ArchiveDecember 2015

Book Tokens

There’s always a big flurry of new cookbooks published in time for the Christmas pressie market. You may already have one or two but if perchance you still have a couple of spare gift tokens hanging around, swing by your local bookshop they may have some special after Christmas offers. Here are a few of my favourite 2015 titles.

Several exciting new voices are emerging on the food scene. Anna Jones first book  A Modern Way to Eat published in 2014, really piqued my curiosity. The sequel A Modern Way to Cook is one of my stand out books of the year.

Olia Hercules, another hot new talent, who brings us a taste of  little known East European food . In her new book Mamushka, she casts a spotlight on the food of her native Ukraine and neighbouring countries whetting our appetites with her evocative prose, charming reminisces and super delicious recipes. She completed a diploma in Leith’s in London, did a spell in Italy and an inspirational stint with Yotam and Sami at Ottlenghi in London. Then it was home to record her mum and grandma’s recipes……she followed them round the kitchen with a scales and measuring spoons in an effort to accurately record their pinches,  handfuls and glugs of this and that. I loved this fascinating and enchanting book.

Sabrina Ghayour, a self-taught chef is yet another beauty. Her debut cookbook Persiana has become an instant classic. She was named by the Observer Food magazine as one of the Rising Stars of 2014 and the Evening Standard named her as one of the 1,000 most influential people in London. Sabrina focuses on Persian and Middle Eastern Cooking.  Page after page of tempting, fresh tasting recipes that made me want to dash into the kitchen and roll up my sleeves. If you haven’t already discovered Sabrina, she’s another one to watch and her book Persiana is definitely worth parting with one of your precious gift tokens for.

I love anything Nigel Slater writes and his latest A Year of Good Eating Kitchen Diaries iii doesn’t disappoint. I also loved Sally Clarke’s 30 Ingredients. She’s a beautiful cook – recipes for the sort of food we really enjoy.  Alice Waters’ new book, My Pantry which she wrote with her daughter Fanny Singer is a sweet collection of essays and recipes. A charming little book where they share the simple building blocks that they use to create comforting impromptu meals all year round.

Tartine, Techniques and Recipes by Cortney Burns and Nicolaus Balla is another of my books of the year. Bread baking buffs will already have Tartine, Tartine Bread amd Tartine No. 3, but this book is quite different. Here Cortney and Nicolaus focus on fermented and pickled foods and share the secrets of the experimental journey they’ve been on for over a decade. Last time I was in San Francisco, they took me through the kitchen and pantry where they’re were all manner of things bubbling in barrels and jars in every corner. They were breathless with excitement about their discoveries and the book they were writing and now they have accepted our invitation to join us for the Kerrygold Litfest this year from May 20th -22nd 2016. www.litfest.ie

According to Tom Tivnan – features editor of trade magazine The Bookseller, the biggest trend so far this year are so called ‘clean eating cookbooks’. Cookbook sales are up this year by 10% plus. An astonishing 13,000 cookbooks were published world of which 1,800 were aimed at the so called ‘healthy eating brigade’. 8/10 books sold in 2015 was aimed at this market.

Ella Woodward’s Deliciously Ella has been the runaway success of the year.

On the Irish publishing scene, there have been several ‘stand out’ books this year. Rachel Allen’s new book Coast to accompany her coastal cooking series has tremendous  appeal as has the long awaited Cooking at the Ballymore Inn  by Georgina O Sullivan. Simple and delicious recipes loved by devotees of Barry and Georgina’s Inn in Ballymore Eustace in Co Kildare.

The K Club Cookbook from producer to plate is an elaborate production,  a handsome hard back which would make a super present for a keen ambitious cook. Donal Skehan’s star continues to rise. His  newest book Fresh has also been warmly received. Last but not least, a book closely connected to rural life, the Irish Country Women’s Association Book of Home and Family, has been a tremendous success.  If you haven’t already got a copy, seek it out for its selection of time honoured favourites.

PANANG BEEF

Georgina O’ Sullivan’s Penang Beef with Fresh Green Chutney

Make this a day or two ahead and the flavours will settle and improve, and it can be kept in the fridge. The tamarind adds a slightly sweet-sour flavour to curries. It’s sold two ways, in blocks of pulp which needs to be mixed with warm water and strained to remove the hard black seeds, or in jars as a concentrated paste.

 

Serves 8-10 /1 hour preparation and 1½ hours to cook /a little effort

 

2-3 tablespoons oil

2-3 large onions, finely chopped

3kg shoulder/chuck Irish beef, well- trimmed, cut into finger size strips

 

Spice Paste

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped

1 tablespoon lemongrass, chopped

3 red chillies, chopped

rind & juice of 2 limes

2 teaspoons sugar

100ml tamarind liquid

half can anchovies

 

Spices

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon turmeric

 

100g peanuts, roasted & chopped

2 x 400g cans coconut milk

1 X 400g can chopped tomatoes

salt & black pepper

 

Fresh Green Chutney

250ml Greek-style yogurt

2 tablespoons mint

2 tablespoons coriander

2 green chillies, chopped

salt

 

Start with the onionsin a large pan heat a tablespoon of the oil and brown the onions really well. If they are browning too quickly, add a splash of water and continue cooking (you don’t need more oil). When the onions are browned, transfer to a large deep casserole.

Sauté the beef in the same pan with the remaining oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Transfer the beef as it browns to the onions in the casserole dish.

Next blend the spice paste: place all the ingredients in a processor and whiz for a minute. Remove and add to the beef and onions. Then, in a small pan, roast the coriander and cumin seeds, grind in a coffee/spice grinder and add to the casserole with the turmeric, peanuts, coconut milk, tomatoes and seasoning, cover and cook gently for 1 hour 30 minutes or until the beef is tender. Taste for seasoning: you want a good balance of flavours – hot, sour, sweet and salty – garnish with chopped fresh coriander, extra red chilli and peanuts.

To serve: this curry goes well with basmati rice or flatbread  and it goes especially well with fresh green chutney (see overleaf for recipe).

 

To make the chutney place the yogurt in a bowl. Put the herbs, chillies and salt in the processor with 1 tablespoon of the yogurt. Whiz to a paste, then stir the mixture through the remaining yogurt in the bowl and taste for seasoning.

 

Cumin Chicken

 

Georgina O’ Sullivan’s Cumin Spiced Chicken

When cooking this dish, the size of pan is hugely important: if it’s too large, the cooking liquid will evaporate and you’ll have very little sauce at the end of cooking time. If it’s too small, then the flavours won’t have room to mingle. Ideally, the pan should hold all the ingredients comfortably. Over time it is good to build up a variety of different sized pans; sauté pans with lids that are flameproof are the most useful.

 

Serves 4

30 minutes plus cooking time/easy

                                     

1 large Irish free-range Irish chicken

3 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 red chillies, chopped

4-5 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted

1 tablespoon flour

salt & black pepper

450ml stock or water

 

Start by cutting the chicken into 8 piecesIf you have the time, use the wing tips and backbone to make some stock. Set the oven to Gas 4/180˚C/350°F. Heat a pan with a tablespoon of the oil, add the chillies and garlic and cook gently for a few minutes, set aside. Grind the cumin seeds in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, then take half the cumin and add to the flour in a bowl with the seasoning and mix well. Add the chilli and garlic mixture to the remaining cumin in the mortar and pestle and mix to a paste.

Next coat the chicken pieces in the cumin-seasoned flour, heat the remaining oil in a large pan and brown the chicken on all sides. Add the spice paste and stock, mix well, cover the pan and cook in the oven for 40 minutes, until fully cooked: digital probe 75˚C. Check the seasoning and serve the chicken with rice, alongside a bowl of mixed salad leaves.

 

Sally Clarke’s Spiced Pumpkin, Tomato and Chickpea Stew

 

Although this is a rustic dish, and should therefore look a little ‘homely’ when presented, it is advisable to take care when slicing the vegetables, so that the individual ingredients look uniform in shape and size.

 

2 kg pumpkin or squash, blue hubbard, crown prince, onion squash or similar

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

½tsp yellow or black mustard seeds

4 cardamom pods

100ml vegetable or light olive oil

2 cloves garlic crushed to a cream

1 small green or red chilli, finely chopped (with seeds if extra heat is preferred)

1 large onion, peeled and finely sliced

2 sticks celery, finely sliced on the angle

1 fennel bulb, finely sliced

1 tsp salt

1 litre vegetable or chicken stock

½ bunch coriander, washed, leaves kept whole and stalks finely chopped

4 large tomatoes

350 g cooked chickpeas (canned are fine)

Large handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

 

 

Wash the pumpkin or squash and cut into large wedges. Remove the tough outer skin and the hard seeds. Cut into pieces the size of a walnut.

In a small pan gently heat all the spices together for a few minutes or until they are fragrant. Do not allow them to burn. Remove the husks of the cardamom and add the seeds to the remaining spices. Crush them together in a pestle and mortar or grind in a spice grinder.

Heat the oil and spices together in a large, heavy-based pan with the garlic and chilli, over a medium heat, stirring continuously to avoid burning.

When the oil starts to become aromatic (approximately 1 –2 min – utes), add the pumpkin, onion, celery and fennel, stir well, coating everything in the infused oil. Add salt and cook together for a few minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the stock and the chopped coriander stalks and cover with a lid. Simmer for up to 20 minutes or until the vegetables have become tender throughout.

 

Meanwhile blanch the tomatoes for a few seconds in a pan of boiling water. Remove to a bowl of iced water, then peel.

Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the stew with the chickpeas and continue to simmer for a further 5-10 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and add the parsley and coriander leaves before serving alongside steamed rice, crushed potatoes, baked polenta or just by itself as a robust soup.

 

 

Sally Clarke’s Campari, Clementine and Vanilla Sorbet with Clementine Zest Madelines

 

 

For the sorbet

100ml water

200 g caster sugar

½ vanilla pod, split lengthwise

600ml freshly squeezed clementine juice (15 –20 clementines)

150ml Campari

 

For the madeleines

Zest of 3 clementines

2 eggs

110 g caster sugar

110 g flour, plus extra for preparing the tin

90 g melted butter, plus extra for preparing the tin

 

To make the sorbet. Bring the water, sugar and vanilla pod to the boil and simmer for 5–10 minutes or until some of the vanilla seeds have been released. When cool, scrape a few more seeds into the syrup, rinse the pod and keep for another use. Add the clementine juice to the syrup and then the Campari. Stir well and pour into an ice cream machine and churn following the manufactuer’s instructions. Just before it is firm, scoop into a freezer container and freeze for up to 1 week, although this sorbet will be best served within a few hours. Serve with a warm madeleine on the side.

 

To make the Madelines

Clementines are not as easy as oranges to zest – as they are softer and smaller – it is tricky to get any ‘purchase’ on the fruit whilst grating the rind. The important part is not to collect any pith as you grate, so slowly and gently does it. Lightly whisk the eggs and sugar with the clementine zest until very frothy. Using the whisk, fold in the sieved flour and then the cooled butter. Leave to rest for up to 30 minutes, covered in a cool place.

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/350°F/gas mark 4. Brush the madeleine moulds generously with soft butter, sprinkle with flour and knock out the excess. This will ensure that the little cakes, once cooked, fall out of the moulds with ease. With a dessert spoon or large teaspoon, scoop the filling into the moulds, almost to the rims. Bake for 10–12 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden. Leave to cool for a few minutes then tap them out of the tin and serve as soon as possible

 

Bar Tartine’s Overgrown Garden Pickles

Turn to this recipe in late summer when your garden goes into overdrive or when there is a deal on the ugly but delicious vegetables at the farmers’ market. It’s a simple technique that can be used for almost any vegetable, resulting in a glut of pickles to enjoy well into the winter months.

 

Makes 11.5 litres

Enough whole vegetables such as cucumbers, (flower ends removed), summer squash, onions, carrots, beets, green tomatoes, green beans to fill an 11.5 litre container

280 g (2 cups) kosher salt

7.5 litres (14 pints/8 quart) water

8 garlic cloves

4 shallots, peeled

5 serrano or jalapeno chillies, or any hot chillies from the garden, stemmed

2 bunches of fresh dill

Fresh herb sprigs such as basil, tarragon, parsley or marjoram for garnish

Fennel oil or extra virgin olive oil for garnish

 

Put all of the vegetables in an 11.5 litre non-reactive container. In a separate non-reactive container, dissolve the salt in the water to make a brine. Transfer about 480 ml (18 fl oz/2 cups) of the brine to a blender; add the garlic, shallots and chillies; process on high speed, pour the puree into the remaining salt brine and stir to mix well. Add the dill bunches to the vegetables, then pour the brine over them. Top the vegetables with a weight to keep them submerged in the brine. Seal the container, using a lid with an airlock, if you have one. If you have sealed it without an airlock, open the container every few days or so to release carbon dioxide build up and check for mould. Place in a clean, well-protected low light area with an ambient temperature  16-20C/60-68F until the pickles taste sour, about 1 month. Refrigerate for up to a year.

To serve – slice the pickles into bit size pieces and return them to the brine. Refrigerate until serving, for up to one year. We like to garnish these pickles with torn garden herbs and fennel oil.

Leftovers

Last week I was asked a seemingly simple question by a food writer – ‘which do you love most – Christmas dinner or the leftovers’, well now, doesn’t that set you thinking…..

Even when you are super organised, Christmas dinner is still quite a mission, but whipping up some recycled leftovers is a more chilled affair entirely. I love the improvisation and creative challenge of incorporating dollops of this and that into something entirely different. Think Asian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Mexican as well as traditional favourites.

So let’s think what you might have left over apart from the usual morsels of turkey, ham or goose, maybe plum pudding, stale bread, cranberries, sprouts….

Several of these, eg cranberries can be frozen for another time and the sauce itself (see last week’s recipe) is good for months. Mincemeat has a long shelf life, a year at least and can gradually be used when the fancy takes you. It makes delicious Eccles cakes and Pear, Frangipane and Mincemeat tart, all very morish when served warm. Add a teaspoon of mincemeat to a basic muffin recipe and serve them warm with left over brandy or rum butter, no need to apolgise for that, in fact there could well be a ‘scrap’ to get the last morsel.

Fresh or frozen cranberries can also be added to muffins or a cranberry loaf popped into ice cubes with a fresh mint leaf to enhance Christmas lemonades and sodas. They are also super delicious added to pear compote. Apple and cranberry chutney goes deliciously with pork or some cold duck or goose. Left over bread of all kinds can of course be frozen, made into breadcrumbs for gratins or pannagratto or as a basis for a bread and butter pudding.

We’ve also got delicious recipes for mincemeat and for a Cranberry and Raisin bread and butter pudding.

Brussel Sprouts keep well in a cold larder or a fridge but basically they are best when they are really fresh.  Do try them roasted or shredded into salads or quickly blanched and dressed as a last minute addition to risotto or a pilaff rice with lots of grated Parmesan or Coolea cheese and maybe a few crisp cubes of chorizo or Merquez sausage scattered over the top.

The remains of the ham is a bonus rather than a bother, apart from sandwiches and wraps, it can be eaked out in toasties, croque monsieur and eggs benedict. So here are some more recommendations to whet your appetite and empty out your fridge and pantry in a fun and delicious way

 

Hot Tips

Watch out for RTE’s Christmas cookery programmes.  My brother Rory O’ Connell and I have just shot two programmes, first of which will be shown on Tuesday December 22nd 2015.

O’ Connell’s Restaurant in Donnybrook, Dublin have the iconic O’ Connell Sherry Trifle back this year. A perfect gift for trifle devotees.  Available in three sizes. The trifle comes in a glass bowl, topped with berries, gift wrapped and ready to serve. Tel: 01 269 6116 or http://oconnellsrestaurant.com

 

Eggs Benedict

 

This recipe is a combination of two forgotten skills: poaching eggs and making Hollandaise sauce (which also involves eggs). It is the perfect breakfast for a lazy weekend.

 

Serves 4 (or 2 if very hungry)

 

Hollandaise Sauce (see recipe)

4 organic eggs

4 slices good sourdough bread or 2 English muffins or 2 bagels

butter

4 slices home-cooked ham or 8 rashers good bacon, cooked

 

First, make the Hollandaise sauce and keep it warm. Poach the eggs. Meanwhile, toast the bread, muffins or bagels. Slather a little butter on the hot bread and lay a slice of ham or freshly cooked crispy bacon on the base. Prop a beautifully poached egg on top and coat generously with the Hollandaise sauce.

 

Hollandaise Sauce

 

A classic Hollandaise is based on a reduction of dry white wine, vinegar and finely chopped shallots. In the version we make at the Cookery School we simply emulsify rich butter with egg yolks by whisking and then sharpen with a little lemon juice. Unless you have a heavy-based saucepan, don’t attempt this recipe without a bain-marie. Even on the lowest heat, cooking a Hollandaise sauce in a pot that isn’t heavy-based may scramble the eggs.

Once the sauce is made, it must be kept warm, though the temperature should not go above 80ºC (180ºF), or the sauce will curdle. A thermos flask can provide a simple solution on a small scale; otherwise put the sauce into a Delft or plastic bowl in a saucepan of hot, but not simmering, water. Hollandaise sauce cannot be reheated very successfully so it’s best to make just the quantity you need. If, however you have a little left over, use it to enrich other sauces or mashed potatoes. When it solidifies, it makes a delicious Hollandaise butter to melt over fish.

 

Serves 4–6

2 organic egg yolks

125g (5oz) butter, cut into dice

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

 

Put the egg yolks in a heavy, stainless-steel saucepan on a low heat or in a bowl over hot water. Add 2 teaspoons water and whisk thoroughly. Add the butter bit by bit, whisking all the time. As soon as one piece melts, add the next piece. The mixture will gradually thicken, but if it shows signs of becoming too thick or slightly scrambling, remove from the heat immediately and add a little cold water to cool it quickly. Do not leave the pan or stop whisking until the sauce is made. Finally add the lemon juice to taste.

If the sauce is slow to thicken it may be because you are excessively cautious and the heat is too low. Increase the heat slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens to coating consistency.

It is important to remember that if you are making Hollandaise sauce in a saucepan directly over the heat, it should be possible to put your hand on the side of the saucepan at any stage. If the saucepan feels too hot for your hand, then it is also too hot for the sauce.

Another good tip if you are making Hollandaise sauce for the first time is to keep a bowl of cold water close by so you can plunge the base of the saucepan into it if becomes too hot.

 

Oaxacan Turkey Soup with Accompaniments

We love this light broth with lots of tasty accompaniment to add in at the table.

 

Serves 6

 

1.8 litres (3 pints/7 1/2 cups) well-flavoured, well skimmed and well-seasoned turkey or chicken stock

salt and freshly ground black pepper

225g (8ozs) shredded, cooked or raw turkey or chicken

 

Tasty Accompaniments

6 medium tomatoes, 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

2-3 ripe Hass avocados, 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

2 medium red onion, 5mm (1/4 inch) dice

3 green Serrano or Jalapeno chillies, thinly sliced

3 limes

3-4 corn tortillas

4-6 tablespoons (5- 7 1/2 American tablespoons) of coriander leaves or coarsely chopped

 

Put the turkey or chicken stock into a wide saucepan, bring to the boil.  Taste and season, it should have a full rich flavour otherwise the soup with be bland and insipid.

Meanwhile cut each tortilla into 8 ‘chips’.  Heat oil in a deep-fry to 180C.  Cook a few at a time until crisp, drain on kitchen paper.

 

Just before serving.

Add the shredded turkey or chicken to the hot broth – I sometimes use scraps from the  carcass from the stockpot but it could be raw or cooked, either brown or white meat.  Cooked meat just needs to be reheated in the broth.  Raw white meat will take a few minutes to cook and brown meat a little longer.  Poach it gently so it doesn’t toughen.  Taste again and correct the seasoning.

Ladle into soup bowls.  Provide each guest with a side plate with some diced avocado, tomato, red onions, sliced green chilli, coriander leaves, tortilla chips and a segment of fresh lime to add to their soup as they choose.

 

Pilaff Rice with Yummy Left Overs

 

Although a risotto can be made in 20 minutes it entails 20 minutes pretty constant stirring which makes it feel rather laboursome. A pilaff on the other hand looks after itself once the initial cooking is underway. The pilaff is versatile – serve it as a staple or add whatever tasty bits you have to hand. Beware however of using pilaff as a dustbin, all additions should be carefully seasoned and balanced. Here we add turkey and ham.

 

Serves 8

 

1 oz (30g/1/4 stick) butter

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) finely chopped onion or shallot

14 ozs (400g) long-grain rice (preferably Basmati)

32 fl ozs (975ml/4 cups) homemade turkey or chicken stock

salt and freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives: optional

8 ozs (200 g) cooked turkey, diced

8 ozs (200 g) cooked ham, diced

 

Melt the butter in a casserole, add the finely chopped onion and sweat for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and toss for a minute or two, just long enough for the grains to change colour. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add the turkey or chicken stock, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a minimum and then simmer on top of the stove or in the oven 160C/325F/regulo 3 for 10 minutes approx. By then the rice should be just cooked and all the water absorbed. Just before serving stir in the turkey, ham and fresh herbs. Bubble for a couple of minutes and pour into a large serving dish and serve hot with a good salad of winter leaves.

Note

Basmati rice cooks quite quickly; other types of rice may take up to 15 minutes.

 

Apple, Celery, Walnut and Turkey Salad

One of the few mixed salad combinations that works really well. The tart combination of apple and celery makes it an excellent counterbalance to rich meats such as duck or pork, and a perfect foil for leftover turkey, or it may be served as a first course on its own.

 

Serves 6

450-700g (1-1½lb) freshly cooked leftover turkey and shredded crispy skin

1/2 head of fresh crispy celery

225g (8oz) green dessert apples

225g (8oz) red dessert apples

2 tablespoons approx. lemon juice

1 level teaspoon castor sugar

5fl oz (150ml) homemade mayonnaise

2oz (50g) shelled fresh walnuts

 

Garnish

sprigs of watercress

freshly chopped parsley

 

Separate the celery, wash it and chop or julienne the stalks into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) lengths. Put them into a bowl of iced water for 15-30 minutes. Wash and core the apples, and cut into 1/2 inch (1cm) dice.

Make a dressing by mixing the freshly squeezed lemon juice, castor sugar and 1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of mayonnaise.  Toss the diced apple in the dressing and let it stand while you prepare the remainder of the ingredients.

Chop the walnuts roughly. Add the celery and the walnuts to the diced apple with the turkey and the rest of the mayonnaise, and mix thoroughly. Taste and correct seasoning.

Garnish with sprigs of watercress and scatter some chopped parsley and the remainder of the chopped walnuts over the centre.

 

 

Apple, Celery, Walnut and Fig Salad

Add 4ozs (110g) sliced dried figs to the above recipe with the walnuts.

 

Apple, Celery, Walnut and Turkey or Chicken Salad

Add 2 cooked and sliced turkey or chicken breasts to the salad with the celery. Serve as a main cours

 

Croque-Monsieur

A croque-monsieur is the quintessential Parisian sandwich.   It’s really no more than a grilled ham sandwich topped with grated cheese, but it appears in many different guises.   Sometimes a croque-monsieur is topped with a thick Mornay sauce, or transformed into a croque-madame with the addition of an egg.

 

Makes 1

A dab of butter

2 thin square slices best quality white bread (pain de mie in France)

1 slice best quality ham, cut to fit bread

1oz (25g) Gruyère cheese, grated

 

Preheat the grill.

Butter the slices of bread on one side.  Place the slice of ham on one buttered side and cover with the other slice of bread.

Pop the sandwich under the grill and grill on one side until golden.   Remove, turn and cover the uncooked side with the grated cheese.   Return to the grill and cook until the cheese is bubbling and golden.

Eat immediately while hot – Bon appetit!

 

Russet Apple with Coolea Cheese, Brussel Sprouts, Hazelnuts and Apple Syrup

 

This light, simple and refreshing salad has a wonderful Autumn freshness.

Serves 4

2 large Russet of Cox’s Orange Pippin apples

4 Brussels sprouts

12 -16 hazelnuts, toasted and thinly sliced or chopped

4 radicchio leaves

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) freshly squeezed lemon juice

100g (3 1/2oz) Coolea cheese

4 teaspoons Highbank apple syrup

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Slice the apples and Brussels sprouts very thinly on a mandolin or by hand and place in a wide bowl. Add the hazelnuts and dress very gently with olive oil and lemon juice and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

 

Cut the radicchio leaves into strips or pull into bite sized pieces and divide between 4 plates or a large flat serving dish.

 

Spread the apple, sprout and hazelnut mixture over the radicchio in a single layer.

Peel, thin slices off the cheese using a vegetable peeler or cheese slicer and lay over the salad.

 

Drizzle 1 teaspoon of apple syrup over each salad and finish with a pinch of sea salt and serve as soon as possible.

 

 

Pearl Couscous, Turkey and Dried Cranberry Salad

I’m loving pear cous cous – looks like little bobbles and can be used as a pilaff or as an accompaniment to a meal.

 

Serves 8

 

4 tablespoons (5 American tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil

215g (7 1/2oz/1 cup) pearl couscous

450ml (2 cups) turkey, chicken or vegetable stock

150g (5oz/1 cups) dried cranberries

100g (3 1/2oz/3/4 cup) pine nuts toasted

50g (2oz/1 cup) spring onions, green and white parts thinly sliced at an angle

75g (3oz) approx. 1/2 red onion chopped and washed under cold water

zest of 1 organic lemon

freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon to taste

3-4 tablespoons (4-5 American tablespoons) coriander sprigs

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb (450 g) cooked, diced brown and white turkey meat and some crispy skin

 

Heat 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) of the extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, add the couscous and stir for 3 or 4 minutes until coated and toasted.  Add the seasoned stock, bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and continue to cook for about 10 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the coucous is al dente.  Drain, toss in the remaining 2 tablespoons (2 1/2 American tablespoons) olive oil and allow to cool.

 

When cold, add the dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts and chopped and sliced onions.  Add the turkey meat. Grate on the lemon zest over the top, squeeze on some freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Add the coriander leaves, toss, taste and pile into a bowl and serve.

 

 

Pear and Cranberry Compote  

Serves 6

 

6 Pears

225g (8oz) sugar

600ml (1 pint) water

A couple of strips of lemon peel and juice of ½ lemon

150 g (5 ozs/1 cup) of cranberries

 

Fresh mint leaves

Bring the sugar and water to the boil with the strips of lemon peel in a non-reactive saucepan.  Meanwhile, peel the pears thinly, cut in half and core carefully with a melon baller or teaspoon, keeping a good shape.  Put the pear halves into the syrup, cut side uppermost, add the lemon juice, cover with a paper lid and the lid of the saucepan.  Bring to the boil and simmer until the pears are just soft – the tip of a knife or skewer should go through without resistance. Add the cranberries, cook for 3-4 minutes or until they just burst. Turn into a serving bowl, chill and serve, on their own or with homemade vanilla ice-cream and fresh mint leaves if available.

 

Cranberry and Apple Jam

This is another dual-purpose jam that can be used as a sweet or savoury accompaniment. Delicious on scones or with curd cheese, cold turkey, ham, pork or venison.

 

Makes 7 x 450g (1lb) jars

1kg (2lb) Bramley’s Seedling cooking apples

1kg (2lb) cranberries

1.7kg (33⁄4lb) granulated sugar, warmed

 

Peel, core and chop the apples. Put the chopped apple into a wide, stainless-steel saucepan and add the cranberries and 300ml (1⁄2 pint) of water. Bring slowly to the boil and continue to cook over a medium heat until the apples and cranberries dissolve into a pulp. Add the warmed sugar and stir to dissolve. Increase the heat and cook until it reaches a set. Bottle in sterilised jars and cover while still hot. Store in a cool, dry place.

 

Mincemeat Cupcakes and Brandy Butter Cream

Makes 12

 

150g (5oz) soft butter

150g (5oz) caster sugar

150g (5oz) self-raising flour

2 large free-range eggs

2 tabespoons milk

½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3-4 tablespoons of mincemeat

 

Brandy Butter

 

175g (6oz) butter, softened

150g (6oz) icing sugar

4 tablespoons brandy

 

Cream the butter, add the icing sugar, beat well.

Finally add the brandy.

1 cupcake tray lined with paper cases

Preheat oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4

 

Put all the ingredients except milk and mincemeat into a food  processor, whizz until smooth 1-2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add milk and whizz again for a couple of seconds.  Fold in 3 tablespoons of mincemeat.

Divide evenly between the bun cases, put 1 tablespoon of mixture in each case.

Alternatively, put a half tablespoon of the cake mixture into each case, put about a half teaspoon of mincemeat on top and cover with another half tablespoon of the mixture.

Bake for 20-25 minutes approx.  Allow to cool on a wire rack.

 

Brandy Butter Cream

Cream the butter, add the icing sugar, beat well.

Finally add the brandy.

Pipe a rosette or blob of brandy butter cream on top and decorate with Christmas fancies.

Christmas Traditional Dinner

Christmas TurkeyPhotographer: Jorg Koster
Christmas TurkeyPhotographer: Jorg Koster

It seems like most of our readers are total traditionalist because the requests have come flooding in for recipes for a time honoured Christmas dinner. Well here we are.

As well as the traditional roast turkey bolstered up with lots of our best loved fresh herb stuffing and all the trimmings, I’ve included a goose with our favourite potato stuffing, lots of gravy and tons of roast potatoes cooked in the goose fat – you’ll need to do twice the amount as they are so crunchy and irresistible. Slow cooked red cabbage will complement the goose deliciously but so too would a dish of cauliflower cheese or creamed celery – a bit 70s but so delicious.

Don’t forget to make a bowl of Bramley apple sauce – all of these vegetables, sauces, herb stuffings can be made ahead to lighten the pressure and work load on Christmas day. Brining the turkey also makes a phenomenal difference to the flavour, (see recipe).

Many families have a favourite starter. We love native Irish oysters as a starter on Christmas day. But I can well understand that they don’t tick everyone’s box.  So how about another timeless favourite,  Grape, Melon and Mint. It’s light and refreshing and loved by everyone from toddlers to aged great aunts.

A green salad is essential after a rich meal. It has the magic potential to make you feel less full so you have room for pudding.

Make it with organic leaves for extra deliciousness and a few foraged greens, a subject for lively conversation.

There’s lots of navelwort or pennywort, wintercress, wood sorrel and watercress in season at present, these little gems are available in the urban areas as well as the countryside.

Christmas Desserts are easy, hopefully you have already make a juicy plum pudding, but if you haven’t managed to get to it,  it’s still not too late to whip it up.  Alternatively, there are still some available – Peter Ward of Country Choice in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, make some of the best one I know and people are also talking about Clare Nash’s puddings…..

We also love to have a trifle, this too actually benefits from being made ahead but wait until Christmas morning to add the final embellishment of cream, cherries, angelica, hundreds and thousands, silver and gold baubles.

A citrus fruit salad would also be an inspired idea, if not for Christmas day certainly on St Stephen’s Day or Boxing Day when despite you’re good intentions you’re probably be feeling a touch bloated.

Either way, have lots of clementines, mandarins, satsumas and walnuts in stock for nibbling.

Leftovers are my absolute favourite, so hopefully there will be some tasty morsels to provide, an opportunity to make some delicious dishes.

Don’t forget a make a turkey stock with the carcass and giblets, it makes the very best broth and basis for warming soups, sauces and stews. We love this turkey broth with orzo, pea and spring onion. There a ton of ways to use up morsels of turkey, ham and goose, that’s if there’s anything left in the carcass after the family have tucked into turkey sandwiches on Christmas evening.

Boxing Day pie is a winner but the mixture can be also be piled into popovers or pastry cases to make yummy bites.

The revised edition of A Simply Delicious Christmas, published by Gill and Macmillan to celebrate it’s 25th anniversary is choc a bloc with traditional  and alternative recipes.

 

Hot Tips

Watch out for RTE’s Christmas cookery programme s.  My brother Rory O’ Connell  and I have just shot two programmes, first of will be shown on Tuesday December 22nd 2015.

Glebe Gardens in Baltimore, West Cork have an enticing range of Christmas gift vouchers and hamper delights http://www.glebegardens.com/shop/, the website is worth a browse

Friday Night at The Granary Foodstore in Midleton 4th, 11th and 18th December 2015. Casual and family friendly evening menu, the perfect venue for a relaxed bite to eat after the Christmas shopping.  The Granary also has a tempting array of Christmas cakes, Chocolate Biscuit Christmas Pudding, gluten free Christmas cakes and mince pies, hampers…….

Tel: 021 4613366 or email jack@thegranaryfoodstore.ie

 

Everyone around here is looking forward to the East Cork Christmas Market at Garryvoe Hotel on Sunday December 13th from 11.30am-4.30pm.  Delicious Christmas treats, order your Christmas poultry, baking, handmade crafts for the Christmas stocking, face painting and fun for the children. Admission by voluntary donation with proceeds to Cancer Care Support

O’ Connell’s Restaurant in Donnybrook, Dublin have the iconic O’ Connell Sherry Trifle back this year. A perfect gift for trifle devotees.  Available in three sizes. The trifle comes in a glass bowl, topped with berries, gift wrapped and ready to serve. Tel: 01 269 6116 or http://oconnellsrestaurant.com

 

Old-fashioned Roast Turkey with Fresh Herb Stuffing, Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

Serves 10-12

 

Brining the turkey ahead is so worthwhile. It adds immeasurably to the flavour, wrapping it in muslin means you don’t need to baste it during cooking. We are finding a turkey that has previously been brind is taking a little less time to cook.

This is my favourite roast stuffed turkey recipe. You may think the stuffing seems dull because it doesn’t include exotic-sounding ingredients like chestnuts and spiced sausage meat, but in fact it is moist and full of the flavour of fresh herbs and the turkey juices.  Cook a chicken in exactly the same way but use one-quarter of the stuffing quantity given.

 

(4.5-5.4kg) 1 x 10-12lb, free-range and organic, turkey with neck and giblets

 

Brine

6 litres (10 1/2 pints) water

600g (1 1/4lb) salt

 

Fresh Herb Stuffing

175g (6oz/3/4 stick) butter

350g (12oz) chopped onions

400-500g (14-16ozs) approx. soft breadcrumbs (check that the bread is non GM) (or approximately 1lb 4oz of gluten-free breadcrumbs)

50g (2oz) freshly chopped herbs eg. parsley, thyme, chives, marjoram, savoury, lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

Stock

neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone and wingtips of turkey

2 sliced carrots

2 sliced onions

1 stick celery

Bouquet garni

3 or 4 peppercorns

 

For basting the turkey

225g (8ozs/2 sticks) butter

large square of muslin (optional)

Cranberry Sauce (see recipe)

Bread Sauce (see recipe)

 

Garnish

large sprigs of fresh parsley or watercress

 

Frist brine the turkey overnight, not essential but it makes for moist, tender and flavourful eat.

*Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve.  Put the turkey crown into a clean stainless steel saucepan, plastic bucket or tin.   Cover with the brine and a lid and chill for 24 hours.  Drain and dry well.  This is of course optional, but it hugely enhances the flavour of the turkey.

Remove the wishbone from the neck end of the turkey, for ease of carving later. Make a turkey stock by covering with cold water the neck, gizzard, heart, wishbone, wingtips, vegetables and bouquet garni. (Keep the liver for smooth turkey liver pate).  Bring to the boil and simmer while the turkey is being prepared and cooked, 3 hours approx.

To make the fresh herb stuffing: Sweat the onions gently in the butter until soft, for 10 minutes approx., then stir in the crumbs, herbs and a little salt and pepper to taste.  Allow it to get quite cold.  If necessary wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half-fill with cold stuffing.  Put the remainder of the stuffing into the crop at the neck end.

Weigh the turkey and calculate the cooking time. Allow 15 minutes approx. per lb and 15 minutes over. Melt the butter and soak a large piece of good quality muslin in the melted butter; cover the turkey completely with the muslin and roast in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 2 3/4-3 1/4 hours.  There is no need to baste it because of the butter-soaked muslin.  The turkey browns beautifully, but if you like it even browner, remove the muslin 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time.  Alternatively, smear the breast, legs and crop well with soft butter, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.  If the turkey is not covered with butter-soaked muslin then it is a good idea to cover the whole dish with tin foil.  However, your turkey will then be semi-steamed, not roasted in the traditional sense of the word.

The turkey is cooked when the juices run clear.

To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices: they should be clear.  Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.   .

The turkey is done when the juices run clear. To test, prick the thickest part at the base of the thigh and examine the juices, they should be clear. Remove the turkey to a carving dish, keep it warm and allow it to rest while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting pan. De-glaze the pan juices with fat free stock from the giblets and bones. Using a whisk, stir and scrape well to dissolve the caramelised meat juices from the roasting pan. Boil it up well, season and thicken with a little roux if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning. Serve in a hot gravy boat.

If possible, present the turkey on your largest serving dish, surrounded by crispy roast potatoes, and garnished with large sprigs of parsley or watercress and maybe a sprig of holly. Make sure no one eats the berries.

Serve with Cranberry Sauce and Bread Sauce

 

Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Sauce is also delicious served with roast turkey, game and some rough pâtés and terrines. We enjoy this simple Cranberry Sauce best.  It will keep in your fridge for several weeks.  It is also great with white chocolate mousse, as a filling for a meringue roulade.

Serves 6 approximately

 

175g (6oz) fresh or frozen cranberries

4 tablespoons (60 ml) water

75g (3oz) granulated sugar

 

Put the fresh cranberries in a heavy-based stainless steel or cast-iron saucepan with the water – don’t add the sugar yet as it tends to toughen the skins.  Bring them to the boil, cover and simmer until the cranberries pop and soften, about 7 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold.

 

Note: Fresh cranberries keep for weeks on end but also freeze perfectly.

Note:  It should be soft and juicy, add a little warm water if it has accidently over cooked.

 

Bread Sauce

I love Bread Sauce but if I hadn’t been reared on it I might never have tried it – the recipe sounds so dull!  Serve with roast chicken, turkey and guinea fowl.

 

Serves

 

600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) whole milk

75-110g (3 – 4oz) soft white breadcrumbs

2 medium onions, each stuck with 6 cloves

35 – 50g (1 1/2 – 2oz) butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

75-110ml (3-4 fl oz/scant 1/2 cup – 1/2 cup) thick cream

2 good pinches of ground cloves or quatre epices

 

Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.

Bring to the boil in a small, deep saucepan all the ingredients except the cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the onion and add the cream just before serving. Correct the seasoning and add a little more milk if the sauce is too thick. Serve hot.

Note: The bread sauce will keep in the fridge for several days – the remainder can be reheated gently – you may need to use a little more milk.

Quatre Epices is a French spice product made of equal amounts of ground white pepper, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.

 

Traditional Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing and Bramley Apple Sauce

 

Roast Goose with Potato Stuffing is almost my favourite winter meal.  However, a word of warning.  A goose looks enormous because it has a large carcass.  Many people have been caught out by imagining that it will serve more people than it does.  Allow 450g (1 lb) in cooked weight per person.  This stuffing is also delicious with duck but use one quarter of the quantity given below.

Serves 8-10

 

4.5g (1 x 10 lbs) approx. goose

 

Stock

Neck, giblets and wishbone of goose

1 sliced onion

1 sliced carrot

 

Bouquet Garni

a sprig of thyme

3 or 4 parsley stalks

a stick of celery

6 or 7 peppercorns

cold water to cover

 

Potato Stuffing

30g (1 oz/1/4 stick) butter

450g (1 lb/4 cups) chopped onions

450g (1 lb) cooking apples e.g. Brambley Seedling, peeled and chopped

1 fl oz (25ml/1/8 cup) fresh orange juice

900g (2 lbs) potatoes

1 teaspoon each thyme and lemon balm

3 teaspoons finely grated orange rind

salt and freshly ground pepper

 

To make the stuffing: Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan.  Add the onions, cover and sweat on a gentle heat for about 5 minutes; add the apples, herbs and orange juice.  Cook covered until the apples are soft and fluffy.  Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in their jackets until cooked, peel, mash and add to the fruit and onion mixture.  Add the orange rind and seasoning.  Allow it to get quite cold before stuffing the goose.

 

To prepare the goose: Gut the goose and singe off the pin feathers and down if necessary.  Remove the wishbone from the neck end.  Combine the stock ingredients in a saucepan, cover with cold water and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours.  Season the cavity of the goose with salt and freshly ground pepper; rub a little salt into the skin also.  Stuff the goose loosely and roast for 2 hours approx. in a preheated moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

Prick the thigh at the thickest part; the juices which run out should be clear.  If they are still pink, the goose needs a little longer.  When cooked, remove the goose to a serving dish and put it in a very low oven while you make the gravy.

To make the gravy: Spoon off the surplus fat from the roasting tin (save for sauteeing or roasting potatoes – it keeps for months in a fridge).  Add about 1 pint (600ml/2 1/2 cups) of the strained giblet stock to the roasting tin and bring to the boil.  Using a small whisk, scrape the tin well to dissolve the meaty deposits which are full of flavour.  Taste for seasoning and thicken with a little roux if you like a thickened gravy.  If the gravy is weak, boil it for a few minutes to concentrate the flavour; if it’s too strong, add a little water or stock.  Strain and serve in a hot gravy boat.

Carve the goose and serve the Bramley Apple Sauce and Gravy separately.

 

Rose Geranium and Bramley Apple Sauce

1lb (450g) cooking apples, (Brambley Seedling)

1-2 dessertsp. (2-4 American teasp) water

2oz (55g/⅓ cup) sugar approx. depending on tartness of the apples

2-4 rose geranium leaves

Peel, quarter and core the apples, cut pieces in two and put in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan with the sugar, water and rose geranium leaves.  Cover and put over a low heat.  As soon as the apple has broken down, stir and taste for sweetness.  Serve warm with the duck, goose or roast pork.

 

Turkey, Orzo, Pea and Spring Onion Broth

This broth can be the basis of a flavoursome light soup to use up delicious morsels of cooked poultry.

Serves 6

 

1 litre (1 ¾ pints)well-flavoured turkey, chicken or pheasant stock

pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

50g (2oz) orzo pasta

2 tender stalks celery, finely sliced at an angle

150 – 175g (5 – 6 oz) shredded cooked turkey, chicken or pheasant

110g (4oz) frozen peas

4 – 6 spring onions, sliced at an angle

lots of fresh coriander and/or fresh mint

 

Bring the stock to the boil; add the orzo, celery and chilli flakes. Cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the pasta is just cooked, add the peas and shredded turkey. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for 3 or 4 minutes, correct the seasoning. Ladle into soup bowls, sprinkle with lots of spring onion and fresh coriander and/or mint.

 

St Stephen’s or Boxing Day Pie 

Try to keep some left-over turkey and ham for this delicious pie – it’s the most scrumptious way to use up left-overs and can be topped with fluffy mashed potatoes or a puff pastry lid.

Serves 12

 

900 g (2lbs) cooked organic or free-range turkey, white and brown meat and crispy skin

450 g (1lb) cooked ham or bacon

30 g (1oz) butter

1-2 teasp. grated fresh ginger (optional)

340 g (12oz) chopped onion

225 g (8oz) flat mushrooms or button if flats are not available

1 clove of garlic – crushed

900 ml (30 fl.oz) well flavoured turkey stock or 568ml (20 fl oz) stock and 300 ml/10 fl.oz) turkey gravy

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped chives

2 teaspoons fresh marjoram or tarragon if available

150 ml (¼ pint) cream

450 g (1lb) puff or flaky pastry or 900g (2lb) Duchesse or mashed Potato

2 x 1.1 L/2 pint) capacity pie dishes with a lip.

 

Cut the turkey and ham into 1 inch (2.5 cm) approx. pieces and shred the crispy skin.  Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, add the chopped onions and ginger if using, cover and sweat for about 10 minutes until they are soft but not coloured.  Meanwhile wash and slice the mushrooms.  When the onions are soft, stir in the garlic and remove to a plate.  Increase the heat and cook the sliced mushrooms, a few at a time.  Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper and add to the onions and garlic.  Toss the cold turkey and ham in the hot saucepan, using a little extra butter if necessary; add to the mushrooms and onion.  De-glaze the saucepan with the turkey stock.  Add the cream and chopped herbs.  Bring it to the boil, thicken with roux, add the meat, mushrooms and onions and simmer for 5 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Fill into the pie dishes, and pipe rosettes of potato all over the top.  Bake in a moderate oven, 190C/375F/regulo 5, for 15-20 minutes or until the potato is golden and the pie is bubbling.

Alternatively, if you would like to have a pastry crust, allow the filling to get quite cold.  Roll out the pastry to about 1/8-inch (3 mm) thickness, then cut a strip from around the edge the same width as the lip of the pie dish.  Brush the edge of the dish with water and press the strip of pastry firmly down onto it; wet the top of the strip again.  Cut the pastry into an oval just slightly larger than the pie dish.  Press this down onto the wet border, flute the edges of the pastry with a knife and then scallop them at 1 inch (2.5 cm) approx. intervals.  Roll out the trimmings and cut into leaves to decorate the top.  Make a hole in the centre to allow the steam to escape while cooking.

Brush with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven, 250C/475F/regulo 9, for 10 minutes; then turn the heat down to moderate, 180C/350F/regulo 4, for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is cooked through and the pie is bubbling.

Serve with a good green salad.


Turkey and Ham Frittata

Serves 6-8

My eternal standby.

A frittata is an Italian omelette.  Unlike its soft and creamy French cousin, a frittata is cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it!  It is cooked on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake.  This basic recipe, flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs.  Like the omelette, though, you may add almost anything that takes your fancy.  One could substitute grated mature cheddar but Gruyére and Parmesan give you more ‘bang for your buck’ and all sorts of tasty bits from the fridge, smoked salmon, mackerel, chorizo, bacon or ham……..

 

10 large eggs, preferably free range organic

1 teaspoon salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper

75g (3ozs) Gruyére cheese, grated

25g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

25g (1oz/1/4 stick) butter

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) basil or marjoram chopped

 

To Serve

Rocket leaves

Tomato and Coriander Salsa (see recipe)

 

Non-stick pan – 22.5cm (10inch) frying pan

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, diced ham and grated cheese into the eggs.  Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the eggs.  Turn down the heat, as low as it will go.  Leave the eggs to cook gently for 12 minutes on a heat diffuser mat, or until the underneath is set. The top should still be slightly runny.

Preheat a grill. Pop the pan under the grill for 1 minute to set but not brown the surface.  Alternatively after an initial 3 or 4 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven 170ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3 until just set 15-20 minutes.

Slide a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide onto a warm plate.

Serve cut in wedges, arrange some rocket leaves on top of the frittata and top with a blob of tomato and coriander salsa or alternatively you can serve with a good green salad and perhaps a tomato salad.

 

Ham & Cheese Frittata

Add 225g (8oz) diced cooked ham or bacon or a mixture of cold turkey and ham to the frittata and cook as above.

 

Darina Allen's Traditional Sherry Trifle
Darina Allen’s Traditional Sherry Trifle

Mum’s Traditional Irish Sherry Trifle

Trifle was a Christmas tradition at our house and was served in a special “cut glass” bowl kept especially for the purpose.  Our mother Elizabeth O’Connell’s trifle was legendary, she made huge bowls of trifle at Christmas, with trifle sponges, (later she used sponge cakes when they were unavailable), home-made raspberry jam and custard, and lots and lots of good sweet sherry.   She had to become more and more inventive about hiding places, because the boys would search high and low to find it when they arrived in from a night out on the town.  Eventually she hid it in her wardrobe to keep it intact for Christmas Day.

This is now a favourite item on my brother Tom O’Connell’s dessert menu at O’Connell’s in Donnybrook.

 

Serves 8-10

 

450g (1lb) approx. homemade sponge cake or trifle sponges (see recipe)

(trifle sponges are lighter so you will need less)

225g (8oz) homemade raspberry jam

600ml (1 pint) custard made with:

5 eggs, organic and free-range if possible

1 1/4 tablespoons castor sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

750ml (1¼ pint) rich milk

150-175ml 5-6 fl.oz) best quality sweet or medium sherry

– don’t spare the sherry and don’t waste your time with cooking sherry.

 

Garnish

600ml (1 pint) whipped cream

8 cherries or crystallised violets

8 diamonds of angelica

a few toasted flaked almonds

 

1 x 1.7 litre (3 pint) capacity glass bowl

Sandwich the rounds of sponge cake together with homemade raspberry jam. If you use trifle sponges, sandwich them in pairs.

 

Next make the egg custard.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and vanilla extract.  Heat the milk to the ‘shivery’ stage and add it to the egg mixture whisking all the time.   Put into a heavy saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the custard coats the back of the wooden spoon lightly. Don’t let it boil or it will curdle.

Cut the sponge into 2cm (3/4 inch) slices and use these to line the bottom of a 1.7 litre (3 pint) glass bowl, sprinkling generously with sherry as you go along.   Pour in some homemade egg custard and then add another layer of sponge.  Sprinkle with the remainder of the sherry.  Spread the rest of the custard over the top.  Cover and leave for 5 or 6 hours, or preferably overnight in a cold larder or fridge to mature.

Before serving, spread softly whipped cream over the top, pipe rosettes if you like and decorate with cherries or crystallised violets and large diamonds of angelica.  Scatter with a few toasted flaked almonds.

Note

For a posher version, line the glass bowl with slices of swiss roll.

 

Great Grandmother’s Butter Sponge

A buttery sponge cake was standard fare to serve with afternoon tea at my Grandmother’s house in Donoghmore, Co. Kilkenny and a great many other Irish houses also. When it was taken out of the oven of the Aga it was cooled on a wire rack by the window in the back kitchen. Thick yellow cream spooned off the top of the milk in the dairy was whipped and as soon as the cake was cool it was sandwiched together with homemade jam made from the raspberries picked at the top of the haggard.  This is the best sponge cake you’ll ever taste.

 

175g (6oz) flour

175g (6oz) castor sugar

3 eggs, organic and free-range

125g (4½ oz) butter

1 tablespoon milk

5g (1 teaspoon) baking powder

 

Filling

110g (4oz) homemade raspberry jam

300ml (10 fl.oz) whipped cream

castor sugar to sprinkle

2 x 18cm (7 inch) sponge cake tins

 

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.

Grease the tine with melted butter, dust with flour and line the base of each with a round of greaseproof paper. Cream the butter and gradually add the castor sugar, beat until soft and light and quite pale in colour. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well between each addition. (If the butter and sugar are not creamed properly and if you add the eggs too fast, the mixture will curdle, resulting in a cake with a heavier texture). Sieve the flour and baking powder and stir in gradually. Mix all together lightly and add 1 tablespoon of milk to moisten.

Divide the mixture evenly between the 2 tins, hollowing it slightly in the centre. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked – the cake will shrink-in slightly from the edge of the tin when it is cooked, the centre should feel exactly the same texture as the edge.  Alternatively a skewer should come out clean when put into the centre of the cake. Turn out onto a wire tray and allow to cool.

Sandwich the two bases together with homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Sprinkle with sieved castor sugar. Serve on an old fashioned plate with a doyley.

 

Raspberry Jam

Makes 3 x 450g (1lb) pots

Raspberry jam is the easiest and quickest of all jams to make, and one of the most delicious.  Loganberries, Boysenberries or Tayberries may also be used in this recipe.

 

900g (2lb) fresh raspberries

900g (2lb) white sugar (use 110g/4oz) less if fruit is very sweet)

 

Wash, dry and sterilise the jars in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4, for 15 minutes. Heat the sugar in a moderate oven for 5-10 minutes.

Put the raspberries into a wide stainless steel saucepan and cook for 3-4 minutes until the juice begins to run, then add the hot sugar and stir over a gentle heat until fully dissolved. Increase the heat and boil steadily for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Test for a set by putting about a teaspoon of jam on a cold plate, leaving it for a few minutes in a cool place. It should wrinkle when pressed with a finger. Remove from the heat immediately. Skim and pour into sterilised jam jars. Cover immediately.

Hide the jam in a cool place or else put on a shelf in your kitchen so you can feel great every time you look at it! Anyway, it will be so delicious it won’t last long

 

Turkey, Ham and Mushroom Popovers

This is little gem of a recipe is an excellent standby, it can be made in seconds, the ingredients are inexpensive, sweet or savoury fillings work.

 

For 14 popovers

 

4 ozs (110g/1 cup) flour

2 eggs

10 fl ozs (1/2 pint/300ml/1 1/4 cups) milk

1/2 ozs (15g/1/8 stick) butter, melted

 

Filling

See Boxing Day Pie recipe

Parsley sprigs

 

Sift the flour into a bowl, make a well in the centre of the flour, drop in eggs.  Using a small whisk or wooden spoon, stir continuously, gradually drawing in flour from the sides and, add the milk in a steady stream at the same time.  When all the flour has been mixed in, whisk in the remainder of the milk and cool melted butter.  Allow to stand for one hour.  Grease Hot Deep Patty Tins with pure beef dripping or oil and fill half full.  Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F/regulo 8, for 20 minutes approx.

Remove from the tins.  Cool, fill with hot turkey, ham and mushroom filling. Pop a sprig of flat parsley on top of each one and serve ASAP.

Cheese Popovers: Add 2 ozs (50g) grated Cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a good pinch of salt to the mixture, season well and proceed as above

Christmas Baking

Can you imagine I got my first Christmas card on the third of November, that has to be a record….Christmas is creeping up on us, not slowly but with great speed and even though we may long to opt out of the whole palaver or hide away until all the frenzy is over. It’s simply not an option, so once again, we’ll enter into the spirit of the season wholeheartedly. If you’re thinking of serving a fine free range turkey or goose for Christmas dinner, put in your order right away. Beautifully reared organic and free range birds are difficult to source for various reasons not least the lack of slaughtering facilities and support for artisan poultry producers – can you imagine that  we don’t have one single poultry instructor in Ireland at present despite the craving for a product we can trust with a memorable flavour. Order a fine fat ham too from a free range heritage pig producer, this kind of food costs much more that the food of the same  name on the supermarket counter shelf. Often twice the price but it does take much longer to rear with much more expensive GM free and organic feed.

When those orders are in, you may want to make a plump juicy Christmas cake and a couple of gorgeous crumbly plum puddings. Despite the mystique neither are difficult to make. So allocate an afternoon. Buy top quality dried fruit, real crystallized cherries (those bright red ones are fake, most were never near a cherry in real life) and candied peel. We make our own which may seem to be a step too far – I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but a lot of the chopped candied peel is also fake, made from a gelatinous product rather than citrus peel.

So here’s the recipe, you can make it slowly over several days, it’s a brilliant way to use up left over orange,  lemon and lime peel and of course it makes a lovely present for foodie friends who can use it in cakes or puddings or simply dipped in chocolate as a petit four or sweetmeat.

Even though a lovely moist Christmas cake is a great stand by, not everyone wants a big cake. My favourite Christmas cake can be made in a 9 inch round or 2 x 7 inch tins. The second one will make a welcome present for busy friends.. We also make some ‘little dotes”, 4 inch cakes as presents for older friends who love a little cake but don’t want anything too large which lingers on after Christmas making them feel a tad guilty.

Stir about Sunday is on the last Sunday before Advent, Sunday November 22nd, but even if we have missed that why not gather up some of your kids and their friends and create an exciting party atmosphere around the making of the Christmas cake and pudding. Everyone can help, lining the tin, make a wish as they stir the pudding and cake and best of all you’ll be passing on the cooking skills to another generation. For the many who feel making a Christmas cake, a pudding, mincemeat is beyond them believe me the pudding and mincemeat are simply a matter of mixing ingredients in a bowl, hardly ‘rocket science’ for even the least undomesticated goddess.

 

Hot Tips

Nash 19 are now taking orders for their Christmas Hampers. Don’t forget their plum pudding packed with delicious fruit and whole cherries. Claire Nash will be in Terroirs on Morehampton Road in Dublin on Saturday 5th December from 12 noon with her plum puddings, call in to taste a juicy morsel. Contact Claire or Mairead on 021 4270880 or email info@nash19.com

Country Choice in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, huge stocks of ingredients for Christmas baking have arrived.  Peter Ward sources supberb  quality dried fruit, nuts and real cherries. He also has a stall at the Milk Market in Limerick every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Phone 067 32596 or www.countrychoice.ie

Looking for a special Christmas present, don’t forget Ballymaloe Cookery School vouchers can be tailored in a variety of ways to create the perfect gift for the food lover or garden enthusiast in your life! Cooking is one of the most important skills a person can learn and the best bit is the Cookery School vouchers last indefinitely.

www.cookingisfun.ie

Fishy Fishy restaurant in Kinsale is hosting a series of Pop Up lunches over the coming months. Noel McMeel of Lough Erne Resort will create a special 5 course lunch on Wednesday 9th December. Tickets are €50 and can be booked www.fishyfishy.ie or 021 4700415

Just discovered a brilliant new source of free range duck. Jacqui Mason who comes from Heredforshire in the UK, found it difficult to find good duck when she came over to Ireland so she decided to rear some duck herself and  now rears 75 free range Alysbury ducks every week and sells them to local restaurants and butchers (quite different from ‘farm fresh’) including Jack McCarthy Butchers, Kanturk, O’ Sullivans Poultry at the English Market

www.carrigcleen farm.com

087 22 33113

 

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Candied Peel 

The fruit used in this recipe should be organic if possible; otherwise scrub the peel very well. Use just one citrus fruit, or a mixture of all three.

5 organic unwaxed oranges

5 organic unwaxed lemons

5 organic unwaxed grapefruit

1 teaspoon salt

1.3kg (3lb) sugar

 

Cut the fruits in half and squeeze out the juice. Reserve the juice for another use, such as homemade lemonade. Put the halves of fruit into a large bowl (not aluminium), add the salt and cover with cold water. Leave to soak for 24 hours.

Next day, discard the soaking water, put the fruit in a saucepan and cover with fresh cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer very gently until the peel is soft, about 3 hours. Remove the fruit and discard the water. Scrape out any remaining flesh and membranes from inside the cut fruit, leaving the white pith and rind intact. Slice the peel into long strips or leave whole if you prefer.

Dissolve the sugar in 700ml (11⁄4 pints) of water, bring to the boil, add the peel and simmer gently for about 30–60 minutes, until it looks translucent and the syrup forms a thread when the last drop falls off a metal spoon. Remove the candied peel with a slotted spoon and fill into sterilised glass jars. Pour the syrup over the peel, cover and store in a cold place or in a fridge. It should keep for 6–8 weeks, or longer under refrigeration.

 

Variations

In Caster Sugar

Spread the peel on a baking tray  and leave to sit for 30–60 minutes to cool and dry out. Then toss the peel in caster sugar and store in covered glass jars until needed.

 

To Nibble

Cut the candied peel into 5mm–1cm (1⁄4–1⁄2 in) slices, roll in caster sugar and serve with coffee.

 

Chocolate Candied Orange

Dip the strips of candied orange peel into melted dark chocolate. Arrange individually on a sheet of silicone paper and leave to set.

 

Ballymaloe Mincemeat

This is still my favourite mincemeat recipe.

Makes 3.2 kilos approx. Makes 8-9 pots.

 

2 cooking apples, eg. Bramley Seedling

2 organic lemons

450g (1lb) beef suet, (see below)

pinch of salt

110g (4oz) mixed peel (preferably homemade)

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Seville orange marmalade

225g (8oz) currants

450g (1lb) sultanas

790g (1lb 12oz) Barbados sugar (moist, soft, dark-brown)

62ml (2 1/2fl oz/generous 1/4 cup) Irish whiskey

 

Core and bake the whole apples in a moderate oven, 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4, for 30 minutes approx. Allow to cool.  When they are soft, remove the skin and mash the flesh into pulp.  Grate the rind from the lemons on the finest part of a stainless steel grater and squeeze out the juice and stir into the pulp.  Add the other ingredients one by one, and as they are added, mix everything thoroughly.  Put into sterilized jars, cover and leave to mature for 2 weeks before using.  This mincemeat will keep for a year in a cool, airy place.

 

How to make  Beef Suet

Suet comes from the fat that protects the beef kidney. Suet and tallow (the rendered suet) had fallen out of favour, but chips fried in suet and potatoes roasted in it are lovely. The flavour is much better and, incidentally, beef tallow has more vitamin B and despite its reputation is considerably better for you than cheap, trans-fat ridden cooking oils. People now make plum puddings with butter because they’re so paranoid of eating the wrong kinds of fat, but I’m still a great fan of the traditional plum puddings made in the classic way with suet, as they have a better flavour and texture. Serve these on hot plates, though, because if suet congeals it’s distinctly unappetising. Many sweet puddings can be made with suet, such as Plum Pudding (see recipe).

One can buy suet ready-prepared in packets but it’s very easy to do it yourself at home. Your butcher will probably give you the suet for free because there is so little demand.  Coeliacs need to be aware that ready-prepared suet usually contains white flour.

Strictly speaking, beef dripping is the fat and the meat juices that render out of a joint of roast beef while it’s cooking, whereas suet or tallow is fat just rendered from fat surrounding the beef kidney. However, nowadays the term ‘dripping’ is colloquially used to refer to all of these.

 

Suet – How to Prepare

To prepare suet, start by asking your butcher for the fat that surrounds beef kidneys.

Remove and discard the papery membrane and any red veins or fragments of meat. If you’re not meticulous about this, these bits will deteriorate and the suet won’t keep properly. The fat will separate into natural divisions. Chop it coarsely and either mince or whizz it in a food-processor for a minute or two until it’s evenly grainy (years ago, people used to grate suet on a simple box grater). Refrigerate and use within a couple of days, but if it has been properly trimmed it will keep for weeks in a fridge.

 

BMaloe Plum Pudding

Mummy’s Plum Pudding with Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce

It has always been the tradition in our house to eat the first plum pudding on the evening it is made.   The grandchildren can hardly contain themselves with excitement – somehow that plum pudding seems the most delicious, it’s our first taste of Christmas.   The plum pudding can be made from about mid-November onwards. Everyone in the family helps to stir so we can all make a wish.

Its fun to put silver plum pudding charms in the pudding destined to be eaten on Christmas Day.  Wrap them individually in silicone paper so they are bulky and clearly visible.

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.

 

12oz (350g/2 cups) raisins

12oz (350g/2 cups) sultanas

12oz (350g/2 cups) currants

10oz (300g/1cups) brown sugar

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

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

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

2 Bramley cooking apples, coarsely grated

4oz (110g/3/4 cup) chopped almonds

rind of 1 lemon

3 pounded cloves (1/2 teaspoon)

a pinch of salt

6 eggs

2 1/2 fl oz (62ml/generous 1/4 cup) 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!

 

Mrs. Hanrahan’s Sauce

This recipe is so delicious that people ask to have more Plum Pudding just so that they can have an excuse to eat lots of sauce.  This makes a large quantity but the base will keep for several weeks in the fridge, so you can use a little at a time, adding whipped cream to taste.

 

4oz (110g/1 stick) butter

7oz (200g/scant 1 cup) Barbados sugar  (moist, soft, dark-brown sugar)

1 organic free-range egg

2 1/2 fl oz (62ml/generous 1/4 cup) medium sherry

2 1/2 fl oz (62ml/generous 1/4 cup) port

2 1/4-2 1/2 pints (1.3-1.4L/5 5/8-6 1/4 cups) lightly whipped cream

 

Melt the butter, stir in the sugar and allow to cool slightly.  Whisk the egg and add to the butter and sugar with the sherry and port.  Refrigerate.

When needed, add the lightly whipped cream to taste.

This sauce is also very good with mince pies and other tarts.

 

Children's Christmas Cake
Children’s Christmas Cake

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 (see recipe)

50g (2oz) ground almonds

zest of 1 organic unwaxed lemon

zest of 1 organic unwaxed orange

60ml (21⁄2 fl oz/generous 1/4 cup) Irish whiskey

225g (8oz/2 sticks) butter

225g (8oz/1 cup) 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/2 cups) golden caster sugar

450g (1lb) ground almonds

2 small organic eggs

2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Irish whiskey

a drop of pure almond extract

 

For Brushing on the Cake

1 organic egg white, lightly whisked, or sieved apricot jam

 

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, 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. If you are really creative, the fondant may be coloured using edible food colouring and then you and all the family can really have fun!

 

Variation

Toasted Almond Christmas Cake

If you’d rather not have fondant icing, the almond paste can be toasted and will keep just as well and be irresistible to nibble. Roll out the remainder of the almond paste to about 5mm (1⁄4in) thick. Stamp out star shapes, paint the whole surface of the cake with whisked egg yolk and stick the star shapes at intervals around the sides of the cake and on top. Brush these with egg yolk also.

 

Preheat the oven to 220°C/ 425°F/gas mark 7.

Carefully lift the cake onto a baking tray and bake for 15–20 minutes or until just slightly toasted. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then transfer onto a cake board.

Decorate with sprigs of holly and a dusting of icing sugar, though you may feel that holly leaves and berries made of almond paste would be more appropriate for Christmas!

 

‘Little Dote’ Christmas Cakes

Makes 8 little cakes

 

225g (8oz) butter

225g (8oz) pale soft brown sugar

6 eggs

285g (10z) flour

1 teaspoon mixed spice

35ml (2½ fl.oz) Irish whiskey

340g (12oz) best-quality sultanas

340g (12oz) best-quality currants

340g (12oz) best-quality raisins

110g (4oz) cherries

110g (4oz) homemade candied peel

55g (2oz) ground almonds

55g (2oz) whole almonds

Rind of 1 lemon

Rind of 1 orange

1 large or 2 small Bramley Seedling apples, grated

 

Grease and line 8 tins 4 inch (10cm) diameter x 1½ inch (4cm) deep.  (We used springform tins from the Ballymaloe Shop)

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 the whiskey and leave for 1 hour to macerate.

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas 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 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.)

Divide the mixture between the 8 prepared tins.  Make a slight hollow in the centre, dip your hand in water and pat it over the surface of each cake: this will ensure that the top is smooth when cooked.  Put into the preheated oven, bake at 160C/325F/gas 3, for 1½ hours – until cooked; test in the centre with a skewer – it should come out clean.  Pour the rest of the whiskey over the cakes and leave to cool in the tins.

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

 

To ice the cakes –

To brush on the cake:

1 egg white, lightly beaten

 

Almond Paste – to ice the tops of the cakes

8oz (225g) ground almonds

8oz (225g) castor sugar

1 small egg

A tiny drop of pure almond essence

1 tablesp Irish whiskey

 

Sieve the castor sugar and mix with the ground almonds.  Beat the egg, add the whiskey and 1 tiny 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 worktop with icing sugar, turn out the almond paste and work lightly until smooth.

Remove the paper from the cakes.

Put a sheet of greaseproof paper onto the worktop, dust with some icing sugar.  Roll the almond paste out on the paper; it should be a little less than ½ inch (1cm) thick.  Paint the top of each cake with the lightly beaten egg white and put the cake, sticky side down onto the almond paste.  Make sure the almond paste sticks to the cake and then cut around the edge and tidy and smooth the almond paste.   For the ‘little dotes’ we just iced the top of the cakes.

Leave to dry overnight before applying Royal or Fondant Icing.

 

Royal Icing

1lb (450g) icing sugar

2 egg whites

2 teasp. Strained lemon juice

Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl just until they begin to froth; then add the sieved icing sugar by the tablespoonful, beating well between each addition.  If you are making the icing in a electric mixer, use the lowest speed. When all the icing sugar has been incorporated, add the lemon juice, and if you would like a slightly soft icing, add a few drops of glycerine.   Beat until the icing reaches stiff peaks; scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth for 1 hour or until you are ready to use the icing.

With a flexible palette knife, smear the icing over the top of each cake.   To achieve a snow-scene effect dab the palette knife onto the cake at irregular intervals so the icing comes up in little peaks.  While the icing is still wet, stick on some Christmas Cake decorations, eg Santas, Christmas trees and robins or if you prefer use some frosted fruits or flowers.

If you like you could tie a ribbon or cake frill around the edges of the cakes.

 

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