Communions and Confirmations

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The Holy Communion and Confirmation season will soon be in full swing. A very special family day where three and sometimes four generations join together to celebrate the occasion. Grannies, grandpa’s, aunties, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters and special friends all dressed to the nines and laden with presents congregate far and wide. After the ceremony is over, it’s an opportunity for the kids to play together, teenagers to hang out and for grown-ups to catch up on each other lives.

Restaurants are booked up weeks ahead and entertaining extended families can run into many hundreds or even thousands of euros very quickly. So it is worth considering inviting them back to your place. Entertaining a crowd at home is nothing like as scary as you might think provided you plan ahead and choose the menu carefully. Friends and other family members are often delighted to be asked to help with the cooking and organisation. Of course a beautiful scalloped marquee in the garden is wonderful but if you need to spill out into the garden a couple of those cotton pergolas from a local discount store can be an inexpensive option. Creative kids and their pals can embellish the basic structure with ribbons and bows, tissue paper and tin foil and have lots of fun in the process.

Friends love to be involved and many will be happy to bring a dish if asked – this may take a bit of choreography. So suggest a starter, main course or pudding. Have a big bowl of salad leaves with a good dressing and a big plate of Irish farmhouse cheese with some crusty bread. If you have a really good deli or a Farmers Market close by, you will be able to get a selection of artisan cured meats, pâtes and salmon, as well as olives and smoked fish. It’s so easy to do an appealing array with Frank Hederman’s smoked mackerel, eel, salmon, haddock and mussles, a bowl of pickled cucumber, a bowl of homemade mayonnaise and a bowl of horseradish sauce. Guests could just help themselves. How delicious would that be? If you don’t feel like cooking at all, order a few delicious apricot frangipane tarts from Richard Graham Lee (023 55344) or if you are in the Bandon area pick them up at the Urru Culinary Store (022 53192) over-looking the river.

The first of the New Season’s fresh strawberries are now being harvested, how gorgeous and easy would it be to pile them up in bowls and serve them with caster sugar and thick Glenilen cream.

Don’t forget to make big jugs of homemade lemonade for the children and adults. A little Prosecco (sparkling Italian wine) for the adults will add even more bubble to the party. But if like me, you love to cook then here’s a simply delicious menu which can be made ahead.

Top Tips
Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore, Co Waterford with beautiful view over the bay has recently reopened after extensive renovations. It’s managed by Adrian Bartells, The young Dutch chef Martin Kajuiter is passionate about fresh, local produce and is serving some of the most delicious food I’ve tasted for as many a long day. The word is already out so book soon. Telephone: (024) 87800
Celebrate your Local Artisan Food Producers with dinner at Nautilus Restaurant, Ballycotton – Wednesday May 7th, seating at 7pm dinner 7.30pm – local cheese, free range chicken and mackerel will be featured on the menu – Members €45, non-members €55 – booking essential. Telephone: (021)-4646768 or 087-6135897 slowfood@cookingisfun.ie

Molecular Gastronomy – the latest developments between the kitchen and the laboratory 2-5pm Wednesday 7th May 2008
At Dublin Institute of Technology, Cathal Brugha St. in conjunction with the Institute of Food Science and Technology of Ireland (IFSTI)
Molecular gastronomy is a scientific discipline involving the study of physical and chemical processes that occur in cooking – for anyone interested in the science of food, chefs and caterers looking to spice up their menus. Manufacturers and retailers looking for ideas for product development and anyone who likes to experiment at home.

Details from IFSTI – Telephone: (01) 8171338 ifsti@hotmail.com

Rillettes of Fresh and Smoked Salmon with lots of serving suggestions

This is a terrific standby recipe that can be tarted up in all sorts of ways or simply slathered on hot thin toast or crusty bread.
The texture of this pate should be coarse and slightly stringy – it should resemble that of pork rillettes, where the meat is torn into shreds with forks rather than blended. Don’t be spooked if the amount of butter you use – you’re not going to eat it all yourself! Serve as a canapé piped on thick slices of cucumber or for a posh starter you can line little moulds with a slice of smoked salmon and serve with cucumber pickle.

Serves 12-16

340g (3/4 lb) freshly-cooked salmon

340g (3/4 lb) smoked wild or organic Irish salmon

340g (3/4 lb) softened butter

salt and freshly ground pepper

a good grating of nutmeg

lemon juice to taste

For the Smoked Salmon

30g (1oz) butter

28ml (1/2 fl oz) water

clarified butter (optional)
Melt 30g (1 oz) butter in a small 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 lots of freshly gratede 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 or cling film. Serve with hot toast or hot crusty white bread. Salmon rillettes keeps perfectly in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days or can be frozen for 3 – 4 weeks provided it is well sealed.

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Gratin of Chicken with Broccoli, Cauliflower or Zucchini

Serves 8-12

This is one of those dishes that can be mouth-watering or a complete disaster. Its success depends on the broccoli being carefully cooked so that it is bright green and just tender.

1 x 1.5kg (3 1/2 lb) chicken*, free range if possible

4 carrots, sliced

4 onions, sliced

sprig each of thyme and tarragon

a few peppercorns

600ml (1 pint) homemade chicken stock

900g (2 lbs) broccoli florets

250g (8ozs) mushrooms, sliced

scrap of butter

350ml (12fl ozs) milk

350ml (12 fl ozs) cream

4 teaspoons tarragon or annual marjoram

60g (2ozs) Buttered crumbs (mix 1ozs of melted butter with 2ozs bread crumbs)

50-100g (2 – 4ozs) grated mature Cheddar cheese

2 x lasagne dish (25.5 x 20.5cm) 10 x 8 inch

Put the chicken into a saucepan or casserole with the onions and carrots add a sprig of thyme, tarragon and a few peppercorns. Pour in the stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 1- 1 1/4 hours or until the chicken is tender.

Meanwhile cook the broccoli florets in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and refresh under cold water, keep aside. Sauté the mushrooms in the butter on a hot pan season with salt and freshly ground pepper and keep aside also.

When the chicken is cooked remove the meat from the carcass, carve into bite-sized pieces.

Strain and degrease the cooking liquid, add the cream and milk, bring to the boil, add the tarragon or annual marjoram, simmer for a few minutes, thicken to a light coating consistency with roux, then add the chicken to the sauce. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Butter an ovenproof lasagne dish, put a layer of broccoli on the base, scatter the mushrooms on top and cover with the creamy chicken mixture.

Mix the Buttered Crumbs with the grated cheese and sprinkle over the surface. Reheat in a moderate oven 180C/350F/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes and flash under the grill until the top is crunchy and golden. Serve immediately.

Gratin of Chicken with Courgettes/Zucchini

Substitute 900g (2 lbs) buttered courgettes cooked al dente for broccoli.

Gratin of Chicken with Cauliflower

Substitute cauliflower florets for broccoli in the above recipe.

Piperonata

This Mediterranean vegetable stew can be made in large quantities. It keeps in a fridge for several days. It freezes brilliantly and reheats perfectly.

Serves 8-10

1 onion, sliced

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

1 x 400g (14ozs) tin chopped tomatoes or 6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe)

2 tablespoons olive oil

salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar

a clove of garlic, crushed

a few leaves of fresh basil

Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, then add the sliced onion, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then into strips across rather that lengthways, alternatively cut the pepper flesh into 3/4 – 1″ squares. Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.

Meanwhile, add the tin of tomatoes to the casserole. (If using whole tomatoes, peel them by putting them into a bowl and scald them in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately, slice and add to the casserole). Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.

Colcannon

Serves 8 approx.

Songs have been sung and poems have been written about Colcannon. It’s one of Ireland’s most famous traditional potato dishes. It’s comfort food at its very best and can be made with cabbage or kale. Terrific for a party.

Did you ever eat colcannon

When ’twas made with yellow cream

And the kale and praties blended

Like a picture in a dream?

Did you ever scoop a hole on top

To hold the melting lake

Of the clover-flavoured butter

Which your mother used to make?

450g (1lb) kale or Savoy or spring cabbage

1.35kg (3lb) ‘old’ potatoes, e.g. Golden Wonders or Kerrs Pinks

250ml (8fl oz) boiling milk approx.

30g (1oz) scallion or spring onion, optional

salt and freshly ground pepper

55g (2oz) butter approx.

Scrub the potatoes, put them in a saucepan of cold water, add a good pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for ‘old’ potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put onto a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked.

Remove the dark outer leaves from the cabbage. Wash the rest and cut into quarters, remove the core and cut finely across the grain. Cook in a little boiling salted water or bacon cooking water until soft. Drain, season with salt, freshly ground pepper and a little butter. If using kale, remove the central rib. Cook the kale in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender. This may take 8-10 minutes, depending on the type and maturity of the kale. Curly kale is sweetest after it has been mellowed by a few night frosts.

When the potatoes are just cooked, put the milk, and the finely chopped scallions into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pull the peel off the potatoes and discard, mash quickly while they are still warm and beat in enough boiling milk to make a fluffy puree. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes in the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade.) Then stir in the cooked cabbage and taste for seasoning. For perfection, serve immediately in a hot dish with a lump of butter melting in the centre.

Colcannon may be prepared ahead up to this point and reheated later in a moderate oven 180ºC/350ºF/gas mark 4, for 20-25 minutes approx. Cover while reheating so it doesn’t get too crusty on top.

Honey and Mustard Dressing

Use to dress a large bowl of salad leaves.

6 fl ozs (150ml) olive oil or a mixture of olive and other oils, eg. sunflower and arachide

2 fl ozs (50ml/ cup) wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 teasp. honey

2 heaped teasp. wholegrain honey mustard

2 cloves garlic

Mix all the ingredients together and whisk well before use.

Lemon Meringue Roulade

V C

Serves 8-10

4 egg whites

8 ozs (225g) castor sugar

1/2 pint (300ml) whipped cream

Lemon Curd

4 ozs (110g) castor sugar

2 ozs (55g) butter

grated rind and juice of 2 good lemons

2 eggs and 1 egg yolk (keep whites aside for meringue)

Garnish

sprigs of Mint, Lemon Balm or Sweet Cicely

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

Preheat the oven to 180C\350F\regulo 4. Put the egg whites into a 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 it 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 ought to 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 lemon curd.

On a very low heat melt the butter, add castor sugar, lemon juice and rind and then stir in well-beaten eggs. Stir carefully over a gentle heat until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Draw off the heat and pour into a bowl (it will thicken as it cools).

To Assemble

Spread the whipped cream and lemon curd over the meringue roll up from the narrow end and carefully ease onto a serving plate. Pipe 6 rosettes along the top of the roulade, decorate with mint leaves or lemon balm or sweet cicily leaves. Serve cut into slices about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick accompanied by a little more lemon curd if desired.

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Homemade Lemonades

We always keep some chilled ‘stock syrup’ in the fridge so its simplicity itself to make a variety of lemonades. They contain no preservatives so they should be served within a few hours of being made. Many different types of citrus fruit and flavoured syrups may be used.

To make the Syrup:

1 lb (450g) sugar

1 pint (600ml) water

Dissolve the sugar in water and boil together for 2 minutes. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator until needed.

Oranges and Lemonade

Makes 2.7l (4 1/2 pints)

4 lemons

2 orange

500ml (16fl oz) approx. stock syrup

1.5l (2 1/2 pint) approx. water

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm

Juice the fruit and mix with the stock syrup, add water to taste. Add ice, garnish with sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm and serve.

Limeade

Makes 1.2l (2 pints)

5 limes

700ml (1 1/4 pint) water

300ml (1/2 pint) stock syrup

Garnish

Sprigs of fresh mint or lemon balm

Make and serve as above. Taste and add more water if necessary.

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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