Mother’s Day

I’m here in Valvona & Crolla, the legendary Italian deli in Elm Row in Edinburgh, a quick visit to do a cookery demonstration for their customers. The shop is piled high, when I say high I mean from floor to ceiling with delectable products, the counter is bulging with delicious cheeses, salads and cured meats, Valvona & Crolla has won the IWC (International Wine Challenge) Scottish Wine Merchant of the Year Award, five times. As you make your way, you pass their bread shelves – unbearably tempting, crammed with crusty loaves, panini, croissants, rolls, focaccia, ciabatta. The fruit and vegetable section is stacked with really ripe flavourful produce – wow how can they get sweet and juicy tomatoes in March, owner and food writer Mary Contini explained that in Sardinia they have developed a variety for Winter called Camone, an almost green tomato with a red blush which has a sweet taste and delicious almost crunchy texture. Pachino from Sicily, is another variety to ask for – these are cherry tomatoes on the vine,and the ones I tasted were ripe, sweet and gorgeous, so now we know what to ask for in our shops instead of the pale, bitter, tasteless tennis balls that pass for tomatoes during the winter months. Apart from all these temptations for a wandering cook, there were lots of enticing presents for Mothers’ Day – choccies, mugs, bowls, egg cups and foodie presents, to show our appreciation to our long-suffering Mums on their special day.
Last year I wrote a piece aimed at younger readers to encourage them to lay a pretty tray and bring breakfast in bed to Mum on Mothers’ Day. I suggested a simple meal for teenagers to cook to show their appreciation and have fun cooking. Presents are all very fine, a bunch of flowers and some yummy choccies are always welcome, but what really says ‘I love you’ is putting in some real time and effort. Particularly for those of us with older parents, time is the greatest gift we can give – nowadays so many of us have got into the habit, and a habit it can be, of always being busy – always something more important than taking an afternoon or a weekend off to spend some special uninterrupted time with our parents who have given us so much. As the years speed by we take it for granted that they will always be there, failing to realise that at any moment things can change utterly – an accident, sudden ill-health and we are left with a feeling of regret that we didn’t spend more time together.
So lets make this a very special Mothers’ Day and even if cooking a special meal is not your scene, we can give the gift of time. 

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.

Carbonnade of Pork or chicken with mushrooms

A quick and delicious recipe, the same formula can be used for fillet steak or chicken breast but be careful not to overcook the meat. If you haven't got any wine to hand just add a little more stock.
2 lbs (900g) pork fillet or chicken, naturally reared if available
1-2 tablesp. olive or sunflower oil or a little butter
4 ozs (110g) onion, finely chopped
2½ fl ozs (63ml) dry white wine
¼ pint (150ml) home made chicken stock
8 ozs (225g) mushrooms, sliced
½ pint (300ml) sour cream or light cream
fresh lemon juice
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablesp. chopped parsley

Serves 6-8

Garnish: 6-8 heart-shaped croutons of white bread fried in clarified butter or olive oil.

Slice the pork into slices about one-third inch thick. Pour a little oil into a very hot frying pan, saute the pieces of pork a few at a time until brown on both sides.
Remove to a plate and keep warm, add a little more oil or butter and cook onions gently until soft and golden. Deglaze the pan with wine and bring to the boil, add the stock and boil again to reduce by a quarter. Meanwhile saute the sliced mushrooms in batches in a little butter and oil in a very hot frying pan, add to the pork, add the cream to the sauce, bring back to the boil, thicken with a little roux, add the cooked pork and mushrooms to the sauce and all the juices. Taste, add a little lemon juice and simmer gently for a couple of minutes. Dip the tip of the heart shaped croutons in the sauce and then into the chopped parsley, add the remainder of the parsley to the sauce, taste again and correct seasoning if necessary. Pour into a hot serving dish and garnish with the crisp croutons. 

Serve with fluffy herbed potatoes, orzo, rice or home-made noodles

Foolproof Food

Fluffy Herbed Potatoes

Serves 4
2 lbs (900g) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr's Pinks
½ pint (300ml) creamy milk
1-2 egg whites or 1 whole egg and 1 egg white
1-2 ozs (30-55g) butter
2 tablesp. freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, chives, thyme, lemon balm

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for 'old' potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, mash while hot (see below). (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).
While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about ½ pint (300ml) of milk to the boil. Beat the egg whites into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, add the herbs and then beat in the butter, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the potato will be lumpy and gluey. 
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Winter Green Salad with Cider Vinaigrette Dressing 

For this salad, use a selection of winter lettuces and salad leaves, e.g. Butterhead, Iceberg, Raddichio, Endive, Chicory, Watercress, Buckler leaf, Sorrel, Rocket leaves and Winter Purslane Mysticana. Tips of purple sprouting broccoli are also delicious and if you feel like something more robust, use some finely-shredded Savoy cabbage and maybe a few shreds of red cabbage also. 

Cider Vinaigrette Dressing

Makes about ¾ pint

350g (12ozs) ozs virgin olive oil
90ml/3fl ozs cider vinegar
1 tablespoon moutarde de Meaux or Lakeshore Mustard with honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 crushed clove garlic
1 teaspoon pure honey

Wash and dry very carefully the lettuces, salad leaves and flowers. Tear into bite sized pieces and put into a deep salad bowl. Cover with cling-film and refrigerate, if not to be served immediately.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Mix all the ingredients together, shake and whisk well before use. Just before serving, toss the leaves with a little dressing – just enough to make the leaves glisten. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Meringue with Chocolate and Rum Cream and Chocolate Wafers

Serves 6

2 egg whites 
4½ ozs (125 g) icing sugar
2 rounded teaspoons cocoa powder

Filling 
½ pt of softly whipped cream or Chocolate and Rum Cream 

Chocolate and Rum Cream
1 oz (30 g) best quality dark chocolate
½ oz (15 g) unsweetened chocolate
½ pint (300 ml) softly whipped cream
1 tablespoon Jamaican rum
1 tablespoon cream

Chocolate Wafers
2 ozs (55g) best-quality dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 150ºC/300ºF/regulo 2

Mark two 7½ inches (19 cm) circles on silicone paper on a prepared baking sheet.

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease. Put the egg whites into the bowl and add 4 ozs (110 g) icing sugar all at once; whisk until the mixture forms stiff, dry peaks, 10 minutes approx. Sieve together the cocoa and the remaining ½ oz (15 g) icing sugar and fold in very gently. Spread and bake immediately in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until just crisp. Allow to get completely cold then peel off the paper. 
Next make the chocolate wafers
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over barely simmering water. Stir until quite smooth. Spread on a flat piece of heavy, white notepaper or light card. Put into a cold place until stiff enough to cut in square or diamond shapes.

Meanwhile make the whipped cream or the Chocolate and Rum Cream.
Very gently melt the chocolate with the rum, and 1 tablespoon of cream in a pyrex bowl over barely simmering water. Cool and then fold the mixture into the softly whipped cream; don’t stir too much or it may curdle.
Sandwich the two meringue discs together with whipped cream or Chocolate and Rum Cream and decorate with chocolate wafers.

Alternatively just drizzle melted chocolate over the top.

Top Tips

Congratulations to Denis Cotter of Cork’s Café Paradiso on winning the Best Vegetarian Book in the World award for ‘Paradiso Seasons’, at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for books published in 2003. Denis was in Barcelona to accept the award last month, the book (published by Atrium Press Cork) fought off stiff competition from publishing houses around the world. 

The Irish Hotel and Catering Institute (IHCI) are currently running Regional Seminars around the country on the topic of Waste Management, for details e-mail admin@ihci.ie  or Tel. 01-298 8850

The Slow Food Ireland Weekend 04 in Kenmare 26-28 March will offer great opportunities for producers to sell and promote their foods through tastings and markets – The market will be held at Market St, Kenmare on Sunday 28th March, if you would like to participate contact Fiona Corbett at 086-8188988 or Fiona@sheridanscheesemongers.com  
Tastings will be held in the Slow Food Marquee, The Park, Kenmare on Friday & Saturday 26 & 27th – for details on this and any other aspects of the weekend, contact Clodagh McKenna at 023-52977 or clodaghmckenna@eircom.net