Sometimes a broody hen hatches out a clutch of chickens secretly in the ditch and arrives in proudly with them all clustered around her. So far none this year, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. This week we’ve just had some little chicks hatch out in the incubator in the shed. Twenty one days ago we filled it with a mixture of fertilized eggs from a variety of fowl – Marans, Araucana, Rhode Island Red, Light Sussex. Three weeks later it’s not just the kids who are excited when they start to cheep and peck their way out of the shells.
Everyone clusters around cooing and snapping shots of the cute little chicks, some still damp and scraggly from the shells. After 24 hours they are transferred to the Palais des Poulets, where they keep warm under a lamp until they are hardy enough to be able to scratch and forage for themselves outside. After about five months they’ll be starting to lay a variety of different coloured eggs – the marrans produce deep brown speckledy eggs, light Sussex – white, the araucana lay true blue eggs which are always a kitchen talking point.
No eggs will ever taste better or be fresher than the eggs from your own hens and there’s also the feel good factor – food miles are non –existent and the food scraps from the house can be fed to the hens who return the compliment by rewarding you with eggs a few days later, a delicious holistic system.
For anyone with a tiny garden with even a scrap of lawn, space shouldn’t be a problem. Hens come in two sizes, large fowl and bantams which are quarter of the size and they can be decorative as well as functional.
Provide as much space as is feasible, a mobile ark is a good idea. There are a variety of houses available from the tiny Eglu hen houses and movable arks to larger portable hen houses.
If you move the ark and run around every few days, three or four hens will be happy on even a small patch of grass. Don’t worry about annoying the neighbours, your hens will be quite happy without a cockerel , they will also lay eggs but they won’t produce chicks.
It takes less than ten minutes a day to look after your poultry and can provide hours of pleasure watching their antics. Don’t forget to give your neighbours a present of a few of your beautiful eggs from time to time, so they will be happy to look after your flock when you are on holiday!
From the cook’s point of view, the quality of the eggs makes an enormous difference to one’s cooking. Sponges and scones are lighter and more delicious, homemade mayonnaise emulsifies in seconds, even boiled eggs are different. For many they taste like a forgotten flavour, a simple hard-boiled egg becomes like a gourmet experience. Eggs are enormously nutritious and still incredible value at €3 – €3.50 for 6. Two or three boiled or poached for supper with some good soda bread will leave you feeling full and satisfied and cost a fraction of some of the other proteins.
This week I’m suggesting a few of my favourite egg recipes, many of which are dinner party fare, including a couple of delicious summery salads.
For eglu hen houses – www.omlet.co.uk

Canice Sharkey’s Rocket, Chorizo and hard-boiled egg salad

Serves 6

A delicious combination, good as a starter or main course for a summer lunch.

6 freshly laid organic eggs
6 tiny or 3 medium beetroots, cooked, peeled and quartered.
6-8oz (175-225g) chorizo, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil

A piece of aged Coolea, Desmond or Gabriel cheese
A mixture of salad leaves, cos, little gem, purslane, rocket leaves.

Home made mayonnaise

Vinaigrette made with:
3 tablesp extra virgin olive oil
3 tablesp red wine vinegar
A little Dijon mustard
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Boil the eggs in well-salted water for 6-7 minutes. Drain, cover with cold water to stop the cooking.

To prepare the beetroot, leave 5cm (2 inch) of leaf stalks on top and the whole root on the beet. Hold it under a running tap and wash off the mud with the palms of your hands, so that you don’t damage the skin; otherwise the beetroot will bleed during cooking. Cover with cold water and add a little salt and sugar. Cover the pot, bring to the boil and simmer on top, or in an oven, for 1-2 hours depending on size. Beetroot are usually cooked when the skins rub off easily and when they dent when pressed with a finger. If in doubt test with a skewer or the tip of a knife.

Meanwhile, whisk the ingredients for the vinaigrette together in a bowl.

Just before serving, heat a little olive oil in a pan, over a medium heat cook the slices of chorizo for a minute or two until they warm through and the oil begins to run.
Meanwhile toss the salad leaves in a little dressing and arrange on the base of the serving plate. Peel the eggs and cut lengthways, the centres should be still soft (they will be best if still warm). Arrange haphazardly on top of the leaves. Tuck beetroot quarters in between the leaves and sprinkle the slices of chorizo over the salad. Grate some hard cheese over the top. Drizzle the salad with the chorizo oil from the pan and serve immediately with lots of crusty sour dough bread and some homemade mayonnaise.


Classic Parmesan and Gruyère Cheese Soufflé

Serves 8-10
Guests are always wildly impressed by a well risen soufflé and believe me its not rocket science so don’t imagine for one moment that you can’t do it – a soufflé is simply a well flavoured sauce enriched with egg yolks and lightened with stiffly beaten egg. Soufflés are much more good humored than you think and can even be frozen when they are ready for the oven. The French do infinite variations on the theme, both sweet and savoury. I love to make this recipe with some of the best Farmhouse cheese eg: Desmond or Gabriel or a mature Coolea

For the moulds:
Melted butter
Souffle
15g (½ oz) Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano is best) – optional
45g (1½ oz) butter
30g (1 oz) flour
300ml (½ pint) milk
4 eggs, preferably free range and organic
55g (2 oz) Gruyere cheese, finely grated
55g (2 oz) freshly grated Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper

8 individual soufflé dishes, 7cm (2¾ inch) diameter x (4cm)1½ inch high or one large dish 15cm (6 inch) diameter x 6.5cm (2½inch) high.

First prepare the soufflé dish or dishes: brush evenly with melted butter and if you like dust with a little freshly grated Parmesan.
Preheat the oven to 200º C/400º F /gas mark 6 and warm a baking sheet. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, stir in the flour and cook over a gentle heat for 1-2 minutes. Draw off the heat and whisk in the milk, return to the heat, whisk as it comes to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Separate the eggs and put the whites into a large copper, glass or stainless steel bowl, making sure it’s spotlessly clean and dry. Whisk the yolks one by one into the white sauce, add the cheese, season with salt, pepper, cayenne and a little freshly ground nutmeg. It should taste hugely seasoned at this because the egg whites will dull the seasoning. Stir over a gentle heat for just a few seconds until the cheese melts. Remove from the heat. (can be made ahead up to this point)
Whisk the egg whites with a little pinch of salt, slowly at first and then faster until they are light and voluminous and hold a stiff peak when you lift up the whisk. Stir a few tablespoons into the cheese mixture to lighten it and then carefully fold in the rest with a spatula or tablespoon. Fill the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish or dishes (if you fill them ¾ full you will get about 10 but if you smooth the tops you will have about 8). Bake in a preheated oven for 8-9 minutes for the individual soufflés or 20-25 minutes. For the large one you will need to reduce the temperature to moderate, 180ºC / 350º F /gas mark 4, after 15 minutes and a bain marie is a good idea.
Serve immediately.

Top Tip: If you fill the soufflé dishes to the top smooth off with a palette knife then run a washed thumb around the edge of the dishes before they go into the oven to help to get the ‘top hat’ effect when the soufflé is well risen.
Individual frozen soufflés can be baked from the frozen but they will take a few minutes longer to cook.

Cheese Soufflés with salad leaves:
Just before the soufflés are cooling, toss a mixture of salad leaves and divide between the plates.

Son-In-Laws Eggs Khai Loog Kheoy

Wasinee Beech, the lovely Thai cook who has taught at the Ballymaloe Cookery School gave me this family recipe.

Serves 6

6 free range eggs
5 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and finely chopped
100g (3 ½ oz) minced free-range pork
5 fresh shitake or dried Chinese mushrooms, sliced.
2 tablespoons palm sugar or soft brown sugar
2 tablepoons nam pla fish sauce
5 tablespoons tamarind juice (see below)
125ml (4floz) of water
1 tablespoons lemon juice
3 spring onions, sliced into lcm (½ inch) long pieces
8 shallots, sliced thinly and fried with crispy in oil
2 dry red chillies, fry in a little oil or roast until fragrant but do not burn

To serve: Arjard Thai Cucumber Salad (see recipe)

Cook the eggs gently in boiling salted water for 7 minutes. Drain and cover with cold water. When cool, shell and set aside.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a wok, add the cooked and shelled eggs and fry until golden brown on all sides. Transfer the crispy fried eggs to a serving dish. Cut each egg in half and arrange nicely.

Clean the wok and heat the rest of the oil. Stir-fry the garlic until golden.
Add the minced pork and sliced shitake or Chinese mushrooms. Stir and fry until the pork is cooked.

Add the palm sugar, nam-pla, tamarind juice and freshly squeezed lemon juice. If more liquid is required, add a little bit of water from soaking the mushrooms.

Taste and correct seasoning. Add the spring onions, give a quick stir and spoon the sauce over the arranged eggs. Top with crispy shallots and chillies. Serve with plain boiled rice and Arjard.

Note: If using dried mushrooms, put into a bowl, cover with warm water and allow to soak for 15-30 minutes. Cut the shallots lengthwise as they do in Asia.

Tamarind juice: Put a 2oz lump of tamarind in a small bowl. Cover with 125ml (4floz) of warm water. Allow to soak for a minimum of 15 minutes and squeeze the stones from the bulb with your fingers. Then press through a sieve into another bowl.

Arjard Thai Cucumber Salad

Serves 4-6

1 cucumber, quartered and sliced thinly
2 shallots, peeled and sliced thinly lengthwise
1 red chilli, seeded and ringed thinly, sliced into rings
1 green chilli, seeded and sliced into rings

Marinade
3-4 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons water
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Mix the ingredients for the marinade together in a saucepan. Bring to the boil. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. When cool, pour the marinade over the cucumber.

Soft Hard-Boiled Eggs with Lettuce and Anchovies

I recently came across this recipe of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s in the Guardian Weekend – delicious and simple – A pared-down version of the classic niçoise, which places a bit more emphasis on the eggs.

Serves 4

2-4 lettuces (ideally a combination of cos/romaine and butterhead)
6 eggs, at room temperature
Olive oil
Vinegar
A pinch of sugar
Mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6-8 anchovies

Wash and gently dry the lettuce. Tear the larger leaves in half and put them in a salad bowl. The eggs should be what I call soft hard-boiled, ie, the whites completely set but the yolks just a bit runny in the middle. I achieve this pretty reliably by putting the eggs in a pan of hand-hot water, bringing it quickly to the boil and cooking them for exactly four minutes (five if they are extra large). Then I run them under the cold tap and peel them as soon as they are cool enough to handle.

Mix the oil and the vinegar in a ratio of 5:1, adding a pinch of sugar, a dab of mustard and some salt and pepper. Shake it up in a jar. Roughly chop the still-warm eggs and put them on top of the lettuce. Chop the anchovies and scatter over the eggs, then drizzle over the dressing. Serve at once.

Foolproof Food
Egg white Omelette

Calorie free!!
Serves 1

4 egg whites preferably free range organic
salt and freshly ground pepper (careful with the salt)
2 tbs of freshly chopped herbs eg parsley, chives, tarragon, thyme or rosemary.
Your chosen filling (optional)

1 dessertspoon clarified butter or olive oil
.
omelette pan, preferably non stick, 23cm (9 inch) diameter

Warm a plate in the oven. Whisk the eggs whites in a bowl, just enough to break up the albumen with a fork or whisk. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the warm plate beside the cooker.

Heat the omelette pan over a high heat – add the clarified butter or oil, it should sizzle immediately. Pour in the egg mixture. It will start to cook instantly so quickly pull the edges of the omelette towards the centre with a metal spoon or spatula, tilting the pan so that the uncooked mixture runs to the sides 4 maybe 5 times. Continue until most of the egg is set and will not run any more, the centre will still be soft and slightly under cooked at this point but will continue to cook on the plate. If you are using a filling, spoon the hot mixture in a line across the centre at this point.

To fold the omelette: Flip the edge just below the handle of the pan into the centre, then hold the pan almost perpendicular over the plate so that the omelette will flip over again, then half roll half slide the omelette onto the plate so that it lands folded in three. (It should not take more than 30 seconds in all to make the omelette, perhaps 45 if you are adding a filling).

Hot Tips

This weekend the West of Ireland’s favourite family festival is back: Féile na Tuaithe – Turlough Park takes place at the National Museum of Ireland – Country Life on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 May 2008. Now in its fourth year, this free festival has proved itself to be a favourite with all members of the family attracting up to 12,000 visitors over the two days. Artisan food has been a part of the festival since the beginning, but this year there is a dedicated marquee with more stalls to meet demand and interest. E-mail: bbyron@museum.ie www.museum.ie

Cork Free Choice Consumer Group – next meeting Thursday 29th May 7.30pm
At Crawford Gallery Café, Cork -€6 including tea, coffee etc.
Allotments and Community Gardens – What is the present situation? Is there more demand? Where can more allotments be located? What is the Council’s role? What is their future? – speakers Mick Mack of Cork Greenmap, Councillor Chris O’Leary Green Party, Elinor Rivers of Mandala Gardens and Zweena McCullough of the Hydro Allotments – all welcome.

Darina Allen is going to Castlefarm, near Athy, Co Kildare to celebrate a year of great local food. She will attend Castlefarm Shop’s first birthday barbeque on Sunday afternoon June 1st. This local food celebration feast will include an organic pig on a spit and a smorgasbord of Castlefarm and locally produced food. There will also be cheese and cream making demonstrations and for the competitive a welly throwing competition. On the day local cheesemaker Elizabeth Bradley will demonstrate cheese making and we will be making cream from our own milk. Tickets are available at €20 per person and can be booked by calling Castlefarm Shop at 059-8636948 or email jenny@castlefarmshop.ie. www.castlefarmshop.ie

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Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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