ArchiveDecember 20, 2008

Christmas Eve Cooking

I’ve chosen some suggestions for a Christmas Eve supper menu from several new cookbooks which have been released for the festive season. The first is from Sarah Raven, a gardener/cook who has a cult following. She makes regular appearances on BBC Gardeners World where she shares her expertise on how to grow the beautiful vegetables, fruit and herbs that abound in her garden at Perch Hill in East Sussex. Somehow in the midst of all the sowing and planting she managed to write another cook book ‘Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas Food and Flowers’. Inside the glitzy red and silver cover she guides us through the Christmas build-up, suggesting puddings, sauces and edible presents to prepare before everything becomes too hectic. She then offers maximum impact, minimum-fuss flowers and decorations, stylish party nibbles and a host of Yuletide meals for every palate, including a last minute recipe for the all important Christmas pudding. Finally, she sees us safely through Christmas, St Stephen’s day and beyond with fantastic ideas for the inevitable mountain of leftovers.
Simon Hopkinson has always been one of my favourite chefs – his first book Roast Chicken and Other Stories has become a modern classic. I only recenly came across ‘Second Helpings of Roast Chicken’ even though it was published in 2006. It’s a ‘must-give’ pressie for your foodie friends this Christmas. I’ve chosen two delicious soups from his book so take your pick; both would be delicious before Sarah Raven’s bagna cauda. This recipe which Sarah got from Antonia Carluccia has to be the most perfect and easy Christmas Eve supper, a selection of raw crunchy vegetables to dip into a delicious anchovy and garlic sauce. It won’t be too filling and will mean you and your guests will have room for pudding. If you’d like something more substantial with an extra feel good factor, choose a gorgeous piece of juicy free range pork. If you know a local organic farmer who rears heritage breeds, it’ll be even more succulent and delicious. The pig farmers and the entire industry have been through a very traumatic period so let’s all take every opportunity to support them in the real spirit of Christmas.
If life is not too hectic why not gather a few kids around, and have fun making Festive Jam Cookie Sandwiches from Rachel Allen’s new book Bake.
For pudding I have chosen Simon Hopkinson’s Swirly Mincemeat Suet Pudding with Brandy Sauce. Simon is a big fan of suet pudding, as am I – just the thing served on hotplates on a frosty night.
If that seems too much of a challenge or if you’d rather keep it simple and leave space for the Christmas feast, why not pick up a gorgeous gooey Vacherin Mont d’Or cheese and some Gubbeen crackers. There’s a wealth of Irish farmhouse cheese to choose from also. Or why not cut the Christmas cake (see recipe in Examiner Saturday 8th November, 2008) or a tuck into a wedge of Pannetone with a cup of espresso. A very happy and delicious Christmas to all our readers and many blessings for 2009.

Simon Hopkinson’s Almost Instant Creamed Bean Soup with Rosemary and Anchovy Butter

This soup can also be made with haricot, cannellini or pale green flageolet beans – or even chickpeas, I guess.

Serves 4

75 g (3oz) butter
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
3 sticks celery, chopped
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 x 400g tins of butter beans (Spanish ones are particularly good)
750ml (25 ½ fl oz) chicken stock
salt and pepper
150ml whipping cream

For the rosemary and anchovy butter

120g unsalted butter, softened
2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
50g (2oz) tin anchovies
juice of ½ a small lemon

Serve with Croutons

In a roomy pan, melt the butter and fry the onions and celery until lightly coloured. Add the rosemary, stir around and allow their aroma to lift. Tip in the beans, juice and all, add the stock and bring to the boil. Remove any scum that forms and then allow to gently simmer for 20-30 minutes or until the beans are all but falling apart. Add plenty of pepper and check for salt – but don’t add too much, as the butter will be fairly salty from the anchovies.
Meanwhile, make the rosemary and anchovy butter by combining all the ingredients together in a food processor until very smooth. Pass through a small sieve to remove any spiky rosemary bits. Tip into a small bowl and leave at room temperature until the soup is to be served. Lift out the rosemary sprigs and then put the beans, vegetables and liquor into a liquidiser and process until very smooth. Pour through a sieve into a clean pan, stir in the cream and gently reheat without boiling. The consistency should not be too thick; if it is, add a little water or maybe some milk. To serve, pour into  large soups plates or bowls, drop a spoonful of the rosemary and anchovy butter into each and serve with croutons.

Simon Hopkinson’s Black Bean Soup

This soup was first cooked for me several years ago by my sous-chef at the time Henry Harris. He adapted it from a Jeremiah Tower recipe, added a few of his own ideas and we put it on the menu. If is now called Henry’s Black Bean Soup forever more and is delicious. The recipe that follows is a mixture of his and the original. Please buy fresh spices before you make this soup as it makes all the difference. Tired old spices at the back of the cupboard will not do it justice.

Serves 6 – 8

500g (18oz) dried black beans, soaked overnight
2 large red onions, peeled and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
3 sticks celery, peeled of strings and chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and bashed
2 bay leaves
225g (8oz) piece of smoked bacon (Italian flat pancetta is ideal) skin intact
1 – 1 ½ litres (2 ½ pints) of stock – ham (favourite), chicken or beef, but good flavour is paramount
1 tbsp ground cumin (made from fresh cumin seeds dry-roasted in a small frying pan until fragrant and toasted)
1 tbsp chilli powder (this is not cayenne pepper, rather it is chilli powder mix made by Schwartz spices; it has ‘Chilli Powder’ on the label and is dark red in colour)
4 tbsp sour cream, loosened with a little milk to a pouring consistency

For the salsa

6 ripe tomatoes, skinned deseeded and coarsely chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
½ bunch of coriander, leaves only, coarsely chopped
juice of 2 limes
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped
¼ tsp sugar

Drain the beans, rinse and put them in a large pot with the vegetables, bay leaves, bacon and enough stock to cover by 5cm or so (add more stock, or water, later on if there seems to be insufficient liquid) Simmer ever so slowly for 1 ½ hours or so, skimming off any scum that is generated and stirring from the bottom on occasion, to check that none of the beans are sticking.
Meanwhile make the salsa. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with a plate or cling film and leave at room temperature for 30 minutes before using. When the beans are tender, lift out the bacon and allow it to cool. You can either chop it into small pieces and add to the soup later, or you can slice it thinly and use in sandwiches for instance, spread some fiery mustard. Now put the soup through a mouli-légumes (vegetable mill) on a fine setting. Do not be tempted to liquidise as the soup can become gloopy. Stir in the cumin and chilli. Reheat the soup and add stock or water until the consistency is thin porridge. Serve in shallow soup plates dressed with swirls of sour cream and salsa.


Christmas Bagna Cauda

Sarah Raven tells us that bagna cauda is one her very favourite party dishes.
To make this more of a meal serve it with plenty of good robust bread, or better still make a bowlful of bruschetta or croutons to soak up the sauce. In case you want to make it in advance, the bagna cauda freezes perfectly.
Use any or all of the following ingredients listed below, adjusting the quantities accordingly.

Serves 8 – 10

1 Trevisco chicory, stripped into leaves
1 Belgian chicory, stripped into leaves
½ celeriac, peeled and cut into matchsticks (and then doused in lemon juice to stop them discolouring)
3 Jerusalem artichokes, sliced
½ cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 carrots cut into batons
2 Florence fennel bulbs cut into chunks
1 celery head, broken into sticks and sliced
Selection of crunchy stemmed salad leaves, such as ‘Red Giant’ mustard, rocket or mizuna
1 large bowl of baked or fresh bread bruschetta or croutons

For the bagna cauda

200g (7oz) anchovies
milk, to soak the anchovies and to cover the garlic
16 garlic cloves
100ml (3 ½ fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
100g (3 ½ oz) butter, cubed
60ml (2fl oz) double cream

First make the bagna cauda. Rinse the anchovies of they are in salt. Leave them soaking in a little milk for half an hour. (This recipe makes a relatively mild sauce. If you like punchy strong food, you may want to up the anchovy count a bit)
Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/gas mark 2.
Put a little milk in a saucepan and bring it to the boil. Peel the garlic cloves, slice them in half and put into the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the garlic is soft. Mash the garlic cloves into the milk.
Retrieve the anchovies from the milk, put them into a bain-marie over a very low heat and using the back of a wooden spoon, and mash them into a paste. Add the garlic milk to the bowl. Gradually add the oil, the cubed butter and lastly the cream. Keep stirring until it’s all smooth. Pour this onto a small dish over a nightlight, if possible and put in the centre of the table. Serve with the vegetables and the croutons or bruschetta.

Roast Loin of Pork with Plums and Rosemary

Let’s celebrate Irish Pork and tuck into a gorgeous roast with lots of crackling. I’ve stuffed this loin with plums and rosemary and serve it with a Blood plum and Bramley apple sauce.

Serves 6 – 8

3 ½ – 4lbs (6 kgs) Loin of Pork with skin attached
2 tablesp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion finely chopped
½ lb (225g) Bramley apples peeled and chopped
¼lb (110g) sugar
2 teasps chopped rosemary
freshly ground pepper

First score the rind at ¼ cm intervals; a Stanley knife is good for this. Heat the oil in a sauté pan add the onion, toss and continue to cook on a gentle heat for 3 or 4 minutes, add the chopped apple, plums, sugar and chopped rosemary, stir. Cover and cook over a gentle heat until the apple and plums soften, taste add more sugar if necessary. Turn out onto a plate to cool.
If the belly is still attached, lay the joint of pork skin side down on a chopping board. Season the flesh side well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Spread a little layer of plum and apple paste on top, toll and tie with cotton string. If however the belly is not still attached make a pocket in the pork loin with a sharp knife. Spoon some of the stuffing inside, don’t be too generous or it will squish out
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/ 350ºF/Gas mark 4.
Place the pork in a roasting tin, rub sea salt into the rind and roast for one and half hour.
Increase the heat to 230ºC/450ºF/Gas mark 8 and continue to cook the pork for a further fifteen minutes or until the crackling becomes crisp and bubbly. Transfer to a serving dish allow to rest for 15 minutes before carving.
Warm the remainder of the plum and apple mixture add a little water if necessary to loosen the mixture.


Simon Hopkinson’s Swirly Mincemeat Suet Pudding with Brandy Sauce

I have always had trouble with my roly-poly puddings when cooked as a long log affair; whether steamed of baked, they always seem to spread out and go all flat and dull-looking. However, prepared in this way, not only does everything behave very well indeed, restricted within the confines of a pudding basin, but it also looks very pretty indeed when turned out.

Serves 4

For the mincemeat suet pudding

250g (9oz) self raising flour
125g (4oz) suet
a pinch of salt
cold water to mix
400g jar of mincemeat, or, of course, homemade
25g softened butter
1 – 2 tbsp soft brown sugar

For the brandy sauce

350ml (12fl oz) milk
40g (1 ½ oz) butter
40g (1 ½ oz) plain flour
a tiny pinch of salt
50-75g (3oz) caster sugar to taste
2-3 tbsp cognac or rum if your prefer
50ml (2floz) single cream

Mix together the flour, suet and salt in a roomy bowl. Add just enough water to mix to a cohesive mass: not too sticky, not too dry. Knead for a few minutes until supple. Flatten a little and leave to relax for 10 minutes. On a floured surface, roll the heavy pastry out fairly thinly (abut 30cm square). Spread with the mincemeat, leaving a gap of about 2cm around the edges. Roll up neatly, but not too tightly. Generously grease the  inside of the basin with the butter. Sprinkle the sugar all over the butter, pressing the residue that falls to the bottom against the sides all the butter must be well coated with sugar. Now cut the roly-poly into sections, about 1.5 – 2cm thick. Arrange 3 in the bottom of the basin , more up the sides, pressing them well against the butter sugar mixture, and the remaining slices in the middle (these do not matter so much as they won’t show in the final assembly, but try to make the final ones lie flat). Cover with buttered grease proof paper, then foil, and tie with string around the basin. Steam for 2 – 2 ½ ) hours or as long as 3.
Meanwhile make the sauce. Put the milk into a pan and heat through until hot but not boiling. Meanwhile, in a heavy bottomed saucepan, melt the butter, but do not allow it to froth. Stir in the flour until well blended. Cook over a very gentle heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Now carefully pour in the milk, whisking all the time. Allow to come up to a gentle simmer and stir for a few minutes with a wooden spoon until smooth and lightly thickened. Add the salt, sugar and cognac or rum. Let the sauce cook very gently, ideally on one of those diffuser pads, for several minutes. Stir occasionally. Pour in the cream, gently reheat and give it a final whisk.
To serve, carefully run a knife around the edge of the pudding and turn out on to a warmed serving dish. Hand the sauce separately.

Rachel Allen’s Festive Jam Cookie Sandwiches

These gorgeous little vanilla and lemon-scented cookies sandwiched together with the jam of your choice make a great Christmas cookie – the icing looks like snow.

Makes about 35 sandwiches

425g (15oz) plain flour
75g (3oz) caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2tsp finely grated lemon zest (from one large unwaxed organic lemon)
4 egg yolks
325g (11 ½ oz) butter, softened
raspberry or strawberry jam
icing sugar for dusting


6cm (2 ½ in) plain cutter
3cm (1 ¼ in) plain or flower-shaped cutter

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF), gas mark 4. Sift the flour into a large bowl or electric food mixer and add the sugar, vanilla extract, finely grated lemon zest, egg yolks and butter. Mix until it all comes together to a dough. Remove from the bowl and flatten to a round with the palm of your hand or with a rolling pin to about 2cm (¾ in) thick and chill in fridge for about 30 minutes. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface until it is about 5mm ( ¼ in ) thick, then using the 6cm (2 ½ in) plain cutter, cut the dough into discs. Take half the discs and using either the plain or flower shaped 3cm (1 ¼ in) cutter, cut holes out of the centre of each, like little round windows. Bring the discarded scraps together and make more discs and cut holes in the centre of these. You want to end up with about 35 whole discs with the centres cut out (equal amounts). Place the discs on several baking trays and bake in the oven for 8 – 10 minutes, then remove from the trays and transfer to wire racks to cool.
When the discs are cool, spread ½ – 1 teaspoon of jam on the whole discs and top with the discs with a hole in them so that you can see the jam through the little windows. Dust with icing sugar and serve.
Fool Proof Food

Sarah Raven’s Bloody Mary with Horseradish

There is nothing better than a Bloody Mary when you’re feeling a bit the worse for wear. In fact, I’m almost always on for a Bloody Mary however I’m feeling, and they can practically replace a meal. The best are spiced up with fresh horseradish and sharpened with plenty of lemon juice.

For four medium glasses:

175ml (6fl oz) vodka
dash of dry sherry
500ml (18fl oz)
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon fresh grated horseradish
Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce, to taste
celery salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper
ice, to serve

Combine the ingredients in a shaker and pour into individual glasses. Serve with ice

Thrifty Tip

Make up your own home made mulled wine spices for Christmas gifts and parties. It’s so easy just tie the thinly-pared rind of 1 lemon, a small piece of cinnamon bark, a blade of mace and one clove into a little muslin bag with the instructions to add one bottle of good red wine and 110 grams/ 4 ounces of sugar.

Hot Tips

Organic Bronze Turkeys

Dan Ahern of Bornfree Poultry near Midleton may still have a few Organic Bronze turkeys and geese, for those who have left it to the last minute! For those who would prefer a smaller bird enquire about his delicious organic chickens and ducks. Available from Midleton and Mahon Point Farmers Markets or tel. 086 1659258
Baskets of Irish Oysters

Native Irish Oysters are my absolute favourite treat for a starter for Christmas day. I had some delicious natives recently from Dairmuid Kelly in Galway, who sells baskets of 25, packed in seaweed.  091796120.
Local Food Heroes
Midleton Farmers market calendar with photographs of the local food heroes along with recipes and what’s in season month to month, available from Midleton Farmers Market or tel. 021 4646 785

We have numerous requests for details of organic and artisan pork and cured meat producers. Here are few to choose from…

Fingal Ferguson – Gubbeen Meats – 028-27824
Frank Krawczyk – West Cork Salamis –
Caroline Rigney – Curragh Chase Farmhouse – 087 2834754
Noreen Conroy – Woodhouse Farm – 087-2767206
Jack McCarthy Butcher – 029 -50178
Caherbeg Bacon  086-8224415
Crowes Farm Meats 062-71137

Sarah Raven’s Complete Christmas Food and Flowers
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Bake with Rachel Allen
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Second Helpings of Roast Chicken – Simon Hopkinson


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