Category Archives: Saturday Letter

Letters from February 2000


Its been over two years now since I spent a few memorable days in Finland. Last time it was the end of September and the Autumn colour was at its most intense – gorgeous bright oranges, reds, yellows and dusty russets. The countryside was still green and vivid, the little dark red timbered houses silhouetted against the hills and the forests so beloved of the Finns. The temperature was higher than in Ireland and it was difficult to believe that quarter of this country lies north of the Arctic Circle. This time there was no difficulty remembering. There was snow, ice and sleet. The naturally shy Finns were muffled up against the cold, everywhere seemed dark and overcast and still, and I could well understand how these gloomy days must affect the national mood during Winter. This year the weather has been relatively mild in comparison to last year when the temperature dropped to below –53C for almost two weeks.
Nonetheless I got a warm welcome from Finnish friends at the Haaga Perrho Institute and a former student Jukka Oresto. He took me out into the country to visit Tuula Sorainen, who has a charming farm guesthouse in Saukkola. When we arrived it looked like a winter wonderland surrounded by Christmas trees – a collection of traditional Finnish houses, with the smoke curling up into the sky. There’s an ancient mill, a traditional Finnish storehouse where Tuula still stores her crispbread, sausages and grain and of course a sauna just beside the river so you can take a refreshing plunge into the cold water when the heat becomes too much.
The house and mill were full of beautiful antiques which Tuula has been collecting for years. The bedrooms are simple and traditional. In summer one friend weaves on the old loom while another makes traditional Finnish rag rugs and pottery for visitors to buy. Tuula cooked me a wonderful Finnish meal , all made from home grown and local ingredients – Jerusalem artichoke soup, Moose stew with roast potatoes, pickled cucumbers, a crisp lettuce, apple and dill salad. The crisp bread and sweet cardamom flavoured pulla were baked in the ancient wood burning oven.
The snow fell outside the house , the fire blazed in the grate and like all Finnish houses it was warm and cosy.  Tuula Sorainen also hosts small conferences in her old mill house as well as special parties. It must be a wonderfully relaxing place to recharge the batteries, particularly in summer when one can also canoe on the river and walk though the forest.
Tuula Sorainen, Myllyniemi, 09430 Saukkola, Finland. Tel 00 358 19 371 215  Fax 00 358 19 371 745
When I left Helsinki enroute to Heathrow Airport there was several feet of snow, nonetheless it was business as usual. Ironically, when I got to London, there was a delay of several hours because Cork airport was snowbound.


Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Croutons

Jerusalem artichokes are a sadly neglected winter vegetable. They look like knobbly potatoes and are a nuisance to peel, but if they are very fresh you can sometimes get away with just giving them a good scrub. Not only are they a smashing vegetable but they are also delicious in soups and gratins. They are a real gem from the gardener’s point of view because the foliage grows into a hedge and provides shelter and cover for both compost heaps and pheasants!

Serves 8 – 10
2 ozs (55g/2 stick) butter
13 lbs (560g/3: cups) onions, peeled and chopped
13 lbs (560g/3: cups) potatoes, peeled and chopped
22 lbs (1.15kg) artichokes, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) light chicken stock
1 pint (600ml/22 cups) creamy milk approx.
Freshly chopped parsley
Crisp, golden croutons

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan, add the onions, potatoes and artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes approx. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are soft. Liquidise and return to the heat. Thin to the required flavour and consistency with creamy milk, and adjust the seasoning.
Serve in soup bowls or in a soup tureen. Garnish with chopped parsley and crisp, golden croutons.
Note: This soup may need more stock depending on thickness required.

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Crispy Bacon Croutons

Cut 2 ozs (55g) streaky bacon into lardons, fry in a little oil until crisp and golden. Drain on kitchen paper, mix with the croutons and add to the soup just before serving.

Spring Fair in Birmingham

The Garden Café and Shop beside the school will reopen for the Summer season at Easter, so at present we’re sourcing stock for the shop. We tramped around Showcase in Dublin a few weeks ago and headed for the Spring Fair in Birmingham this week. Trade Fairs are an endurance test at the best of times but at this one there are 20 huge halls. By lunch on the first day we’d just about managed to get through one section, so most people would need to stay at least overnight and therein lies the dilemma. The National Exhibition Centre is just beside the Airport so one can choose to stay in one of the hotels beside the complex or else commute in and out of Birmingham. Having queued for hours for shuttle buses and taxis in previous years we opted for the former. Although the rooms are barely large enough to move around, with no frills attached, they are excruciatingly expensive.
It’s a captive market so that’s the name of the game.  We needed to fortify ourselves with a good breakfast for a strenuous day, one easily walks miles and miles, I wasn’t too keen to indulge in a big fry-up for breakfast, so I asked for a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. The waitress looked a little panicky and then asked whether I realised it would cost £5.20 sterling, no thanks. So I went back to the breakfast buffet and got two oranges from the fruit bowl and squeezed them myself.  Moments later the sweet little waitress came to our table with a toast rack with at least ten pieces of toast. We explained that we only wanted one piece each and pleaded with her to give it to someone else, rather than leaving it on or table to be wasted. She said we might as well have it because it would just be thrown out anyway. A single gentleman close to us also got ten pieces of toast, no wonder a glass of orange juice costs £5.20, they need to make up the profit somewhere.
In complete contrast we recently visited one of the newest additions to the Cork food scene – The Waters Edge Hotel and Jacobs Ladder Restaurant in Cobh.. Michael and Maggie Whelan have converted the site where they ran their very successful salvage tug boat company for years into a charming 19 bedroom hotel overlooking the harbour. At present bed and breakfast costs just £35 in one of the bedrooms with one of the loveliest views in Cork Harbour.
When we dropped in the other day, we had these delicious Madeleines with a cup of coffee as we watched the boats sailing up and down the harbour – must be one of the most beautiful situations for a restaurant in the Cork area – check it out. Tel. 021-815566.




Waters Edge Chef Martial Marin from La Roche Bernard in Brittany shared his recipe for ‘Madeleines de la Magdalene’ with us.
Makes 20 approx.
5 eggs
180g castor sugar
180g butter
200g plain flour
1 teasp. of pure vanilla essence
2 teasp. of baking powder

Melt the butter and allow to cool. Sieve the flour. Whisk the eggs, add the sugar, vanilla essence, baking powder, and cooled butter. Then add the flour slowly. Spoon the mixture into lightly greased madeleine moulds, Martial used small moulds which held 2 tablesp. of the mixture. You could also use a bun tray.
Bake at 200C (400F/regulo 6) for 10-15 minutes.


February Citrus fruit Salad

In the winter when many fruits have abysmal flavour the citrus fruit are at their best, this delicious fresh tasting salad uses a wide variety of that ever expanding family. Its particularly good with blood oranges which appear in the shops for only a few weeks, so make the most of them. Ugli fruit, Pomelo, Tangelos, Sweeties or any other members of the citrus family may be used in season.
Serves 6 approx.

½lb (225g) Kumquats
12 fl ozs (350ml/1½ cups) water
7 ozs (200g/1 cup) sugar
1 lime
½ lb (225g) Clementines
¼-½ lb (110g-225g) Tangerines or Mandarins
2 blood oranges
1 pink grapefruit
lemon juice to taste if necessary

Slice the kumquats into ¼ inch (5mm) rounds, remove pips. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, add the sliced kumquats. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat. Allow to cool. Remove the zest from the lime with a zester and add with the juice to the kumquats. Meanwhile peel the tangerines and clementines and remove as much of the white pith and strings as possible. Slice into rounds of ¼ inch (5mm) thickness, add to the syrup. Segment the pink grapefruit and blood oranges and add to the syrup also. Leave to macerate for at least an hour. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Serve chilled

Valentine’s Day 

If you haven’t managed to secure a restaurant booking for Valentine’s Day to wine and dine your sweetheart, its probably too late by now. There are after all a finite number of restaurant tables. Surprisingly many restaurateurs hate Valentine’s Day with a passion because all their customers want tables for two and they don’t want to be rushed, so second sittings aren’t always an option. Others complain that the atmosphere, far from being electric and buzzy, is often strained and subdued, particularly if they get a high proportion of older married couples who have run out of chit chat and don’t need to inquire about their date’s favourite film or singer, or how their team is doing in the league.
They are more likely to be discussing how to re-mortgage, or what to do about their saucy out of control teenagers. What a gloomy picture they paint, where has all the romance disappeared to?
Little unexpected gestures can be such a delight. Breakfast in bed with a little posy of snowdrops on the tray, lots of tiny heart shaped choccies hidden in unexpected places, under the pillow, in her bag or tucked into his wallet, or in less likely places like the fridge or on the ironing board or beside the hoover!
Little notes with secret messages tucked in beside his credit cards or behind the sun shade in the car or even into a shoe will give most people an ‘oops in their tummy’ or at least a giggle.
If all else fails to thrill, remember that the way to a chap or chic’s heart is still the same way as it always was and always will be. So how about wooing your partner by cooking something or indeed anything as a surprise. Could be hot buttered Rossmore oysters on toast, a Passion Fruit starter might be appropriate or a gorgeous pud. Comfort food like apple or rhubarb tarts are high on the list of favourites. The new season’s rhubarb is just appearing in the shops. Almond Meringue hearts with Chocolate and Rum cream might just impress also or even tiny heart-shaped shortbread with kumquat compote. For extra excitement, light a sparkler on top to get the message across.


Crispy Wontons with Passion Fruit and Mango


Wontons needn’t necessarily be just savoury, they make a terrific dessert in minutes.
Vary the toppings depending on what you find in season.
Serves 20
20 wonton wrappers *
fromage blanc or cream cheese or whipped cream
1 ripe mango
2 passion fruit
a little lime juice
Sugar if necessary
icing sugar for dusting

Heat some sunflower or peanut oil in a pan or deep fry to 180°C/350°F
Fry the wonton wrappers in batches until golden about 30 seconds. Drain on kitchen paper. Peel and slice or dice the mango, scoop the seeds and juice from the passion fruit and add the mango, taste and add some freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar if necessary.
To serve
Dust each wonton with icing sugar. Put a little blob of fromage blanc or cream cheese or cream on each one . Top with some mango and passion fruit.
Garnish with a sprig of sweet cicely, mint or lemon balm and serve immediately.

*Available from Mr. Bell’s stall in the English Market


Valentine’s Day Hot Buttered Oysters on Toast


These wonderfully curvaceous oyster shells tend to topple over maddeningly on the plate so that the delicious juices escape. In the restaurant we solve this problem by piping a little blob of mashed Duchesse potato on the plate to anchor each shell.

12 Pacific (Gigas) oysters
1 oz (30 g/¼ stick) butter
½ teaspoon parsley, finely chopped

To Serve
4 segments of lemon
4 heart-shaped pieces of hot buttered toast (optional)

Open the oysters and detach completely from their shells. Discard the top shell but keep the deep shell and reserve the liquid. Put the shells into a low oven to heat through. Melt half the butter in a pan until it foams. Toss the oysters in the butter until hot through – 1 minute perhaps.  Put a hot oyster into each of the warm shells. Pour the reserved oyster liquid into the pan and boil up, whisking in the remaining butter and the parsley. Spoon the hot juices over the oysters and serve immediately on hot plates with a wedge of lemon.  Alternatively discard the shells and just serve the oysters on the heart-shaped buttered toast. The toast will soak up the juice – Simply Delicious!


Almond Meringue with chocolate and rum cream

Serves 6

12 ozs (45g/3 cup) almonds
2 egg whites
42 ozs (125g/1 cup approx.) icing sugar
1 oz (30g) good quality dark chocolate
2 oz (15g) unsweetened chocolate
2 pint (300ml/13 cups) whipped cream
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) rum
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) single cream
5 toasted almonds

Check that the bowl is dry, spotlessly clean and free of grease. Blanch and skin the almonds. Grind or chop them up. They should not be ground to a fine powder but should be left slightly coarse and gritty. Mark two 72 inch (19cm) circles or heart shapes on silicone paper or a prepared baking sheet. Mix all the sugar with the egg whites at once and beat until the mixture forms stiff dry peaks. Fold in the almonds. Divide the mixture between the 2 circles or heart shapes and spread evenly with a palette knife. Bake immediately in a cool oven, 150C/300F/regulo 2 for 45 minutes or until crisp they should peel off the paper easily, turn off the oven and allow to cool.
To make the filling  Melt the chocolate with the rum and single cream very gently in a very cool oven, or over hot water. Cool and then fold the mixture into the whipped cream.
To assemble  Sandwich the meringues together with the filling. Decorate with rosettes of chocolate and rum cream stuck with halved toasted almonds.

Kumquat Compote

Serves 6-8
3½lbs./1.5kg Kumquats
1¾ pints/1 litre water
1lb.2oz/500g sugar

One or two hours in advance, cut the kumquats into four lengthways and remove the pips. Put the kumquats in a saucepan with the water and sugar and let them cook very gently, uncovered for half an hour.
Finishing and Serving: Leave the kumquats in a pretty fruit dish to cool for an hour or two. Serve with heart-shaped shortbread biscuits and some softly whipped cream.

Winter Root Vegetables 

Winter root vegetables have long been regarded as the poor relations of the more socially acceptable greens like Broccoli, Sugar Peas and French Beans. These, oft imported out of season vegetables are served ad nauseam in restaurants from January to December. Well, at last the time has come for the country cousins, the humble parsnip, carrots and swedes have become wildly fashionable. On a recent trip to New York, Potato and Parsnip Mash was the hottest item on a trendy restaurant menu in Manhattan.  Carrots, hitherto boiled or worse still, turned into little barrel shapes by some hapless commis are now being oven-roasted to a rich sweetness with parsnips, turnips and crispy potato wedges.  Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California who has managed to give a new respectability to many forgotten foods, gives special mention to rutabagas (known to us as swede turnips), in her book on vegetables. This was music to my ears – I=ve always loved the sweet flavour of mashed swedes in late Autumn and Winter after they=ve been mellowed by a touch of frost. Left over puree whizzed up with some sweated onion, chicken stock and maybe a touch of creamy milk, makes a delicious Winter soup. A few lardons of crispy bacon, some croutons and a scattering of parsley will transform it into a dinner party recipe.

Scatter piles of parsnip and celeriac crisps over your salads or serve them with a plump roast pheasant as well as or as an alternative to Game Chips.  Add some fresh spices to a medley of root vegetables to make an exciting Indian vegetable stew. Search out the old-fashioned Jerusalem artichokes now appearing in the shops, these gnarled and knobbly roots are maddening to peel but are well worth the effort for their delicious flavour. We love them in soups or slow cooked in their own juices with a little butter. Their flavour is particularly great with sweet juicy scallops and game. Thick slices of Jerusalem artichoke tossed while still warm with a hazelnut oil dressing and few toasted hazelnuts make a delicious starter salad. They are also incredibly easy to grow, so if you are even remotely interested in gardening, buy a few extra at the end of the season and keep them in a dark place. As soon as Spring comes round pop them into the ground about 6 inches apart and 12 inches deep. The foliage will grow about 5 feet tall, so plant them at the back of a bed or use as a screen to hide your compost heap.

Celeriac or root celery is another great winter vegetable, keeps for ages in a cool larder or even the garage. Its mild celery flavour is great in salads, soups, gratins, stews or just as a vegetable – it also makes great crisps. Just like Jerusalem Artichokes, it discolours quickly once peeled however, so drop it into a bowl of acidulated water while you peel the remainder.  As a general rule buy your root vegetables unwashed, they keep better and have much more flavour – well worth the extra few minutes of scrubbing!

Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup

Celeriac, relatively new in our shops; is in fact a root celery which looks a bit like a muddy turnip. Peel it thickly and use for soups or in salads, or just as a vegetable.
Serves 6
15 ozs (425 g/3 cups) celeriac, cut into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
4 ozs (110 g/1 cup) onions, cut into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
5 ozs (140 g/1 cup) potatoes, cut into ¼ inch (5 mm) dice
1½-2 ozs (45-55 g/¼-½ stick) butter
2 pints (1.1L/5 cups) home made chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4-8 fl ozs (100-225 ml/½-1 cup) creamy milk (optional)
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped
A few tablespoons whipped cream
Sprigs of chervil or flat parsley

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; when it foams, add the potatoes and onions and toss them in the butter until evenly coated. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover with a paper lid (to keep in the steam) and the saucepan lid, and sweat over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft but not coloured. Discard the paper lid. Add the celeriac and chicken stock and cook until the celeriac is soft, about 8-10 minutes. Liquidise the soup; add a little more stock or creamy milk to thin to the required consistency. Taste and correct seasoning.
To prepare the hazelnuts: Put the hazelnuts into an oven, 200C/400F/regulo 6, on a baking sheet for about 10-15 minutes or until the skins loosen. Remover the skins by rubbing the nuts in the corner of a teatowel. If they are not sufficiently toasted, return them to the oven until they become golden brown. Chop and keep aside to garnish.
Serve the soup piping hot with a little blob of whipped cream on top. Sprinkle with the chopped hazelnuts and a sprig of chervil or flat parsley.


Oven-Roasted Winter Root vegetables

About equal volume of:
Swede Turnips
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
Freshly chopped winter herbs – Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Parsley
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/regulo 6.
Peel the vegetables and cut into similar sized pieces – ½ inch (1cm) cubes are a good size. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil and season well with salt and freshly-ground pepper. Spread them in a single layer on one or several roasting tins. Roast, uncovered, stirring occasionally until they are fully cooked and just beginning to caramelize. Be careful, a little colour makes them sweeter, but there is a narrow line between caramelizing and burning. If they become too dark they will be bitter.  Serve sprinkled with freshly chopped Winter herbs, eg. Thyme, Rosemary, Chives and Parsley.

Swede Turnips with Caramelised Onions

Serves 6 approx.
2 lbs (900g) swede turnips
Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper
2-4 ozs (55-110g/ ½-1 stick) butter
Finely chopped parsley
Peel the turnip thickly in order to remove the thick outside skin. Cut into three-quarter inch (2cm) cubes approx. Cover with water. Add a good pinch of salt, bring to the boil and cook until soft. Strain off the excess water, mash the turnips well and beat in the butter. Taste and season with lots of freshly ground pepper and more salt if necessary. Garnish with parsley and serve piping hot.
Caramelised Onions
1 lb (450g) onions, thinly sliced
2-3 tablesp. (2-4 American tablesp.) olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Toss in the onions and cook over a low heat for whatever length of time it takes for them to soften and caramelize to a golden brown, 30-45 minutes approx.

Warm Salad of Jerusalem Artichokes with Hazelnut Oil Dressing

Serves 4
White turnips or KohlRabi are also delicious cooked and served in exactly the same way.
12 ozs (340g) Jerusalem Artichokes, very carefully peeled to a smooth shape
salt and freshly ground pepper
½ oz (15g) hazelnuts, tosted and sliced
a few leaves oakleaf lettuce
sprigs of chervil
Hazelnut Oil Dressing
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp. ) hazelnut oil or
1½ tablesp. (2 American tablesp.) hazelnut oil and
1½ tablesp. (2 American tablesp.) sunflower oil
1½ tablesp. (2 American tablesp.) white wine vinegar
¼ teasp. Dijon mustard
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar to taste
Slice the artichoke about one-third inch thick. Bring 4 fl ozs (110ml) water and ¼ oz butter to the boil in a heavy saucepan and add in the sliced artichokes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put a lid on the saucepan and cook gently until they are almost cooked. Turn off the heat and allow to sit in the covered saucepan until they are almost tender. The maddening thing about artichokes is that they cook unevenly so it will be necessary to test them with a skewer at regular intervals, they usually take at least 15 minutes.  While the artichokes are cooking, prepare the Hazelnut dressing by mixing all the ingredients together. Slice the hazelnuts and reserve for garnish.  When the artichokes are cooked carefully remove from the saucepan, making sure not to break them up. Place on a flat dish in a single layer. Spoon over the hazelnut dressing and toss while still warm. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
To assemble the salad.
Divide the sliced artichokes between 4 plates. Put a little circle of lettuce around the vegetables and sprinkle some of the dressing over the lettuce. Garnish with the toasted hazelnuts and chervil sprigs. This salad is best when the artichokes are eaten while still warm.

Consuming Passions and Food Trends

Consuming Passions, that five minute Aussie TV Cook Show with incorrigible host Ian Parmenter, makes compulsive watching.

I met Ian and his lovely partner Ann on their home turf recently and discovered that the irreverent and irrepressible chef with the shiny pate and frizzy grey hair is not in fact an Aussie at all.
A London journalist who worked with Haymarket Publishing on business magazines for years, he headed for Oz in 1971 attracted by the drier sunnier climate and less ‘stitched-up’ lifestyle. In Perth he went into PR and then worked behind the scenes in ABC TV, mostly on sports programmes. It was 15 years before he was discovered and virtually ordered to present a trial cookery slot.
He dashed off the pilot in irreverent mode acting the larriken as they say in Oz and instead of saying – you’re off, the talent scouts said – Bad luck you’re on! Ian figured he’d give it a shot for a year, now 9 years and 4-5 programmes later, Consuming Passions has been shown in 12 countries, including Ireland. He has written ten cookbooks and in 1995 he won the prestigious Prix de la Profession at the ‘Festivale Internationale de Télé Gourmande’ in Deauville , France.
Two years later he initiated ‘Tasting Australia’ a biennial food and drink festival in Adelaide. He is also Chairman of the World Food Media awards held in Australia. The last event attracted 330 entries and they hope to take the awards to Dublin in 2002.
Ian and Ann have just moved into their newly built house just outside Margaret River in Western Australia. Heroically they welcomed us as their very first house-guests just three days after they moved in.Ian and Ann love Ireland and his new book ‘Cooking with a Passion’ published by ABC Books, includes a very complimentary chapter on Irish food. To bring back happy memories and to appease their nostalgia for Ireland and all things Irish, I made a soda bread and christened their new oven. The recipe worked brilliantly with Australian flour and buttermilk.
The following morning I woke early and sipped my tea on the balcony overlooking the vineyard and watched the 28’s and rosetta parrots and magpies playing in the Eucalyptus trees and through the vines. Ian and Ann planted 6 acres of Chardonnay about 5 years ago and now made a crisp, dry and delicious white wine called ‘Artamus’, called after the wood swallow who live in the vineyard.
Ann, whose beautifully healthy vines have confounded local growers, has plans to expand the vineyard and to plant some red varieties as soon as they get settled in.
Ian Parmenter’s new book ‘Cooking with Passion’ is available from

 Food Trends

So what are the food trends as we enter the new Millennium?
Murdoch Magazines commissioned a recent study on eating habits which was in some instances predictable, but in others surprising.
The growing demands on our time have increased the importance of convenience foods – 63% of those questioned used fast food at least once a month.
Traditional cooking skills are being replaced by meal assemblage skills because availibility of semi or fully prepared meals has made meal preparation in the home easier.  Food integrity is a major concern, people are becoming more aware of chemicals and artificial ingredients, nutritional value, storage time, food safety and genetic engineering.  The demand for ‘real food’ is growing, real food is perceived to be fresh, naturally produced, local, perhaps organic.  Free range is becoming a buzz word, not only for eggs, but also for meat, particularly poultry.
The growth in the demand for organic produce in both the UK and US was over 40% last year. At present the demand outstrips the supply, even in Ireland where the population in general seems to be slower to embrace the organic way.  Our health concerns have grown beyond, weight, cholestrol and heart disease. The increase in food allergies, diabetes, gastric problems, cancer and asthma has caused universal unease.
A majority now accept that diet impacts on both physical and emotional health. The number of people with vegetarian leanings is increasing and meat intake is decreasing with each new food scare. The BSE, Salmonella and Dioxin scandals have all served to concentrate people’s minds on the type of food we eat and how it is produced. A high percentage of people are still paranoid about fat intake, although surveys indicate that they don’t necessarily practise what they preach.  Recent articles in the US have questioned the validity of the low fat nutritonal advice as the number of obese people has grown steadily and alarmingly through the years that low fat food was consumed. Changes in diet currently focus on reducing fat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol and junk food.
Food tastes are gradually changing too, and currently are in a state of flux between the ‘old’, eg. chops and mince, and the ‘new’ – pasta, pizza, stirfries……
Newer ethnic style cuisine has not yet taken over from Anglo Celt traditions but currently accounts for a growing percentage of meals. Most popular food styles are Italian, Mediterranean, Californian, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Mexican, with Japanese and Vietnamese likely to grow. Interest in French as we know it is waning.
Fusion food is the newest buzz word, replacing Nouvelle Cuisine and just as misunderstood – dubbed Confusion by many food critics and restaurant writers.
Best fusion food is cooked by chefs and cooks who really understand the ingredients of both the East and West.
There is a general feeling that the best fusion food is to be found in Australia, California and London, where many Australian and New Zealand chefs are heading up the most successful restaurants.
Newer types of products such as soy sauce, marinade, curry paste, pesto and sundried tomatoes, are prevalent cooking ingredients.
Food is coming of age and is now considered to be an acceptable lifestyle interest and a way of expressing one’s creativity. A growing number of people like reading about food, see themselves as foodies, enjoy TV food shows. The sales of cook books and wine books has increased dramatically.
Multi culturalism has been a major influence. In urban areas particularly, eating out has an increasing role in socialising, no longer reserved for special occasions and in some cases replacing home entertaining. Although traditional eating habits are still followed in many homes, eating on the run is increasing and fewer families eat together on a regular basis.
Meals that are eaten at home are often eaten in front of the TV or with the TV on in the room.
Microwave cookers are a fixture in most homes. The ready-cooked meal market is one of the fastest growing sectors in the food business with more and more variety on offer. Yet, a growing number of upwardly mobile young people see cooking as a hobby and method of relaxation, particularly at weekends. A recent report in the UK indicated that more people are now growing their own vegetables, fruit and herbs than at any time since the last world war. Seed companies have reported record sales of vegetable seeds.
The trendiest young people are buying their food in markets, growing some of their own and giving dinner parties where they serve their own produce fresh from the garden. So for the new Millennium send away for some seed catalogues, polish up your cooking skills and invite a few friends around to share the bounty of your garden.


Noodle Soup


Serves 6
5½ ozs (155 g) somen or other very thin noodles, such as angel hair, cooked until just tender, rinsed under warm water and drained
1 lb (450 g) shrimps cooked and peeled
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Chinese rice wine or sake
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon sunflower or arachide oil
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) chopped shallots (white part only)
2 teaspoons garlic, crushed
½ lb (225 g) pea shoots, sugar snaps or iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced
2½ fl ozs (63 ml/¼ cup) Chinese rice wine or sake
2¼ pints (1.3L/5½ cups) homemade chicken stock
1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
Coriander leaves
Divide the noodles equally among six soup bowls.
Mix the shrimps in a bowl with the rice wine and ginger, toss lightly to coat. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the scallions and garlic and stir-fry for 15 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the pea shoots, sugar snaps or iceberg lettuce and rice wine. Increase the heat to the highest and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock and salt and bring to the boil. Add the shrimps and simmer for about 1½ minutes, until they turn pink, skimming the soup to remove any foam or impurities. Divide the noodles between six bowls, ladle the soup over them, garnish with coriander leaves and serve immediately.


Grilled Mexican Club Wrap


Serves 4
2 large chicken breasts
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) Extra Virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices streaky bacon
1 ripe avocado (preferably Haas)
3 tablespoons (4 American tablespoons) Mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
¼ cup chopped coriander
1 Jalapeno chilli, finely chopped
4 x 10 inch (25 cm) flour tortillas
8 thin slices smoked cheese eg. Gubbeen
8 thin slices very ripe tomato
4 lettuce leaves
Remove fillets from the chicken. Pound chicken breasts thin and cut into strips like the fillets. Marinate in olive oil, garlic, cumin, and pepper for ½ hour. Season with salt. Pan-grill on both sides until cooked through – about 5 minutes. Reserve.  Grill bacon until crisp. Drain well.
Next make the Guacamole Mayonnaise.
Mash the avocado and add to the Mayonnaise with coriander and finely chopped chilli.
To make the wraps
Place a tortilla on the work surface. Spread with about 2 tablespoons of Guacamole Mayonnaise. Place 2 slices of cheese on the tortilla, just below the middle. Top with a few chicken strips and crispy bacon. Season the tomato slices with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Place a few on top and then some lettuce. Fold in the edges and roll up tightly.  Either wrap in aluminium foil and warm up in a 180C/350F/regulo 4 oven for 10 minutes or grill just 2 minutes per side.


Spring Rolls with Thai Dipping Sauce


Makes 20-40 depending on size
Note: Thai or Chinese spring roll wrappers may be used. For tiny spring rolls, cut the large ones into 4 inch squares.
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) dried black fungus (woodears)
8 dried Chinese mushrooms, Shiitake
½ oz (15 g) cellophane noodles
1 spring onion or scallion
1½ oz (40 g) onion
4 oz (100 g) lean pork, minced
4 oz (100 g) cooked white crab meat, shredded
½-1 teaspoon ginger, peeled and grated
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 egg, preferably free-range
1 large head soft lettuce
1 good sized bunch fresh mint sprigs
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) plain white flour
Vietnamese rice papers or Chinese spring roll wrappers
Oil for deep-frying
Thai Dipping Sauce (see recipe)
Soak the black fungus in 10 fl oz (300 ml) hot water for 30 minutes. Lift the fungus out of the water and rinse it under cold running water. Feel for the hard ‘eyes’ and cut them off. Chop the fungus very finely. You should have about 4 tablespoons. Soak the dried mushrooms in a separate 10 fl oz (300 ml) hot water for 30 minutes or until they are soft. Lift them out of the liquid and cut off the hard stems. Chop the caps finely. Soak the cellophane noodles in a large bowl of hot water for 15-30 minutes or until they are soft. Drain and cut them into ½ inch (1 cm) lengths.  Finely chop the spring onion. Peel the onion and chop it finely. Put the pork with the crab meat, ginger, black fungus, mushrooms, cellophane noodles, spring onion, onion,  salt, black pepper and egg into a bowl and mix well. Put a spring roll wrapper onto the work top.  Put a heaped tablespoon of the pork-crab mixture roughly in the centre, but closer to the edge nearest you. Spread the mixture into a sausage shape. Fold the side nearest the filling over it. Then fold the two adjacent sides over to the centre. Now roll the parcel away from you and seal.
Make all the spring rolls in the same way and set them aside on a plate.  Heat the oil in a wok or deep-fat fryer over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, fry a few spring rolls at a time until they are golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.   Arrange the spring rolls on a plate. Serve the lettuce leaves and mint leaves on another plate. Put a small bowl of Thai Dipping Sauce near each diner. To eat, take a lettuce leaf, or part of one, and put a spring roll and a few mint sprigs on it; roll it up and dip into the sauce.


Thai Dipping Sauce

A version of this sauce is ever present on restaurant tables in Thailand and Vietnam. A great dipping sauce to use with grilled or deep fried meat or fish and of course spring rolls.
Serves 4
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp.) Nam pla, fish sauce
3 tablesp. (4 American tablesp.) freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
2 tablesp. (2 American tablesp. + 2 teasp.) sugar or more to taste
1 clove garlic, crushed
3-4 fresh hot red or green chillies

Combine the fish sauce, freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice, sugar and 3 tablespoons of warm water in a jar, add the crushed garlic. Mix well and pour into 4 individual bowls. Cut the chillies crossways into very thin rounds and divide them between the bowls.

Potato Tart with Smoked Salmon, Creme Fraiche and Crispy Capers

Serves 6
2 lbs (900 g) potatoes, peeled
1-2 ozs (15-30 g/¼-½ stick butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
18-24 capers
¼ pint/150 ml/generous ½ cup creme fraiche, approx.
1-2 tablespoons (1-2 American tablespoons + 1-2 teaspoons) chives
10-12 ozs/285-340 g smoked salmon
Rocket leaves

First make the Potato tart. Cut the peeled potatoes into julienne strips and dry well. Rub a thick even coating of butter over the base and sides of a heavy 10 inch (25.5 cm) pan. Press half the potatoes into a thick layer to cover the base of the pan. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the rest of the potatoes, season again. Add a few knobs of butter. Cover with butter wrapper and a close fitting lid. Cook on a gentle heat for about 15-20 minutes.  Dry the capers. Deep fry quickly in hot oil until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.  When the potatoes are cooked through, crisp and golden on the base, invert onto a hot serving plate. Spread generously with creme fraiche and sprinkle with chopped chives.
Top with slices of smoked salmon, make a nest of Rocket leaves in the centre. Sprinkle with crispy capers and serve immediately.

Seared Spice Crusted Salmon with Red Lentil and Chilli Risotto

Serves 6

6 pieces of unskinned fresh salmon 5-6 ozs (140-170g) in weight
2 teasp. each of freshly roasted and ground cumin, coriander and fennel seeds
1 teasp. sea salt
Extra Virgin olive oil


Red lentil and Chilli Risotto


½ – 1 tablesp. (½ American tablesp. ½ teasp.) sunflower or peanut oil
2 teasp cumin
1 clove garlic crushed
1 teasp grated ginger
½ chilli sliced
6ozs(170g) red lentils
12fl ozs (1½ cups) Home made chicken stock
1 tablesp. (1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.)freshly chopped mint
1 tablesp.(1 American tablesp. + 1 teasp.) freshly chopped coriander
salt and freshly ground pepper
Rocket leaves
First make Red Lentil Risotto
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the cumin, crushed garlic, grated ginger. Add the sliced chilli cook for 3 or 4 minutes , add the lentils and cook for a minute or two, add a ladle full of hot stock. When it has been almost absorbed, add some more and continue until all the stock has been absorbed – about 20 minutes, Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in the freshly chopped mint and coriander. Taste and correct the seasoning, add a little lime juice if necessary.  Mix the ground spices and sea salt in a bowl.
Dip the salmon in olive oil and then into the spice mixture. Heat a frying pan, when hot, add a tiny drop of olive oil. Cook the salmon skin side down for 4 or 5 minutes on a medium heat, reduce the heat, flip over for a few minutes on the flesh side.
Serve immediately on a bed of Red Lentil and Chilli risotto.
Garnish rocket leaves and serve.


Breakfast Smoothie

Serves 2-4
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup milk
250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup yoghurt
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) crushed ice
½-1 tablespoon (½ American teaspoon/1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) honey
1 banana
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons ) fresh raspberries (optional)
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) wheatgerm
Put all the ingredients into the blender and whizz. Taste and serve immediately.

Citrus Fruits

Have you noticed how delicious the oranges are at present, so full of sweet juice – I particularly love the navels from Spain and Morocco, partly because of the little baby orange tucked inside. I also love the exquisitely sweet Spanish oranges that appear in the shops for a short time in January. What a happy arrangement of nature that the citrus family are at their very best during mid-Winter when we have the greatest need for Vitamin C and when many other fruits are out of season or sad tasteless versions of their Summer glory.

Every year the citrus fruit family seems to expand a little further as more and more hybrids come on stream. They range from the tiny kumquats which can be eaten ‘skin and all’ like the Corkman eats his spuds, to the giant pomelo with a flavour reminiscent of green grapes.

The clean fresh taste of oranges is doubly welcome after the excesses of Christmas. Watch out for the marmalade oranges from Malaga or Seville, they are just appearing in the shops now and will be around for about a month only. Choose bright unblemished fruit, if there’s even one tiny soft spot the whole orange will be tainted, so don’t imagine you are getting a bargain.

I adore making marmalade, there’s something about the smell which is so comforting, and the result is so rewarding. The jars of marmalade with chunks of bitter peel shining through the jelly make me long for toast and butter to spread it on.

Here we have four of my favourite recipes, remember it is crucial to cook the peel until really soft before adding the sugar, otherwise no amount of cooking will soften it. By the time the peel is soft the liquid should be reduced to between a third and half of its original volume, otherwise the marmalade will take ages to come to boiling point and lose its fresh taste.


Old Fashioned Seville Orange Marmalade



Seville and Malaga oranges come into the shops after Christmas and are around for just 4-5 weeks.
Makes approx. 7 lbs (3.2kg)
2 lbs (900g) Seville oranges
4 pints (2.3L) water
1 lemon
4 lbs (1.8kg) granulated sugar
Wash the fruit, cut in half and squeeze out the juice. Remove the membrane with a spoon, put with the pips, tie them in a piece of muslin and soak for 2 hour in cold water. Slice the peel finely or coarsely, depending on how you like your marmalade. Put the peel, orange and lemon juice, bag of pips and water into a non-reactive bowl or saucepan overnight.
Next day, bring everything to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours until the peel is really soft and the liquid is reduced by half. Squeeze all the liquid from the bag of pips and remove it.
Add the warmed sugar and stir until all the sugar has been dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to a full rolling boil, boil rapidly until setting point is reached 5-10 minutes approx. Test for a set, either with a sugar thermometer (it should register 220F), or with a saucer. Put a little marmalade on a cold saucer and cool for a few minutes. If it wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s done.
Stir well and pot immediately into hot sterilized jars. Cover immediately and store in a cool dry dark place.
N.B. The peel must be absolutely soft before the sugar is added, otherwise when the sugar is added it will become very hard and no amount of boiling will sofen it.

Seville Marmalade made with Whole Oranges

Marmalade oranges may be frozen whole, so this recipe is particularly useful in that instance. It works really well for frozen fruit as well as fresh.
Makes 13-15 lbs (6-7kg) approx.
42 lbs (2.2kg) Seville or Malaga oranges
9 pints (5.1L/222 cups) water
9 lbs (4kg/18 cups) sugar

Wash the oranges. Put them in a stainless steel saucepan with the water. Put a plate on top to keep them under the surface of the water. Simmer very gently until soft (2 hours approx.). Cool and drain, reserving the water. (If more convenient, leave overnight and continue next day.)
Warm the sugar in a low oven. Put your chopping board on to a large baking tray with sides so that you won’t lose any juice.
Cut the oranges in half and scoop out the soft centre with a teaspoon. Slice the peel finely. Put the pips into a muslin bag.
Put the escaped juice, reserved liquid, sliced oranges and the muslin bags of pips into a large wide stainless steel saucepan, bring to the boil and add 9 lbs of warm sugar, stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Boil fast until setting point is reached. Pot in sterilized jars and cover at once. Store in a dark airy cupboard.

Julia Wight’s Orange Marmalade

A dark marmalade for those who enjoy a more bitter tasting preserve.
Makes 10 lbs approx.
3 lbs (1.35kg) Seville oranges
juice of 2 lemons
4½ lbs (2kg) white sugar
½ lb (225g) soft brown sugar
Scrub the fruit. Place in a large pan, cover with water, bring to the boil and cook until tender, approx. 2 hours. Cut the fruit in half. Put pips and fibrous bits from the centre aside. Cut the peel into strips (Julia suggests about a ¼ inch (5mm) thick. Put the pips in a small pan with some of the water and boil for 10 minutes.
Strain the water back into the preserving pan , making up to 2¾ pints (1.6L) with the rest of the water. Add the sliced peel and freshly squeezed lemon juice, bring to boiling point. Add warmed white and brown sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring, and cook rapidly until setting point is reached, about 20 minutes. Skim and allow to stand for 20 minuts. Pot in clean sterilized jars. Cover and store in a cool dry place.