Easy Entertaining by Darina Allen

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A sneak preview today of my new book which is just about to hit the shops this week – this one called Easy Entertaining is for the growing number of people who love to have a few friends around for brunch, lunch, coffee, afternoon tea, supper, a nibble around the fire or even a formal dinner party. The latter is by far the most stressful way of entertaining but can of course appear virtually effortless if one puts a little bit of time into a ‘plan of campaign’. 

Ever since my first television series, my mantra has always been, keep it simple, really, really simple. It doesn’t have to be a four course meal. 

I so love the effortless way so many of the young people I know entertain – for them its no big deal to have a few friends around, they just love to cook together. My children and their friends don’t worry about having mismatched cutlery and crockery, the chairs are often a motley collection picked up from junk shops, the table covered with anything from calico to a flowery print, oil cloth to tissue paper. The look is always stylish and fun, much use is made of coloured lights, candles and sparklers. “How about an omelette and a glass of wine, a ‘spontaneous’ pasta or a sushi party where everyone rolls their own. Let’s all cook together.”

The exciting thing is that nowadays everyone is entertaining, the smoking ban certainly added impetus. Those who wanted to be able to smoke chose to buy a few bottles and have a few friends around for a take away or a simple supper, rather than shiver outside in the cold while they got their fix. They discovered how easy it can be but its even more fun to cook together or have an interactive dinner party. 

In easy entertaining I have included suggestions for an omelette party, fajitas, tacos, pancakes, sushi…

Get everyone involved, even those who consider they can’t boil water and as they say ‘the crack is mighty’!

Picnics, in any season are another super way to entertain – at this time of the year hot soup in flasks, a stew in a haybox, steaming hot chocolate or something stronger, make for a terrific experience. Could be after a walk in the woods or a point-to-point.

There are lots of little tricks to make it easier for everyone concerned.

In Easy Entertaining, I have included suggestions for everything from tapas to three-course dinners and from canapés to casseroles in this bible of entertaining. I include chapters on Brunch, Prepare-ahead Meals, Picnics, Romantic Dinners, Finger Food, Formal Dinners, Festive Meals and many more as well as providing extensive menu planners and practical advice on wine and other drinks to complement your food. Style tips and ideas for table settings, flowers, lighting and even party games will hopefully ensure your soirée looks as sensational as it tastes. There are also options for vegetarian and vegan guests throughout the book and masses of tips for quick and easy meals.

Have fun!

Easy Entertaining by Darina Allen – published by Kyle Cathie, €25
Buy "Easy Entertaining" By Darina Allen from Amazon

Bacon and Cabbage Soup

Bacon and cabbage is a quintessential Irish meal, a favourite flavour combination. Cabbage soup is also delicious on its own. Spinach or watercress, chard, kale or even nettles can be substituted for cabbage.
Serves 6 

55g (2 oz) butter
140g (5 oz) peeled and chopped potatoes, one third inch dice
100g (4 oz) peeled diced onions, 1/3 inch dice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1.1L (2 pints) light chicken stock or vegetable stock
255g (9oz) chopped Savoy cabbage leaves (stalks removed)
50-100ml (2-4 fl oz) cream or creamy milk
225g (½ lb) boiled streaky bacon
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions, and turn them in the butter until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil until the potatoes are soft, then add the cabbage and cook with the lid off until the cabbage is cooked. Keep the lid off to preserve the green colour. Add the creamy milk. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both the fresh flavour and colour. Puree the soup in a liquidiser or blender, taste and adjust seasoning. 

Just before serving cut the bacon into lardons. Toss quickly in a very little oil in a frying pan to heat through and get a little crispy. Add to the soup. Sprinkle with some parsley.

Tip: If this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.

Variation

Cabbage and Caraway Soup

Add 1 –2 teaspoons of freshly crushed caraway seeds to the potato and onion base.
Shermin’s Lamajun (Lamaçun – Turkish Lamb Pizza)
Given to me by Shermin Mustafa whose food I love. This is a little gem of a recipe, fantastic for an informal kitchen party or for a family supper.
Makes about 8-10

275g (10oz) plain white flour
225ml (8fl oz) natural yoghurt

For the topping

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
225g (8oz) freshly minced lamb
4 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Wedges of lemon,
Lots of sprigs of flat leaf parsley

Heavy iron frying pan

Sweat the onion in a little butter or oil and allow to cool completely. Mix all the ingredients for the topping together and season well with salt and pepper.

Mix the flour with the yoghurt to form a soft dough. Heat a heavy iron frying pan and preheat the grill. Take about 50g (2oz) of the dough, roll until it’s as thin as possible using lots of flour. Spread a few dessertspoons of the mince mixture on the base with the back of a tablespoon, as thinly as possible. Fold in half, then in quarters, slide your hand underneath, then transfer to the pan and open out gently. Put onto the hot pan (no oil needed) and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Remove from the pan and slide on a hot baking sheet under the hot grill and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the meat is cooked.

Serve on a hot plate with 3 or 4 lemon wedges and whole sprigs of flat leaf parsley for each helping.

To eat
Squeeze lots of lemon juice over the surface of the lamajun. Pluck about 4 or 5 leaves of parsley and sprinkle over the top. Either eat flat like a pizza or roll up like a tortilla.

Pork with Rosemary and Tomatoes

Serves 6
900g (2lb) of trimmed pork fillet, chicken breast may also be used
Sauce
450g (1lb) very ripe firm tomatoes - peeled and sliced into 2 inch (1cm) slices
2 shallots finely chopped
30g (1 1/4oz) butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
225ml (8fl oz) cream
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
Garnish
Fresh rosemary sprigs

Cut the trimmed fillet of pork into slices about 2cm (3/4inch) thick. 

Melt 25g (1oz) butter in a saucepan, when it foams add the finely chopped shallots, cover with a butter wrapper and sweat gently for 5 minutes. Remove the butter wrapper, increase the heat slightly, add the tomatoes in a single layer, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. After 2 minutes turn the tomatoes and season on the other side. Then add the cream and rosemary. Allow to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Check seasoning. The sauce may now be prepared ahead to this point and reheated later.

The sauce should not be too thick - just a light coating consistency.

To cook the pork – Melt 5g (1/4oz) butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a saute pan over a high heat, when it is quite hot, add the seasoned pork in a single layer. Allow them to turn a rich golden brown before turning over. Turn down the temperature and finish cooking on the other side. It should feel slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to overcook the pork or it will be dry and tasteless. 

Reheat the sauce gently while the pork is cooking, correct the seasoning, spoon some of the sauce onto one large serving dish or divide between individual plates. Arrange the pork slices on top of the sauce, garnish with fresh rosemary sprigs and serve immediately with Orzo or rice to mop up the herby sauce.

Orzo with Fresh Herbs

Orzo looks like fat grains of rice but is in fact made from semolina. It is sometimes sold under the name of 'Misko'.
Serves 4

200g (7 oz) orzo
2.3 L (4 pints) water
11/2 teaspoons salt
15-30g (1/2 - 1oz ) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (optional)

Bring the water to a fast rolling boil and add the salt. Sprinkle in the orzo, cook for 8-10 minutes* or until just cooked. Drain, rinse under hot water, toss with a little butter. Season with freshly ground pepper and garnish with some chopped parsley.

*Time depends on the type of Orzo.

Orzo with peas
275g (10oz) of Orzo and 200g (7oz) peas

Ardsallagh Goat Cheese Salad with Rocket, Figs and Pomegranates
Serves 8

1 fresh pomegranate
4 small fresh Ardsallagh cheese or a similar fresh goat cheese
8-12 fresh figs or 
8-12 plump dried figs

Enough rocket leaves for eight helpings and perhaps a few leaves of raddichio
32 fresh walnut halves

Dressing

4 fl.ozs (125ml/ ½ cup) extra virgin olive oil
3 tablesp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teasp. honey
salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the pomegranate in half around the equator, break each side open, flick out the glistening jewel-like seeds into a bowl, avoiding the bitter yellowy pith.

Next make the dressing – just whisk the oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and honey together in a bowl. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Toast the walnut halves in a dry pan over a medium heat until they smell sweet and nutty. 

Just before serving, toss the rocket leaves in a deep bowl with a little dressing. Divide between eight large white plates. Cut each cheese into 3 pieces. 

Cut the figs into quarters from the top, keeping each one still attached at the base. Press gently to open out. Divide the cheese between the plates, three pieces on each, place a fig in the centre. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and freshly roasted walnuts. Drizzle with a little extra dressing and serve immediately with crusty bread.

Note: plump dried figs are best cut into slices and scattered over the salad.

Adorable Baby Banoffees

Have a few tins of toffee ready in your larder – then this yummy pud is made in minutes.
Makes 8-12

1 x 400g (14oz) can condensed milk
8-12 Gold grain biscuits
3 bananas
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
225ml (8fl oz) whipped cream
Chocolate curls made from about 175g (6oz) chocolate
Toasted flaked almonds
8-12 individual glasses or bowls

To make the toffee, put the can of condensed milk into a saucepan and cover with hot water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for three hours. By which time the condensed milk will have turned into a thick unctuous toffee.

Break a biscuit into each glass or bowl. Peel and slice the bananas and toss in the freshly squeezed lemon juice. Top with a little toffee. Put a blob of softly whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and decorate with a few chocolate curls.

Foolproof Food

Melted Cooleeney Cheese in a box
A slightly under ripe Cooleeney Brie or Camembert or any farmhouse cheese in a timber box
Serves 6-8

Crusty white bread or home made potato crisps

Preheat the oven to 180° C/ 350° F/gas mark 4

Remove the labels from the box and the wrapper from the cheese. Replace the cheese in the box and pop into the preheated oven for about 20 minutes by which time it should be soft and molten in the centre.

Cut a cross in the centre and serve immediately with crusty white bread croutes or potato crisps. 

Note: check that the box is stapled otherwise it may fall apart in the oven.

Potato Crisps

2 very large potatoes
Scrub the potatoes and slice the potatoes as thinly as possible to attain long thin slices preferably with a mandolin. Deep fry them to attain crisps. These can be made ahead and kept in a warm place. You will need 3-4 crisps per portion.

Hot Tips

Irish Poultry Club National Show at Gurteen Agricultural College near Birr – today 19th November – open to the public from 1pm – after judging – well worth a visit.

Today is also the 3rd anniversary of the Farmers Market at the Nano Nagle Centre near Kilavullen – why not pay a visit.

La Violette in Skibbereen – is full of irresistibly tempting bits to liven up your kitchen and add sparkle and glitz to your dining table.

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group – Thursday 24th November, 7.30pm at the Crawford Gallery Café, Emmet Place, Cork - The Story of Cork’s English Market - Diarmuid O’Drisceoil, co-author with his brother Donal of ‘Serving a City’ will speak on the fascinating history of the food in this great exporting city and its hinterland. Admission €12, including wine and some market specialities.

Weekend Wine Course with Mary Dowey at Ballymaloe House 3-5 March 2006.
An entertaining and educational weekend, full of good wines and good food in one of Ireland’s loveliest country houses, hosted by well-known Irish wine writer and lecturer , Mary Dowey (see www.winefeast.com ) Weekend packages available – ideal gift for the wine lover. Tel 021-4652531, email:res@ballymaloe.ie  or book on line www.ballymaloe.ie

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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