ArchiveNovember 2013

Countdown to Christmas

Whoops! Christmas has sneaked up on us once again. The shops are brimming with tempting trinkets and baubles and canny shoppers are taking advantage of pre-Christmas bargains, and ticking off their lists.

How good does it feel to be organised, but more and more of challenge for so many who are trying to balance both time and budget.

If you have not already ordered your turkey or goose, do it today. Organic free range turkeys are still in short supply ever since the annual sales of New York dressed turkeys were stopped in 1999.

I like to find an old fashioned bronze turkey but well reared white turkeys can also be good if hung for long enough. I hang them for three weeks plus but that may not be to everyone’s taste. I personally find it greatly enhances the flavour.

A good ham is almost as much of challenge to find nowadays, as the paranoia around fat has forced producers to produce leaner and leaner ham which no longer has the sweetness or succulence of a fine fat ham.

This week’s column is the first of three devoted to a countdown to a traditional Christmas. I’ll include recipes for my favourite Christmas cakes, both a light and a rich version. I’ll also include JR Roberts’s recipe for Dundee cake. These can be made now wrapped and stored or they can be made closer to C – Day.

The Irish cranberry season has just started; we got the first plump berries from Ciara Morris in the Bog of Allen last week. Seek them out in the shops, they freeze perfectly or you can make the cranberry sauce now and also pot some up in small glass jars for presents.

Plum puddings can also be made ahead, again my favourite plum pudding recipe passed down through my grandmother’s family for many generations. Make a large, a medium and several teeny weenies for friends who would love juts a taste of a moist and succulent pudding. A pot of brandy or rum butter completes the gift.

Mincemeat also benefits from being made well ahead; here are two recipes both gluten free. These two can be added to your edible presents. Pickles, relishes, chutneys also benefit from a couple of weeks mellowing. Confiture d’Oignons is a particularly delicious accompaniment to have in the pantry to cheer up cold meats or to add to starter plates of coarse pates or terrines.

Italian Pan Forte is another yummy fruit and nut dense sweet meat that keeps for months – if you don’t fancy making it yourself order it well ahead from Patisserie Regale in West Cork –  (023) 8855344.

 

 

JR’s Dundee Cake

JR’s famous Dundee cake makes a lovely light Christmas Cake which can be iced or not as you please.

 

Makes 1 x 18cm (7 inch) round cake or 900g (2lb) loaf

 

225g (8oz) softened butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

grated rind of 1 large orange

4 eggs

225g (8oz) plain flour, sifted

50g (2oz) ground almonds

25g (1oz) mixed candied peel

100g (4oz) currants

100g (4oz) sultanas

100g (4oz) raisins

50g (2oz) glacé cherries, quartered

40-50 split blanched and peeled almonds

 

Preheat oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2 and line an 18cm (7 inch) round tin or a 900g (2lb) loaf tin.

 

Cream butter and sugar until smooth and light. Beat the eggs. Add in three stages alternating with a tablespoon of the flour between each addition. Beat thoroughly. Mix ground almonds, dried fruit and orange rind before folding into the mixture. Fold in the remaining flour carefully. Turn the mixture into the prepared tin and arrange the split almonds over the entire top.

 

Bake in the preheated oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow 10 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

 

Darina Allen’s Iced Christmas Cake

 

This makes a moist cake which keeps very well. It can either be made months ahead or, if you are frenetically busy then it will still be delish even if made just a few days before Christmas – believe me I know!.

 

Serves about 40

 

110g (4oz) real glacé cherries

50g (2oz) whole almonds

350g (12oz) best-quality sultanas

350g (12oz) best-quality currants

350g (12oz) best-quality raisins

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel

50g (2oz) ground almonds

zest of 1 organic unwaxed lemon

zest of 1 organic unwaxed orange

60ml (21⁄2 fl oz) Irish whiskey

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale, soft-brown sugar or golden caster sugar

6 organic eggs

275g (10oz) flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

1 large or 2 small Bramley seedling apples, grated

 

Line the base and sides of a 23cm (9 inch) round, or 20cm (8 inch) square tin with a double thickness of silicone paper. Then tie a double layer of brown paper around the outside of the tin. Have a sheet of brown or silicone paper to lay on top of the tin during cooking.

 

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

 

Preheat the oven to 160°C/ 325°F/gas mark 3.

 

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 mixed spice with the flour and stir gently into the butter mixture. Add the grated cooking apple to the plumped up fruit and stir into the butter mixture gently but thoroughly (don’t beat the mixture again or you will toughen the cake).

 

Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake – this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.

 

Now lay a double sheet of brown paper on top of the cake to protect the surface from the direct heat. Bake for 1 hour. Then reduce the heat to 150°C/300°F/gas mark 2 and bake for a further 21⁄2 hours, until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the remainder of the whiskey over the cake and leave it to cool in the tin.

 

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

 

Store in a cool, dry place; the longer the cake is stored the more mature it will be.

 

Almond Paste and Cake Icing

 

I ice the Christmas cake above with almond icing and decorate it with heart shapes made from the almond paste. Then I brush it with whisked egg yolk and pop it in the oven – simply delicious!.

 

Serves about 40

450g (1lb) golden caster sugar

450g (1lb) ground almonds

2 small organic eggs

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

a drop of pure almond extract

 

For Brushing on the Cake

 

1 organic egg white, lightly whisked, or sieved apricot jam (see page 448)

 

For the Fondant Icing

 

1 packet fondant (450g/1lb)

 

Sieve the caster sugar and mix with the ground almonds. Whisk the eggs, add the whiskey and 1 drop of almond extract, then add to the other ingredients and mix to a stiff paste. (You may not need all of the egg).

 

Sprinkle the worktop with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

 

Remove the paper from the cake. To make life easier for yourself, put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto the worktop and dust with some icing sugar. Take about half the almond paste and roll it out on the paper: it should be a little less than 1cm (1⁄2 inch) thick.

 

Paint the top of the cake with the egg white or apricot jam and put the cake, sticky-side down, onto the almond paste. Give the cake a thump to ensure it sticks and then cut around the edge. If the cake is a little round-shouldered, cut the almond paste a little larger; pull away the extra bits and keep for later to make hearts or holly leaves. Use a palette knife to press the extra almond paste in against the top of the cake and fill any gaps. Then slide a knife underneath the cake or, better still, underneath the paper and turn the cake the right way up. Peel off the greaseproof paper.

 

Then roll out 2 long strips of almond paste: trim an edge to the height of the cake with a palette knife. Paint both the cake and the almond paste lightly with egg white or apricot jam. Then press the strip against the sides of the cake: do not overlap or there will be a bulge with the uneven edge upwards. Trim the excess almond paste with a long-bladed knife and keep for decoration and to make almond biscuits. Use a straight-sided water glass to even the edges and smooth the join. Then rub the cake well with your hand to ensure a nice flat surface.

 

Leave in a cool, dry place for a few days to allow the almond paste to dry out; otherwise the oil in the almonds will seep through the fondant icing.

 

To fondant ice

 

Sprinkle a little icing sugar onto the worktop.

Roll out the sheet of fondant to a thickness of a scant 5mm (1⁄4 inch).

Paint the cake with egg white or apricot jam, then gently lift the sheet of icing and lay it over the top of the cake so it drapes evenly over the sides.

 

Press out any air bubbles with your hands, and then trim the base. Decorate as you wish. We use a little posy of winter leaves and berries including crab apples, elderberries, rosemary, old man’s beard and viburnum.

 

That’s just one option. You could also add simple shapes stamped out of the remaining fondant icing – stars, holly leaves, Santa’s – to produce an impressive result. Or you could use gold ribbon wrapped around the cake, tied in an ornate bow on the top.

 

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.

 

150g (5oz) butter

200g (7oz) flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

a pinch of salt

1 teaspoon Irish whiskey

1 teaspoon lemon juice

75g (3oz) ground almonds

6 egg whites

225g (8oz) castor sugar

75-110g (3-4oz) green or yellow cherries

50g (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/Gas Mark 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 1 1/2 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 1 1/2 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.

 

Mummy’s Plum Pudding

 

This recipe makes 2 large or 3 medium puddings.  The large size will serve 10-12 people, the medium 6-8 but I also like to make teeny weeny ones.

 

12 ozs (350g) raisins

12 ozs (350g) sultanas

12 ozs (350g) currants

12 ozs (350g) brown sugar

12 ozs (350g/6 cups) white breadcrumbs (non GM)

12 ozs (350g/3 cups) finely-chopped beef suet

4 ozs (110g/2 cup) diced candied peel (preferably home-made)

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

4 ozs (110g) chopped almonds

rind of 1 lemon

3 pounded cloves (1/2 teaspoon)

a pinch of salt

6 eggs

2 1/2 fl ozs (62ml) Jamaica Rum

 

Mix all the ingredients together very thoroughly and leave overnight; don’t forget, everyone in the family must stir and make a wish!  Next day stir again for good measure.  Fill into pudding bowls; cover with a double thickness of greaseproof paper which has been pleated in the centre, and tie it tightly under the rim with cotton twine, making a twine handle also for ease of lifting.

 

Steam in a covered saucepan of boiling water for 6 hours.  The water should come half way up the side of the bowl.  Check every hour or so and top up with boiling water if necessary.  After 5 hours, 3 hours, 2 hours depending on the size, remove the pudding.   Allow to get cold and re-cover with fresh greaseproof paper.  Store in a cool dry place until required.

 

On Christmas Day or whenever you wish to serve the plum pudding, steam for a further 2 hours.  Turn the plum pudding out of the bowl onto a very hot serving plate, pour over some whiskey or brandy and ignite.  Serve immediately on very hot plates with

Brandy Butter.

 

You might like to decorate the plum pudding with a sprig of holly; but take care not to set the holly on fire – as well as the pudding!

 

 

Hottips

Order your Christmas organic free-range bronze turkeys from Dan and Anne Ahern near Midleton Co Cork 021 4631058 or 086 1659258. Free-range bronze and white turkeys, geese, ducks and large chickens from Robbie Fitzsimmons of East Ferry Poultry – 086 8548574 and Tom Clancy in Ballycotton supplies free-range bronze turkeys, geese and ducks -086 3089431.

Super hams from Martin and Noreen Conroy – Woodside Farm 0872767206, TJ Crowe in Co Tipperary 062 71137 and Gubbeen Smoke House in West Cork 028 27824…to mention just a few.

Organic Irish Cranberries – Ciara Morris and Michael Camon of Slievebloom Farmhouse Foods have been growing four acres of organic cranberries on the only Irish cranberry farm since 2007. Their fresh berries are included on the menu in Michelin Star Restaurant Chapter One in Dublin and are available widely in supermarkets during the Christmas season. Their Cranberry & Mulled Wine Sauce and Cranberry Chutney won the Best Emerging Products Award at Listowel Food Festival in 2009 –  www.slievebloomfarmhousefoods.com

Raw Honey is the term loosely used to describe honey that has not been heated above 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) during extraction. Raw honey solidifies after extraction to a creamy slightly crystallised texture which I love. Consequently this honey has all the nutritional goodness, high antioxidant levels and healing properties. I recently tried a local honey Terry’s Raw Honey from Cloyne, East Cork. Available from the Ballymaloe Cookery School Shop. 021 4646785.

Pressure Cooking with Catherine Phipps

I thought the Slow Cooker and pressure cooker had gone out with the flood, but I was quite wrong. Having heard a recent BBC Radio 4 Food programme on the subject, I discovered that sales are booming once again.

Celebrity chefs are not exactly waxing lyrical on TV cooking programmes in the way they are embracing the Thermomix and Pacojet but the blogosphere is hopping. Real live, busy Mums and Dads have rediscovered these trusty cooking pots that between them tick all the relevant boxes. The slow cooker does wonders for cheap ingredients and uses a miniscule amount of electricity as it gently braises inexpensive cuts of meat to melting tenderness or of course it could be a plump chicken, a shoulder of pork or lamb, a bean stew… It seems to me that the slow cooker is the equivalent of a trusty friend that can literally have the family supper ready when you arrive home from work. What’s not to like about that?

The pressure cooker was the icon of the 1950s, but people of my age often have a very jaundiced view. The food that emerged could be quite samey in flavour although my Mum managed to cook many delicious soups and stews.

Nonetheless, to me as a child it always seemed to be a scary bit of kitchen equipment and we lived in fear of it exploding. Nowadays pressure cookers are much more sophisticated – state of the art stainless steel pots, with three, sometimes four release valves. They reach temperatures of 120º degrees and cook food 70 % faster on average than conventional pots. Apparently, iconic chef Heston Blumenthal swears by a pressure cooker to make stock so that’s worth contemplating.  I was also astonished to hear that one can make delicious crème caramels or Parmesan custards – I would have thought they would have curdled but apparently not. Meat, game, bean stews and dahls are all cooked in a twinkling thus saving time and expensive energy. All of the above would appear to be enough to rekindle interest in slow cookers and pressure cookers items than many of us relegated to the back of our cupboards years ago. They both, save time and energy, do wonders for cheap ingredients and have made it possible to make homely comforting food, seems to me it’s time to go rooting in the garage or to invest or re-invest in these two unlikely heroes of our time.

Here are some recipes from Catherine Phipps terrific new book – The Pressure Cooker Cookbook – over 150 Simple, Essential, Time-saving Recipes – published by Ebury Press.

 

Catherine Phipps Channa (Red Lentil) Dhal

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2cm piece of root ginger, finely chopped

300g red lentils or channa dhal, well rinsed

2 tablespoons chopped coriander stems

200g tinned chopped tomatoes

salt

 

coriander leaves, to garnish

sliced green chillies to garnish (optional)

1 lemon, cut into wedges, to serve

 

For the Spice Blend

 

5cm piece of cinnamon stick

4 cloves

4 green cardamom pods

2 black cardamom pods

1 mace blade

1 teaspoon coriander seed

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 teaspoon fenugreek seed, ground

½ teaspoon nigella seed

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

 

For the Temper

 

vegetable oil or ghee

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 onion sliced

 

Heat the vegetable oil in the pressure cooker. Add all the ingredients for the spice blend and fry until they start to splutter and smell aromatic. Add the chopped onion, garlic and ginger and continue to fry until everything has started to turn a light golden brown.

 

Stir in the lentils and the coriander stems, add a generous pinch of salt and pour over 750ml water and the tomatoes. Close the lid and bring to high pressure. Cook for 1 minute only, and then leave to release pressure naturally. Alternatively, cook for 5 minutes and fast release.

Stir thoroughly as much of the dhal will be sitting on the top.

Meanwhile make the ‘temper’. Heat a 3mm layer of oil or ghee in a frying pan. Add the cumin seed and fry until it starts to splutter, and then add the onion. Fry until it is soft and brown. Pour the onion and cumin mixture into the cooked lentils and add salt to taste. Simmer until thick. Garnish with fresh coriander, green chillies if you want extra heat and wedges of lemon for squeezing.

Catherine Phipps Parmesan Custards

 

butter for greasing

50g finely grated Parmesan

150ml milk

150ml single cream

2 egg yolks

pinch of cayenne

salt and freshly ground black and white pepper

 

For the shrimp paste

 

100g cooked brown shrimp

50g butter, plus more spreading

Squeeze of lemon juice

Grating of nutmeg

4 very thin slices of robust white sour dough bread

 

Cut out four circles of greaseproof paper, using the base circumference of your chosen receptacle as a template. Butter the paper circles and also your ramekins or cups.

 

Reserve 1 tablespoon of Parmesan and put the rest into a heatproof bowl with the milk and cream. Place the bowl over a pan of boiling water and warm through, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has melted. Be patient, this will take longer than you would expect. Allow to cool completely, then whisk in the egg yolks, some salt and white pepper and the pinch of cayenne.

 

Divide the mixture between the ramekins and cover each with a buttered circle of greaseproof paper – it needs to be touching the custard, not sitting above it, but there is no need for any additional cover. Put the steamer basket, upturned, in your pressure cooker. Place the ramekins on top and carefully pour boiling water around them. Close the lid and bring to high pressure. Cook for five minutes for a very soft set (I favour this), or 6 minutes if you want it slightly firmer, then remove from the heat and release pressure quickly.

 

While the custards are cooking, make the toasts. Puree together the shrimp, butter, lemon juice, nutmeg, salt and black pepper in a blender or food processor. Spread this over half the slices of sourdough and cover with the remaining slices to make this sandwiches. Butter the outsides of the bread and put in a heated sandwich maker, or grill both sides in a frying pan. Cut into soldiers.

 

Catherine Phipps Moroccan Spiced Lamb with Mint and Watermelon Salad

 

2 kgs lamb or mutton shoulder boned and cut into 4 pieces

100ml plain yoghurt

2 tablespoons olive oil

250ml pomegranate juice

250ml chicken stock or water

1 tablespoon rose water

3 small cucumbers topped tailed and sliced into ribbons

¼ large watermelon, seeded and cut into fairly small chunks

 

3 dried rosebuds crumbled (optional)

finely chopped mint to garnish

 

For the Ras el Hanout

 

large pinch of saffron

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon ground mace

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

6 dried rosebuds, crumbled

 

To make the Ras el Hanout, grind the saffron strands to a powder with a pestle and mortar. Combine with the rest of the spices and the rosebuds.

Put the meat in a non-metallic bowl or container. Mix the Res el Hanout with the yoghurt and massage well into the meat. Leave to marinate at least overnight (If you don’t have time to marinate, omit the yoghurt and just rub in the spice mix)

 

When you are ready to cook the meat, remove as much of the marinade as possible. Heat the oil in the pressure cooker and brown all the meat until seared and well caramelised. Pour over the pomegranate juice, stock and rose water. Close the lid then bring to high pressure. Cook for 45 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to release pressure naturally.

Remove the meat from the pressure cooker. Return the cooker to the heat and simmer the cooking liquor until it has reduced to the consistency of a light syrup, then strain it. While the liquor is reducing, shred the meat with a couple of forks.

Arrange the cucumber and watermelon on a large serving platter and sprinkle over all the shredded meat. Pout over some of the reduced cooking liquor and keep the rest in a jug on the side. Decorate with finely chopped mint and crumbled rose buds (optional)

 

Catherine Phipps Lemon Surprise Pudding

 

50 g butter

100g golden caster sugar

Grated zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons

2 eggs separated

25g self-raising flour

25g ground almonds

¼ teaspoon almond extract

 

Butter a round 18 – 20cm soufflé or pie dish. Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat the egg yolks into the creamed mixture, one at a time. Fold in the flour and almonds, then gradually pour in the milk and lemon juice. Don’t worry if the mixture curdles! Whisk the egg whites until dry and stiff, then fold into the lemony batter.

Pout into a prepared soufflé dish. Cover tightly with two layers of greaseproof paper. Place in the pressure cooker on top of the upturned steamer basket. Pout water into the pressure cooker until it is just short of the top of the basket. Lock the lid and bring to full pressure. Time for 5 minutes then remove from the heat. Slow release at room temperature. Serve hot or cold, with cream.

 

Hot Tips

Book of the Week

Flamboyant Irish potter Stephen Pearce has just published his auto biography, Warrior Spirit. It documents the story of a colourful life from his childhood in Shanagarry to the excitement and challenges he encountered in his roller coaster adventures through the decades.  Available from Stephen Pearce’s website www.stephenpearce.com

 

I’m a big fan of hardwood timber chopping boards. Buy a good one and you’ll have it for life. Sacha Whelan makes 1 inch plus hardwood boards which would make a gift which will literally last a lifetime. I recently came across Gertie McEvoy boards. She makes a range of boards of all sizes in her workshop in Abbeyleix, good looking, practical and chic –Sacha Whelan – 087 2618754 Gertie McEvoy 0868258201

 

To Celebrate Terra Madre Day ‘Saving Endangered Animal Breeds’ there is an East Cork Slow Food Event at Ballymaloe Cookery School. The story of the Bilberry Goats from Waterford is a fascinating one, Martin Doyle who rescued and saved them from extinction will join us on Thursday 28th November 2013 at 7:00pm.  Proceeds to go towards fundraising for the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. 021 4646785.

 

They say the best time to start a business is in a recession – lots of new restaurants opening recently. Perry Street Market Café on Perry Street is causing quite a stir in Cork – we enjoyed a frittata made with O’Connells Smoked Haddock and Ardsallagh Goats Cheese and an equally delicious fish pie. 021 427 8776. Pop your head into Best of Buds flower shop next door for beautiful blooms. 021 427 4783.

 

Margarine V Butter? Butter Wins Hands Down! It’s Official Butter is Good for You!

 

Hey guess what! Surprise, surprise butter is better for you than margarine or all those spreads, it’s all over the Examiner, Irish Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Times et al – how brilliant is that – 40 years later we discover that butter a totally natural product made from cream is better for us than margarine containing up to ten ingredients.

It’s even more bizarre than that, we’ve now discovered at long last that fat is good for us and that the low fat diets were in many cases detrimental to our health.

In a widely reported piece in the British Medical Journal, eminent cardiologist at Croyden University Hospital, Dr Aseem Malhotra argued that it was time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease. From his analysis of the independent evidence he has concluded that there is no argument to back up the theory that saturated fats from non-processed foods are detrimental to our health. He maintains that saturated fats have been ‘demonised’ ever since a landmark study in the 1970’s concluded that there was a correlation between the incidence of coronary heart disease and total cholesterol. An entire food industry has evolved and profited from this low fat mantra for almost four decades and the reality is low fat foods are often loaded with sugar and added salt, so according to Dr Malhotra it’s time for a paradigm shift,

“We are now learning that added sugar in food is driving the obesity epidemic plus the rise in diabetes and cardiovascular disease”

The relentless message that saturated fat must be avoided to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease has dominated public heath campaigns and dietary advice for almost 40 years. This recommendation clearly has not produced the desired result.

Dr Malhotra highlighted the fact that the amount of fat consumption in the US has decreased from 40 to 30% in the past 30 years yet obesity rates have rocketed. Questionable dietary advice has also led to the over medication of millions who have been prescribed statins to control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. When, he argues, “adopting a Mediterranean diet after a heart attack is almost three times as effective in reducing mortality as taking a statin.  Doctors need to embrace prevention as well as treatment”

Dr Malhotra argues that sugar rich foods are more likely to result in a heart attack via Metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms including high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity (the plague of the 21st century.) Butter, full fat milk, cheese and even eggs (for a period) were demonised while oil based spreads and low fat products flew off the shelves. Many schools changed over to serving low fat products to their students and even questions on the Leaving Certificate paper suggested that margarine was more beneficial to your health than butter, a fact that incensed my niece in her recent exam.

Despite the paranoia around cholesterol levels a recent University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study indicated that 75% of acute heart patients do not have ‘high cholesterol’

Sounds like it’s time to rethink the received wisdom and “bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease” This won’t be easy considering the huge vested interests in the low fat industry – wait for the backlash.

Professor Robert Lustig, Paediatric Endocrinologist at the University of San Francisco, commented “Food should confer wellness not illness and real food does just that, including saturated fat, but when saturated fat got mixed up with the high sugar added to processed food in the second half of the 20th century, it got a bad name. Which is worse the saturated fat or sugar? The American Heart Foundation has joined in the debate “Sugar many times over, plus added sugar causes all the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome instead of lowering serum cholesterol with statins, which is dubious at best, how about serving up real food?” They have a point.

 

Curly Kale Soup

 

The recent frost has sweetened the kale. One way to use it up is in this delicious soup. When I eat this, I feel like every mouthful is doing me good. Note that if this soup is to be reheated, just bring it to the boil and serve. Prolonged boiling spoils the colour and flavour of green soups.

 

Serves 6

 

50g (2oz) butter

140g (5oz) potatoes, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)

110g (4oz) onions, peeled and diced (7mm/1/3in)

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.2 litres (2 pints) chicken stock or vegetable stock

250g (9oz) curly kale leaves, stalks removed and chopped

50–125ml (2 – 4fl oz) cream or full-cream milk

 

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. When it foams, add the potatoes and onions and turn them in the butter until well-coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Add the stock and boil gently, covered, until the potatoes are soft. Add the kale and cook with the lid off, until the kale is cooked. Keep the lid off to retain the green colour. Do not overcook or the vegetables will lose both their fresh flavour and colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser or food processor. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add the cream or creamy milk just before serving.

 

Roast Pork with Crackling and Spiced Aubergines

 

You may need to order the joint ahead to ensure that the rind is still on – no rind – no crackling!

 

Serves 6-8

 

1 x 2.25kg (5 lbs) loin of organic free-range pork with the skin rind intact.

Maldon Sea salt

 

(optional)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Spiced Aubergines (see recipe)

 

Maldon sea salt

 

Rocket leaves

 

Score the skin at 1/4 inch (5mm) intervals running with the grain – let your butcher do this if possible because the skin, particularly of free range pork can be quite tough. This is to give you really good crackling and make it easier to carve later.

 

Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/regulo 5.

 

Sprinkle some salt over the rind and roast the joint on a wire rack in a roasting tin.  Allow 30-35 minutes per 1lb (450g). Baste with the rendered pork fat every now and then.

 

Meanwhile cook the Spiced Aubergines.

 

Just before the end of cooking time remove the pork to another roasting tin.  Return to the oven and increase the temperature to 230ºC/450ºF/regulo 8, to further crisp the crackling. When the joint is cooked the juices should run clear.  Put the pork onto a hot carving dish and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes in a low oven before carving.  Serve two slices of pork per person with some Spiced Aubergine and garnish with Rocket.   Sprinkle a few grains of Maldon sea salt over the pork.

Rustic roast potatoes and a good green salad would also be great.

 

Spiced Aubergine

 

Serves 6

 

500g (1 lb 2 ozs) aubergines

lots of extra virgin olive oil

 

1 inch (2.5cm) cube of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped

6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely crushed

50ml (2 fl ozs) water

 

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

350g (3/4 lb) very ripe tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or 1 x 400g (14ozs) tin tomatoes + 1 teaspoon sugar or honey to taste

1 tablespoon freshly ground coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like)

sea salt

50g (2ozs) raisins

 

Cut the aubergine into 3/4 inch (2cm) thick slices.  Heat a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive in a grill pan.  When hot, add some aubergine slices and cook until golden and tender on both sides.  Remove and drain on a wire rack over a baking sheet.  Repeat with the remainder of the aubergines, adding more oil if necessary.

Put the ginger, garlic and water into a blender.  Blend until fairly smooth.

 

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in the frying pan.  When hot, add the fennel and cumin seeds, (careful not to let them burn).  Stir for just a few seconds then put in the chopped tomato, the ginger-garlic mixture, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, salt and sugar or honey. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the spice mixture thickens slightly, 5-6 minutes.

 

Add the fried aubergine slices and raisins, and coat gently with the spicy sauce.  Cover the pan, turn the heat to very low and cook for another 3-4 minutes.  Serve warm.

 

The spiced aubergine mixture is also good served cold or at room temperature as an accompaniment to hot or cold lamb or pork.

 

Roast Potatoes

 

A big roasting tin of crusty roast potatoes always invokes a positive response. Everyone loves them. They are easy to achieve but I still get asked over and over for the secret of crunchy golden roasties. So here are my top tips:

 

Grow or seek out good-quality dry, floury potatoes such as Golden Wonders or Kerr’s Pinks. New potatoes do not produce good roast potatoes. For best results, peel the potatoes just before roasting. Resist the temptation to soak them in water, or understandably they will be soggy, due to the water they absorb. This has become common practice when people want to prepare ahead, not just for roasting, but also before boiling. After peeling, dry the potatoes meticulously with a tea-towel or kitchen paper. Otherwise, even when tossed in fat or oil, they will stick to the roasting tin. Consequently, when you turn them over as you will need to do halfway through the cooking, the crispy bit underneath will stick to the tin.

If you wish to prepare potatoes ahead, there are two options. Peel and dry each potato carefully, toss in extra virgin olive oil or fat of your choice, put into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. Alternatively, put into a plastic bag, twist the end, and refrigerate until needed. They will keep for 5 or 6 hours or overnight without discolouring.

 

Roast potatoes may be cooked in extra virgin olive oil, top-quality sunflower oil, duck fat, goose fat, pork fat (lard) or beef dripping. Each gives a delicious but different flavour. Depending on the flavour and texture you like, choose from the following cooking methods:

 

Toss the potatoes in the chosen fat and cook.

 

If you prefer a crunchier crust, put the peeled potatoes into a deep saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, simmer for 2–4 minutes only and drain. Dry each blanched potato and score the surface of each one with a fork. Then toss in the chosen oil or fat, season with salt and cook in a single layer in a heavy roasting pan in a preheated oven at 230ºC/450ºF/gas mark 8.

 

Drain the blanched potatoes, then put the saucepan with the potatoes inside over a medium heat, and shake the pot to dry the potatoes and fluff the blanched surface. Toss in your chosen oil or fat, season with salt and roast as above.

 

Note: some cooks, to create an even crunchier crust, like to toss the potatoes in a little flour seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper and maybe a pinch of cayenne pepper or smoked paprika.

 

Yoghurt with Honey and Dates

 

unsweetened natural yoghurt, very cold

Irish honey

Medjool dates, fresh

thick cream

fresh almonds or lightly toasted almonds

fresh mint leaves

 

For each person half-fill a pudding bowl or glass with yoghurt.

Stone dates and chop them roughly.  Put a few on the top of each helping of yoghurt.

Spoon a good dollop of thick cream over the top, and then trickle over 1 teaspoon of runny honey.

Scatter a few almonds and a couple of shredded mint leaves on top.

 

Hottips

The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards announced their shortlist in the Avonmore Cookbook of the year category.  Kevin Dundon’s Modern Irish Food, Chapter One Ross Lewis, 30 Years at Ballymaloe Darina Allen, Rachel’s Everyday Kitchen Rachel Allen, The Nations Favourite Food, Neven Maguire, The Weekend Chef Catherine Fulvio. You can vote for your favourite at www.irishbookawards.ie

Seek out heritage Woodside Saddleback pork from Martin and Noreen Conroy if you really want a fantastic joint of juicy (chemical free) pork with crackling. It sells out early at Midleton Farmers Market on a Saturday or Mahon Point on a Thursday – 087 2767206.

Ballymaloe Cookery School 12 Week Certificate graduate Caroline Gray has opened the cutest Café Gray in Greystones in Co Wicklow – I haven’t managed to get there yet but I hear terrific reports. 087-1260206.

I’m often asked for recommendations for places to eat or stay in Dublin. The capital food scene is exploding at present but I’m set in my ways and No. 31 in Leeson Close is still my home from home in Dublin. Great breakfast, love the fluffy cheese omelette and the little bowl of porridge! www.number31.ie

Gillian Hegarty’s Tuesday Supper Club at Ballymaloe House

Tuesday 19th November – Gillian prepares and cooks a Tuscan Dinner and on Tuesday 26th November Sunil Ghai from Ananda Restaurant in Dublin will join Gillian in the kitchen. Set four course meal including aperitif for €45 – to book – 021 4652531.

Feeding the 10,000 – Good Food Ireland Food Summit 2013

The recent Web Summit in the RDS in Dublin brought to Ireland by brilliant young entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave blew people out of the water. Paddy looks like a gangly curly haired cherub but can you imagine the crazy dreams inside that boys head. Just ten days before the 3rd Web Summit he contacted Margaret Jeffares, Founder of Good Food Ireland and asked if she would take on the feeding of the 10,000 and so the inaugural Food Summit in association with Good Food Ireland was born. What a blast – over sixty Good Food Ireland members rose to the occasion. Margaret contacted Rory O’Connell and asked him to manage the project – it was a tantalising but terrifying project – an irresistible opportunity not to be missed to give 10,000 delegates from over 30 countries a taste of some of the very best food Ireland has to offer.

Good Food Ireland has organised many outstandingly successful events but this was on quite a different scale. It’s difficult to resist Margaret Jeffares passion to showcase the best of what Ireland has to offer and her considerable powers of persuasion. Rory and herself put a plan together. A huge marquee was erected in Herbert Park close to the RDS. Kitchens were installed with the help of John Coughlan and his catering team. Good Food Ireland members from all four corners of Ireland, chefs, farmers, fishermen, cheese makers and bakers, black pudding and sausage makers, fish smokers…Glenilen brought their beautiful yoghurt and the Stanley’s served their Rossmore ice-cream made at their farm close to Rathdowney in Co Laois. Seafood Chowder from Carrygerry House near Shannon was also warmly received and the Shelbourne Hotel served 600 Carlingford Oysters in a couple of hours – where would you get oysters at a conference?

Artisan baker Robert Ditty baked his famous oat cakes and O’Connell’s Restaurant in Donnybrook served Hereford prime beef which had the techies drooling. Sunil Ghai from Ananda Restaurant made his homemade chicken tikka masala for thousands. Peter Ward from Country Choice in Nenagh brought 25 whole cooked hams (2,500 slices) and gave delegates a running commentary about the Good Food Ireland members who were serving their food. Gillian Hegarty from Ballymaloe House cooked 34 gallons of chickpea and Swiss chard stew which she had calculated to be enough for two days but was completely gone by 2pm on the first day when over 7,000 people poured into the Good Food Ireland Food Summit instead of the expected 5,000 plus.

The response to the food was phenomenal – Twitter went crazy and Good Food Ireland trended on Twitter. SO many people spontaneously came up to the Good Food Ireland members to thank them for the food which meant so much, to the many people who had voluntarily given up their days to give people a taste of the best of Irish Food. Many of the chefs and producers were totally out of food after the first day so there were amazing stories of Good Food Ireland members toiling through the night to make or bake enough food to make up the thousands of portions needed by Rory O’Connell for the second day.

Nora Egan drove home to Inch House in Co Tipperary where she and her girl made and cooked 40 new black puddings until 4am and then at the crack of dawn her son drove to Dublin with the freshly made puddings.

Barry Liscombe of Hartes Bar and Grill in Kildare was making 1,000 more chocolate truffle lollipops until two o’clock in the morning. Veronica Molloy of Crossogue Preserves came back again on Thursday to help out her Good Food Ireland Family, even though all her produce had been enjoyed. The legendary Helen Gee from Abbeyleix was busy slathering her delicious jam onto Waterford Blaas.

Mark Staples, chef from the Merrion Hotel rang his butcher and got enough meat to make almost 1000 portions of succulent beef casserole through the night.

Tom O’Connell headed back to his restaurant in Donnybrook and got his team to make another 2,000 portions of vegetable stew to serve with a fluffy vegetable couscous. The vegetarian and vegan options were hugely appreciated by the delegates and the team effort and determination to showcase the best Irish artisan and local food. Paddy Cosgrave and his team invited Margaret Jeffares, Rory O’Connell and the members of Good Food Ireland Food Summit team onto the main stage to receive a standing ovation and resounding cheers from the 10,000 Web Summit participants. Here are just a few of the recipes for some of the dishes that elicited an enthusiastic response.

For a full list of the Good Food Ireland members who did Ireland the Food Island proud see www.goodfoodireland.ie/t2/good-food-ireland-food-summit/6661

 

Mildly Spiced Curry of Dublin grown Vegetables with Green Saffron Curry Spices

 

From O’Connell’s Restaurant in Donnybrook, Dublin.

 

1 white onion | medium size – sliced thinly

½  a head of broccoli

½  a head of cauliflower

2 carrots – medium sized – cubed

2 peppers – red and yellow

any other root vegetable

fresh coriander – chopped

For the Sauce

coconut milk – 1 tin of 400 ml

double cream – 600ml

1 tablespoon korma curry spices (preferably Green Saffron Spices)

100ml sweet chilli sauce

optional chilli flakes for a spicier taste

salt & pepper to taste

 

First, fry the thinly sliced onions.   Add korma curry spices and cook of about 1 min. Stir well.   Stir in the cream and the coconut milk. Add sweet chilli sauce and bring gently to the boil.  Once the preparation reaches boiling point, reduce to ‘medium to low heat’ and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes or so until the sauce has thickened.

Season to taste. Whilst the sauce is simmering, steam the carrots, broccoli and cauliflower,  until ‘al dente’ .   You may decide to add other vegetable that you like to this selection.   Whilst steaming the vegetables, do not overcook (as they will keep on cooking gently whilst being reheated in the sauce). Slice and ‘seed’ the peppers – slices 1cm wide. Roast the slices until ‘al dente’ (do not over roast – as mentioned above).

When the sauce has thickened enough (coating the back of a spoon), add the vegetables and mix well. Just before serving, add some chopped coriander to taste.

 

Gillian Hegarty’s Chickpea, Swiss Chard and Tomato Stew

 

Gillian Hegarty of Ballymaloe House originally learned this recipe from Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers from the River Café in London.

 

Serves 6 – 8

 

175 g (6 oz) dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

1 large garlic clove, peeled

6 tablespoons olive oil

900 g (2 lb) Swiss chard leaves, washed and large stems removed (set aside to use in the recipe)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 red onion, peeled and sliced

2 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces

1 head of celery outer stalks removed peeled and diced finely

2 dried chillies, crumbled

2 teaspoons of fresh picked thyme leaves

3 cloves of garlic peeled and chopped

250 ml (8 fl oz) white wine

2 tablespoons tomato sauce

3 handfuls flat leaf parsley chopped

extra virgin olive oil

 

Drain the chickpeas and place in a saucepan with water to cover, add the garlic, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 45 minutes or until tender. Keep in their liquid until ready to use. Blanch the chard leaves and chop coarsely. Chop the chard stalks into half inch pieces

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and fry for a minute then season with salt and pepper. Put the lid on and cook for a further 20 minutes stirring frequently until they have completely collapsed.

Add the carrot, Chard stalks and celery cook slowly for 15 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Season with salt, pepper and chilli. Add the garlic and thyme leaves. Cook for a further 5mins with the lid off. Pour in the wine and reduce almost completely. Add the tomato sauce and reduce until very thick. Add the chickpeas and mix. Season and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chopped chard leaves at the very end to retain their colour and freshness.

Chop the parsley just before you are about to serve, stir  into the chickpeas, drizzle with about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

 

JR’s Handmade Rose Water Marshmallows

 

The delegates at the Web Summit loved these homemade marshmallows which JR Ryall of Ballymaloe House made.

 

 

Makes approximately 100

 

455g (1lb) granulated or caster sugar

1 tablespoon liquid glucose

9 gelatine leaves or 5 1/2 rounded teaspoons of powdered gelatine

2 large egg whites

1 tablespoon good quality rose water

red food colour paste

4 tablespoons icing sugar and 4 tablespoons cornflour sieved together

 

Line the bottom of a 30 x 20cm (11 x 8 inch) baking tray with parchment paper. Dust with sieved icing sugar and cornflour.

 

Place sugar, glucose and 200ml (7fl oz) of water in a heavy bottom saucepan. Stir to ensure all of the sugar is wet. Using a pastry brush dipped water, remove any sugar crystals from the side of the saucepan. Place the saucepan on a medium heat and bring to the boil. Once boiling do not stir, simply tilt the pot from side to side to ensure the solution heats evenly until it reaches 127°C/260°F. It is important to keep an eye on the temperature using a sugar thermometer.

 

Meanwhile, rehydrate the gelatine in 140ml (4 3/4fl oz) water.

 

When the boiling syrup reaches 110°C/230°F start whipping the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer until stiff peaks form.

 

Add the rehydrated gelatine and water into the syrup when it reaches 127°C/260°F and stir with a wooden spoon. The mixture will foam slightly, this is normal. Pour the hot syrup onto the egg whites and whip on full speed for 5-10 minutes until the marshmallow thickens and the bowl of the mixer is warm to the touch. Turn the speed of the mixer to low and whisk in the rosewater and enough food colour paste to turn the marshmallow baby pink.

 

Spoon the thick marshmallow mix onto the lined baking tray and smooth with a palette knife. Allow to set (usually takes 2 hours).

 

Dust the top of the marshmallow with the icing sugar and cornflour mix. Turn out onto a work surface, peel off the paper and cut into cubes. Roll each marshmallow in the cornflour and icing sugar mix to finish.

 

 

Ballymaloe Fudge

Fudge was also a huge hit at the Food Summit.

Makes 96 approx.

 

1/2 lb (225g) butter

2 lbs (900g) castor sugar

1 can evaporated milk

7 fl ozs (200ml) water

1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

 

Swiss roll tin 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33cm)

 

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a low heat. Add the milk, water, sugar and vanilla extract and stir with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved. Turn up the heat to simmer, stir constantly until it reaches the ‘soft ball’ stage – 113°C/235°F.

To test, put some of the fudge in a bowl of cold water.

When ready pull off the heat. Stir vigorously until it thickens and reaches the required consistency – thick and sandy.   Sit the base of the saucepan into a sink of cold water to stop the cooking.  Pour into a Swiss Roll tin and smooth the surface with a spatula.

Allow to cool and then cut into squares before it gets completely cold.

 

Hot Tips

Ballyvolane House recent winner in the Sunday Times Ultimate 100 British and Irish Hotels is collaborating again with Theatre Makers Ltd. who brought Madame Chavelle to Ballyvolane last autumn. Playwright/actor/director Jack Healy will perform a one-man-show of the epic poem “The Great Hunger” by Patrick Kavanagh while guests eat a sumptuous dinner on Saturday, 16th  November in the old barn at Ballyvolane House – brilliantly entertaining evening. Phone +353 25 36349 to book tickets – www.ballyvolanehouse.ie

Some Winter Courses at Ballymaloe Cookery School

Garden Workshop: Creating a Fruit Orchard and Winter Pruning with Susan Turner Monday 25th November 9:00am to 2:00pm – Learn how to choose fruit varieties for successional cropping, good storage ability and reliable resistance against pests and diseases. Plant and stake a tree correctly. Understand the pollination requirements for fruit trees when choosing varieties. Identify the difference between fruit buds and vegetative buds. Understand the difference between summer and winter pruning. Formative pruning of newly planted trees Prune the cropping tree. Rejuvenate an old orchard. €95.00 Lunch included – phone 021 4646785 to book.

Sushi tastes great and it is quick to prepare, which makes it ideal and great fun for home entertaining. Sign up for a half-day course at Ballymaloe Cookery School with Darina Allen and Shermin Mustafa on Wednesday 27th November 9:30am to 2:00pm and learn how to prepare the more popular sushi dishes and how to make seven different types of sushi. Students will have the opportunity to taste all the Sushi prepared during the course. Lunch included. Phone 021 4646785 to book or www.cookingisfun.ie

 

Delicious Little Plates!

Small plates are fast becoming a real enduring trend in restaurants. Rather than a full meal or even just a main course, one can order a series of little plates, which presents an opportunity to taste a wide variety of dishes on the menu; I love this way of eating. This is a concept I came across in the US about 10 years ago.

For many years now, some of my favourite restaurants in London have chosen this concept,  Terroirs, Pulpo, Barrafina, Duck Soup….. On a recent trip to London, I ate at their second venture, Raw Duck out on 5 Amhurst Road in Hackney. As before the emphasis is on fine ingredients, simply assembled. There’s a long blond, poured concrete counter with a scalloped edge on one side where you can watch your food being prepared and communal concrete tables along the other wall and an appealing deck area out behind.

Owners, Clare Lattin and Rory McCoy have cleverly brought together food from some of the best food producers in London,  Bread from E5 Bakehouse, Gelupo Ice-cream, decadent cakes and breakfast buns from Violet Cakes.  Meat, vegetables and cheese from Natoora.

On my last trip, I had delicious canned mackerel with heirloom tomatoes, I’ve always loved sardines on grilled bread but I’ve never eaten canned mackerel before but it was fantastically good. This time I wanted to taste virtually everything on the menu. Here is my version of some of the delicious plates I ate. There’s also a tempting wine list with biodynamic and natural wines.

Another couple of hot spots are Koya and the Koya Bar, both serving Japanese udon noodles. They were started by Irish man John Devitt. Initially, it was an Irish joke around London, well it’s no joke now with daily queues along Frith Street. Newly opened, Koya Bar opens at 8:30am for breakfast. There’s an amusing Japanese take on an English breakfast with noodles but there are more exciting things to try, the slithery silky Udon noodles are home made as is the dashi broth – already this fresh food has developed a cult following.

On this trip, a fortuitous meeting meant that I came home via Belfast which gave me the opportunity to eat at Ox in Oxford Street in Belfast. I’d read lots of terrific reviews which had whetted my appetite. The unpretentious almost spartan restaurant overlooks the River Lagan, simple unpainted timber tables, high ceilings and a warm welcome. Owners Alain Kerloc’h and Stephen Toman have a very impressive pedigree. The food is contemporary and ‘of the moment’ with many Nordic influences. They are obviously putting lots of effort into sourcing good ingredients. There’s a high level of skill and technique in the young multi ethnic team and a palpable excitement and wish to please. There’s a set menu with many choices and an impressive wine list. You’ll need to book ahead but as the Michelin Guide says, it’s worth a detour plus the train journey from Dublin to Belfast is one of the loveliest in the country.

 

Figs with Yoghurt, Sumac, Pistachio and Extra Virgin Olive Oil

 

Serves 4 as a starter or small plate

 

8 fresh figs in season

 

8 tablespoons Greek style natural yoghurt

2 teaspoons fresh sumac

3 – 4 teaspoons pistachios, halved

extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons honey

a few flakes of sea salt

 

Spoon two – three tablespoons of yoghurt onto each plate. Cut the figs into quarters, push gently down into the yoghurt. Sprinkle with sumac and pistachios, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and honey, serve.

 

Kale, Fennel, Radish and Parmesan Salad

 

Serves 4 as a starter or small plate

 

150g (5oz) green curly kale, stalks included

110g (4oz) fennel thinly sliced

8 French Breakfast radishes thinly sliced at a long angle

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Keep the sliced fennel and radishes in iced water for at least 5 minutes.

 

To serve

 

Remove the stalks from the kale and shred very finely.

 

Put some kale, drained fennel and radishes into a bowl. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Grate on some Parmesan with a slivery micro plane. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Toss and taste and serve.

 

Cacciatore with Honeycomb and Thyme Leaves

 

 

Serves 1 starter or small plate

 

 

one slice of Cacciatore, 1/4 inch thick

a little sliver of honeycomb or candied lemon peel

a sprig of thyme

a few flakes of sea salt

extra virgin olive oil

 

Lay the cheese on a warm plate, put the honeycomb or diced candied lemon peel in the centre of the slice. Lay a sprig of thyme on top and sprinkle a few flakes of sea salt and a drizzle of extra virgin oil on top.

 

Serve immediately.

 

Grilled Chicken with Yoghurt and Harissa

 

Serves 6 – as a starter or small plate

 

4 – 8 organic chicken thighs, depending on size

4 – 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

fresh thyme leaves

6 teaspoons harissa (see recipe)

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 tablespoons Greek yoghurt

18 – 24 fresh rocket leaves or coriander sprigs

 

Bone the chicken thighs, put them into a bowl, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with thyme leaves, salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes.

Heat a pangrill, put the chicken skin side down onto the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until crisp on one side then turn over and continue to cook until the juices run clear.

Allow to rest for a few minutes, slice into strips. Put a mound of chicken, skin side up on a plate. Spoon a large tablespoon of yoghurt onto the plate and put a teaspoon of harissa on top. Add a few fresh rocket leaves or some sprigs of coriander to each plate, sprinkle the chicken with a few flakes of sea salt. Serve immediately.

 

Harissa

 

Makes 100g (3 1/2oz)

 

10 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water for 20 minutes

5 fresh red chillies

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons – extra virgin olive oil

 

De-seed and roughly chop the dried and fresh chillies.  Put in a food processor with the garlic, cumin, coriander, salt and olive oil.  Whizz until smooth.

 

Store in a jar with a layer of olive oil over the top.  It will keep for 3 months.

 

Hot Tips

On a recent visit to Mahon Point Farmers Market I found several new products. Gubbeen with Moruga Scorpion chilli, a delicious super-hot hybrid chilli from central Trinidad, that’s a million times stronger than the ghost chilli – three chillies were enough to give a feisty tingle to 10kgs of Gubbeen pork, we all loved it. Kilree Goats Cheese made by Helen Finnegan of Knockdrinna was a find on Mark Hosford’s Cheese stall. He’d sold out of Anna Leveque’s goats crottin, I’ll have to get there earlier next time. Tom Clancy had lovely earthy Ballycotton Queens – ‘balls of flour’ – that had customers lining up but also quail eggs from Golden Quails, Rylane, Cork beside his own free range chickens. www.mahonpointfarmersmarket.com Every Thursday from 10am to 3pm.

 

Fancy something different for your staff Christmas outing this year? The team at Ballymaloe Cookery School will help you cook up a storm before sitting down to a delicious dinner that you and your colleagues have cooked together. Phone 021 4646785 – www.cookingisfun.ie

 

Limerick is gearing up to be City of Culture 2014 and is swiftly becoming a foodie hotspot. Food writer and blogger Valerie O’Connor has started Limerick Food Trails to show locals and visitors around the city’s many food gems. “We have a huge and thriving Milk market that attracts 6-8,000 visitors every Saturday, packed with the finest artisan produce from raw milk cheeses, sushi, free-range meats and locally made chocolate. Then there are wonderful food shops supporting local producers as well as traditional butchers making our world famous Limerick Ham. Limerick has so much to offer, the trails can change from week to week with endless surprises for the foodie from home or abroad”. www.valskitchen.com/foodtrails

 

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