How about the perfect Foodie present?

My builder is fond of saying that there’s no problem getting something done ‘if you have the bit of gear’. 

The same applies in the kitchen – many frustrated wannabe cooks could achieve much more if they had a few more bits of basic kit.

A food mixer can revolutionise the life of a ‘cup cake queen’. This is one piece of equipment that’s really worth the money. The Kenwood Chef has really stood the test of time here at the Cookery School. Most come with a blender which means you can whiz up silky soup in seconds - available from stockists nationwide.

A food processor is another ‘must have’ for the keen cook, we use Magimix and find them very reliable, there is some overlap in that one can make some cakes and biscuits with it, but overall it does different things from the food mixer. Home-made mayonnaise is made in minutes, it chops and purees in a twinkling. The extra blades allow you to grate and slice in a few delicious seconds.

For the growing number of ‘urban farmers’ and smallholders who are enjoying curing their own meat, a sausage making attachment would be a presie from heaven.
Less expensive but a year round pleasure would be a gift subscription to ‘The Smallholder’

For those who would like to keep a few chickens in their town garden the ultimate presie is An Eglu, a little ‘palais des poulets’ large enough to keep two chickens (with a little run). Its light enough to be moved around so your ‘flock’ are on a fresh patch of grass every day. 

For serious coffee buffs, an Espresso Machine that really works would be the ultimate presie – It’ll set you back five or six hundred euros, but think of the frothy cappuccinos and earth-moving espressos – perhaps the whole family could club together – Gaggia or Francis, Francis really work.

Another kitchen toy that’s worth the money is a Braun Multipractic – great presie for a student who likes to dabble in the kitchen of their bedsit. Soups, smoothies, purées, all become possible in a matter of minutes – about €30 from good kitchen shops and electrical shops. 

A decent Set of Knives are always a bonus but you must be sure to get a coin from the benefactor so that the knives don’t cut your friendship. Global, Henkel and Victorinox are some of the good brands, but no matter how brilliant the knife it won’t keep its edge for long if you don’t try and learn how to use a steel. 

A gift token for a Wine Course is also a good present, there are many offered around the country – we offer one on 12th December 2007 at Ballymaloe Cookery School with Colm McCann, Sommelier at Ballymaloe House, Mary Dowey’s very popular wine course at Ballymaloe House will run from 23-25 March and 20-22 April 2007, Tel 021-4652531. The Wine Development Board of Ireland run courses, . and local wine shops often run wine appreciation courses. Failing that, a wine guide, John Wilson’s ‘Best of Wine in Ireland 2007’, a must for Irish oenophiles, younger enthusiasts will want to find Matt Skinner’s ‘Juice’ in their stocking, Jancis Robinson’s Wine Course gives a good grounding for those who want a bit of all round general knowledge as well as to impress the pals.

A good food guide would also be a terrific present for food lovers – Georgina Campbell’s Best of the Best and her new Guide for Garden Lovers– the very best places to eat, drink and stay – are much respected as are John & Sally McKenna’s Bridgestone guides, the new Good Food Ireland guide has a terrific map to show the traveller where the Farmers Markets are, as well as restaurants that serve local food.

For Christmas stockings, a microplane grater is a must-have for every nifty cook. A Japanese mandolin is another serious cook’s gadget. Maldon or Halen Mon sea salt is a treat - Interior Living on Cork’s McCurtain Street,(021-4505819) sells little gift packs with salt cellar and spoon from €20. A bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Urru in Bandon or Mallow, or from Midleton Farmer’s Market – Mani, Brindisa, Colonna, L’estornell, a l’Olivier are names worth looking out for.

Pannetone and Panneforte de Siena, available at Cork Market as well as a million other temptations, are super stand-bys. A little bunch of Madagascar vanilla pods, hand-tied with raffia, an old-fashioned butter curler and butter knife, tea strainer and a packet of single estate tea, a perfect cheese like a Crozier Blue – with some membrillo and Ditty’s oatcakes or homemade cheese biscuits. A pot of delicious local honey is always a treat, and for the slightly-green fingered – a terracotta pot and a packet of seeds for herbs or salad mix. How about a hamper of Asian, Polish or African ingredients for the adventurous cook. A Green Saffron Curry Voucher can be bought in any of the outlets selling the spice range – Kinsale or Mahon Farmers Market, Handmade Wines in Lismore, River House Cahir, or at The Stephen Pearce Gallery in Shanagarry, vouchers for Curry Nights in Shanagarry also available -  Tel 021-4645729,  

Now that Artisan, Local and Slow are currently the most desirable words in food, the ultimate food gift would be a membership of Slow Food, . 

Here are a few recipes which would make lovely Foodie gifts.

White Christmas Cake

This White Christmas Cake with its layer of crisp frosting is a delicious alternative for those who do not like the traditional fruit cake. It is best made not more than a week before Christmas.
140g (5oz) butter
200g (7oz) flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
85g (3oz) ground almonds
6 egg whites
225g (8oz) castor sugar
85-110g (3-4 oz) green or yellow cherries
55g (2oz) finely-chopped home-made candied peel

White Frosting
1 egg white
225g (8oz) granulated sugar
4 tablespoons water

18 cm (1 x 7 inches) round tin with a 7.5 cm (3 inches) sides

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/regulo 3.

Line the tin with greaseproof paper. Cream the butter until very soft, sieve in the flour, salt and baking powder, then add the lemon juice, whiskey and ground almonds. Whisk the egg whites until quite stiff; add the castor sugar gradually and whisk again until stiff and smooth. Stir some of the egg white into the butter mixture and then carefully fold in the rest. Lastly, add the chopped peel and the halved cherries. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 1½ hours approx. Allow to cool, cover and ice the next day.

To make the white frosting: This delicious icing is just a little tricky to make, so follow the instructions exactly. Quick and accurate decisions are necessary in judging when the icing is ready and then it must be used immediately. Dissolve the sugar carefully in water and boil for 1½ minutes approx. until the syrup reaches the ‘thread stage’, 106-113C/223-236F. It will look thick and syrupy; when a metal spoon is dipped in, the last drops of syrup will form a thin thread. Pour this boiling syrup over the stiffly-beaten egg white, whisking all the time. Put the bowl in a saucepan over simmering water. Continue to whisk over the water until white and very thick. (This can take up to 10 minutes). Spread quickly over the cake with a palette knife. It sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential.

Decorate with Christmas decorations or crystallised violets or rose petals and angelica.

Ballymaloe Mincemeat Shortbread

Makes 16 or more if cut into small squares
8 oz (225g) plain white flour
1 oz (25g) semolina
1 oz (25g) custard powder
2 oz (50g) icing sugar
7 oz (200g) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
cold water to bind

14 oz (400g) homemade mincemeat

4 oz (110g) plain white flour
½ oz (15g) semolina
½ oz (15g) custard powder
1 oz (25g) icing sugar
3½ oz (100g) unsalted butter
castor sugar for dusting

12 “ x 8 “ (30.5cm x 20.5cm) Swiss roll tin, greased

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regular 4/

To make the base. Sieve the flour, semolina, custard powder and icing sugar into a bowl. Mix well. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Carefully add just enough water to bring the mixture together. Press the mixture into the greased tin, making sure it fills into the corners of the tin.
Spread the mincemeat on top, leaving a narrow border all around.

Next make the topping. Sieve the flour, semolina, custard powder and icing sugar together and rub in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Spread the crumble mixture on top of the mincemeat and gently press down with your fingers to ensure an even cover.
Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until golden brown on top. Cut into squares while still hot. Sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and allow to cool in the tin

Home-made Crackers

Can be made ahead and kept in a tin to serve with cheese or give as a present with some cheese.
Makes 20-25 biscuits

8 ozs (225g) plain white flour
½ teasp. baking powder
½ teasp. salt
1 oz (25g) butter
1 tablesp. cream
Water as needed, 5 tablesp. approx.

Put the flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter and moisten with the cream and enough water to make a firm dough.
Roll out very thinly to one sixteenth of an inch approx. Prick with a fork. Cut into 

3 ½ inch squares with a pastry wheel. Bake at 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 30 minutes approx. or until lightly browned and quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.

Note: For Wheaten Crackers – use 4ozs wholemeal flour and 4 ozs plain white flour.

Preserved Roasted Peppers with Basil

From Rachel’s Favourite Food at Home
These make a lovely gift potted into a pretty jar and topped up with olive oil.
Delicious as part of a salad, in a sandwich or thrown on top of freshly cooked pasta.
Makes 1 medium-sized jar

4 peppers of various colours, left whole
Olive oil
Basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 230C (450F). Gas Mark 8.

Rub some olive oil over the peppers, then pop on a baking tray in the oven. Cook for about 40 minutes, or until very soft and a little blackened. Take them out of the oven, put into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to cool.

Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, take them out of the bowl and use your fingers to peel off the skin and break the peppers into quarters. Do not rinse in water or you’ll lose the flavour. Then, using a butter knife, scrape the seeds away, which should leave just the flesh. Layer in a sterilised jar*, adding basil leaves between the peppers, and fill up with olive oil.

*To sterilise jars, either put them through a cycle in your dishwasher, boil them for 5 minutes in a pan of water or place in an oven preheated to 150C(300F), gas mark 2 for 10 minutes.

Cooks Book

Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection – published by Headline

Mary Berry is well known as the author of more than sixty bestselling cookery books, including many on Aga cookery and has presented several television cookery series.

In her Christmas collection she combines her old winter recipe favourites such as Fillet of Pork with Cranberry and Madeira Gravy and Christmas Tarte Amandine with a variety of new and exciting dishes to spice up the season. Mary’s simple recipes and handy hints will take the pressure off entertaining. With an invaluable Christmas Day countdown, her ever-popular tips on preparing ahead and freezing, clues on how to turn leftovers into even more delicious meals, advice on cooking for a crowd and Aga instructions where appropriate, Mary will help solve all your Christmas cooking dilemmas, leaving you more time to enjoy some festive fun.

Scarlet Confit

This is Mary’s version of cranberry sauce – its is perfect with roast turkey or game. You can cook ahead and keep covered in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. You could freeze it too, for up to 3 months.
Serves 20

450g (1lb) fresh or frozen cranberries
225g (8oz) granulated sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
50ml (2fl.oz) port
50ml (2fl.oz) cider vinegar
A large pinch of ground allspice
A large pinch of ground cinnamon

Measure all the ingredients into a shallow saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Don’t worry if it looks a bit runny as it thickens when it cools.

Serve warm or cold.
If using an Aga, cook uncovered in the Simmering Oven for about 1 hour.
Darina's Fool Proof Food

Mulled Red Wine

Just before the festive season we make up lots of little packages with the sugar, spices and thinly pared lemon rind so when the pals arrive it’s just a question of opening a bottle of wine and warming it in a stainless steel saucepan with the spices.
You could attach a little pack of the spices to a nice bottle of red wine, with instructions for a lovely present. Leftover mulled wine keeps for a few days and reheats perfectly.
Serves 8 approx.

1 bottle of good red wine
100-110g (3 1/2-4oz) sugar, depending on the wine
Thinly pared rind of 1 lemon
1 small piece of cinnamon bark
1 blade of mace
1 clove

Put the sugar into a stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan, pour the wine over, add the lemon rind, cinnamon bark, mace and the clove. Heat slowly, stirring to make sure the sugar is dissolved. Serve hot, but not scalding otherwise your guests will have difficulty holding their glasses.

Hot Tips

Athy Farmers Market and Craft Fair – every Sunday 10am – 3pm, Emily Square, Athy in front of Athy Heritage Centre.

Christmas Weekend Open – Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th and then closed till 28th January, resuming again every Sunday thereon. Unique selection of high quality local craft and food gifts – bread, cakes, puddings, pies, organic vegetables, free range meat and poultry…. Candles, cards, pottery, flowers, wreaths, watercolours, goats milk soaps, willow work, fabric crafts….

For Chocolate Lovers
French chocolatier Gwen Lasserre makes exquisite handmade chocolates in his shop on Main St. Schull, Co Cork (028-27853) – open every day 10-7 till Christmas – this year’s favourite flavours are fresh lavender and chilli.

Benoit Lorge also makes delicious chocolates at O’Connors Shop, Bonane, Co Kerry. Special orders taken for weddings etc. He also gives chocolate workshops for local children – just 5km from Kenmare on the Glengarriff Road. Tel 087-9917172 email:chocolatecrust@eircom .net 

O’Conaill Chocolates –made in Carrigaline Co Cork by the O’Conaill family, are available at Midleton, Mahon, Kinsale and Bandon Farmers Markets, their own shop in Frenchchurch St. Cork and outlets nationwide – 021-4373407

Eve Chocolates are another Cork favourite – Flair Confectionery, Magazine Road, Cork, Tel 021-4347781

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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