Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends

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‘Staying in is the new going out’ – whether it’s a gossipy night in, afternoon tea or a spicy curry night, its fun and cool to cook. Rachel Allen’s new series Favourite Food for Friends is now showing on RTE. Since her first series last year she has built up a fan club of all ages, from toddlers to granddads. Her easy style and terrific dress sense have won her viewers who wouldn’t normally be seen dead watching a cookery programme.

This time she’s got masses of new ideas – Want to have a romantic dinner for two? Need to impress your mother-in-law or your boss? It’s your turn to host the family Christmas dinner? Asked friends around for a barbecue and its going to rain? It’s midweek, you’ve been working all day, but you’ve got people coming to dinner?

Rachel has lots of easy tasty recipes to munch on while you gossip. She also includes some great cocktails – including the naughtily named fruity Flirtini, Grenadine Goddess or a delicious Rosé cocktail. 

Rachel’s many fans will be delighted with her plethora of new recipes which emphasise her simple stress-free outlook on cooking and entertaining.

Rachel’s Favourite Food for Friends by Rachel Allen, 
published by Gill & Macmillan, €19.99

Buy "Rachel's Favourite Food for Friends" By Rachel Allen from Amazon

Steamed Mussels with Basil Cream

This recipe is inspired by a dish I adore eating at the fabulous Fishy Fishy Café in Kinsale.
Serves 6

2-5kg (4½ -11 lb) mussels (about 100 mussels)
150ml (5¼ fl oz) cream
50ml (1¾ fl oz/3 very generous tablesp.) basil pesto

Scrub the mussels very well and discard any that are not open and do not close when tapped. Place the cream and the pesto in a large saucepan on the heat and bring to the boil. Add the mussels, cover with a lid and place on a medium heat. Cook the mussels in the pesto cream for about 5-8 minutes, or until all the mussels are completely open. Pour, with all the lovely creamy juice, into a big bowl, or 6 individual bowls, and serve. Place another bowl on the table for empty shells, and some finger bowls and plenty of napkins! Serve with some crusty white bread on the side.

Note: Pull out and discard any mussels that do not open during cooking.

Potato Soup with Dill and Smoked Salmon

This is a basic potato and onion soup with the addition of dill and smoked salmon, so if you want to try changing it, just leave out the smoked salmon and change the herb to marjoram, tarragon, sage, chives or rosemary for example. This is so easy for a dinner party – the soup can be made earlier in the day, or even the day before, and just heated up to serve, then sprinkled with the smoked salmon, which just about cooks in the heat of the soup as it goes to the table – divine!
Serves 6

50g (2oz) butter
400g (14oz) potatoes, peeled and chopped
100g (3½ oz) onions, chopped
a good pinch of salt, and pepper
800ml (1½ pt) chicken or vegetable stock
125ml (4½ fl oz) creamy milk (half milk, half cream, or just all milk if you prefer)
2 tbsp chopped dill
100g (3½ oz) sliced smoked salmon, cut into little slices, about 2cm x ½ cm (¾ x ¼in)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the potatoes, onions, salt and pepper, and stir. Cover with a lid, sweat on a low heat for 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often, so that the potatoes don’t stick and burn. Turn up the heat and add the stock, and boil for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are completely soft. Pureé the soup in a liquidiser, or with a hand whizzer, and add the creamy milk. Thin with more stock, or milk if you like. Season to taste, and set aside. When you are ready to eat, heat up the soup, add the chopped dill, and ladle into bowls, then sprinkle with the little slices of smoked salmon, and serve.

Beef with Lemongrass and Chilli

Serves 8
2 tsp chopped ginger
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped
½ - 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 clove of chopped garlic
1 tablesp toasted sesame oil
1 tablesp lime juice
2 tablesp Thai fish sauce (Nam Pla)
1 kg (2¼ lb) lean sirloin of beef, fat trimmed off and sliced about ½ cm (¼ in) thick
2 tablesp coriander leaves, scattered on at end

In a food processor, whiz up the ginger, lemongrass, chilli and garlic until you have a rough paste. Then add the sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce. (If you don’t have a food processor, just chop everything finely.) Place the beef in a dish and add the paste. Stir it around to make sure that all the beef is coated. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour if possible. This will improve the flavour and allow the meat to tenderise. Cook the slices of meat on a hot barbecue or on a hot grill for about 3 minutes on each side. Scatter the coriander leaves on top and serve with Spicy Peanut Sauce.

Note: You probably won’t need to add any salt to this as the fish sauce can be salty.

Note: To prepare the lemongrass, remove and discard the tough outer leaves and the base of the stalk, and chop the rest. You can put the tough outer leaves into a teapot with the trimmings from the ginger and top up with boiling water to make a lovely nourishing tea –let it stand for 3 minutes first.

Spicy Peanut Sauce

This could not be faster to make – slightly cheating with the peanut butter, but it works for me.
Makes 250ml

3 rounded tablesp peanut butter
½ deseeded chopped red chilli
2 cloves of crushed or grated garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
¼ tsp turmeric powder
1 rounded tablesp honey
2 tablesp soy sauce
1 tablesp lemon juice
4 tablesp (50ml/1¾ fl oz) water

Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and whiz until smooth.

Note: This will keep perfectly in the fridge for 4-5 days.

Flirtini

This cocktail is fab – the name even does it for me! You will definitely be flirting after one of these.
Serves 2

6 strawberries or 12 raspberries
25ml (1 fl oz) Cointreau
50ml (1¾ fl oz) vodka
juice of ½ lime
50ml (1¾ fl oz) pineapple juice, chilled
125ml (4¼ fl oz) sparkling wine or champagne, chilled

To serve:

A strawberry or raspberry for garnish
Mash the strawberries or raspberries or put into two champagne or martini glasses. Mix the Cointreau, vodka, lime juice and pineapple juice. Add to the glass and top up with the sparkling wine.

Grenadine Goddess

Serves 2, if in a highball glass, or 4 in a martini glass
A great non-alcoholic cocktail that looks so pretty too

50ml (2 fl oz) grenadine (a sweet syrup made mainly from pomegranates)
25ml (1 fl oz) lime juice (the juice of about ½ lime)
250ml (8¾ fl oz) slightly crushed ice (bashed up in a bag with a rolling pin)
350ml (12¼ fl oz) soda water, or sparkling water
2 lime wedges, to decorate

Mix the grenadine and lime juice, and divide into glasses. Add the ice, top with soda water, and stir. Place a wedge of lime on the side of each glass and serve.

Note: To make this cocktail with alcohol, add 25-50ml (1-2 fl.oz) vodka to each glass.

Banana and Maple Toffee Cake

This is seriously sweet and divine, fabulous comfort food. It is very quick to make and looks so impressive. You may want to have a dollop of whipped cream on the side!
1 x 24 cm (9¾ in) frying pan, non-stick or not

for the toffee:

50g (2oz) butter
25g (1oz) brown sugar
50ml (1¾ fl oz) maple syrup
1 tablesp lemon juice
3 bananas, peeled

for the cake mix:

100g (3½ oz) butter, softened
50ml (1¾ fl oz) maple syrup
100g (3½ oz) brown sugar
1 banana, mashed
3 eggs, beaten
175g (6oz) self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. To make the toffee, place a 25cm (9¾ in) frying pan on a medium heat, with the butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. Cook, stirring every now and then for 4 minutes, until the toffee has thickened a little. Set aside and sprinkle with lemon juice. To make the cake, cream the butter, add the maple syrup and brown sugar, still beating. Add the mashed banana and eggs, bit by bit, then stir in the flour. Or you can just throw everything into the food processor and whiz briefly until it comes together. Slice the bananas in half horizontally, then in half widthways, and arrange in the pan in a fan shape. Spread the cake mixture over the bananas and place the pan in the preheated oven for 35 minutes or until the cake feels set in the centre. Take it out when cooked, and let it set for just 5 minutes. Slide a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the cake out onto a plate (it must still be warm to turn out). 

Note: I find sometimes that when I turn this out, quite a bit of toffee remains in the pan. If this happens, place it on the heat, add 1 tablesp water and whisk until it all dissolves, then pour it over the bananas.

Little Pots of Passion

This is a mango and passion fruit fool basically, except that the title wouldn’t exactly evoke many romantic thoughts! This recipe would be great for a summer dinner party too.
Serves 2

½ mango, peeled and chopped
1 passion fruit, halved and scooped
up to 1 tablesp lime or lemon juice
up to 1 tablesp. caster sugar
75ml (3 fl oz) cream

Puree the mango and passion fruit (including the seeds) with the lime or lemon juice and sugar. Use a food processor for this (if you use a liquidiser, you will need to add the passion fruit after, as it breaks up the seeds). Place in the fridge while you whip the cream softly. Then fold the mango and passion fruit purée in gently, leaving it a little marbled. Leave in the fridge until you want to serve it. This is also delicious with little shortbread biscuits.

Foolproof Food

Apple Pudding

This is wonderful comfort food – great with a little whipped cream or some vanilla ice cream on the side. I like to serve this slightly warm, so warm it up if it has not just come out of the oven.
Serves 6-8

450g (1lb) cooking apples, peeled, core removed, and chopped roughly, weighed afterwards
125g (4½ oz) sugar
1 tablesp water
125g (4½ oz) soft butter
125g (4½ oz) caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp vanilla extract
125g (4½ oz) self-raising flour
25g (1oz) caster sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. 

Place the apples, sugar and water in a small saucepan on a low heat. With the lid on, cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every now and then, until the apples are soft. Pour into a 1 –litre (1¾ pint) shallow pie dish, or into 8 individual ramekins.

In a bowl, beat the butter. Add the sugar and beat again, then add the eggs and the vanilla, gradually, still beating, then fold in the flour to combine. Spread this over the apple, sprinkle with sugar and cook in the preheated oven for 40-50 minutes until the centre of the sponge feels firm, or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Note: This is also lovely with a handful of fresh or frozen blackberries added to the apples in the saucepan.

Hot Tips

Dunbrody Abbey Visitor Centre, Campile, New Ross, Co Wexford.
Christmas Fairs on 10 & 11th and 17 & 18th December. Stall holders who might be interested should contact Pierce McAuliffe at 051-388933 or 087-9723033 www.cookingireland.com  

Rare Breed Pork from Gloucester Old Spots – reared on a strict vegetarian diet on a small holding in the Portroe area just outside Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and allowed to mature slowly over a long period to develop a fuller flavour. Contact Tom and Sharyn Shore, Tel 067-23761

Lamb Direct – ‘A taste of the countryside direct to your door’ – full lamb or half lamb – from Michael Seymour, Borrisokane, Co. Tipperary – Tel 086-4000680

Major Cross Border Producer Showcase Event was held recently in Loughry College, Cookstown, Co Tyrone – chefs and students discovered the good food on their doorstep as part of the Euro-Toques Small Food Initiative –
The event was attended by many small producers from the region displaying a wide range of foods, including farmhouse cheeses, fruits, vegetables and herbs, pastas, dressings, rare breed meats and smoked foods. Full details on the project website www.goodfood.ie  

Wicklow Fine Foods have just launched their range of luxury chocolates – ‘The Chocolate Garden of Ireland’ 
Chocolates are being added to their successful fine food and gift items – waffles, biscuits and luxury chocolate spreads – to see the product range visit www.wicklowfinefood.com  – available in good speciality food shops nationwide, including Avoca Handweavers and Wrights of Howth in Dublin Airport.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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