Cooking is actually fun!

C
Hope you’ve been enjoying the feature on healthy food in the Examiner this week – lots of thought provoking articles which make us further realise the crisis that’s looming as a result of the deterioration of our national diet.
The statistics on obesity, diabetes and other diet related diseases are there for all of us to see – now its time for action. Time for all of us to rattle the pots and pans and make a difference in our own homes. A growing body of research is linking an impoverished diet with behavioural problems, unruly children, uncontrollable and aggressive teenagers, and indeed adults. It sounds simplistic to suggest that changing one’s diet can have such a dramatic effect – well why not try it.

Let’s throw out all the junk - packets, cans, processed food and sugary breakfast cereals and start from scratch.

Porridge is unquestionably the best and most nutritious breakfast cereal, I regularly tuck into a large bowl with dark brown sugar and Jersey milk, it’s a brilliant Glycaemic Index food which keeps you buzzing along until lunch time. If porridge seems a little heavy in May, why not start the day with a bowl of nut and grain muesli or crunchy granola topped with slices of organic banana – there’s even a better feel good factor if its also ‘fair trade’. 

How about getting a discussion going at home about the whole obesity issue and how much depends on the food we eat, get the whole family involved, let’s have some suggestions – do we need to review our eating habits, do we even want to bother? Is it worth the effort, are we piling on the pounds, feeling ratty, constipated, suffering from indigestion, low sex drive, low energy. Do we have unexplained lumps, bumps or rashes, regular headaches, heartburn…. Could it be that we need to review that diet after all. Problem is – we’re all too busy. Rush out to work, grab a breakfast at the nearest petrol station, maybe a Danish and a can of diet soda to give us our sugar fix. Several snacks and cups coffee between there and lunch, which will often be a sandwich made with sliced bread, heavily processed meat and cheese, maybe some coleslaw where the cabbage and carrots have been sterilised in Milton before being combined in the salad.

In the evening, we’re whacked after a hard day’s work with the minimum of nutrients to sustain the body, so we plump for the easy option – grab a burger, pizza, or tuck into a feed of steak and chips. Maybe stick a TV dinner into the microwave. A few glasses of wine or a beer to help us to relax – no energy to go for a walk, not to speak of a run, so we flop into bed and the vicious circle continues. If this sounds a teensy bit familiar, its definitely time for reappraisal but hang on, who is going to do all the work?. Many mums have full time jobs as well as their other full time job as mum, so despite the talent of keeping a million balls in the air, help is needed and corny as it may sound, cooking is actually fun. In fact it can be terrifically relaxing and rewarding if everyone, children included, gets involved in planning the menus, sharing the shopping and peeling, chopping, mixing, baking and then most importantly of all, sitting down together around the kitchen table to enjoy the fruits of your labour – that’s what memories are made of. Most importantly, if you have been able to get involved in the shopping and preparation, and you are fortunate enough to come home to a delicious meal, don’t forget to hug the cook and offer help with the washing-up. For far too many it’s a thankless task – so no wonder they opt for a ready meal. Remember, cooking yummy food is fun, try it, you’ll be blown away!

Vegetable Stir-Fry with Cashew Nuts

Olive Oil
Garlic crushed or chopped
Ginger, shredded
Spring Onions, cut at an angle
Chillies, sliced
A selection of 5 or 6 of the following:

Bean sprouts
Tomatoes, cut into quarters
Mange Tout, whole or cut in two at an angle
Spring Cabbage, shredded
French Beans, cut in ½ or sliced at an angle
Celery, sliced at an angle
Red/Green/Yellow Peppers, cut into strips at an angle
Shitake Mushrooms, sliced
Celeriac, cut into julienne strips
Broccoli, small florets
Leeks, cut at an angle
Carrots, cut in ½ inch and sliced at an angle
Cauliflower, florets
Peas
Sugar Peas or Snaps, whole or cut in half at an angle
Asparagus, cut at an angle
Baby Sprouts, quartered
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
Toasted sesame oil or oyster sauce
Freshly chopped herbs
Cashew nuts

Heat the wok, add a few tablespoons of olive oil, when almost smoking add in the crushed or chopped garlic, spring onion, chilli and ginger, toss for a few seconds, then add the vegetables, salt and freshly ground pepper and continue to toss for a minute or two. Sprinkle with sesame oil or oyster sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Scatter with lots of freshly chopped herbs.
Turn into a hot dish and serve immediately.

Basic Frittata

Serves 2-4
In season: all year 

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.

8 large eggs, preferably free range organic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
85g (3oz) Gruyére cheese, grated
30g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
2 teaspoons parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
30g (1oz) butter
1 dessertspoon basil or marjoram

Non stick pan - 19cm (72inch) bottom, 23cm (9inch) top rim

Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, 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. 
Slide a palette knife under the frittata to free it from the pan. Slide onto a warm plate. 
Serve cut in wedges with a good green salad and perhaps a Tomato salad.

Mushroom Frittata

Serves 6-8
In season: all year 

Frittata is an Italian omelette. Kuku and Tortilla all sound much more exciting than a flat omelette although that’s basically what they are. Unlike their soft and creamy French cousin, these omelettes are cooked slowly over a very low heat during which time you can be whipping up a delicious salad to accompany it! A frittata is cooked gently on both sides and cut into wedges like a piece of cake. Omit the tomato and you have a basic recipe, flavoured with grated cheese and a generous sprinkling of herbs. Like the omelette, though, you’ll occasionally want to add some tasty morsels, to ring the changes perhaps some Spinach, Ruby Chard, Calabreze, Asparagus, Smoked Mackerel etc... the list is endless but be careful don’t use it as a dust bin - think about the combination of flavours before you empty your fridge.

450g (1lb) flat mushrooms - washed and sliced
8 large eggs, preferably free range organic
salt and freshly ground black pepper
125g (4½oz) Gruyére cheese, freshly grated
40g (1oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons thyme leaves
25g (1oz) butter
1 tablespoon basil or marjoram

non stick pan - 19cm (7½ inch) bottom, 23cm (9 inch) top rim
a heat diffuser mat, optional

Heat some olive oil in a hot pan, add the sliced mushrooms. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and cook over a high heat until just wilted, cool.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl, add the salt, freshly ground pepper, chopped herbs, mushrooms and grated cheese into the egg mixture. 
Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan. When the butter starts to foam, tip in the egg mixture. Turn down the heat as low as it will go, use a heat diffuser mat if necessary. Leave the eggs to cook gently for 15 minutes, 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 and barely brown the surface.
Alternatively after an initial 4 or 5 minutes on the stove one can transfer the pan to a preheated oven 180C/350F/regulo 4 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 with a good green salad and perhaps a vine-ripened Tomato Salad (see page 00) and a few olives. 

Tip: Slice the mushroom stalk into thin rounds up to the cap, then lay the 
mushroom-gills down on the chopping board and slice. Use both stalk and caps for extra flavour and less waste. Alternatively put the stalks into a vegetable stock.


Gratin of Haddock with Imokilly Cheddar and Mustard with Piquant Beetroot

This is one of the simplest and most delicious fish dishes we know. If haddock is unavailable, cod, hake or grey sea mullet are also great. We use Imokilly mature Cheddar from our local creamery at Mogeely.
Serves 6 as a main course

175g (6 x 6oz) pieces of haddock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
225g (8ozs/2 cups) Irish mature Cheddar cheese, grated
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Dijon mustard
4 tablespoon (5 American tablespoon approx.) cream

Piquant Beetroot

1½ lbs/675 g beetroot cooked
½ oz15 g/¼-½ stick butter 
Salt and freshly ground pepper 
A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
A sprinkling of sugar (if necessary)
5-6 fl ozs/140-175ml/generous : cup cream 
1-2 tsp finely chopped chives.

Peel the beetroot, use rubber gloves for this operation if you are vain!. Chop the beetroot flesh into cubes. Melt the butter in a saute pan, add the beetroot toss, add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and cream, allow to bubble for a few minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and sugar. Taste and add a little more lemon juice if necessary. Serve immediately. 

Ovenproof dish 8½ x 10 inches (21.5 x 25.5cm)

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4. Season the fish with salt and freshly ground pepper. Arrange the fillets in a single layer in an ovenproof dish (it should be posh enough to bring to the table.) Mix the grated cheese with the mustard and cream and spread carefully over the fish. It can be prepared ahead and refrigerated at this point. Cook in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the top is golden and bubbly. Flash under the grill if necessary. Serve with hot Piquant Beetroot. 

Pangrilled Fish with Flavoured Butters

Pangrilling is one of my favourite ways to cook fish, meat and vegetables. Square or oblong cast-iron pangrills can be bought in virtually all good kitchen shops and are a ‘must have’ as far as I am concerned. In this recipe you can use almost any fish - mackerel, grey sea mullet, cod, sea bass, haddock - provided it is very fresh.
8 x 6 ozs (170 g) of very fresh fish fillets
Seasoned flour
Small knob of butter

Garnish
Segment of lemon
Sprigs of Parsley

Accompaniment
Flavoured butter (see below) or Tomato Fondue (see recipe) 

Heat the pan grill. Dip the fish fillets in flour which has been well seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper. Shake off the excess flour and then spread a little butter with a knife on the flesh side, as though you were buttering a slice of bread rather meanly. When the grill is quite hot but not smoking, place the fish fillets butter side down on the grill; the fish should sizzle as soon as they touch the pan. Turn down the heat slightly and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes (time depends on the thickness of the fish). Turn over and cook on the other side until crisp and golden. Serve on a hot plate with a segment of lemon and some slices of flavoured butter or a Salsa. 

Some good things to serve with pan-grilled fish

Parsley or Herb Butter 
4ozs (110 g/1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley or a mixture of chopped fresh herbs - parsley, chives, thyme, fennel, lemon balm
A few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice

Cream the butter and add in the parsley or mixed herbs and a few drops of lemon juice. Roll into butter pats or form into a roll and wrap in greaseproof paper or tinfoil, screwing each end so that it looks like a cracker. Refrigerate to harden.

Watercress Butter
Substitute fresh watercress leaves for parsley in the recipe above. Delicious served with salmon or john dory.

Dill or Fennel Butter
Substitute dill or fennel for parsley in the recipe above. Also delicious served with pan-grilled fish.

Mint or Rosemary Butter
Substitute 2 tablespoons of finely chopped mint or 1-2 tablespoons of rosemary for the parsley in the recipe above.

Wild Garlic Butter
Substitute wild garlic leaves for parsley in the recipe above. Garnish the fish with wild garlic leaves and flowers.

Nasturtium Butter
Substitute 3 tablespoons of chopped nasturtium flowers (red, yellow and orange) for the parsley in the recipe above.

Garlic Butter
Add 3-5 crushed garlic cloves to the parsley butter.

Grainy Mustard Butter 
This is particularly good with mackerel or herring

4ozs (110g/1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons approx. grainy mustard
Cream the butter, add the mustards, put into a bowl and cover or form into a roll and refrigerate until needed.

Olive and Anchovy butter 
4 ozs (110g/1 stick) butter
1-2 anchovies
4 black olives, stoned
2 teaspoons approx. freshly chopped parsley

Whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor or chop ingredients finely and mix with the butter. Put in a bowl and cover or form into a roll and refrigerate until needed.

Chilli and Coriander Butter 
4 ozs (110 g/1 stick) butter
1 chilli, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) chopped fresh coriander or marjoram
Freshly ground pepper
A few drops of lime or lemon juice

Cream the butter, then add the chilli and fresh herbs. Season with freshly ground pepper and lime or lemon juice. Put in a bowl and cover or form into a roll and refrigerate until needed.

Poached Whole Salmon or Sea Trout to be served Cold

1 whole salmon or sea trout
Water 
Salt 

Garnish 
Crisp lettuce leaves
Sprigs of watercress, lemon balm, fennel and fennel flowers if available 
A segment of lemon for each person 
Home-made Mayonnaise 

Special Equipment 
Fish Kettle 

Clean and gut the salmon carefully; do not remove the head, tail or scales. Carefully measure the water and half fill the fish kettle, adding 1 rounded tablespoon of salt to every 40 fl ozs/2 imperial pints. Cover the fish kettle and bring the water to the boil. Add the salmon or sea trout and allow the water to come back to the boil. Simmer for just 2 minutes and then turn off the heat. Keep the lid on and allow the fish to cool completely in the water (the fish should be just barely covered in the water). 
To serve: When the fish is barely cold, remove from the fish kettle and drain for a few minutes. Line a large board or serving dish with fresh crisp lettuce leaves, top with sprigs of watercress, lemon balm and fennel and fennel flowers if available. Carefully slide the salmon onto the board. Just before serving, peel off the top skin, leave the tail and head intact. (We don’t scrape off the brown flesh in the centre because it tastes good.) Pipe a line of home-make Mayonnaise along the centre of the salmon lengthways, garnish with tiny sprigs of fennel and fennel flowers or very thin twists of cucumber. Put some segments of lemons around the dish between the lettuces and herbs. Resist the temptation to use any tomato or - horror of horrors - to put a slice of stuffed olive over the eye! The pale pink of the salmon flesh with the crisp lettuces and fresh herbs seems just perfect. Serve with a bowl of good home-make Mayonnaise. 

Whole Salmon or Sea Trout cooked in Foil

1 salmon or sea trout, 3.4-4kg/8-9lbs approx.
Sea salt and freshly-ground pepper
110g/4ozs/1 stick butter approx. 
Sprig of fennel 
Garnish 
Segments of lemon and sprigs of parsley or fennel 
A large sheet of good quality tin foil 

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

Clean and gut the fish if necessary, dry carefully. Put the sheet of tin foil on a large baking sheet, preferably with edges. Place the salmon in the centre of the sheet of tin foil. Smear butter on both sides and put a few lumps in the centre. Season with salt and freshly-ground pepper and put a sprig of fennel in the centre if you have it. Be generous with the butter, it will mix with the juices to make a delicious sauce to spoon over your cooked fish. Bring the tin foil together loosely and seal the edges well. 
Bake for 90 minutes approx. (allow 10 minutes per 450g/1lb). Open the package, be careful of the steam. Test by lifting the flesh off the backbone just at the thickest point where the flesh meets the head. The fish should lift off the bone easily and there should be no trace of blood; if there is, seal again and pop back in the oven for 5 or 10 minutes, but be careful not to overcook it. 
Serve hot or cold. If you are serving it hot, spoon the juices over each helping, or use the butter and juice to make a Hollandaise-type sauce by whisking the hot melted butter and salmon juice gradually into 2 cold, serve with some freshly-made salads and a bowl of home-made mayonnaise. Garnish with parsley and fennel.

Poached Whole Salmon or Sea Trout to be served Hot or Cold 

A whole poached salmon served hot or cold is always a dish for a very special occasion. Long gone are the days when the servants in great houses complained bitterly if they had to eat salmon more than twice a week! 
If you want to poach a salmon or sea trout whole with the head and tail on, then you really need to have access to a ‘fish kettle’. This is a long narrow saucepan which will hold a fish of 3.9-4kg/8½-9lbs weight. Most people would not have a fish kettle 

in their houses, so if you want to keep the fish whole then the best solution would be to bake it in the oven wrapped in tin-foil.
Alternatively, you could cut the salmon into three pieces, and cook them separately in the way I describe for cooking a piece of salmon. Later, you could arrange the salmon on a board or serving dish, skin it and do a cosmetic job with rosettes of mayonnaise and lots of fresh herbs. 
A 3.4kg/8lbs salmon will feed 16 people very generously and it could quite easily be enough for 20. 125-140g/4½-5ozs cooked salmon is generally plenty to allow per person as salmon is very rich. Use any left-over bits for salmon Mousse or Salmon Rillettes. 

Ballymaloe Poached Whole Salmon or Sea Trout to be served Hot

1 whole salmon or sea trout
Water 
Salt 
Garnish 
Sprigs of fresh parsley, lemon balm and fennel 
Hollandaise Sauce
A segment of lemon for each person 
Special Equipment 
Fish kettle 

Clean and gut the salmon carefully; do not remove the head, tail or scales. Carefully measure the water and half fill the fish kettle, add 1 rounded tablespoon of salt to every 40 fl ozs/2 imperial pints. Cover the fish kettle and bring the water to the boil. Add the salmon or sea trout and allow the water to come back to the boil. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Then turn off the heat and leave the salmon in the water for a few minutes (4-5) to settle. Then remove from water. It will keep hot for 20-30 minutes. 
To serve: Carefully lift the whole fish out of the fish kettle and leave to drain on the rack for a few minutes. Then slide onto a large hot serving dish, preferably a beautiful long white china dish, but failing that, whatever it will fit on! Garnish with lots of parsley, lemon balm and fennel and 10-12 segments of lemon. I don’t remove the skin until I am serving it at the table, then I peel it back gradually as I serve; however, if you prefer, remove the skin just at the last second before bringing it to the table. When you have served all the fish from the top, remove the bone as delicately as possible, put it aside and continue as before. Serve with Hollandaise Sauce. 

Hot Tips

Garryvoe Hotel have recently opened their very stylish new extension – reception area, bar and restaurant – wishing them continued success.

Farming, food and health – an indivisible chain – Soil Association Scotland Conference, Battleby, Perthshire, Scotland – Wednesday 25th May.

A 1-day Conference presented by the Soil Association Scotland, Scottish Agricultural College and Scottish Natural Heritage. For further information tel 0044 117 314 5000 www.soilassociation.org  

Ballymaloe House has just won the Restaurant of the Year Award, sponsored by Bushmills – congratulations to all concerned.

Fabulous Food Fair in Co Tipperary Sunday 3rd July 12-6– Tipp FM is delighted to offer all quality food providers a unique forum in which to display and sell their quality food. To book a stand contact Noreen Condon 087-2795900 or Geraldine Henchion 087-2523215.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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