Delicious easy recipes that can be prepared ahead

Recently I’ve had several requests from readers of this column who are deep in preparation for their children’s Holy Communion or Confirmation Day. Could I please suggest some delicious easy recipes that can be prepared ahead and easily reheated on the special day? Must be a combination of treats that will tempt and be relished by all ages, in one case four generations! No problem, there are lots of options.

Soup, and or a simple pâte, are a really good basis. Its probably best to choose comforting favourites like Tomato and Basil or a slightly chunky Mushroom Soup. Have lots of good bread or maybe cheddar cheese scones. The soup can be made weeks ahead and frozen. The pâte will also keep in the fridge for several days. When the party return from the church those who are peckish can tuck into pate immediately to take the edge off their hunger, while the soup reheats. I suggest fresh and smoked Salmon Rillettes with cucumber salad. If you’d rather some shellfish, Dublin Bay Prawns with homemade mayonnaise are always a treat.

Chicken with Mushrooms is a safe bet for any age group, if you want to add a little extra pzazz one could add a little rosemary or freshly grated ginger to the sauce.

One could of course serve some fluffy mashed potato, but rice would be even easier. Piperonata or Tomato Fondue complement the chicken perfectly and don’t forget a lovely big bowl of green salad to aid digestion.

A gorgeous Mango and Passion Fruit Meringue Roulade, a Spring Fruit Salad, or a juicy Rhubarb & Strawberry Tart for pudding with soft brown sugar and cream should bring in the compliments. 

Tomato and Basil Soup

We worked for a long time to try and make this soup reasonably fool-proof. Good quality tinned tomatoes (a must for your store cupboard) give a really good result. Homemade tomato purée although delicious can give a more variable result depending on the quality of the tomatoes. Careful seasoning is crucial so continue to season and taste until you are happy with the result.
Serves 6

1¾ pints (750 ml) homemade tomato purée or 2 x 14 oz (400 g) tins of tomatoes, liquidized and sieved
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ oz (15 g) butter
8 fl ozs (250 ml) Béchamel sauce (white) (see recipe)
8 fl ozs (250 ml) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons freshly chopped basil
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
4 fl ozs (120 ml) cream

Whipped cream
Fresh basil leaves

Sweat the onion in the butter on a gentle heat until soft but not coloured. Add the tomato purée (or chopped tinned tomatoes plus juice), Béchamel sauce and homemade chicken stock. Add the chopped basil, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes.

Liquidize, taste and dilute further if necessary. Bring back to the boil, correct seasoning and serve with the addition of a little cream if necessary. Garnish with a tiny blob of whipped cream and some basil.

*Tinned tomatoes need a surprising amount of sugar to counteract the acidity.
* Fresh milk cannot be added to the soup – the acidity in the tomatoes will cause it to curdle
Note: This soup needs to be tasted carefully as the final result depends on the quality of the homemade purée, stock etc.

Tomato and Mint Soup

Substitute Spearmint or Bowles mint for basil in the above recipe.
Béchamel Sauce

1 pint (300 ml) milk
Few slices of carrot
Few slices of onion
3 peppercorns
Small sprig of thyme
Small sprig of parsley
1½ozs (45 g) roux (see recipe)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

This is a wonderfully quick way of making Béchamel Sauce if you have roux already made. Put the cold milk into a saucepan with the carrot, onion, peppercorns, thyme and parsley. Bring to the boil, simmer for 4-5 minutes, remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out the vegetables, bring the milk back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency by whisking in roux. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Tomato and Coconut Soup

Substitute Coconut milk for béchamel in the above recipe

4 ozs (110 g) butter
4 ozs (110 g) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Rillettes of Fresh and Smoked Salmon

The texture of this pate should resemble that of pork rillettes, where the meat is torn into shreds rather than blended.
Serves 12-16

340 g/: lb freshly-cooked salmon
340 g/: lb smoked wild or organic Irish salmon
340 g/: lb softened butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Lemon juice to taste
For the Smoked Salmon
30 g/1 oz butter
28 ml/2 fl oz water

Melt 30 g/1 oz butter in a low saucepan; add the smoked salmon and 1 tablespoon of water. Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes or until it no longer looks opaque. Allow it to get quite cold. 

Cream the butter in a bowl. With two forks, shred the fresh and smoked salmon and mix well together. Add to the soft butter still using a fork (do not use a food processor). Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and nutmeg. Taste and add lemon juice as necessary, and some freshly chopped fennel if you have it.

Serve in individual pots or in a pottery terrine. Cover with a layer of clarified butter. Serve with hot toast or hot crusty white bread. Salmon rillettes will keep perfectly in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days provided they are sealed with clarified butter.

Salmon Rilettes on Cucumber Slices

2 cucumbers
Salmon rillettes as above 
Cut the cucumber into ¼ slices. Pipe or spoon a blob of pâté onto the cucumber slices. Garnish with sprigs of chervil and chive or white garlic flowers.
Clarified Butter

Melt 8 ozs (225g/1 cup) butter gently in a saucepan or in the oven. Allow it to stand for a few minutes, and then spoon the crusty white layer of salt particles off the top of the melted butter. Underneath this crust there is clear liquid butter, which is called clarified butter. The milky liquid at the bottom can be discarded or used in a white sauce.

Clarified butter is excellent for cooking because it can withstand a higher temperature when the salt and milk particles are removed. It will keep covered in a refrigerator for several weeks.

Melba Toast

Serves 4
2 thin slices of white bread (sliced pan will do as long as it's not too thick)
Toast the bread on both sides. Cut the crusts off immediately and then split the slice in half. Scrape off any soft crumb, cut into triangles and put back under the grill, untoasted side up for a few seconds until the edges curl up.

Serve with pates.

Salmon Rillettes on Sour Dough
Toast or char grill a slice of sour dough bread, spread with some rillett mixture. Top with a few tiny Rocket leaves and some Chive or wild Garlic flowers.

Extra Posh Salmon Rillettes
12 – 16 very thin slices of smoked Salmon
12 – 16 moulds 5cm (2ins) diameter, 2.5cm (1in) deep 2½ fl oz capacity

Line the moulds with cling film. Put a slice of smoked salmon into each mould. Fill the moulds with the rilletts; fold the ends of the smoked salmon over the rilletts to cover. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour. 

Serve with Cucumber salad

Ballymaloe Sweet Cucumber Salad

½ cucumber, very thinly sliced
2 ozs (55g) onion, cut into fine rings
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
1¼ teasp. salt
1½ fl ozs (40ml) wine vinegar or 2 tablesp. cider vinegar

Mix the cucumber with the onion, castor sugar, salt and wine vinegar. Leave to marinate for about 1 hour.

Chicken Breasts with Mushrooms

Soaking the chicken breasts in milk gives them a tender and moist texture but it is not essential to this dish.
Serves 4 

4 chicken breasts, free range and organic 
milk, optional
salt and freshly ground pepper
15g (½oz) butter
2 tablespoons shallot or spring onion, chopped
110g (4oz) mushrooms, sliced
150ml (¼ pint) Chicken Stock - preferably homemade
150ml (¼ pint) cream
1 tablespoon chopped parsley or marjoram

sprigs of flat parsley

Soak the chicken breasts in milk, just enough to cover them, 1 hour approx. Discard the milk, dry with kitchen paper. Season with salt and pepper (this step is not essential).

Choose a saute pan just large enough to take the chicken breasts in a single layer.

Heat the butter in the sauté pan until foaming, put in the chicken breasts and turn them in the butter; (do not brown). Cover with a round of greaseproof paper and the lid. Cook on a gentle heat for 5-7 minutes or until just barely cooked. 

Meanwhile sweat the shallots gently in a pan in a little butter, increase the heat, add the sliced mushrooms, season with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook for 3-4 minutes. They should be slightly golden. Keep aside.

When the chicken breasts are cooked remove to a plate. Add the chicken stock and cream to the saucepan . Reduce the liquid by one-third over a medium heat, this will thicken the sauce slightly and intensify the flavour otherwise thicken with a little roux (see recipe). When you are happy with the flavour and texture of the sauce, add the chicken breasts and mushroom mixture back in with the parsley or marjoram. Simmer for a 1-2 minutes, taste and correct the seasoning. * Scatter some sprigs of flat parsley over the top. 

Serve with freshly cooked Orzo or rice.

* may be prepared ahead to this point, cool quickly, cover and refrigerate and reheat later.

Chicken with Mushroom and Ginger

Add 1-2 teaspoons of freshly grated ginger to the mushrooms in the pan.
Chicken with Mushroom and Rosemary
Tuck a sprig of rosemary in between the chicken breasts as they cook, discard later. 
Substitute 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary for ginger in the above recipe. Garnish with sprigs of rosemary. Serve with Penne or Orzo.

Plain Boiled Rice

I find this way of cooking rice in what we call ‘unlimited water’ to be very satisfactory for plain boiled rice. The grains stay separate and it will keep happily covered in the oven for up to half an hour.
Serves 8

400g (14oz) best quality long-grain rice, eg. Basmati rice 
8 pints of water
2 teaspoons salt
a large pot of cold water
a few little knobs of butter (optional)

Bring 8 pints of water to a fast boil in a large saucepan. Add salt. Sprinkle in the rice and stir at once to ensure that the grains don’t stick. Boil rapidly, uncovered. After 4 or 5 minutes (depending on the type of rice), test by biting a few grains between your teeth - it should still have a slightly resistant core. If it overcooks at this stage the grains will stick together later.

Strain well through a sieve or fine strainer. Put into a warm serving dish, dot with a few knobs of butter, cover with tin foil or a lid and leave in a low oven, 140ºC/275ºF/regulo 1, for a minimum of 15 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff up with a fork and serve.

Meringue Roulade with Passion Fruit and Mango

Serves 10
4 egg whites
225g (8oz) castor sugar

Mango and passion fruit Sauce
1 large ripe mango 
4 passion fruit 
1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1-2 tablespoons castor sugar

1 large ripe mango peeled and thinly sliced
2 passion fruit
300ml (½ pint) whipped cream

Sweet Cicely
Swiss roll tin 12 x 8 inch (30.5 x 20.5cm)

First make the roulade
Preheat the oven to 180C\350F\regulo 4. 

Put the egg whites into the spotlessly clean bowl of a food mixer. Break up with the whisk and then add all the castor sugar in one go. Whisk at full speed until the meringue holds a stiff peak 4 - 5 minutes approx. 

Meanwhile, line a swiss roll tin with tin foil. Brush lightly with a non scented oil (eg. sunflower or arachide). Spread the meringue gently over the tin with a palette knife, it should be quite thick and bouncy. 
Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes. 
Put a sheet of tin foil on the work top and turn the roulade onto it. Remove the base tin foil and allow the meringue to cool. 

Meanwhile make the Mango and Passionfruit sauce.

Peel the mango, chop the flesh and puree in a food processor. Put into a bowl, add the passion fruit seeds and juice, add freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar to taste. Cover and chill. Slice the mango for the filling into a bowl, add the passion fruit seeds and juice, toss gently.

To assemble 
Turn the roulade out onto a sheet of silicone paper dredged with icing sugar. Spread two thirds of the cream over the roulade, cover with a layer of fruit keep a little for decoration. 
Transfer carefully onto a serving dish. Pipe some rosettes of cream onto the top, decorate with some of the reserved fruit. 
Garnish with Sweet Cicely, dredge with icing sugar and serve.
If you prefer you could fill the roulade with lemon curd – see recipe March 26th.

Rhubarb and Strawberry Tart

This pastry is made by the creaming method so people who are convinced that they suffer from 'hot hands' don't have to worry about rubbing in the butter.
Serves 8-12

Break all the rules

8 ozs (225g) butter
2 ozs (55g) castor sugar
2 eggs, preferably free range
12 ozs (340g) white flour, preferably unbleached

1½lbs (700g) sliced red rhubarb (about ½ inch thick) 
½lb 225g) strawberries, sliced 
13 ozs (370g) granulated sugar, approx..
Castor sugar for sprinkling

To Serve
Softly whipped cream
Barbados sugar

tin, 7 inches (18cm) x 12 inches (30.5cm) x 1 inch (2.5cm) deep

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

First make the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together by hand or in a food mixer (no need to over-cream). Add the eggs and beat for a minute or two. Reduce speed to lowest setting and mix in the flour. Turn out onto a piece of floured greaseproof paper, flatten into a round wrap and chill. This pastry needs to be chilled for at least 1 hour otherwise it is difficult to handle. 

To make the tart
Roll out the pastry 1/8 inch (3mm) thick approx., and use about 2/3 of it to line a suitable tin. Put the sliced rhubarb and strawberries into the tart, sprinkle with sugar. Cover with a lid of pastry, seal edges, decorate with pastry leaves, egg wash and bake in the preheated oven until the rhubarb is tender, approx. 45 minutes to 1 hour. When cooked cut into squares, sprinkle lightly with castor sugar and serve with softly whipped cream and Barbados sugar. 

Foolproof Food

Mushroom Soup

Serves 8-9
Mushroom soup is the fastest of all soups to make and surely everyone's favourite. It is best made with flat mushrooms or button mushrooms a few days old, which have developed a slightly stronger flavour.

450g (1 lb) mushrooms (flat mushrooms are best)
110g (4 oz) onions 
25g (1oz) butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
30g (1oz) flour
600ml (1 pint) milk
600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock 

Rinse the mushrooms quickly under cold running water. Chop the onion finely. Melt the butter in a saucepan on a gentle heat. Toss the onions in the butter. Cover and sweat until soft and completely cooked. Meanwhile, chop up the mushrooms very finely.* Add to the saucepan and cook on a high heat for 4 or 5 minutes. Bring the stock & milk to the boil. Stir the flour into the onions, cook on a low heat for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, then add the stock and milk gradually, stirring all the time. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Taste and add a dash of cream if necessary. Serve immediately or cool & reheat later.

Tip: If you can't be bothered to chop the mushrooms finely, just slice and then whizz in a liquidizer for a few seconds when the soup is cooked. Stalks may also be used. Mushroom soup freezes perfectly.

Watchpoint: Bring the milk to the boil otherwise it may curdle if added to the soup cold.

Hot Tips

The Apple Farm, Moorstown, Cahir, Co Tipperary 

Have for sale – Jonagored eating apples and Bramley cookers, apple juice, apple jelly, farm-made cider vinegar and strawberry and plum jams. They also stock Anne Keating’s fine Baylough cheese. Their apple juice is now also for sale in John Griffin’s shop in William St. Listowel and McKeogh’s Londis on the Ballina (Co Tipperary) side of the Shannon at Killaloe, Co Clare. They have recently planted a new orchard which includes a selection of 50 old apple varieties which should produce next year.

Growing Awareness Gardening Workshops
Sunday 15th May – Summer Gardening Workshop- Keep your garden thriving through the summer by learning how to weed, mulch, water and control pests organically. Discover which salad crops to grow for winter use. All gardening workshops are with Jean Perry at Glebe Gardens, Baltimore – 4.5 acres of beautiful organic gardens with garden sculptures and a wildflower meadow. More planned for the summer months.
Contact Jean Perry on 028 20232 Email:  only €25 per workshop

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


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