Bet lots of you have a book token or two or tucked away somewhere since Christmas so before they get lost here are a few suggestions for cookery books that have caught my fancy in the past few months.
One of my best new finds is Five Fat Hens the Chicken and Egg cookbook. Itâ€™s engagingly written by an author I have never even heard of before â€“ Tim Halket.
â€œA love of eating and good ingredients led Tim to build a hen house in the corner of his garden for a daily harvest of fresh eggs. His take on the role of keeping chickens is amusing and insightful but this book is more than just a DIY guide to keeping a few free range birds, or a new slant on a chicken themed cookbook. It takes the reader through an entire year, month by month, skilfully combining the authorâ€™s passion for cooking in diary form interwoven with his recipes, his thoughts and observations and with the premise that even the smallest garden can be home to a supply of the freshest eggs imaginable. Tim is neither a trained chef nor a small-holding farmer, his recipes draw on his real experience in the kitchen and he reproduces food that he enjoys cooking on a daily basis for his family and friends. He ranges from the highly original such as Duelos y Quebrantos and Persian Chicken Supper through variations on everyday Italian or French classics to simple comforting nursery food.â€
Another really exciting book for me, The Best of Elizabeth David â€“ South Wind Through the Kitchen, is a collection compiled by one of the editors I most admire, Jill Norman. I have all of Elizabeth Davidâ€™s books, some both in hard and paper back but I love this collection and bought several copies to give to friends. Before Elizabeth David died in 1992 she and her editor Jill Norman began work on a volume of â€˜The Best ofâ€™ but then her health deteriorated and the project was shelved. The idea was revived in 1996 when chefs and writers and Elizabethâ€™s many friends, were invited to select their favourite articles and recipes. Some sent notes explaining their choice, others provided an anecdote or a recollection about her and others sent lists of recipes they had been using for years.
South Wind Through the Kitchen is the fruit of that harvest of recommendations, and the names of the contributors â€“ who number among them some of our finest food writers such as Simon Hopkinson, Alice Waters, Sally Clarke, Richard Olney, Paul Levy and Anne Willan â€“ appear after their pieces they had chosen along with their notes.
The extracts and recipes which make up South Wind Through the Kitchen are drawn from all Elizabeth Davidâ€™s books, including A Book of Mediterranean Food, Summer Cooking, French Provincial Cooking, An Omelette and Glass of Wine, and Harvest of the Cold Months.
Another of my favourite books Rosemary Barronâ€™s Flavours of Greece has been republished by Grub Street Press, beautifully researched and well tested recipes â€“ a must for those of you who love Greece. Iâ€™m also enjoying The Perfectly Roasted Chicken by Minty Fox published by Kyle Cathie, another little gem which includes 20 mouth-watering ways to roast a chicken.
Two others that are worth trading in your book tokens for are Green and Blacks Ultimate Chocolate Recipes and Italian Comfort Food by Julia Della Croce both published by Kyle Cathie.
Finally two Irish publications slipped onto the shelves before Christmas and have become firm favourites.Â Ireland for Food Lovers by Georgina Campbell and A Passion for Food â€“ Superquin Cookbook. These are some of the recipes for February.
Easy Chicken with Lemon â€“ Taken from Five Fat Hens by Tim Halket
This is brilliant. An easy option, a concept really (not that Iâ€™m suggesting itâ€™s concept food), for making a quick dinner in about thirty or forty minutes. No fuss, very little trouble.
A whole chicken jointed into eight pieces, or sufficient pieces to feed four
A handful of herbs of your choice, see note below
Take the chicken pieces and place them in a roasting tray. Cut a lemon in half and squeeze the juice all over the chicken. Add the exhausted lemon halves to the pan. Dribble a little olive oil over the whole lot – just enough to coat everything. Add some seasoning. Rub everything together to make sure all the flavourings are evenly distributed. Place in the preheated oven, at 200C/400F/gas 6, and roast for twenty-five minutes. Remove and add the herbs. Return to the oven for a further ten minutes.
The chicken is ready when it is well browned, and the sauce (such as it is) is a sticky, unctuous mess underneath the chicken â€“ add a splash of water if itâ€™s too dry. Use a skewer to check the legs are done if you are at all nervous or unsure.
Herbs: the above recipe is perfect for summerâ€™s delicately leaved herbs, such as basil or tarragon. The more wintry herbs such sage, thyme and rosemary can all be added at the beginning. Use basil, tarragon or thyme separately. Use sage and rosemary either alone, or combine the two together. Fresh bay is a good lonesome choice too. If you donâ€™t have any fresh herbs, donâ€™t use dried. Sparingly add a few fennel seeds and flaked dried chillies. For a south side of the Med feel, try a little ground cinnamon and a teaspoon of honey at the end.
Port And Spinach Terrine â€“ Taken from The Best of Elizabeth David â€“ South Wind Through the Kitchen
Pates and terrines have become, during the past decade, so very much a part of the English restaurant menu as well as of home entertaining that a variation of formula would sometimes be welcome.
At Orange, that splendid town they call the gateway to Provence, I once tasted a pate which was more fresh green herbs than meat. I was told that this was made according to a venerable country recipe of Upper Provence.
The pate was interesting but rather heavy. I have tried to make it a little less filling. Her is the result of my experiments:
1lb (450g) uncooked spinach, spinach beet or chard,
1lb (450g) freshly-minced fat pork,
seasonings of salt, freshly milled pepper, mixed spices.
Wash, cook and drain the spinach. When cool, squeeze it as dry as you can. There is only one way to do this â€“ with your hands. Chop it roughly.
Season the meat with about 3 teaspoons of salt, a generous amount of freshly-milled black pepper, and about Â¼ teaspoon of mixed ground spices (mace, allspice, cloves).
Mix meat and spinach together. Turn into a pint-sized (550ml) earthenware terrine or loaf tin. On top put a piece of buttered paper. Stand the terrine or tin in a baking dish half filled with water.
Cook in a very moderate over (170Â°C/ 330Â°F/ Gas Mark 3) for 45 minutes to an hour. Do not let it get overcooked or it will be dry.
This pate can be eaten hot as a main course, but I prefer it cold, as a first dish, and with bread or toast just as a pate is always served in France.
The interesting points about this dish are its appearance, its fresh, uncloying flavour and its comparative lightness, which should appeal to those who find the better-known type of pork pate rather heavy. You could, for example, serve a quite rich or creamy dish after this without overloading anybodyâ€™s stomach.
Winter Roast Chicken Salad With Fennel, Blood Orange And Pistachio
Taken from The Perfectly Roasted Chicken by Mindy Fox
This salad is evidence that beauty and simplicity can come together on a plate in a matter of minutes. This dish is best with a tart-sweet citrus; if blood oranges arenâ€™t available, try red naval oranges or pink grapefruit instead.
3 blood oranges
2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed and fronds reserved
225g medium shreds roast chicken
31/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
flaky coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons shelled unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
Using a sharp paring knife, trim off the tops and bottoms of the oranges. Stand one orange on end and carefully cut the peel and pith from the flesh, following the curve of the fruit from the top to the bottom. Cut each section away from the membranes and place in a large bowl. Squeeze any juice from the membranes into the bowl. Repeat with the remaining orange.
Cut the fennel bulbs in half lengthways and very thinly slice. Add the fennel, chicken, vinegar and oil to the bowl with the orange sections, then gently toss the mixture together.
Coarsely chop some of the fennel fronds. Arrange the salad on a platter.
Ultimate Chocolate Brownies
Taken from Green & Blackâ€™s Ultimate edited by Micah Carr-Hill
300g unsalted butter
300g dark (70% cocoa solids) chocolate, broken into pieces
5 large free-range eggs
450g granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
200g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
An Ultimate Chocolate Recipes book would not be complete without an Ultimate Chocolate Brownie recipe.
Preheat the oven to 180ÂºC/gas mark 4. Line the baking tin 30 x 24 x 6cm with greaseproof paper or baking parchment.
Melt the butter and chocolate together in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesnâ€™t touch the water. Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract together in a bowl until the mixture is thick and creamy and coats the back of a spoon. Once the butter and the chocolate have melted, remove from the heat and beat in the egg mixture. Sift the flour and salt together, then add them to the mixture, and continue to beat until smooth.
Pour into the baking tin, ensuring the mixture is evenly distributed in the tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the whole of the top has formed a light brown crust that has started to crack. This giant brownie should not wobble, but should remain gooey on the inside.
Leave it to cool for about 20 minutes before cutting into large squares while still in the tin. The greaseproof paper or baking parchment should peel off easily.
~ Add a handful of your favourite nuts or dried fruits to the mixture before you transfer it to the baking tin. You can cut them up or leave them whole, as you prefer.
~ Always taste the mixture raw to check for your preferred vanilla and salt levels, ensuring you leave some of the mixture to bake, of course.
Fool Proof Food
Elizabeth Davidâ€™s Maionese Tonnata
(Tunny Fish Mayonnaise) â€“
Make a stiff mayonnaise with 2 yolks of eggs, a little salt, 4 fl oz (120ml) olive oil, and a very little lemon juice.
Pound or put through a sieve about 2 oz (60g) tinned tunny fish in oil. Incorporate the puree gradually into the mayonnaise. Excellent for al kinds of cold dishes, particularly chicken or hard boiled eggs, for sandwiches, or for filling raw tomatoes for an hor-dâ€™oeuvre.
Two 4th Year Mini Company projects that caught our attention â€“ The Chuck Chucks of Schull Community College – Ciara Sheehan, Sean Oâ€™Donovan, Sean Oâ€™Driscoll, Jamie Oâ€™Driscoll produced – The Essential Guide to Growing Green 2011 Calendar with month by month advice and tips on gardening with lovely photos to match each season â€“ available in Centra in Schull or telephone 028 35509.
Seaweed Sensations from The Sacred Heart Secondary School in Clonakilty have produced a little booklet called â€˜Sea the Benefits a Nutritional Information-Beauty-Cookbook.â€™ Lots of healthy recipes including Seaweed Pizza a section on the six most common types of seaweed and their benefits and some homemade beauty treatments. Booklets can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org