Slow Food Festive Foods of Easter

S
Recently we celebrated the Festive Foods of Easter with a Slow Food event at the Cookery School.

To get us into the spirit, a few weeks ago we had put some eggs in the incubator. Low and behold 21 days later little chicks started to chip and peck their way through the shells – such excitement, the students were out of their minds with delight. Most had never before witnessed the minor miracle of a chick struggling and squawking its way out of a shell.

For extra pzazz Rosalie made several Easter Trees and arrangements, and Mary Jo McMillin from Ohio made Easter Bunny biscuits to hang on the trees. First she decorated them with glace icing and psychedelic dragees, and then threaded little ribbons through them to hang them on the branches.

Slow Food events are convivial affairs so people were greeted with a glass of mulled apple juice or homemade lemonade.

Rory O’Connell, Mary Jo and I demonstrated a variety of Easter dishes.

Sweet succulent Spring lamb is an absolute must for Easter so we made two racks of lamb into a Guard of Honour and served it with Gratin of Potato and Mushroom and three sauces – Fresh Mint Chutney, Red Currant Jelly and a Sauce Soubise. We also made my favourite Easter Sunday pud - new season’s Rhubarb Tart.

Mary Jo made a wonderful batch of Hot Cross Buns, the dough for these needs to be soft and sticky so its difficult to handle but the result is tender crumb speckled with juicy raisins and sultanas and candied peel.

Easter is so much about eggs, since ancient times they have been a symbol of Spring rebirth and resurrection.

We saved the onion peelings from the school for several days and then cooked hardboiled eggs in boiling water with onion peels in the time-honoured way. The shells became a beautiful brown. With vegetable dyes one can produce a variety of colours but we often resort to magic markers to decorate the eggs that are laid by the hens on Good Friday.

On Easter Sunday our hens lay gaily decorated eggs with the children’s and grandchildren’s names, so there’s wild excitement collecting the eggs for breakfast.

At the Slow Food Event we also made Easter Egg nests, so easy with melted chocolate and rice krispies and little chocolate speckled eggs

Mary Jo then made some more grown up Easter meringue nests and filled them with a bitter chocolate mousse.

We made lots of Penny’s Easter buns and iced them with a lemon icing. The kiddies ones had mini eggs on top and the grown up ones were decorated with handmade crystallized primroses and violets – how adorable is that.

Finally, the piece de resistance, a Simnel Cake. Our traditional Easter treat – a rich fruit cake with a thick layer of almond paste in the centre. The cake is also iced with almond paste and decorated with eleven balls of marzipan which represent the 11 apostles, Judas who betrayed Jesus is not represented on the cake.

The whole cake is then glazed with egg yolk and toasted. We ate it while it was still warm. Later we laid out all our festive foods on a long table in the conservatory and had a delicious afternoon tea.

Happy Easter.

For details of Slow Food Ireland – visit www.slowfoodireland.com  or iona@cookingisfun.ie  

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top. The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles - Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.
8 ozs (225g) butter
8 ozs (225g) pale, soft brown sugar
6 eggs, preferably free range
10 ozs (285g) white flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 ½ fl ozs (35ml) Irish whiskey
12 ozs (340g) best quality sultanas
12 ozs (340g) best quality currants
12 ozs (340g) best quality raisins
4 ozs (110g) cherries
4 ozs (110g) home made candied peel
2 ozs (55g) whole almonds
2 ozs (55g) ground almonds
Rind of 1 lemon
Rind of 1 orange
1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

Almond Paste

1 lb (450g) ground almonds
1 lb (450g) castor sugar
2 small eggs
A drop of pure almond essence
2 tablesp. (50ml) Irish whiskey

Line the base and sides of a 9 inch (23cm) round, or a 8 inch (20.5cm) square tin with brown paper and greaseproof paper.

Wash the cherries and dry them. Cut in two or four as desired. Blanch the almonds in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, rub off the skins and chop them finely. Mix the dried fruit, nuts, ground almonds and grated orange and lemon rind. Add about half of the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Next make the almond paste.

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Beat the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of pure almond essence, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all the egg). Sprinkle the work top with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

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

Cream the butter until very soft, add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and add in bit by bit, beating well between each addition so that the mixture doesn't curdle. Mix the spice with the flour and stir in gently. Add the grated apple to the fruit and mix in gently but thoroughly (don't beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8½ inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip you hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper. 

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160C/325F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3-3½ hours approx., test in the centre with a skewer - it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin. 

NOTE: When you are testing do so at an angle because the almond paste can give a false reading.

Next day remove the cake from the tin. Do not remove the lining paper but wrap in some extra greaseproof paper and tin foil until required.

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1½ inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg or egg yolk, stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220C/425F/regulo 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden, Decorate with an Easter Chicken. Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

NB: Almond paste may also be used to ice the side of the cake. You will need half the almond paste again.

This cake keeps for weeks or even months, but while still delicious it changes both in texture and flavour as it matures.

Mary Jo’s Meringue Nests with Dark Chocolate Mousse

4fl oz (125ml) egg whites (4 eggs)
6oz (175g) icing sugar
For 8 nests

Put the egg white and sieved icing sugar into the spotlessly clean dry bowl of a food mixer. Whisk for 6 to 8 minutes or to stiff peaks.

Line a baking tray with silicone paper (Bakewell) and divide meringue into 8 large blobs on lined tray. Pipe or shape into 4 inch (10cm) nests using back of a small spoon. Bake in a 150C/300F/gas 2 oven for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 100C/200F/gas ¼ and bake until crisp. Turn off heat and allow to cool in oven. Slip nests onto serving platter.

Chocolate Mousse

6oz (175g) dark chocolate
3fl oz (75ml) brewed coffee
1 tablespoon rum or other liqueur
6fl oz(160ml) heavy cream

Place chocolate, coffee and rum in a pyrex bowl and set over saucepan of simmering water. Turn off heat and allow chocolate to melt. Stir liquid into melted chocolate and remove bowl from saucepan. Allow to cool to room temperature. To hasten cooling, place bowl over basin of ice water.

Whip cream to soft peaks and fold into cooled liquid chocolate. Place rounded dollop of chocolate mousse in each nest. Shave a little dark chocolate over tops using a vegetable peeler and a block of chocolate.
Refrigerate overnight or for a few hours.

Before serving decorate each nest with a circle of whipped cream. Top with a tiny Easter fluffy chick if desired.

Pennys Easter Buns with Crystallised Primroses or Violets or Mini Eggs

If you have just one oven you may need to make the cupcakes in three separate batches. Depending on how the cup cakes are decorated, this can be any occasion, a wedding cake, christening, anniversary, children’s party, sports day celebration ….
Makes 36

1lb (450g) butter (at room temperature)
1lb (450g) caster sugar
1lb (450g)) self-raising flour
6 large eggs preferably free-range and organic
6 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.

Lemon Icing: (makes enough for 12 cupcakes)

4oz (110g) icing sugar
Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 muffin trays lined with 12 muffin cases each.

Preheat oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas mark 5.

Put all ingredients except milk into a food processor and whizz until smooth. Scrape down sides, then add milk and whizz again.
Divide mixture between the cases in the muffin tins.

Bake in the preheated oven for 15 –20 minutes or until risen and golden. Remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

To finish:

Make the lemon icing:
Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.
Decorate the buns with lemon icing and crystallized flowers or mini eggs.
Arrange in a pyramid on 2 or 3 cup cake stands or on a perspex cake stand.

To make Crystallized Flowers

Guidelines
Use fairly strong textured leaves, the smaller the flowers the more attractive they are when crystallized eg. primroses, violets.

The castor sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about 2 hour approx.

Break up the egg white slightly with a fork. Using a child's paint brush it very carefully over each petal and into every cervice. Pour the castor sugar over the flower with a teaspoon, arrange the flower carefully on bakewell paper so that it has a good shape. Allow to dry overnight in a warm dry place, e.g. close to an Aga or over a radiator. If properly crystallized these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box.

When you are crystallizing flowers remember to do lots of leaves also so one can make attractive arrangements - e.g. mint, lemon balm, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves etc. 


Foolproof Food

Easter Egg Nests

Makes 24
4ozs (110g) Rice krispies
6ozs (175g) dark Chocolate
72 mini eggs

cup cake papers or ring moulds
Put the chocolate in a pyrex bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Bring just to the boil, turn off the heat and allow to melt in the bowl. Stir in the rice krispies.

Spoon into cup cake cases. Flatten a little and make a well in the centre. Fill with three speckled chocolate mini eggs. Allow to set. 

Hot Tips

Tasty Tipp-

Fabulous Food Fair in Co Tipperary – TIPP FM Food Fair at Thurles Greyhound Stadium on Sunday 21st May. This is the third Tipp Fm Food Fair and is being organized in association with Tipperary Leader. The fair will feature a unique showcase of enterprising food producers from all over Tipperary and nationwide with a whole array of exotic tastes to experience. To book a stand at this event contact Pam at 067-44466 or Noreen 087-2795900 or Geraldine 087 2523215 immediately. 

Tipperary LEADER Group devised a competition to create awareness of local food produce available in the county, amongst the youth in the Tipperary LEADER group area and inform them of the health, economic, environmental and wider societal benefits of eating local produce. They held The Tipperary Schools Local Food Competition – South Tipperary IFA sponsored the prizes and the final was presented in the format of ‘The Restaurant’ Programme on RTE. Judging was a deliciously difficult process. As well as generous monetary prizes the finalists were offered the opportunity of undertaking paid work experience in a catering establishment in their own area.

All competitors had their entries included in the Tipperary Schools Local Food Cookery Book which will be distributed to secondary schools throughout the area. The super little book contains an outline of the benefits of local food based recipes and a countywide contact list of local food producers and markets in Tipperary. 

Other counties please copy!

Visiting Belfast ?

Check out James Street South Restaurant at 21 James St. within walking distance of Belfast City Centre and its attractions. Fresh simple cuisine using the best of local produce – Lunch Monday to Saturday 12.00-2.45, dinner Monday to Saturday 5.45 – 10.45 and Sunday 5.30-9.00 www.jamesstreetsouth.co.uk  info@jamesstreetsouth.co.uk 

Tel 02890 434310

Irish Cider Industry –

The majority of the employment within the Irish cider industry is in the South –East, over 500 people are employed in the industry. Over 25% of the entire apple harvest in Ireland is used in cider production. The industry absorbs the entire national crop of cull apples and actively promotes the development of apple orchards as a viable form of farm enterprise.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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