ArchiveJanuary 2006

The Gastropub phenomenon

The Gastropub phenomenon has been the most exciting development on the UK food scene in the past 10 years. According to Trish Hilferty in her recently published book ‘Gastropub Classics’ – “A gastropub is not just any old pub that serves food; it is much more than that. To qualify as a member of the dining phenomenon of the past decade, the surroundings, the atmosphere, the sounds, the aromas and, most importantly, the food needs to be spot on. The term gastropub was coined in the early Nineties to convey a style of eating out far removed from the formality of restaurant dining. The Eagle in Farringdon, set up in 1991 by Mike Belben and David Eyre, was the forerunner. An old rough and tumble boozer, with an open kitchen, mismatched plates and battered institutional furniture, it set the blueprint for egalitarian dining. It proceeded to blow away the neighbourhood with its relaxed, loose-limbed atmosphere and stunning, Southern European Food. It was quickly dubbed the first gastropub and it set the blueprint for egalitarian dining. All comers were welcome to eat good, simple food while enjoying a pint and a chat in the simple, unfussy ‘public house’ environment.
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This winning formula has led to gastropubs opening up all over London and throughout the country.” “Its runaway success has demonstrated the missing link between the lively social environment of pubs and the more restrained atmosphere of fine dining. Gastropubs are accessible, you should be able to just pop in and have a pint and a bite without any formality.” Asked how best to describe the Eagle after it first opened, Mike Belben said that it was ‘simply a pub, its what a pub should be’.

“The crucial element of a good gastropub is, of course, the food. “The relaxed nature of the pub environment is reflected in the classic gastropub menu. No room for the purist here, its all about mixing and matching. Rustic French and Italian dishes sit side by side with sturdy old-fashioned British offerings. It is precisely this freedom that defines gastropub cookery.

All dishes are only ever as good as their raw ingredients, and gastropub chefs are great champions of local British produce. We are all becoming increasingly aware of the origins and the nature of production of our meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, and the ever-popular farmers markets are making buying great ingredients easy and pleasurable.”

The gastropub movement hasn’t quite taken off in the same way here in Ireland. Several pubs which market themselves as gastropubs are far from it, or don’t have all the elements that Trish Hilferty identifies. However, Deasy’s in Ring near Clonakilty, West Cork and the Ballymore Inn in Ballymore-Eustace, Co Kildare have gathered a loyal clientele.

Here are some recipes from Trish Hilferty’s book to warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter day, I loved this book and she says herself that “ there isn’t anything here that you can’t make at home.

Gastropub Classics – 150 Defining Recipes by Trish Hilferty, published by Absolute Press.

Gypsy Eggs (Huevos a la Flamenca)

This may not be a gastropub classic in the broadest sense, but it is a classic dish from the first of its kind, the Eagle. This is the type of food that epitomizes what the Eagle is all about : simple, earthy and really, really tasty. Its also the sort of ‘smash and grab’ meal, using whatever kind of cured sausages you have to hand, so you needn’t follow the recipe slavishly. If you have no ham, use some extra chorizo. Don’t much like morcilla? Then leave it out and try another sausage. The possibilities are almost endless
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
100g Serrano ham, chopped
100g chorizo, chopped
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon paprika, preferably Spanish sweet pimento
800g canned tomatoes, chopped
150g peas, or broad beans or both (frozen is fine)
100ml light chicken stock or water
350g potatoes, peeled and diced into 1cm cubes
100g morcilla sausage, chopped
8 organic eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan and add the ham and chorizo. Saute over a medium heat for 5 minutes, until they are beginning to crisp and the chorizo has given up most of its orange fat. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the onion, garlic and paprika to the pan and cook over a low heat until the onion has softened. Tip in the tomatoes, peas or beans, stock or water and potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over a low heat for 10-15 minutes,until the potatoes are tender.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Return the ham and chorizo to the pan and stir in the morcilla, being careful not to break up the delicate sausage. Warm through and season with sea salt and black pepper.

Divde the mixture between 4 individual ovenproof dishes. Make 2 little indentations in each portion and break the eggs into them. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 8-10 minutes until the egg whites have just set.

A Pint of Prawns and Mayonnaise
This is not so much a recipe as a few simple instructions on how to put together a snack that is enjoyed in pubs and bars the world over. The most important thing is the shopping; buy the best and freshest prawns you can find. I go for the larger ‘green’ or raw prawns in the shell. The best specimens are firm, with a good bright colour, and smell faintly of the sea. Never buy prawns with black heads or legs – a telltale sign of age. Frozen raw prawns make an acceptable alternative to fresh ones. Thaw them slowly in the fridge on a layer of kitchen paper and cook them as soon as possible.
Allow 8 large prawns per person

The ideal cooking liquid for all shellfish is seawater, but heavily salted fresh water makes a good alternative. Fill your largest saucepan with water, adding 50g sea salt to each litre of water. Bring to a rolling boil and drop in the prawns. When the water has come back to the boil, lower the heat to medium and simmer until they change colour; this should take 2-3 minutes. Check the prawns by lightly squeezing one just under its head – it should be firm but not too solid. Remove the cooked prawns from the water and leave them to drain thoroughly. Serve warm or at room temperature with a pot of mayonnaise and a loaf of crusty white bread.

Rump Steak Sandwich

No bar menu is complete without a juicy steak sandwich and the Eagle’s Bife Ana is one of the best.
Serves 2

500g rump steak, thinly sliced
2 large crusty rolls
2 tablespoons olive oil
Cos lettuce
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the marinade
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 small red chilli, finely sliced
1 bay leaf, broken up
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons red wine
3 tablespoons olive oil

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade together in a wide bowl. Add the slices of steak and leave to marinate for 2 hours or so – not much longer or the wine will draw too much liquid from the meat. Remove the steaks from the marinade, let them sit on pieces of kitchen paper for a few minutes to absorb the excess moisture, then drain the liquid and keep to one side.

Warm the rolls in a low oven. Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan until it is very hot, almost on the point of smoking, then put the steaks in the pan. Fry them quickly on each side until sealed – it should take less than a minute per side – then transfer them to warm plate. Add the onion, garlic and chilli from the marinade to the pan with a pinch of sea salt and fry for 1 minute, until soft and lightly browned. Pour in the marinade and let it bubble until reduced by half.

Slice the rolls in half and lay a couple of Cos lettuce leaves on the bottom of each one. Place the steaks on top, season lightly with sea salt and black pepper and pour over the marinade. Pop on top of the roll and squish it down hard. Eat immediately, with plenty of napkins on one side to help mop up the juices.

Neck of Lamb and Barley

Serves 6
100g pearl barley
50g unsalted butter
A touch of olive oil
1kg neck of lamb fillet, cut into 2cm discs
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon tomato puree
200ml white wine
400ml light stock or water
1 bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Rinse the barley under cold running water, then put it in a small pan. Barely cover it with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large cast iron casserole. Lightly season the lamb with a little sea salt, then add it to the pan and brown over a medium heat, being careful not to burn the meat or the butter. Transfer the meat to plate and set aside. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic to the pan and sauté over a medium heat for 8-10 minutes, until soft and golden. Return the lamb to the pan, stir in the tomato puree, then pour in the wine, letting it bubble for a minute. Add the drained barley, along with the stock or water, and bring to the boil. The liquid should cover the ingredients by about 2cm – if necessary, top it up with a little water. Tuck in the herbs, add another pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper, and cover the pan tightly with a lid or foil. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for one and a half hours or until the meat is tender. Check the casserole from time to time, as the barley has a habit of sucking up the cooking juices; if the stew looks as if its drying out, administer a touch more water.

Remove the casserole from the oven and stir in the Worcestershire sauce and chopped parsley. Ladle into deep bowls and serve at once.

Treacle Tart

Trish says “ I find this pudding almost tooth-numbingly sweet, but it’s a huge favourite on the pub menu. Sometimes, just for a change and to give the tart a little bit of extra intensity, I substitute black treacle for the golden syrup – it is treacle tart after all.”
Serves 6-8

140ml golden syrup
Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon
130g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the pastry
225g plain flour
50g caster sugar
115g fridge-cold unsalted butter, diced
2 organic eggs
40ml cold milk

To make the pastry, put the flour and sugar into a food processor and whiz until completely combined. Add the butter and pulse until it has just mixed in; you’re looking for a fine breadcrumb texture. Add one of the eggs and, with the machine running, pour in the milk. Stop the machine as soon as the pastry forms a ball. Scrape out the dough, pat it into a disc, then wrap in cling film and chill for 1 hour.

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured board and use it to line a 24cm loose-bottomed tart tin. Return it to the fridge and leave to rest for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Prick the pastry base all over with a fork, cover it with greaseproof paper and weigh it down with dried beans, or ceramic baking beans if you have them. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes, then remove the paper and beans. Return the pastry case to the oven for 5 minutes, until the base is firm and golden. Beat the remaining egg and brush it over the pastry base, then return it to the oven for 3 minutes (this will ensure there are no cracks).

Warm the golden syrup in a pan over a low heat until it has completely melted. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, breadcrumbs and ginger. Pour the mixture into the pastry case and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling has set and is a darkish brown colour. Serve warm or cold with thick cream.

Foolproof Food

Smoked Mackerel Pate

Serves 6
500g smoked mackerel fillets
250g unsalted butter, softened
Juice of 1 lemon
Lemon wedges, to serve
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel the skin off the mackerel fillets, pick out any bones and place the flesh in a food processor with the softened butter. Whiz for 2 minutes or until the fish and butter are completely amalgamated and you have a smooth texture. Squeeze in the lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and give the mixture another quick burst. Scrape the paste out into a dish, cover and chill for about an hour. Serve with the lemon wedges and some hot rye bread.

Hot Tips

How does spending a day making Scrumptious Chocolate sound ?
Now is your chance. Chantal Coady has decided to share her knowledge and set up a school of Chocolate Days at the Rococo Factory in Dulwich, SE London. Look at  for details – to book a place contact Rafaella Baruzzo on 0044 020 7352 5857 or  They are now taking bookings for making Easter Eggs (tempering and moulding) on March 17th, as earlier courses booked out.

An Grianan – Centre for Lifelong Learning, Termonfeckin, Co Louth has published its 2007 course brochure – 
Cooking – dinner parties, al fresco cooking, desserts……, Crafts of every description, keep fit & healthy,pampering, flower arranging, painting …..lovely comfortable accommodation with good food in a wonderful setting just outside Drogheda –  Tel 041-9822119

BurrenLIFE Project publishes second Annual Newsletter

The BurrenLIFE Project ‘Farming for Conservation in the Burren’- aims to develop a new model for sustainable agriculture in the Burren in order to conserve EU priority habitats such as turloughs, limestone pavements and species-rich grasslands. It is funded through the EU LIFE Nature fund, and is sponsored by National Parks and Wildlife Service in partnership with Teagasc and Burren IFA. To download copy of the newsletter visit or write to BurrenLIFE, Old Schoolhouse, Carron, Co Clare for a copy.

A Picnic in Andalucia

We spent some time over the Christmas period in a little guesthouse with some friends in Spain called Finca Buenvino. The pink-washed castellated building sits perched on top of a hill in the midst of the oak and chestnut forests close to the village of Los Marines in Andalucia. It’s a little gem of a place, the owners Sam and Jeannie Chesterton are superb original cooks and the house itself has the wonderful comfy feeling of an eccentric Irish country house stuffed with beautiful furniture, an eclectic collection of pictures, antiques, objets d’art, mementoes from their families and travels.

The house is full of intriguing books.

When we arrived at almost midnight we were welcomed to the strains of the melodious King’s College Choir singing Christmas carols. We then tucked into a chunky vegetable, chickpea and noodle soup, slivers of Pata Negra, and slices of local saucisson, Jeannie’s chicken liver pate with country bread and local cheese with home-made quince paste.

This is superb walking country with well worn pathways and Roman roads through the woods and over the hills. Many of the walks wend their way through villages with narrow cobbled streets. Along the way there are little pubs and cafes to quench one’s thirst and nibble local cheese and jamon. 

This is ‘Pata Negra country’, famous for the long legged black Iberian pigs that range freely through the forest, gorging on acorns and chestnuts. 

The ham from these pigs, complete with hoof, cured in salt and air-dried is referred to as Pata Negra. This sublime cured meat cut into paper thin slivers sells at €79 a kilo in Ireland. The most famous jamon village Jabugo is just six miles to the West. If I was allowed just one last treat, I think it might have to be a plate of Pata Negra.

It is served unadorned with maybe some crusty country bread or a few crunchy picos (tiny bread rolls) to clear the palate.

The secret of this truly sublime product is in how the pigs are reared, as ever it is the breed and the feed. They are slaughtered at 18 months, as opposed to 5 or 6 months with our pigs. If you buy Pata Negra make sure you ask for pata negra bellotta, this will come from totally free range pigs.

Nowadays because of the increasing demand for this aristocrat of cured meats, some farmers are rearing the pigs more intensively with a consequent deterioration in flavour and texture of the end product.

The chestnut crop was very poor this year because of the low rainfall, everyone was pre-occupied by the drought, but guess what we ‘brought the rain’. On the second day of our holiday it rained and continued to rain softly but steadily for 3 days and 3 nights. Our Spanish friends were delighted and even though the weather was not what we had hoped for , we were delighted by their delight as the water tanks began to fill and the countryside became visibly more verdant. 

On one of the fine days, Sam and Jeannie packed us all into the jeep to go for a picnic by the lake which is called Embalse de Aracena, about five miles north of Aracena. Their sons Jago and Charlie had strapped a long trestle table and two benches on to the roof, and the boot was packed with victuals.

We set up in their favourite picnic spot close to the water’s edge, beside an abandoned white washed farmhouse house.

Jeannie pulled out a paella ring and gas cylinder out of the boot and set about making a mountain paella on a huge paella pan. This type of paella doesn’t have chicken and shellfish, instead Jeannie used rabbit and pork secreta, chopped in small pieces. Secreta is a piece of lean meat from the belly with a little fat still attached, it is sweet, juicy and deliciously succulent. Jeannie also includes squares of red and green pepper, onion and peas, and of course rice.

While we waited for the paella to cook, we nibbled saucisson, local cheese and good bread with a glass of fino and beer.

Finally the paella was ready for us all to tuck in, it was ladled onto deep plates - we relished every mouthful, a wonderfully comforting dish for a winter picnic.

A paella can of course be made at home in a wide frying pan on your stove, not quite so atmospheric but equally delicious and a terrific way to entertain at large group of people.

Jeannie’s Mountain Paella

In Spain one can buy a gas ring specially for cooking paella for a picnic, how wonderful would that be? Look out for Callasparra paella rice.
Serves 10-12

6 tablespoons approximately of extra virgin olive oil 
8 cloves garlic, sliced
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 large green pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2inch) cubes
1 large red pepper, cut into 1cm (1/2inch) cubes
2 small rabbits, jointed and cut into smallish pieces
1 large pork fillet, cut into cubes, or 350g (12oz) secreta
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon saffron
1kg (2 1/4lb) paella rice approximately (generous ½ cup per person) 
1.8 – 2.4l (3-4 pints) homemade chicken stock
450g (1lb) frozen peas

4 very ripe tomatoes
Flat parsley sprigs and coarsely chopped chives

Paella pan, 46cm (18 inch) approximately

Put lots of olive oil in the paella pan. Add the garlic, onions and peppers. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then add the rabbit and pork pieces. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Sauté for 15 minutes, soak a teaspoon of saffron in a cup of warm chicken stock and stir around. Add to the pan. Add the rice, (about ½ cup per person). Add stock to almost cover, stir to blend and then don’t stir again unless absolutely necessary. Add the peas. 

Bring to the boil and simmer on the gentlest heat for about 20 minutes until the meat is cooked. Stand over it and move the ingredients around a little. Bring the paella pan to the table. Scatter with lots of flat parsley sprigs and some freshly chopped tomato and chives. Serve immediately directly from the pan. 

A fantastic dish to serve lots of people.

Broad Bean and Potato Soup

This soup is very popular in Extremadura, Sam says it is delicious poured over slices of black pudding, or one could use fish stock and add shrimps to the garnish.
Serves 4-6


2 tablespoons Olive oil
2 large onions
3 large floury potatoes, peeled and diced
450g (1lb) fresh (or frozen) shelled broad beans 
1.75 L (3 pints) Chicken stock
6 sprigs fresh Coriander chopped
150ml (5fl.oz) light Cream + a little to garnish
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions till soft about 5 minutes. Do not burn them. Add the potatoes, most of the beans (reserving a good handful for the garnish) and the stock, and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the coriander and simmer for a further 10 minutes.

Blend the soup in batches in a food processor or blender, then return to the rinsed pan.

Stir in the cream, season , and bring back to the simmer.
Serve garnished with the coriander, beans and a drop of cream swirled in on top.

Rice with Rabbit

Here is a Catalan rice dish Sam & Jeannie prepare on their cookery courses, its not quite a paella.
Serves 4-6

Approximately 800 g (1¾ lb) rabbit, jointed. You could substitute with good organic chicken if you prefer.
1 medium red bell pepper (Capsicum)
1 onion
5 ripe tomatoes, grated.
100 g (3½ oz) sweet peas
400 g (14oz) paella rice
300ml (10fl.oz) olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
A few strands of saffron
20 g (¾ oz) toasted almonds

Game stock (rabbit or quail or pheasant) -or chicken stock if you are using chicken. You will need at least twice as much volume of stock as of rice and some to moisten the dish as you cook.

Put the oil in an earthenware casserole on a high heat, and when the oil is hot, put the pieces of meat into it carefully (with tongs if you have them) and let them sauté slowly until they are browned.

Take them out of the oil with a slotted spoon and reserve. 

Now throw in the finely grated onion and the chopped bell pepper, stir continuously until lightly browned, and immediately add the grated tomato, and allow to simmer. 

You might need to turn the heat down a bit, but you will need enough heat for the liquid to evaporate 3 or 4 times (Hence the extra stock, for a rich flavour, or you may use water at this point of the recipe). This step is quite important as the sauce (a sofrito) needs to cook down, and the acidity has to be removed from the tomatoes by this lengthier cooking.

When the tomato liquid has reduced add a ladle of water, continue to simmer until evaporated, then add another ladle full of water. When this has reduced add a ladle of stock and continue reducing until the Sofrito is a smooth sauce consistency. 

Now put the rabbit pieces back into the sauce and stir until they are well covered, do this for about 10 minutes. If the dish looks like drying out add more stock. 

Now add all the stock and the peas and let it come to a boil. 

Pound the saffron, garlic and almonds in a mortar to make a picada (paste). Splash in a little stock or water to loosen it up.

When the pan of broth and rabbit is at a rumble, tip in the rice, stirring constantly to stop it sticking. Season with salt. At the end of 10 minutes of cooking over a high flame, stir the picada into the pot. When it is well amalgamated, remove from the fire and check for salt, then place in a medium hot oven for about 8 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Sprinkle with a little olive oil, and allow to stand for a couple of minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley.

Almond Rice Pudding

This is a useful cold dish and Sam & Jeannie serve it with their pears poached in Oloroso sherry with cardamom and lemon peel; or with caramelised orange slices.
It is a descendent of the 17th century blancmange, ground almonds and sugar cooked in milk...but with rice added. 
Serves 6

The infusion:
500ml (18fl.oz) milk
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 clove

100 g (3 ½ oz) pudding rice (they use paella rice actually)
40 g (1½ oz) of freshly ground blanched peeled almonds
250 ml (9fl.oz) cream
2 Tsp orange flower water
2 tsp of powdered gelatine
1 tablespoon warm milk
75 g (3oz) sugar
2 egg whites.

Prepare 6 dariole moulds by lightly greasing them with a little sunflower oil.
Bring the milk and the spices to the boil. Stir in the rice, gradually.
Cover with a lid and simmer until the rice is tender.

Add the almonds and the cream and cook, stirring for about 10 minutes until the mixture thickens.

Sprinkle the gelatine over the tablespoon of warm milk in a mug, and stand in hot water. Stir until dissolved, and add the 2 teaspoonfulls of orange flower water.
Remove clove and cinnamon stick from the rice, and stir in the gelatine mixture and the sugar.
Allow to cool.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks and fold into the rice, about half of the whites at a time.
Spoon the mixture into the dariole moulds and allow to set in a refrigerator overnight.
This can be served with a spiced syrup or with caramelised oranges, or pears poached in oloroso.

Sherry and Raisin Ice cream

(helado con Pasas al Pedro Jimenez)
This is a really sumptuous ice-cream
Serves 4-6

150g (5oz) raisins
125 – 250ml (4-8 fl.ozs) of dry Oloroso or Pedro Ximénez sherry (to taste)
4 egg yolks
75g/3oz/6tbsp light brown sugar
5ml/1tsp cornflour
300ml/1/2pint whole milk
300ml/1/2pt whipping cream
Pedro Ximenez to serve. (1 tbsp over each helping) Optional

Put the raisins in a pan with the Oloroso sherry and simmer gently until the raisins have plumped up and absorbed some of the wine. Leave to soak. (Alternatively soak the raisins overnight without heating)

Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks and corrnflour until the mixture is foamy. 
Heat the milk in a large heavy pan, to just below boiling point.
Whisk the milk into the eggs, then pour back into the pan. 
Cook over a gentle heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens and is smooth. Leave to cool.
Whip the cream until it is just thick enough to still fall from a spoon, then fold it into the cold custard. 
Put into the ice cream maker and churn until thick. Spoon into a freezer-proof container

Fold the raisins into the soft ice cream, then cover and freeze for 2-3 hours. Serve in bowls with a wafer.
If you have soaked the raisins in Oloroso you might like to pour some dark, rich, sweet Pedro Ximénez wine over the ice cream.

If you have made the ice cream with Pedro Ximénez then this will not be necessary.

Foolproof Food

Dark Chocolate and Seville Orange Muffins

Makes 10 approx.
75g (3oz) Seville orange marmalade
75g (3oz) chopped dark chocolate
170g (6 oz) castor sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
110g (4 oz) butter
2 eggs, preferably free range
250ml (8fl oz) buttermilk
285g (10oz) white flour
3/4 teaspoon bread soda

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6.

Grease 1 tray of muffin tins or line with non - stick muffin cases. 

Cream the butter, add the sugar and the finely grated lemon zest, add the eggs one by one and beat well between each addition. Next add the buttermilk, marmalade and chopped chocolate. Blend well. Finally stir in the flour, salt and bread soda, until just mixed. Fill the greased muffins tins with the batter, bake for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven, serve warm.

Hot Tips:

Finca Buenvino - Sam & Jeannie Chesterton
Finca Buenvino, Los Marines 21293,Huelva ,Spain, Tel:+34 (959)124034, 
Fax:+34 (959)501029

Pata Negra is available from Sheridans in South Anne St. Dublin, Tel 01-6793143

Cork Free Choice Consumers Group - Next meeting on Thursday 26th January at 7.30pm in Crawford Gallery Cafe. Admission €6, includes tea/coffee.

A film called 'The Future of Food' will be shown - This film which has been commercially released in the US and UK offers an in-depth investigation into the disturbing truth behind the advent of the patented, genetically engineered foods that have appeared on shelves over the past 10 years. It examines the complex web of market and political forces that are seeking to totally control the world's food system. The film also explores alternatives to large scale industrial agriculture, placing sustainable farming at the centre of the solution to the farming crisis we are facing today. After the film there will be an opportunity for discussion and an exchange of ideas on how to generate a public debate on the question of genetically engineered seeds being imported into Ireland.

Showcasing Quality Irish Seafood in the UK Market
The Irish seafood sector received strong recognition at the 2005 Great Taste Awards, the UK’s most prestigious gourmet food awards, thirteen companies scored a total of 23 gold, silver and bronze awards. Under the BIM banner a group of Irish Seafood companies showcased a range of speciality products including mussels, smoked salmon, mackerel and other value added product, under their Quality Seafood (QS) symbol which was introduced to the UK market. . 

Fire and Ice in Midleton

Now that Eddie Hobbs has set the whole nation a twitter about ‘rip off Ireland’, everyone it seems is ready to pounce on anyone who is perceived to be overcharging. Food prices, restaurant prices and the price of the pint are compared across Europe, Ireland rarely comes out on the bottom which is understandably where you really want to be on this particular issue 

However, the ‘bargain police’ rarely register the fact that Ireland has one of the highest basic wages in Europe.

We also have some of the highest indirect taxes on food and wine in the EU. Ireland applies a VAT rate of 21% and excise duty to sparkling wine and still wine. The comparative figures for VAT in Spain, Italy and Portugal are 16%, 12% and 12% respectively on sparkling wine and 16%, 20% and 12% on still wine. The excise duty on a standard bottle of still wine in Ireland is €2.05, €1.80 in the UK, €0.03 in France and nil in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal. The excise duty on a standard bottle of sparkling wine in Ireland is €4.10, €2.57 in the UK, €0.06 in France and again nil in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal. 

Ireland also has the 8th highest rate of VAT on food in restaurants in the EU.

Insurance costs have increased significantly in the past few years. Increases in the prices of public and employers’ liability and other types of insurance cover have lead to increased costs for restaurants. 

The waste disposal charges have also increased and the additional costs incurred by restaurateurs have also had to be passed on to customers.

Which is why we need to be careful to actually compare like with like, before we jump to conclusions.

I got to thinking about all this afresh this recently when I had lunch at a new just (14 week old café) in Midleton, Co Cork, its called ‘Fire and Ice’. On Saturday lunchtime it was throbbing with hungry diners tucking in to appetizing looking plates of food.

I’d been looking forward to trying out the new arrival on the Midleton food scene – a town that already has several toothsome eateries, including The Farm Gate, Finins, O’Donovans, Park Hotel, Raymonds, and the also recently opened Ryans on the Mall in Riverside Way.

Everyone seems to be talking about Fire and Ice the ‘new kid on the block’. Chef owner Gary Masterson is from Coventry, he trained in the UK with De Vere Hotels and after that did quite a bit of travelling – working in the Cayman Islands, Spain, on the QE2 and on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary 2, most recently he was working in Anguilla in the Cuisinart Resort with the New York Chef Daniel Orr. He also spent some time in Dublin working in the Mermaid where he met Winnie, now his wife and partner in the business.

Winnie trained with Michael Clifford in his restaurant Cliffords on the Mardyke in Cork and Finíns in Midleton, and ran the restaurant at the Distillery. She spent some time in San Francisco working with Wolfgang Puck and Stars. Back to Dublin where she helped set up Eden with Eleanor Walsh, then some time at the Mermaid where she met Gary.

They took a year out to travel together and came back to Ireland to open Fire and Ice in Clifden, Co Galway. 

Winnie (Lynch) who comes from Midleton, (her father owned Midleton’s first hotel the Tara), then enticed Gary back to her home turf.

They found a premises in the Courtyard off the Main Street, and got started. Gary writes the menu every day and goes to considerable trouble to source local food, as much as possible from artisan producers. Winnie is responsible for the delicious cakes and desserts as well as running the floor.

There is no fancy art on the walls, no expensive flourishes, this keen young couple (who live in Cloyne and have just had their first baby), have had to get in and get started with what they had, so the décor is minimal but adequate.

Our waitress was a cheery local girl whose teasing manner invited lively banter. She presented the menu and reeled off the specials from the blackboard.

The menu changes every day depending on the produce available in season. My friends chose a goat cheese and tomato tartlet, and a spiced grilled flank steak with green mango and herb salad, and I was tempted by the char-grilled pizza with smoked salmon, avocado and cucumber pickle, mint, capers and crème fraîche.

It was enormous and rectangular in shape and overhung the plate on all sides.

The thin pizza was covered with slivers of smoked salmon, chunky slices of avocado, pickled cucumber, crispy lettuce and tiny capers. The secret ingredients were thin slivers of pickled ginger and some crème fraîche zig zagged over the top. It was really good but I could only manage to eat a little more than half. The flank steak is a very undervalued piece of beef, Gary cut it into slivers across the grain and seared it quickly on the pan and piled it atop a green mango, chilli and fresh herb salad

The goat cheese tomato tartlet sat on a bed of onion marmalade, this was served with a rocket salad with a roasted pepper dressing.

Gary tells me that he seeks out really good quality ingredients and buys as much local produce as he can get his hands on, including vegetables grown in his garden by Winnie’s father.

They soon hope to sell their own pickles, chutneys, relishes, jams and marmalades as well as rubs, seasonings and fresh tea blends at the café.

All chefs know that good produce is what creates the wow factor on the plate but really good produce simply has to cost more money, hence the eternal dilemma between the chef and the accountant. Gary and Winne say the eclectic menu reflects their travels and mood and what they like to cook and eat themselves. 

If you have room to squeeze in pudding, Winnie has a tempting selection of cakes and tarts, including a Banoffee tart, Chester Cake, a rich Chocolate Cake, a pear Tart. We managed to nibble a piece of Bakewell Tart between us, sweet and delicious. Gary and Winnie kindly shared some of their recipes with us

Fire and Ice, The Courtyard, Main St. Midleton, Co Cork, Tel 021 4639682 – open 9-5 – 6 days (not Sunday)

Cucumber limeade

Every day at the Café we offer fresh-pressed vegetable and/or fruit juices, a selection of home made lemonades and lassies (sweet or salty)
Some days more selection than others!
This is a very refreshing drink

4 cucumbers cut into chunks (peel if you like but I like the extra colour the skin gives as well as the vitamins and minerals)
2 apples cored
3-4 mint sprigs
Juice of 2-3 limes (or to taste)
Sugar to taste (2oz/56 grams I find is enough unless you like it sweeter)

Put cucumber, apples and mint through the juicer, add remaining ingredients and blend well, pour over ice and garnish with mint sprigs and cucumber slices

Sometimes I cut back on the sugar and add about a quarter of a peeled ripe pineapple, sounds strange but believe me it is totally addictive and yummy.
We are at the moment experimenting on what to do with all the left over vegetable pulp when we make fresh veg juices.

This is a simple protein packed recipe, (using the scary white stuff) great for when friends are coming over for drinks, or as pre-dinner nibbles, leaving you free to be host as it is all done in advance.

Tofu and green pea guacamole & veggie dippers

½ kg frozen peas, cooked till skins are tender (but still green) and refreshed in ice cold water
¼ kg firm tofu
1 jalapeno chilli-roughly chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 tsp ginger minced
8 basil leaves
5 sprigs coriander (stalks and all)
¼ cup olive oil
1 tomato finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Puree all ingredients together except tomato in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and a little tabasco if you like it spicier and fold in chopped tomato.
Sometimes I blend in ¼ kg fresh blanched dried spinach leaves for extra iron.

Serve in a bowl with a selection of organic veggies (whatever you fancy), cut finger size, also fresh veggie crisps, flatbreads and crackers.

If you have any dip left over it is also great used as a sandwich spread or let down with a bit of white wine vinegar and oil and used as a salad dressing, great with cold chicken.

Spiced flank steak, green mango and herb slaw

This salad is a real blend of hot, spicy, sour, salty & crunchy, so it works really well on its own without any meat or fish.
At the café we use a lemongrass and caramel marinade on our flank steak but at home you can use your favourite spice blend/marinade or even some store bought green curry paste

1 flank steak marinated or 4 chicken breasts or 4 firm fish filets
2 mangos (hard and under-ripe), diced or cut julienne 
We use under ripe fruit as a veg in the café
1-2 finely diced red chilli pepper
½ pack red radishes finely sliced
½ head of Chinese leaves shredded
1 red pepper diced
1 carrot peeled and cut into julienne
1 tsp lime zest finely grated (zest only no pith, a microplane is great for this)
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
2 tbsp clear Saleen honey
¼ cup olive oil
2 limes juiced
1 lemon juiced
1 packed cup ripped mint and coriander leaves
½ cup freshly roasted peanuts
Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except herbs and peanuts and mix well.

Char-grill flank steak 3-4 minutes either side for rare (or chicken or fish if using)
Rest the meat, while resting add herbs to salad and adjust seasoning, adding herbs any earlier will cause them to lose their colour and flavour as the citrus juices in the salad will wilt herbs.

Place the salad into the centre of the plate, carve the meat and place on top. 
Finish with roasted peanuts and sweet chilli sauce.
When using fish I add a little Thai fish sauce or chopped anchovies

Warm Irish breakfast salad

1 kg mixed rashers grilled then cut in to smaller pieces
½ black pudding ring, diced and pan fried
½ kg new potatoes steamed and sliced into ½ cm slices and sautéed
6 free range eggs
½ kg your favourite sausages grilled and sliced into rings
Mixed salad leaves
Good ripe tomatoes cut into wedges
Thinly sliced red onion rings
Finely grated parmesan cheese
Good balsamic dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful oven roasted croutons

Reheat rashers, sausage, pudding, potatoes under grill.
Fry the eggs in butter until soft
Toss together salad leaves, tomatoes, and onion rings in balsamic dressing, then add warm breakfast items
Dress on the plate, top with fried egg, sprinkle croutons and parmesan over the top

Coconut Tart

Grated fresh coconut works best but if your tree in your garden has no fruit left on it dried desiccated coconut works well!
2 eggs
2 lemons, juice and zest
200g caster sugar
375g cream
260g desiccated coconut

Line a 12 inch pastry case or 6 individual cases and bake blind.

Mix the eggs, lemon and sugar together.
Pour in the cold cream.
Add the coconut.
Pour into the pastry case and bake for 35 min. @ 165°c, or
15-20 min for individual cases

Allow to cool before serving.

Serve with passion fruit cream,
Make by mixing fresh passion fruit into cream or mascarpone cheese and whipping to soft peaks, adding icing sugar if you have a sweeter tooth.

Hot Tips

If you’re planning a shopping trip to Dublin or to a show, thought I’d mention a few of my favourite city centre spots. 

Greatly enjoyed lunch at a new (to me) restaurant in George’s Street called Sixty Six – (Tel 01-4005878) Rachel Clancy, late of Cookes is the brainchild behind this seriously busy café deli which opens at 8 for Breakfast, 12 for lunch and 5 for dinner - Lots of variations on Sausage and Mash, great little starter salads, Panini, Chicken dish of the day, variety of fish dishes, spaghetti and meatballs….tempting desserts like Amaretto Crumble, Bread and Butter pudding with Baileys, Raspberries and Natural Yogurt, Chocolate Milkshake with warm Chocolate Cake….
I enjoyed the Lamb Kebabs with harissa mayo and a superb cheese plate with membrillo.

L’Gueuleton, on Fade Street,(Tel 01-6753708) (round the corner from Hogan’s Pub) has expanded so there’s now more space at this buzzy café that doesn’t take bookings and has no name over the door – you’ll probably have to queue but its worth the search and the wait.

A little off the city centre but worth the few minutes walk is Ely in Ely Place (Tel 01-6768986) - a wine bar and food, mostly organic. This place is comfy, the food is yummy and there’s a serious selection of wine to tempt you to abandon your shopping altogether.

At O’Connells in Ballsbridge,(Tel 01-6473304) Tom O’Connell encourages his chefs to use fresh naturally produced local food in season, and is a great supporter of the Irish artisan producers – O’Connells has developed a loyal following and is still considered to be outstanding value for money – best value in town.

Finally, not cheap but a wonderful treat – afternoon tea at The Four Seasons- in Ballsbridge– (Tel 01-6654000), beats afternoon tea at The Ritz hands down. The service is superb – a selection of carefully judged sandwiches, warm scones served with Glenilen cream and finally a tempting dessert trolley with little tartlets that not only look good but really taste delicious - a really pleasurable way to catch up with friends before Christmas

More Eurotoque Cavan Crystal Winners
An award also went to craft butcher Hugh Maguire, who was recognized for his fresh blood black pudding; a traditional product which is fast disappearing. Alan Pierce and Mark Winterbotham of Gold River Farm in Aughrim, Co Wicklow – an organic farm which provides a tailored service for chefs, so that they can always have the best produce of the season.
A special lifetime contribution award went to food writer Honor Moore for her writing over the past sixty years, which has encouraged a love for and pride in Irish food amongst chefs and public alike. A huge congratulations to Honor and all the other award recipients.

A Bubbly Potato Gratin for Supper

I’m just sitting down to a bubbly potato gratin for supper, its just the perfect comforting meal for a winter evening – inexpensive, nourishing and truly satisfying. We’ve got lots of recipes for gratins, some are very rich, others use stock or a mixture of cream and milk, instead of the original pure cream. Many are based on potato, but delicious gratins can also be made with other root vegetables, eg celeriac, parsnips, or Jerusalem artichokes. The latter cook a bit unevenly but they taste delicious and are particularly good with game. Pumpkins also make a delectable dish. Most gratins can be made ahead and reheat well, so they are also a brilliant standby for entertaining, or for busy ‘working mums’. 

For potato gratins the most important consideration is to find really good potatoes, I generally tend to favour the older varieties eg Golden Wonder or Kerr’s Pinks, both floury and flavourful. Try to find potatoes that have been grown without the addition of artificial nitrogen or with very low input. They will taste and keep better, but you will need to pay more to compensate the farmer for a lower yield. Check your nearest Farmer’s Market or seek out organic potatoes in your local shop or supermarket. In cooking, the ‘wow factor’ comes from choosing really good ingredients and being careful about the ‘little things’.

In the case of gratins it is vital to season every layer, do it lightly with your fingers, using Maldon sea salt or pure dairy salt rather than fine salt with chemicals. Bring the liquid to the boil before adding so it starts to cook faster, and gratin dauphinois particularly benefits from being cooked in a bain marie to keep it moist and tender. Once you’ve worked out a basic recipe you can ring the changes with any number of variations.

Look in your fridge, a chunk of chorizo, a few slices of streaky bacon cut into cubes and crisped up on the pan are a delicious addition, as are some spicy sausages, or chunks of black pudding. Various cheese can be grated and added, occasionally some coarsely chopped nuts give welcome texture.

Gratins are usually served as an accompaniment to say a roast, steak or some lamb chops, however, many of these recipes can be served as a main dish followed by a green salad to make you feel less full and ready for some delicious pudding to round off the meal!.

Mary Jo McMillin’s Gratin Dauphinois 
Serves 6-8
Everyone loves this potato preparation and it is so easy; great to put in the oven alongside a roasting chicken or leg of lamb

2 cloves of garlic peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt 
Freshly ground white pepper
230ml (8 fl ozs) milk
125ml (4 fl ozs) cream
35g (1½ oz) butter
1 kg (2 ¼ lbs) even sized potatoes
35-50g (1 ½ -2oz) grated Gruyere or Cheddar

Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6. In a 4 pint baking dish sprinkle the garlic, salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the milk, cream, slices of butter and place the dish in the oven to heat. Meanwhile peel and thinly slice potatoes. When the milk is bubbling on the edges, remove baking dish, strew in sliced potatoes, sprinkle with cheese, return to the hot oven and bake 20-30 minutes or until potatoes are tender and golden brown. 

For a smaller amount use 700g (1 ½ lbs) potatoes, 1 garlic clove, less salt and pepper, 230ml (8floz) mixed cream and milk 1oz butter and 1oz cheese.

Gratin of Potatoes with Smoked Salmon

Serves 4-6
There are really two recipes in one here, the basic recipe is a particularly good version of the classic French potato dish Gratin Dauphinois which is delicious served with a simple roast or grill. Here we've added little strips of smoked salmon to make a favourite supper dish. Serve with a green salad.

2 lbs (900g) even sized 'old' potatoes, eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks
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
4-6 ozs (110-170g) Irish smoked salmon 
1 tablesp.parsley, chopped 
1 tablesp.chives, chopped

4 small ovenproof gratin dishes 4½ inch (11.5cm) bottom and 6 inch (15cm) top

Peel the potatoes with a potato peeler and slice them into very thin rounds (one-eight 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 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 fresh nutmeg, 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 put a layer into 4 ovenproof gratin dishes, sprinkle each with some parsley and chives, add 1-1½ ozs (30-45g) smoked salmon cut into 3 inch (5mm) strips, cover with another layer of potato.

Reheat in a bain-marie in a preheated oven, 200C/400F/regulo 6, for 8-10 minutes or until they are bubbly and golden on top. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and chives.

* Can be prepared ahead to this point. Serve with a good green salad.

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.

Gratin of Potato and Spring Onion

Potato gratins are a tasty, nourishing and economical way to feed lots of hungry people on a chilly evening, this recipe could include little pieces of bacon or a lamb chop cut into dice, so it can be a sustaining main course or a delicious accompaniment.
Serves 4 as a main course 
Serves 6 as an accompaniment

3lbs (1.5kg) ‘old’ potatoes, eg Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks
2 bunches of spring onions
1oz (30g) butter
3-6 ozs (85-170g) Irish mature cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10-16fl.ozs (300-450ml) homemade chicken, beef or vegetable stock.

Oval ovenproof gratin dish - 12½ inch (31.5cm) long x 2 inch (5cm) high

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6

Slice the peeled potatoes thinly, blanch and refresh. Trim the spring onions and chop both the green and white parts into approx. ¼ inch (5mm) slices with a scissors or a knife.

Rub an oven proof dish thickly with half the butter, scatter with some of the spring onions, then a layer of potatoes and then some grated cheese. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Continue to build up the layers finishing with an overlapping layer of potatoes, neatly arranged. Pour in the boiling stock, scatter with the remaining cheese and dot with butter.

Bake in a preheated oven for 1-1½ hrs or until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown and crispy.

Note: It may be necessary to cover the potatoes with a paper lid for the first half of the cooking.

Gratin of Potato and Mushroom

Serves 6
If you have a few wild mushrooms eg. Chantrelles or field mushrooms, mix them with ordinary mushrooms for this gratin. If all you can find are flat mushroom all the better, one way or the other the gratin will still be delectable.

450g (1 lb) 'old' potatoes, eg. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks 
225g (½ lb) mushrooms, cultivated mushrooms, or a mixture of cultivated mushrooms, brown mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and shitake
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper 
300ml (½ pint) light cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano), or Irish mature Cheddar cheese

Ovenproof gratin dish 25.5cm (10inch) x 21.5cm (8½ inch)

Slice the mushrooms. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly. Blanch and refresh. Grease a shallow gratin dish generously with butter and sprinkle the garlic over it. Arrange half the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and put in the mushrooms. Season again and finish off with a final layer of overlapping potatoes. 

Bring the cream almost to boiling point and pour over the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake for 1½ hours approx. at 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, until the gratin becomes crisp and golden brown with the cream bubbling up around the edges. 
This gratin is terrifically good with a pangrilled lamb chop or a piece of steak.

Pumpkin Gratin with Thyme and Parmesan

Serves 4
This can be a delicious vegetarian main course, or a substantial side dish. Cook it under a roast to catch the delicious juices. Any winter squash would work instead of pumpkin, but they vary in texture, so adjust cooking times. Test with the tip of a knife before pouring over the cream.

1kg (2lb 4oz) pumpkin or winter squash, peeled, deseeded and cut into large chunks
3 tablesp Extra Virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2-3 teasp. fresh thyme leaves or roughly chopped sage
150ml (6fl.oz) cream
50g (2oz) Parmesan, grated

Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6

In a large gratin dish, toss the pumpkin with the olive oil, garlic and thyme leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes or until soft.

Remove the dish of pumpkin from the oven. Increase the oven heat to 220C/425F/gas 7.

Drizzle the cream over the top, scatter generously with the grated cheese. Return to the oven for 20 minutes until bubbling and golden. Serve on its own or with roast lamb, beef or venison.

Potato and Celeriac, Blue Cheese and Walnut Gratin

Serves 4-6
1kg (2-2½ lb) waxy potatoes, thinly sliced
1 large celeriac, thinly sliced
50g (2oz) butter
150ml (¼ pt) cream
150ml (¼ pt) stock
150ml (¼ pt) milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
110g (4oz) Cashel Blue or Crozier cheese
50g (2oz) walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablesp. flat parsley, roughly chopped

Rinse the sliced potatoes thoroughly in cold water to rid them of excess starch. Drain the slices and then dry them thoroughly on kitchen paper.

In a frying pan, melt half the butter. Toss the celeriac in it for a few seconds until all the slices are coated, adding more butter if necessary. 

Bring the stock, cream and milk to the boil. In a gratin dish, arrange alternate layers of potatoes and celeriac, ending with a layer of potato. Sprinkle each layer with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour over the boiling liquid. Bake the gratin in a preheated oven 200C/400F/gas 6 for about 1 hour. If the potatoes brown too quickly, cover them with a sheet of aluminium foil.

Ten minutes before the end of cooking time, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and crumbled blue cheese.

Scatter with roughly chopped flat parsley before serving.

Gratin of Macaroni and Turkey

Serves 6
Macaroni cheese is one of our grandchildren’s favourite supper dishes. It’s a brilliant basic for all sort of yummy bits. We often add some cubes of cooked bacon, chorizo or prawns to the sauce with the cooked macaroni.

3.6litres (6 pints) water
2 teaspoons salt
225g (8oz) macaroni

Cheddar Cheese Sauce
50g (2oz) butter
50g (2oz) white flour, preferably unbleached
1.2 litres (2 pints) boiling milk
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley, (optional)
175g (6oz) grated mature Cheddar cheese (We use our local Cheddar which is made at Mitchelstown and matured at Imokilly Creamery, Old Charleville is also excellent).
Salt and freshly ground pepper

450g (1lb) cooked turkey cut into chunks

1 x 1.1litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add the salt. Sprinkle in the macaroni and stir to make sure it doesn't stick together. Cook until just soft, 10-15 minutes approximately, drain well. 

Meanwhile melt the butter, add in the flour and cook, stirring occasionally for 1-2 minutes, remove from the heat. Whisk in the milk gradually, bring back to the boil, stirring all the time. Add the mustard and parsley if using and cheese, season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Add the turkey and the cooked macaroni, bring back to the boil and serve immediately. 

NB: Macaroni soaks up an enormous amount of sauce. Add more sauce if making ahead to reheat later.

Macaroni Cheese with Smoked Salmon
Add 110g (4oz) of smoked salmon pieces to the macaroni cheese.

Macaroni Cheese with Mushrooms and Courgettes
Add 225g (8oz) sliced sautéed mushrooms and 225g (8oz) sliced courgettes cooked in olive oil with a little garlic and marjoram or basil and add to the Macaroni cheese. Toss gently, turn into a hot serving dish and scatter with grated cheese.

Macaroni Cheese 
Omit the turkey and serve as it is.

Macaroni cheese reheats very successfully provided the pasta is not overcooked in the first place, it is very good served with cold meat particularly ham.

Foolproof Food

Belgian Chocolate Biscuit Cake

You can use up the plain biscuits left in the tin after Christmas.
Serves 8-10

2 tablespoons raisins, soaked in boiling water
225g (8 ozs) best quality dark chocolate
225g (8 ozs) butter preferably unsalted
225g (8 ozs) plain biscuits eg. Marie or Marietta
1 dessertspoon castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla essence
30g (1 oz) chopped walnuts or toasted almonds

loaf tin 5 x 8 inch (12.5 x 20.5cm), lined with pure cling film

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water or in a very cool oven. Whisk the eggs and sugar together until light and fluffy, melt the butter and whisk into the egg and sugar mixture while still hot. The mixture should thicken slightly. Next add in the chocolate, raisins and vanilla essence and finally the broken biscuits. Press into the lined tin. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts and allow to set in a cold place. Serve cut into slices with softly whipped cream.

Hot Tips

Irish Seedsavers, Capparoe, Scariff, Co Clare –
Start planning your Spring planting – contact Irish Seedsavers for old native varieties of vegetables and fruit –  Tel 061-921866

New Japanese Restaurant in Galway – Kappa-ya has recently opened on 4 Middle St. Galway – selection of authentic homemade Japanese dishes and snacks available all day – Monday to Friday 11-5.  Tel 086-3543616

The 2006 Bridgestone100 Best Guides by John & Sally McKenna and Georgina Campbell’s Jameson Irish Food Guide of places to eat, drink and stay –essential travelling companions in Ireland - don’t leave home without them

Rockfield Ecological Estate, Rathaspic, Rathowen, Co Westmeath

This venture is the dream and creation of Imelda and Sean Daly. Through education, demonstration and passion for the green philosophy in living and culture heritage they want to show that we can happily thrive in modern life by working hand in hand with the earth and its produce and recreate the world of yesteryear. The idea is to provide to the public, local schools, tourists and businesses, an all-encompassing, ecological destination showcasing a variety of crafts, art, music, literature, heritage and organic food, medicinal herbs in an organic setting. They are open for guided tours of the house, garden, outbuildings and there will be seminars, forums and courses on all relevant issues. For full details contact Imelda Daly –  Tel 043-76024 086-0882433


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