly, 5-6 minutes. 

Add the fried aubergine slices and raisins, and coat gently with the spicy sauce. Cover the pan, turn the heat to very low and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Serve warm.
The spiced aubergine mixture is also good served cold or at room temperature as an accompaniment to hot or cold lamb or pork. 

Rustic Roast Potatoes

Serves 4-6
6 large 'old' potatoes eg. Golden Wonder or Kerrs Pinks
Olive oil or beef dripping (unless for Vegetarians)-duck or goose fat are also delicious
Sea salt

Preheat the oven to 230C/450F/regulo 8. Scrub the potatoes well, cut into quarters lengthways or cut into thick rounds ¾ inch (2cm) approx. Put into a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and toss so they are barely coated with olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven for 30-45 minutes depending on size. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve in a hot terracotta dish.

Roast Haunch of Venison with Francatelli Sauce

Serves 20 people approx.
A haunch of venison makes a splendid party dish.
1 haunch of venison - approx. 6-7 lbs (2.7-3.2kg) in weight
To lard venison
8 ozs (225g) back fat or very fat streaky pork or pork caul fat
Marinade 
1 dessertspoon mixed fresh herbs, thyme, savory, marjoram and sage
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 fl ozs (120 ml) dry white wine
Gravy
1 pint (600ml) beef stock
Roux (optional)
Francatelli sauce (see below)

First lard the venison. Cut the pork back fat into 3 inch (5mm) wide strips. Insert a strip into a larding needle, draw a lardon through the meat to make a stitch; trim the end. Repeat the stitches at 1 inch (2.5cm) intervals to make horizontal rows, positioning each row about 2 inch (1cm) away from the previous row, repeat with the remainder of the fat. Put the haunch into a shallow dish, stainless steel or cast iron, not tin or aluminium. Sprinkle it with the freshly chopped herbs. Pour the olive oil and wine over the meat. Cover the dish or tray and marinate the meat for about 4 hours at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight, turning the meat occasionally. The liquid from this marinade will be used to baste the meat during cooking.

To Cook: Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Weigh the venison and calculate 10 minutes to the pound. We like our venison slightly pink and still very juicy, so I usually turn off the oven then and leave the meat relax for 20-30 minutes. During the cooking time baste every 10 minutes with the oil and wine marinade and turn the joint over half way through. When the venison is cooked, remove to a serving dish while you make the gravy.

Degrease the roasting pan, add about 1 pint (600ml) home-made beef or venison stock and perhaps a dash of wine. Bring to the boil, scraping and dissolving the sediment and crusty bits from the pan. Thicken slightly with a little roux, taste and correct the seasoning, pour into a warm gravy boat.

To serve the haunch of venison: Serve the haunch of venison on a large serving dish surrounded by roast potatoes, red cabbage, celeriac puree or brussels sprouts would be a delicious accompaniment. Carve on to very hot plates.

Note: It is very easy to overcook venison mainly because it goes on cooking after the oven has been turned off.

Francatelli Sauce

This sauce was invented by Queen Victoria's chef, Francatelli. It tastes delicious and is very easy to make.
2 tablespoons port wine
2 lb (225g) redcurrant jelly
small stick of cinnamon, bruised
thinly pared rind of a lemon
Simmer together for 5 minutes, stirring. Strain into a hot sauceboat.

Foolproof Food

Gratin Dauphinoise and variations

There are many wonderful French potato gratins that I love, but if I were forced to choose one I think it would have to be this sinfully rich Gratin Dauphinoise. This is a particularly good version of the classic recipe because it can be made ahead and reheated with great success.

Serves 4-6

2 lbs (900g) even sized potatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
9 fl ozs (275ml) milk
9 fl ozs (275ml) double cream
Small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
Freshly grated nutmeg

Peel the potatoes with a potato peeler and slice them into very thin rounds (c inch /3mm thick). Do not wash them but dab them dry with a cloth. Spread them out on the worktop and season with salt and freshly ground pepper, mixing it in with your hands. Pour the milk into a saucepan, add the potatoes and bring to the boil. Cover, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Add the cream, garlic and a generous grating of nutmeg and continue to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the potatoes do not stick to the saucepan. Just as soon as the potatoes are cooked take them out with a slotted spoon and put them into one large or six small ovenproof dishes. Pour the creamy liquid over them*

Reheat in a bain-marie in a preheated oven 200C/400F/regulo 6, for 10 - 20 minutes or until they are bubbly and golden on top.

*Can be prepared ahead to this point.

Variations:
Smoked mackerel and Potato Gratin
Remove skin and bone from 8ozs (225g) smoked mackerel and divide into chunky bits. Put a layer of smoked mackerel and a sprinkling of chopped parsley in the centre as you put it into the dishes.

Smoked Salmon and Dill Gratin
Substitute 6 ozs (170g) smoked salmon cut in small cubes and 1 tablespoon of dill in the above recipe.

Potato and Chorizo Gratin

Substitute 6-8ozs(170-225g) of Chorizo or Kabannossi sausage in above recipe.
Crispy bacon, mussels, shrimps etc , may also be used .

Meringue Roulade with Pomegranate Seeds and Rose Blossom Water

Serves 6 - 8
4 egg whites
8 ozs (225g) castor sugar
½ pint (300ml) whipped cream
2 pomegranates
1-2 teaspoons rose blossom water 

Garnish
Pomegranate seeds
Rose petals if available (make sure the rose hasn’t been sprayed)
Berried holly
Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x 20.5cm)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC\350ºF\regulo 4. 
Put the egg whites into a spotlessly clean bowl of a food mixer. Break up with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar together. Whisk at full speed until it holds a stiff peak 4 - 5 minutes approx.

Meanwhile, line a Swiss roll tin with tin foil, brush lightly with a non-scented oil (eg. sunflower or arachide). 

Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it ought to be quite thick and bouncy. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. Put a sheet of tin foil on the work top and turn the roulade onto it, remove the base tin foil and allow the meringue to cool.

Meanwhile, cut the pomegranates in half around the equator, open out and flick out the seeds. Sprinkle with a few drops of rose blossom water. 

Keep the seeds from half a pomegranate aside to decorate the roulade. 

To Assemble

Spread the whipped cream and remaining pomegranate seeds over the meringue, roll up from the wide end and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 –8 rosettes of cream along the top of the roulade, decorate with the reserved pomegranate seeds and rose petals if available. Surround with berried holly.

Serve, cut into slices about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick.

Note: This roulade is also very good filled with raspberries, strawberries, loganberries, sliced peaches, nectarines, kiwi fruit, bananas, or mango and passionfruit.

Top Tips

Game – Paul Fletcher of Premier Game in Cahir, Co Tipperary has a fantastic selection of game for sale, including venison, pheasant, partridge, grouse, mallard – tel. 052-67501

Rose blossom water is available from Mr. Bell in the English Market in Cork, Asia Market in Dublin and other ethnic shops.

Riedel wine glasses – treat yourself or for a special wine lover’s present – available from Mitchell’s in Kildare Street, Dublin tel. 01-6760766

Terroirs in Donnybrook in Dublin - wine and food – more gifts for wine buffs – decanters, corkscrews, knick knacks, hampers, cigars – check out www.terroirs.ie 
info@terroirs.ie Tel 01-6671311 Fax 01-6671312

Temple Bar Markets – Cow’s Lane Market - Saturdays 10-5.30, Temple Bar Food Market Saturday 10-5 and Wednesday 11-3, Temple Bar Book Market – Saturday 11-6

www.templebar.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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