Out of the blue a few months ago, I got an email from a crazily enthusiastic girl who had just started a new business called The Cookbook Club based in Dublin, but also of course on-line.
She went on to give me some background in her inimitable breathless way.
â€œI’m from a small farm, in West Clare. I hated it. I hated weeding rows of potatoes, acres of cabbage, rhubarb and turnip, and hunting cattle, pulling sheep out of hedges, and digging/footing /stacking turf, and sitting up all night with a blinking torch waiting for cows to calve. But I loved the storytelling and gossip around the preparation of that – our home grown food. My smoking-like-a-trooper, 12 kids raised, 6 ft tall grandmother was a mid-wife who walked miles to everyoneâ€™s home in the village to bring children into the world and she used to lay out the dead too.Â We scoured domestic science books and Womanâ€™s Way magazine and cookbooks to find different ways of cooking turnip and mutton, or you’d die of boredom. So I love cookbook narratives as I associate food with storytelling. Granny and Mum would be chopping food and gossiping and Iâ€™d sit on the top of the stairs in the kitchen eavesdropping on their dissection of both the community and the recipe.â€
Elaine had a steady job with RTE for over ten years as an editor and script writer on Fair City. In January 2010 she took a career break to follow her dream.
She tossed some ideas around, blogged about food and eventually decided to embark on a new adventure. She shot off some bubbly emails to a few of her favourite cookbook authors and invited them to join her and other fans at a restaurant of their choice in Dublin, all the cook book writer needs to do is to choose a three course menu with three choices on each course, send along the recipes and turn up on the night to chat to the guests and bloggers and sign cook books.
It all kicked off in September 2010 and by now sheâ€™s had terrific events with Paul Flynn, Clodagh McKenna, Kevin Dundon and Catherine Fulvio. Elaine is so sweet and effervescent that itâ€™s impossible to say no. The events are held on the first Monday of every month and over fifty percent of the members have attended all the events, I sent along my menu, all dishes chosen from my Forgotten Skills Cookbook.
Potato Soup with Wild Garlic Pesto and Ballymaloe Brown Yeast Bread
Jerusalem Artichoke Salad with Toasted Hazelnuts
Salt Cod Croquettes with AioliÂ Â
Pork Osso Bucco
Hake with Swiss Chard and Coconut Milk
Gruyere and Dill TartÂ Â
Brussels Sprouts TopsÂ
A Salad of Organic Leaves with Honey and Mustard Dressing
Carrageen Moss Pudding with Poached Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Compote
Lemon and Rose Geranium Posset
Srikhand with Saffron and Pistachio Nuts
One is always a little apprehensive just sending off recipes with ingredients that may be unfamiliar but the chefs at Ely Headquarters did a terrific job, even sourcing garlic chives at a Chinese shop in place of wild garlic which was a bit of a challenge to find around the financial centre in Dublin. The chefs did a terrific job and over 120 people turned up on the Monday 7th March and had terrific fun.
Elaine said â€œI did all this without any grants or start-up loans, any loansÂ or savings. I wanted to have my own business. I’m neither a restaurateur, a chef or even a brilliant home cook nor am I trying to be, I’ve literally come out of nowhere because of my passion for cookbooks and the Irish chef authors who are the ambassadors of this Irish cuisine food revolutionâ€
A terrific idea that could be replicated around the country to create a win-win situation for the cookbook author, restaurant and guests who need a fun night and it was brilliant value for â‚¬35.00. Here are some of the recipes from my menu.
Salt Cod Croquetas with Garlic Aioli
Of all the ways of preparing salt cod, this one is always a favourite. Theyâ€™re an irresistible nibble or a delicious starter. Now that cod is becoming scarce we also salt ling and hake and use them in this recipe.
Serves 8, makes about 40
225g (8oz) skinned and boned dried salt cod (see recipe)
450g (1lb) medium-sized potatoes, peeled
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
freshly ground pepper
2 organic egg yolks
Garlic Aioli (see recipe)
oil for deep-fat frying
Soak the salt cod in several changes of cold water for 12â€“24 hours, depending on how salty it is. Drain.
Put the potatoes into a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 15â€“20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through. Meanwhile, cover the salt cod in cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 5â€“7 minutes or until the flesh has changed from translucent to opaque.
Drain the potatoes and push through a ricer into a bowl. Remove the skin from the cod, flake the flesh and mix with the mashed potatoes. Add the garlic, parsley, freshly ground pepper and egg yolks. Mix well. Taste and add salt if necessary.
To cook the croquetas, drop teaspoons of the mixture into hot oil. They will puff up and crisp on all sides. Drain on kitchen paper. Keep warm while you fry the remainder. Serve with garlic and saffron aioli or just plain aioli.
Nowadays we salt to preserve fish in the short-term or to enhance flavour so thereâ€™s no need to use so much salt or salt for so long as years ago. If you donâ€™t want to salt your own cod you can buy salt cod or â€˜battle boardâ€™ from K Oâ€™Connellâ€™s fishmongers in the English Market in Cork city.Â
dairy or sea salt
thick, unskinned cod fillet or ling fillet
Sprinkle a thin layer of dairy or sea salt over the base of a lasagne dish or plastic box.Â Put the cod or ling fillet on top.Â Cover it completely in another layer of salt.Â Cover and refrigerate overnight.Â By the next day, most of the salt will have turned into brine.Â Remove the cod from the brine and rinse under cold water.Â Cover with fresh water and leave to soak for 1 hour.Â Discard the water and dry the fish.Â It is now ready to be cooked.Â Salt cod can keep for up to a month if heavily salted, but we normally lightly salt it and use it within a couple of days or a week.
1-4 clove of garlic, depending on size
2 egg yolks, preferably free range
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard
1 dessertspoon White wine vinegar
8 fl ozs (250ml) oil (sunflower, arachide or olive oil or a mixture) – We use 6 fl ozs (175ml) arachide oil and 2 fl ozs (50ml) olive oil, alternatively use 7/1
2 teaspoons chopped parsley
Crush the garlic and add to the egg yolks just as you start to make the aioli.
Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, salt and the white wine vinegar (keep the whites to make meringues). Put the oil into a measure. Take a whisk in one hand and the oil in the other and drip the oil onto the egg yolks, drop by drop whisking at the same time. Within a minute you will notice that the mixture is beginning to thicken. When this happens you can add the oil a little faster, but don’t get too cheeky or it will suddenly curdle because the egg yolks can only absorb the oil at a certain pace. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.
If the aioli curdles it will suddenly become quite thin, and if left sitting the oil will start to float to the top of the sauce. If this happens you can quite easily rectify the situation by putting another egg yolk or 1-2 tablespoons of boiling water into a clean bowl, then whisk in the curdled aioli, a half teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.
Finally add the chopped parsley and taste for seasoning.
Brussels Sprout Tops
You wonâ€™t find these in a supermarket, but they are a real bonus for home gardeners who grow Brussels sprouts. These come from the top of the plant and look like shot Brussels sprouts. You can cook them as you would kale, or slice them thinly and add to salads and soups. Chefs are also starting to discover them, so look out for them on restaurant menus.
450g (1lb) Brussels sprout tops
6 teaspoons salt
butter or extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
Pick over the tops, trim any tough bits of stalk and chop the leaves roughly. Pop the surplus into the compost or hensâ€™ bucket.
Bring a large, high-sided saucepan of 2.3 litres (4 pints) of cold water to the boil on a high heat. Add the salt and the sprout tops and stir. Cover the saucepan. When the water comes back to the boil, remove the lid and continue to cook for 3â€“4 minutes or until the sprout tops are tender. Drain well.
Melt a little butter or heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in the saucepan, toss in the well-drained sprout tops. Season generously with freshly ground pepper. Taste, correct the seasoning and serve as soon as possible.
GruyÃ©re and Dill Tart
Shortcrust Pastry made with:
175g (6oz) plain white flour
75g (3oz) butter
1 egg yolk, preferably free-range
2 teaspoons cold water, approx.
75g (3oz) freshly grated GruyÃ©re or Emmental cheese
1-2 generous tablespoons fresh dill
350ml (12fl ozs) cream
4 eggs, preferably free-range
25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano
1 teaspoon salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 x 9 inch (23cm) tart tin
First make the pastry in the usual way and bake blind.
Flatten the pastry into a round, cover with greaseproof paper and leave to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 15 minutes. This will make the pastry much less elastic and easier to roll. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured worktop and line the tin, the pastry should come up just above the top of the tin. Line with kitchen paper and fill to the top with dried beans. Rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/gas mark 4.Â
Blind bake for 15 minutes. Remove the beans and paper.
Brush the prebaked tart shell with a little beaten egg and pop back into the oven for 5-10 minutes or until almost cooked. Cool.
Meanwhile whisk the eggs and the cream together in a bowl, add the GruyÃ©re and Parmesan Cheese and the freshly chopped dill. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg.
Pour the filling into the tart shell, bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approx. or until the filling is slightly puffy and golden brown.
Serve with a Tomato salad made from vine-ripened tomatoes and a good green salad.
Tip: Buy a chunk of cheese, wrap it well, store in the fridge and grate it freshly when you need it. Ready grated cheese does not taste as good.
Lemon Posset with Rose Scented Geranium
400ml (14fl oz) double cream
100g (3 1/2oz) caster sugar
5 leaves rose-scented geranium Â
2 fl oz (50 ml) lemon juice
tiny rose geranium leaves
Place the cream, sugar and rose geranium leaves in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for five minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, squeeze in the lemon juice, strain and allow to cool. Serve in small tall glasses each garnished with a tiny rose geranium leaf.
Fool Proof Food
Srikhand with Saffron and Pistachio Nuts
1kg (2 1/4lb) natural or Greek yoghurt
generous pinch of saffron strands
1 tablespoon warm water
1/4 teaspoon roughly crushed green cardamom seeds
225g (8oz) caster sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
Put the yoghurt into a clean bowl.Â Infuse the saffron in a tablespoon of warm water in a small bowl.Â Stir into every last drop into the yoghurt.Â Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods.Â Crush lightly, add to the yoghurt with the caster sugar, mix well.Â Turn into a serving dish.Â Chill.Â Sprinkle the top with roughly chopped pistachio nuts and serve.Â Delicious on its own but also memorable with Summer or Autumn berries.
Ross Lewis the Michelin-star chef and owner of Chapter One restaurant in Dublin has teamed up with Flahavanâ€™s to create six delicious recipes combining Flahavanâ€™s products with fresh local ingredients – www.flahavans.com/recipes
Dublin Tasting Trail – Eveleen and Pamela Coyleâ€™s Fabulous Food Trails are a wonderful treat â€“ a guided food walk around Dublin with lots of tastings on the way. Eveleen, Pamela and Roisin – Â all experienced guides – will take you off the beaten track to discover hidden delights. For more information phone 01 4971245 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or www.fabulousfoodtrails.ieÂ
Pat Shorttâ€™s pub in Castlemartyr, East Cork serves excellent pub food. Head Chef Mike Hanrahan (Ballymaloe graduate) has created a menu that is seasonal, fresh and very local; the vegetables come from across the road at the Village Greengrocers and the meat from Cliffords Butchers a few doors down. The fish is fresh off Trevor McNamaraâ€™s boat in Ballycotton and the cheese is from Carrigtohill â€“ Ardsallagh Goats Cheese and Waterford â€“ Knockanore Farm House Cheese. Bill Casey from Shanagarry supplies the smoked salmon. This is as local as it gets! The Seafood Chowder is excellent and so is the Irish Stew. Monday to Thursday 12pm â€“ 5pm and Friday and Saturday 12pm â€“ 8pm. 021 4623230.
Cork Free Choice Consumer Group Â – The Story of Cork Butter. The history of butter processing in Cork – a major industry that was started in a recession – what are the lessons for now? With Dr Colin Rynne, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, UCC Crawford Art Gallery CafÃ©, Cork City – Thursday 31st March at 7.30pm. Entrance 6 euro including tea & coffee.