ArchiveApril 2014

Finca Buenvino Andalusia

The mere mention of Finca Buenvino creates a ripple of happiness and joy among those of us who have already discovered this hidden gem nestled amidst the sweet chestnut trees and cork oaks of the Sierra de Aracena in Andalusia. A beautiful pink washed finca, perched on the top of the hill, with olive groves and fruit orchards in the valley below. Long legged black Iberian pigs snuffle around in the forests nibbling the acorns that give the jamón, salchichón and morcilla its unique flavour and the magnificent red retinto cattle renowned for their beef graze in the surrounding countryside, it’s an idyllic place.

Finca Buenvino has been home to ex-pats Sam and Jeanie Chesterton and their family for almost 30 years, it feels like staying in a wonderfully comfortable and convivial country house, crackling log fires, big comfy sofas, lots of books and good conversation, breath-taking views, star filled skies and I kid you not, there was a nightingale singing in the trees outside our bedroom window!

There’s a beautiful infinity pool overlooking the valley and several cottages tucked into the woods.  The mountain air is scented with pine, eucalyptus, and rosemary. Jeannie gives occasional cookery classes and a few lucky people can book well ahead to attend the annual la matanza  (pig killing and curing) as we did a couple of years ago. It all sounds too good to be true.

Imagine coming across a place away from the madding crowd, a place to stay where you feel like treasured family friends, look forward to every meal with a childlike excitement, enjoy tapas and a glass of vino around the fire on the terrace before dinner.

Well check it out if you don’t believe me…

Sam and Jeannie use fresh local ingredients: Iberian pork, mountain lamb and wild venison. Fish comes mainly from the Huelva coast. Eggs from their Violet Andalusian hens. They kill and cure their own jamón ibérico and bake fresh wholemeal loaves and Moroccan flat breads from organic flour shipped down from Albacete. Honey comes from the hives above the orchards, organic vegetables and herbs from the garden. In autumn, wild mushrooms spring up in the woods, while just picked chestnuts from the forest below the house, roasted in the open fire, are perfect with a glass of rich, dry Chesterton oloroso straight from the barrel which sits in the conservatory. This was a gift from a dear friend and the sherry is blended specially in Cozalez Byass bodega. Jeannie is a beautiful cook. I love her food and apart from being the most convivial of hosts Sam has his specialities too, I particularly remember his candied aubergines preserved in honey which he makes every year to use up the glut.

Meanwhile Jeannie and Sam have at long last published the Buenvino Cookbook which I personally, as well as their many, many fans, couldn’t wait to get my hands on.  They had a launch in London, Edinburgh (Jeannie’s home turf) and recently at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. Their friends Javier Jiménez Rodríguez and Alfonso Pérez Pardo hand carved the jamón, a 4 year old pata negra – one of the most sublime foods on earth, we enjoyed a variety of tapas with Lustau Manzanilla and Oloroso sherries and Rueda Verdejo white and red Rioja wines with Marcona almonds.

Rory O’Connell and his team cooked up paella to Jeannie’s recipe, tiny potato tortillas, ajo blanco a white almond soup with raisins soaked in Pedro Ximénez sherry and spinach, pickled anchovies, quail eggs with cumin and turmeric, manchego with membrillo.

Buenvino Cookbook by Jeannie and Sam Chesterton is published by Bene Factum Publishing Ltd.

 

Finca Buenvino Garlic and Almond Soup Ajo blanco

 

Cold almond soup has always been made in the Montes de Málaga, the steep hillocks which cut off the coastal strip from the mountains and plains of Antequera. In late winter and early spring, the hills are covered in almond blossom. In isolated farmhouses this soup would have been a refreshing summer staple, for it is extremely nourishing. It would originally have been made in a mortar with a pestle, but nowadays it is easier to make it in a food processor.

You will also find ajo blanco on the menu in many top class restaurants in Andalusia, where it’s simplicity and subtle blend of flavours is greatly appreciated.

 

Serves 8 as part of mixed tapas or 4 as a starter

 

For the soup

 

6 slices of white country bread, crusts removed

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

2 garlic cloves, or to taste

2 good fistfuls of blanched almonds

100 – 120ml good quality olive oil to taste

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar (the paler the better for looks!) or to taste

iced water

 

To serve

 

120g seedless sultanas or raisins

150ml Pedro Ximinez sherry or cream sherry

ground cumin, or toasted cumin seeds

extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Soak the bread in water until soft, then wring it out. Place the salt, garlic and almonds in a food processor and grind finely. Grind the bread together with the almond mixture until you have a paste. Now, with the processor still turning, gradually pour in the oil. Immediately the oil has been absorbed, pour in the vinegar. Now add the iced water – little by little – until you have a thin, creamy texture. Taste the soup, adding more salt or vinegar accordingly and mix well. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate. While the soup is chilling, simmer the raisins with the sherry in a pan over low heat until all the sherry has been absorbed and the raisins, then sprinkle with ground cumin or toasted cumin seeds. Swirl on a little extra virgin olive oil, if you like, to serve.

 

Finca Buenvino Mini Tortillas

 

This is an inspired idea for using up cold boiled potato left over from the previous day and much easier to make than a tortilla a la patata.

Peel and chop up the cooked potato finely, and place in a bowl with some chives and parsley. We used 450g (1lb) cooked potatoes and a tablespoon each of chopped chives and parsley.

Beat 4 eggs with some salt and pepper, and then pour them over the chopped potatoes. Stir together vigorously. It does not matter if the potatoes break up a little.

Now pour a little oil into a pan and heat gently. Spoon some of the egg and potato mix into the oil. Let it cook on one side, then flip. Each tortilla should be about the size of a small pancake or drop scone.

Place on a warm dish or keep in a low oven until you want to serve them. Don’t leave it more than 20 minutes. To eat them cold, just leave them on a cold plate to cool, then serve with a little mayonnaise or aoili. Fab!

 

Finca Buenvino Spinach with Chickpeas Espinacas Con Garbanzos

 

Chickpeas are a standard ingredient of Andalucian and Spanish cooking. When you go to the vegetable shops in Aracena you will often see the pulses soaking in a dish. They are deliciously nutty when you buy them this way or soak them yourself for 24 hours.

Spinach and chickpeas is one of the many Moorish dishes left to Spain. It has many variants, sometimes tomato is introduced, or cumin or mixed spices like cloves and cinnamon and black pepper. Feel free to try this. Another variation is Spinach with raisins and pine nuts. You can also stir in some grated Manchego cheese and put the little dishes under the grill at the last moment before going to table.

 

1 small onion, finely sliced (optional)

3 large tablespoons (serving spoons) olive oil, plus more to thicken

3 cloves of garlic roughly chopped into 3 or 4, or 1 small garlic clove, crushed

2kg (4lb 8oz) spinach

500g (1lb 2oz) soaked, cooked chickpeas

1 small clove of garlic, crushed, or

300ml (1/2 pint) chicken stock

2 tablespoons plain flour

spices to taste (cumin, pepper, cloves or pinchito spice)

2 teaspoons tomato purée (optional)

salt

freshly ground black pepper

 

If using the onion, wilt it in the olive oil, and then add the crushed garlic and spinach. Then, if using chopped garlic, stew it in the olive oil, allowing to turn golden. If using crushed garlic, just add it to the pan. Throw in the spinach, and wilt it down without burning (150ml/5fl oz of water can help at this point, to steam the spinach into submission) Add the chickpeas and half the stock. When all is warmed through, add the remaining stock.

Stir the flour in a little oil in a small bowl to make a runny paste. Take some of the liquid from the spinach and stir in into the paste, then tip back into the spinach and allow to thicken. If it’s too thick, add more stock or water.

Add the spices to taste and the tomato puree (if using). Season with salt and pepper and serve with thin slices of bread fried in olive oil.

 

Finca Buenvino Ginger Roulade

 

Serves 8 – 10

 

This is one the desserts I loved at Finca Buenvino.

“If you use treacle you will get a darker, saltier flavoured roulade with the faint liquorice flavour molasses brings with it. If you prefer a lighter ginger sponge, then go for golden syrup.”

Believe it not, it freezes perfectly cut in slices on a platter.

 

85g (3 oz) butter

225g (8 oz -1/4pt) golden syrup or treacle

60g (2 oz) granulated sugar

115g (4 oz) plain flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp ginger

1tsp cinnamon

1tsp allspice

1tsp nutmeg

1 free range egg separated

500ml (18fl oz) whipping cream, whipped

a few marrons glacés, chopped, or finely chopped stem ginger (optional)

 

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC gas mark 4. In a heavy based saucepan over a medium heat melt the butter, syrup or treacle and sugar with 115ml (4fl oz) water.

 

Mix the flour with the baking powder and spices and when the liquids have melted and cooled add the dry ingredients and the egg yolk.

 

Beat the egg white until it forms stiff peaks, and then fold into the mixture.

 

Line a Swiss roll tin with silicon paper and bake in the oven at 350ºF/180ºC for 12 -15 minutes.

 

Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to cool.

 

Turn the sponge out of the tin and remove the papers.  Mix the whipped cream with the marrons glacés or for a more intense ginger flavour, the stem ginger, or neither, spread it over the cake, then roll it up. Sift over icing sugar to serve.

 Hot Tips

Just 3 weeks to go until The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine 2014. Rene Redzepi, Simon Hopkinson, Thomasina Miers, Rowley Leigh, Maggie Beer… Don’t miss the cookery demonstration with Diana Kennedy, an octogenarian force of nature who is travelling from her ecological adobe house in the foothills of Mexico to share her passion and immense knowledge of Mexican food. Another cookery demonstration high on my list is Maggie Beer- she will using some of her favourite ingredients to make delicious dishes such as Oysters with Verjuice and Eschalote or Chocolate Tart using Vino Cotto. Tickets are still available for many of the inspirational talks but advanced booking is advised – www.litfest.ie  for more information and to see the full list of events and I’ll keep you posted.

 

Wild and Free Food

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

 

Young nettles are springing up all over the place, they are best in Spring when they are young and tender and not too strongly flavoured.

We use them to make soup, either alone or mixed with wild garlic. They make a super nettle pesto and are a terrific addition to champ or buttered spinach. We even use them as a topping for pizzas with ricotta cheese.

You’ll need gloves to protect your hands. If you do get stung, rub with a dock leaf to relieve the pain – happily, they usually grow side by side. With their high iron and vitamin C content, nettles were prominent in folk medicine and, like many other wild foods, they helped in some small measure to alleviate hunger during the Irish famine. Among the older generation, the tradition of eating nettles four times during the month of May to clear the blood still persists. In fact, herbalists confirm that nettles contain iron, formic acid, histamine, ammonia, silica acid and potassium. These minerals are known to help rheumatism, sciatica and other pains. They lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels to increase the haemoglobin in the blood, improve circulation and purify the system, so our ancestors weren’t far wrong.

In more recent times, nettles have become a much sought-after ingredient for trendy chefs. We have been delighted by the demand for organic nettles at our stall at the farmers’ market in nearby Midleton. They wilt quickly, so use them fast.

 

The asparagus season is a couple of weeks late this year – but it’s now in the markets – so feast on it for the next few weeks. Telephone Tim York – 086 8593996.

 

New Trends from the Big Apple

So what new trends did I see in the US this time?

Well as ever there’s lots going on and New Yorkers are always on the lookout for the new ‘big thing’. Readers may remember my piece of Saturday July 20th 2013 on queuing for 2 hours in the rain to buy a cronut (a cross between a croissant and a doughnut) at  Dominique Ansel’s, bakery in Soho and very very delicious it was too. Well they are still queuing around the corner of Spring Street but Dominique has done it again. His latest genius creation is a play on the milk and cookie theme, a chocolate chip cookie with ice cold milk inside.  Essentially it’s a shot glass shaped chocolate chip cookie lined with chocolate and then filled with Tahitian vanilla flavoured organic milk. Ansel created a special aerated dough, crispy on the edges with a moist centre and Valrhona chocolate chips.  As with the cronut customers are limited to 2 per person at present. Apparently his inspiration came after he tasted his first Oreo cookie a few weeks ago – who would have thought it!

Apart from all that, small plates are everywhere from chic neighbourhood restaurants to gastro pubs and posh places.  A counter reaction to the gross portions that we have come to associate with so many fast food restaurants. These plates are meant for sharing so one can order and sample 5 or 6 dishes or even 7 or 8. Tiny desserts too are a brilliant concept, almost guilt free so we’ll try 2 or 3 little bites!

A raw fish section on many menus is super popular. John Dory had several choices including Kampachi with crispy fish skin and Myoga ginger, Spanish mackerel with yaita olives, wasabi greens and tiny blobs of lemon mayo.

I also had periwinkles and Winter chantrelles on toast and a lobster roll with a bowl of gaufrette potatoes before Dulche de Leche tart with mascarpone cream and a few flakes of sea salt over the top, – small plates …..

Meat balls were served in a variety of ways and on sliders (tiny burger buns skewered with a bamboo skewer), Roast or fried Brussel sprouts, cauliflower and kale in lots of guises.

Brooklyn is still hopping; Best BBQ is Fette SV, Williamsburg.

For the best pulled pork sandwich made with heritage pork of course head for Mighty Quinn close by on 27th N 6th Street. St Anselm also in Brooklyn has a cult following who are prepared to wait over an hour in the local pub Sputyen Duyvil while their table comes free.

America’s love affair with bacon continues. It’s all about amazing house made bacon and amazing ice creams, sometimes in combination. Anyone for blue cheese ice cream with candied bacon and burnt orange cheesecake or housemade vanilla ice-cream with Pork crackling and chocolate sauce – I’m not so sure….but I did eat amazing Parsnip ice-cream (Ignacio Mattos’s) Estella’s and mussel escabeche on toast, another place to definitely add to your list.

Lots of heirloom grains and pulses, lard is super cool and at Pearl and Ash one of the hottest items on the menu is smoked bread with organic chicken fat. How about that for a turn around, the word is out that good fat is good for you after all. A recent study from Cambridge University and the Harvard School of public health published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that they found no link, repeat, no link between consumption of saturated fats and heart attacks or other cardiovascular problems. Saturated fats are found mostly in meat and dairy so this is very good news indeed for our meat and dairy industries – not that it’s any surprise to me!

Craft everything, beer, cider, spirits, housemade lemonades, relishes, pickles, hot sauce – the Ottolenghi effect has spread to the US so Middle Eastern flavours are wowing customers everywhere.

Every chef who possibly can is growing food somewhere, anywhere in the backyard, on the roof, up the walls, in boxes…

The range of foods and salad greens continued to expand with farmers adding the health benefits to the labels in the markets.

The coolest chefs are cooking over ‘live fire’. The allergy and food intolerance is now big business. Ramen shops are popping up everywhere. The New York Times Dining section did a whole piece on the hot spots if you would like to be on the inner groove http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/05/dining/ramens-big-splash.html?ref=petewells&_r=0

I stayed at the Ace hotel and loved it. Best breakfast I ate was at the Breslin and Buvette. By the way I pay all my own bills so I can say what I like, no strings attached!

 

Cibli Turkish – Fried Egg with Paprika

 

Great starters everywhere, Zanne Stewart shared this recipe for one of her favourites.

 

Serves 2

 

2 free range eggs

4 tablespoons natural yoghurt

1 small clove garlic, crushed

pinch salt

 

25g – 50g (1 – 2 oz) butter or extra virgin olive

¼ – ½ teaspoons smoked paprika

 

Put the yoghurt into a bowl; add a very little garlic and a pinch of salt, set aside.

Melt some butter or extra virgin olive oil in a pan; fry the eggs on a high heat. Transfer the eggs onto a warm plate. Add more butter or oil to the pan; add a generous sprinkle of smoked paprika. Put a dollop of thick yoghurt on top of each egg. Drizzle with paprika butter or oil and serve immediately with toasted sour dough bread.

 

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Chorizo and Parmesan Aioli

 

This is my interpretation of a starter I enjoyed at The Diner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn – everything I ate there was memorable.

 

Makes 4 small plates

12 Brussels sprouts

 

Chorizo Crumbs

 

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

125g (4 1/2oz) chorizo, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice

100g (3 1/2oz) coarse white breadcrumbs

 

6 – 8 anchovies

flat parsley sprigs

Parmesan Aoili (see recipe)

 

First make the Parmesan Aioli and then the chorizo bread crumbs (you’ll have more than you need) Put the oil into a cool pan, add the diced chorizo.  Toss on a low heat until the oil starts to run and the chorizo begins to crisp.  Careful it’s easy to burn the chorizo, drain through a metal sieve, save the oil and return to the pan. Increase the heat, add coarse breadcrumbs and toss in the chorizo oil until crisp and golden.  Drain and add to the chorizo.

 

Trim and split the sprouts in half. Fry in hot oil for 3 or 4 minutes. Spread a slick of Parmesan Aioli on a plate; preferably oval shaped. Arrange six fried half Brussels sprouts on top, some cut side up, tuck a few bits of anchovy in here and there.  Sprinkle chorizo crumbs and sprigs of flat parsley over the top. Serve immediately while the sprouts are still hot. They also scattered some celery tops and little tiny pieces of kale over the dish – the combination was super delicious.

 

Parmesan Aioli

 

2 egg yolks, preferably free range

1-4 cloves garlic, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

pinch of English mustard or 1/4 teaspoon French mustard

1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar

8 fl ozs (225ml) 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 of freshly chopped parsley (optional)

2oz finely grated Parmesan cheese

 

Serve with cold cooked meats, fowl, fish, eggs and vegetables.

 

Put the egg yolks into a bowl with the mustard, garlic 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. Add the grated Parmesan and chopped parsley. Taste and add a little more seasoning and vinegar if necessary.

 

Reynard’s Dutch Pancakes

Makes 4

3 free range eggs

175ml (6fl ozs) milk

75oz (3oz) all-purpose flour

salt to taste

3/4 tablespoons clarified butter

 

Topping

4 slices cooked ham

75-110g (3-4ozs) Gruyére cheese, grated

maple syrup (optional)

2 teaspoon thyme leaves

freshly ground pepper
We use small, 15cm (6 inch) cast iron pans for ours.

Preheat an oven to 230°/450°F/Gas Mark 8.

Whisk all the ingredients together for the batter. Melt a scant tablespoon of clarified butter in each of the cast iron pans over a high heat, pour 1/4 of the batter into the hot pan.  Transfer into the preheated oven, they will bubble up.   Reduce temperature to 200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6 and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Add a slice of cooked ham and a good sprinkle of grated Gruyére cheese.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes or until the cheese melts. Slide onto a warm plate.

 

Drizzle with maple syrup (optional), sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and a grind of freshly cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.

 

Ramen

Ramen is the ultimate comfort food, it needs to be well flavoured but it can be varied in so many ways. The broth can be a mixture of chicken, pork, dashi, miso or vegetable based. Noodles can be traditional wheat ramen noodles or you can use buckwheat or brown rice noodles if it needs to be gluten free. The meat can be braised brisket or short ribs, pork shoulder, pork belly or bacon, tofu or shrimp. It’s whatever vegetables are in season, fresh herbs that you like. You can top it with softish hardboiled egg, nori, sesame seeds or nuts. The variations are endless. It’s also a fantastic way to use leftovers at any time of year. Here’s a basic starting point.

 

Serves 6

1.8 litres (3 pints) homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2.5cm (1 inch) chunk ginger root, gently smashed
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

300g (10oz) cooked squash or pumpkin, diced into 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

2 chillies, finely sliced
200g (7oz) ramen noodles or other Chinese noodles
100g (3 1/2oz) Mizuna or spinach or Swiss chard or kale, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons coriander, roughly chopped
freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime

450g (1lb)  roasted turkey, chicken thighs, with or without skin, sliced
3  ‘hardboiled’ eggs – cook for 7-8 minutes rather than 10
6 green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

6 lime wedges
Heat chicken stock with soy sauce, mirin and ginger. Simmer gently for 5 to 10 minutes. Discard the ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sesame oil, squash and sliced chilli and simmer for 10 minutes.
Cook the noodles in boiling water until just tender (usually 4 to 5 minutes but check the directions on the package). Drain well.  Add the mizuna to the soup, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the coriander and lime juice.
Place the noodles in each bowl, top with the sliced chicken. Ladle the broth over noodles.  Shell the eggs, halve and lay 1/2 an egg in each bowl and sprinkle with lots of green spring onions and garnish with a lime wedge. Eat while very hot — broth first and then other ingredients or any way you want.

Soft-cooked eggs

 

Lower the eggs gently into a medium sized saucepan of boiling, salted water. When water returns to the boil, cover the pot and turn off the heat. Allow to rest for 7-8 minutes. Drain the eggs and cool in a bowl of cold water. Crack the shells, peel and cut in half lengthwise just before serving.

 

Hot Tips

 

Just 6 weeks to go until The Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine 2014. Rene Redzepi, Maggie Beer, Diana Kennedy, Ariana Bundy… You can’t imagine the line-up and you can check out ‘RTE’s Finest’ Catherine Fulvio, Martin Shanahan and Paul Flynn who will be giving a cookery demonstration or perhaps listen to a talk ‘Celebrating Elizabeth David’ with Tom Doorley and John McKenna in conversation with Jill Norman. The wine and drink element is also beyond exciting, meet Lilian Barton, Telmo Rodriguez, Alberto Zenato, Brian Nation…Tickets are still available for many of the inspirational talks but advanced booking is advised – www.litfest.ie  for more information and to see the full list of events and I’ll keep you posted.

 

Foraged foods from local woods, hedgerows and sea shore have been part of the Ballymaloe House menu for over forty years and not just in Autumn but throughout the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. This year we are offering a Spring and Autumn Walk on the Wild Side with Darina Allen on Saturday 26th April 9:30 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday 20th September 2014. After just one day you’ll learn how to identify and use over forty wild food, plants, wild flowers, nuts, berries, fungi, seaweeds and shellfish depending on the season. Suitable for chefs or for anyone with an interest in foraging for pleasure or to earn a living. www.cookingisfun.ie

 

Connemara Mussel Festival is a celebration of Killary Bay mussels which takes place every May Bank Holiday Weekend. The festival includes mussel cooking demonstrations, heritage walks, a country market and lots of craic. www.slowfoodireland.com/event/connemara-mussel-festival-2014/

 

Slow Food Ireland has just re-launched its website www.slowfood.com  Check it out to see upcoming Slow Food events around the country.  Next East Cork Slow Food event is a Celebration of Local Food at Sage Restaurant Midleton. Kevin Aherne will create a 12 mile dinner menu, featuring local producers within a 12 mile radius. 021 4639682 – book now, places are very limited www.sagerestaurant.ie

 

Easter

Great excitement here, we have just hatched out a clutch of fluffy chicks in time for Easter. Several weeks ago we put a batch of fertile eggs into the incubator, plugged it in and hoped for the best. Both students and grandchildren were agog with anticipation. Twenty one days later we heard faint cheeping and eventually a few damp little chicks pecked their way out of the eggs. After several hours they fluff up and get perky enough to be moved out under the infra-red lamp in the Palais des Poulet.

After a few weeks they will grow pin feathers and eventually proper plumage. We’ll have to wait and see which grow little tails, those will turn into fine cockerels and the others will mature into hens. We’ll fatten up the cockerels for the pot and the hens will keep us supplied with beautiful fresh eggs.

A few weeks ago I was in New York and guess what, the coolest new hobbies are still keeping chickens in your back yard and bees on your roof, can you imagine? They are even selling hens and chicken food in some of the Farmers Markets in Brooklyn.

It’s almost as big a craze as urban farming; so many people are growing a few vegetables and fruit right there in Manhattan and in the boroughs. At the Farmers Market in Union Square, several stalls are selling eggs from different types of rare breed hens, the beautiful blue green eggs of the aracanas were selling at several dollars a dozen more than the other heirloom varieties. At Dean and De Lucca, possibly the poshest food shop in Manhattan, beautiful duck eggs sell individually for 2 or 3 dollars each.

Eggs were also starring on restaurant menus, both for dinner and lunch as well as brunch, but now with the breed and provenance clearly written on the menu. There is a fast growing awareness of food issues and everyone is all aflutter to hear that butter and all good fats are not harmful after all.

We’ve just made and iced a lovely Simnel cake for Easter. I’ve topped it with eleven balls of marzipan to represent eleven of the twelve apostles. Judas doesn’t make it to the top of the cake for obvious reasons. One has to watch it like a hawk while it’s toasting because we scorched it on several occasions in the past. I have also got hot cross buns rising, how lovely is that?

This is a particularly nice recipe that we have been tweaking for a while. Try it and let me know what you think. I love hot cross buns at any time but I particularly love them toasted for breakfast on Easter Sunday.

For Easter Sunday lunch, of course its Spring lamb, sweet, succulent and tender, it needs no further embellishment. Just roast it in a moderate oven with a few flakes of sea salt sprinkled over the top. Serve it with fresh mint sauce made from the new season’s mint, lots of roast potatoes and maybe the first Irish asparagus or sea kale.

For dessert it has to be a rhubarb tart, I love my mum’s rhubarb tart but for a change I am including this delicious rhubarb crumble tart which I think you will love. Happy Easter, Spring is here at last!

Roast Leg of Spring Lamb with Sea Salt, Mint Sauce

 

Serves 6-8

 

Young Spring Lamb is sweet and succulent and needs absolutely no embellishment apart from a dusting of salt and pepper and a little fresh Mint Sauce – made from the first tender sprigs of mint from the cold frame in the Kitchen garden.  Follow it with Rhubarb crumble made with the first pink spears of the season.  For me this is the quintessential taste of Easter.

 

1 leg of Spring lamb

Maldon or Irish Atlantic Sea Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Gravy:

600ml (1 pint) lamb or chicken stock

A little roux

Salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Garnish:

Sprigs of fresh mint and parsley

 

Mint Sauce – see recipe

 

If possible ask your butcher to remove the aitch bone from the top of the leg of lamb so that it will be easier to carve later, then trim the knuckle end of the leg.  Season the skin with salt and freshly ground pepper.   Put into a roasting tin.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.   Roast for 1-1 1/4 hours approximately for rare, 1 1/4 –1 1/2 hours for medium and 1 1/2-1 3/4 hours for well done, depending on size.  When the lamb is cooked to your taste, remove the joint to a carving dish.  Rest the lamb for 10 minutes before carving.

Meanwhile make the gravy.   Degrease the juices in the roasting tin and add stock.  Bring to the boil and whisk in a little roux to thicken slightly.   Taste and allow to bubble up until the flavour is concentrated enough.  Correct the seasoning and serve hot with the lamb, roast spring onions and lots of crusty roast potatoes.

 

Mint Sauce

 

Mint sauce is easy peasy to make it takes only minutes to make. For those who are expecting a bright green jelly, real mint sauce has a slightly dull colour and watery texture but tastes fresh and delicious.

Makes about 175ml (6fl oz);

 

Serves about 6

 

25g (1oz) fresh mint, finely chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

110ml (4fl oz) boiling water

25ml (1fl oz) white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

 

Put the freshly chopped mint and sugar into a sauce boat. Add the boiling water and vinegar or lemon juice. Allow to infuse for 5–10 minutes, before serving.

 

Hot Cross Buns

 

 

Nowadays Hot Cross Buns are eaten in Ireland from Ash Wednesday to Easter and beyond.

 

Makes 16

 

25g (1oz) fresh yeast

75-110g (3-4oz) castor sugar

450g (1lb) bakers flour

75g (3oz) butter

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

2-3 teaspoons mixed spice, depending how fresh it is

1 level teaspoon of salt

2 organic eggs

225-300ml (8-10 fl oz) tepid milk

75g (3oz) currants

50g (2oz) sultanas

25g (1oz) candied peel, chopped

egg wash made with milk, sugar, 1 organic egg yolk, whisked together

Liquid Cross

 

50g (2oz) white flour

1 tablespoon melted butter

4-5 tablespoons cold water

 

To Make the Hot Cross Buns

 

Dissolve the yeast with 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a little tepid milk.

Put the flour into a bowl, rub in the butter, add the cinnamon, nutmeg, mixed spice, a pinch of salt and the remainder of the sugar.  Mix well. Whisk the eggs and add to the milk. Make a well in the centre of the flour, add the yeast and most of the liquid and mix to a soft dough, adding a little more milk if necessary.

 

Cover and leave to rest for 2 or 3 minutes then knead by hand or in a food processor until smooth.  Add the currants, sultanas and mixed peel and continue to knead until the dough is shiny. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it doubles in size.

 

“Knock back”, by kneading for 3 or 4 minutes, rest for a few minutes.  Divide the mixture into 14 balls, each weighing about 50g (2oz). Knead each slightly and shape into buns.  Place on a lightly floured tray.  Egg wash and leave to rise.

 

If using short crust, arrange a cross of pastry on each one.  Leave to rise until double in size.  Then egg wash a second time carefully.

 

We tend to decorate with what we call a “liquid cross”.  To make this, mix the flour, melted butter and water together to form a thick liquid.  Fill into a paper piping bag and pipe a liquid cross on top of each bun.

 

Preheat the oven to 220ºC/425ºF/gas mark 6.

 

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6 for a further 10 minutes or until golden.  Leave to cool on a wire rack.  Split in two and serve with butter.

 

Crunchy Rhubarb Crumble Tart

 

Serves 8

 

Pastry

6 ozs (175g) plain white flour

3 ozs (75g) butter

1 dessertspoon castor sugar

1 beaten egg, approximately

 

 

5-6 stalks of red rhubarb

75-110g (3-4oz)

 

 

Crumble

3 ozs (75g) unsalted butter

3 ozs (75g) plain white flour

6 ozs (175g granulated sugar from the vanilla pod jar

3 ozs (75g) chopped almonds (unpeeled)

 

9 – 10 inch (23-25.5cm) tart tin or 6 x 10cm (4 inch) tartlet tins

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

 

To Serve

softly whipped cream

 

First make the pastry.

Sieve the flour and sugar into a bowl, cut the butter into cubes and rub into the flour with the fingertips. Keep everything as cool as possible; if the fat is allowed to melt the finished pastry may be tough. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, stop.

Whisk the egg. Take a fork or knife (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and add just enough liquid to bring the pastry together, then discard the fork and collect the pastry into a ball with your hands. This way you can judge more accurately if you need a few more drops of liquid. Although slightly damp pastry is easier to handle and roll out, the resulting crust can be tough and may well shrink out of shape as the water evaporates in the oven.

 

The drier and more difficult-to-handle pastry will give a crisper, ‘shorter’ crust. Cover and rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

 

Line the tart or tartlet tins with pastry. Chill.  Bake blind in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes approximately until the pastry is three quarters cooked, remove from the oven.  Take out the baking beans, brush with beaten egg wash and place back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool.

 

Fill with chopped rhubarb and sprinkle generously with 75-110g (3-4oz) sugar before adding the crumble topping.

 

Next make the crumble.

Rub the butter into the flour and sugar to make a coarse crumble. Add chopped almonds. Spread the crumble over the top of the rhubarb.

Bake in a preheated oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4 until fully cooked – 45-50 minutes.

 

Serve warm or cold with a bowl of softly whipped cream.

 

Simnel Cake

Simnel Cake is a traditional Easter cake. It has a layer of almond paste baked into the centre and a thick layer of almond icing on top.  The 11 balls represent 11 of the 12 apostles – Judas is missing because he betrayed Jesus.

 

8 ozs (225g) butter

8 ozs (225g) pale, soft brown sugar

6 eggs, preferably free range

10 ozs (275g) white flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

2 1/2 fl ozs (35ml) Irish whiskey

12 ozs (350g) best quality sultanas

12 ozs (350g) best quality currants

12 ozs (350g) best quality raisins

4 ozs (110g) cherries

4 ozs (110g) homemade candied peel

2 ozs (50g) whole almonds

2 ozs (50g) ground almonds

rind of 1 lemon

rind of 1 orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

 

Almond Paste

 

1 lb (450g) ground almonds

1 lb (450g) castor sugar

2 small eggs

a drop of pure almond extract

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

 

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

 

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

 

Next make the almond paste.

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

 

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

 

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

Put half of the cake mixture into the prepared tin, roll about half of the almond paste into an 8 1/2 inch (21.5cm) round. Place this on top of the cake mixture in the tin and cover with the remaining mixture. Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip you hand in water and pat it over the surface of the cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked. Cover the top with a single sheet of brown paper.

 

Put into the preheated oven; reduce the heat to 160°C/325°F/regulo 3 after 1 hour. Bake until cooked, 3 – 3 1/2 hours approx., test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out completely clean. Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cake and leave to cool in the tin.

 

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

 

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

 

When you wish to ice the cake, roll the remainder of the almond paste into a 9 inch (23cm) round. Brush the cake with a little lightly beaten egg white and top with the almond paste. Roll the remainder of the paste into 11 balls. Score the top of the cake in 1 1/2 inch (4cm) squares or diamonds. Brush with beaten egg yolk; stick the ‘apostles’ around the outer edge of the top, brush with beaten egg. Toast in a preheated oven 220°C/425°F/regulo 7, for 15-20 minutes or until slightly golden. Decorate with an Easter Chicken.  Cut while warm or store for several weeks when cold.

 

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

 

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

 

Hot Tips

 

Growing Unusual Vegetables with Klaus Laitenberger at The Organic Centre in Rossinver on Saturday 26 April. There are hundreds of plants you could grow for food, but Klaus will concentrate on a few unusual crops like Kohlrabi, Scorzonera, Celeriac, Oca, Mashua, Yacon, Lentils, Amaranth, Quinoa as well as some unusual fruits such as Sea Buckthorn, Aronia, and Rosehips. Klaus will teach you how to source, sow, plant, and look after them. Price: €65.00 – www.theorganiccentre.ie

 

Date for your Diary – The 8th Burren Slow Food Festival Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th May 2014. Pavilion Theatre Complex, Lisdoonvarna, Co. Clare. The three day event packs in the best of food culture in Clare, featuring produce from local growers, food producers and traders. Events include a large indoor and outdoor farmers market, Burren walks, wild foods, seaweed foraging, beer tasting… Look out for special offers at local restaurants and hotels too – www.slowfoodclare.com

 

 

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