Romantic sounding menus, lots of red roses, twinkling candles, a bottle of fizz â€“ hotels and restaurants are using all their ingenuity to tempt us to throw caution to the wind, forget the blues and celebrate.Â
My students laugh when I tell them to get out there and find a fine strong farmer with a parcel of land, learn how to keep a few chickens, grow a few vegetables and cook a delicious dinner to tempt him down off his tractor.Â
Recessions can come and go but at least we wonâ€™t go hungry if we have basic life skills.Â Doesnâ€™t matter how much of a whizz kid you are on the computer or how much you impress your colleagues in the work place if you canâ€™t spontaneously whip up pasta or a pot of bubbling stew. It doesnâ€™t matter how gorgeous you are, the attraction soon wears thin particularly in recessionary times.Â If you know the basics thereâ€™s no end to the delights you can whip up in a short time.Â On the other hand if terms like sweating, creaming and baking blind are â€˜double Dutchâ€™ to you it might be time to consider setting some time aside to take a few cooking lessons.Â There are many to choose from all over the country.Â
The newest cookery school in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford is owned by chef Paul Flynn of the â€œTannery Restaurantâ€ fame.Â Terrific reports, great facility and if youâ€™d both like to cook together why not stay the night in Paul and Mariaâ€™s townhouse â€“ www.tannery.ie.
Award winning chef Rory Oâ€™Connell offers highly recommended private and bespoke cookery classes at his 18th century farmhouse in East Cork www.rgoconnell.com
Over in West Cork, Carmel Summers of â€œGood Things CafÃ©â€ near Durrus has built up a terrific following for her sophisticated local food and her cooking classes – www.thegoodthingscafe.com
In Dublin, Lynda Booth of the Dublin Cookery School www.dublincookeryschool.comÂ has a good variety of courses to choose from as does the Cookâ€™s Academy in Dublin www.cooksacademy.comÂ Â
In Wicklow thereâ€™s Catherine Fulvio in Ballyknocken House – whose vivacious style has lured many into the kitchen – teaches classesÂ www.ballyknocken.com 040444627
Both Lynda and Catherine are past pupils of Ballymaloe Cookery School.
Eurotoque chef Kevin Dundon also teaches regular cookery classes at his country house, Dunbrody in Co Wexford. Tel. 051 389600 www.dunbrodyhouse.com
Also in Co Wexford, Pierce and Valerie McAuliffe of Dunbrody Abbey Cookery School run tailor made cookery classes 051 388933
In Cork city chef Gary Masterson has a whole series of cookery classes planned at Brennanâ€™s Cook Shop, Oliver Plunket Street. There are two classes weekly open to the public, he also organises cookery staff nights out and hen parties. Tel 021 4278283
Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, we have a series of evening cooking classes on Wednesday evenings from 7-10pm at a cost of â‚¬50 per person which includes copies of all recipes and tastings.Â Afternoon cookery demonstrations are open to the public almost every day 2 â€“ 5pm. See our website www.cookingisfun.ie for further details.Â
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 ozs) onions
25g (1oz) butter
salt and freshly ground pepper
25g (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. Meanwhile bring the stock & milk to the boil in a separate pan. Stir the flour into the onions and mushroom mixture and cook on a low heat for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, then add the hot stock and milk gradually, stirring all the time. Increase the heat and bring to the boil.Â Taste and add a dash of cream if necessary. Serve immediately or cool & reheat later.
Tip:Â 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.Â Be careful not to overdo it, this soup should still have a coarse texture. 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.
White Soda Bread and Scones
Soda bread only takes 2 or 3 minutes to make and 20-30 minutes to bake. It is certainly another of my ‘great convertibles’. We have had the greatest fun experimenting with different variations and uses.Â It’s also great with olives, sun dried tomatoes or caramelized onions added, so the possibilities are endless for the hitherto humble soda bread.
1 lb (450g) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon bread soda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix – 12-14 fl ozs (350-400 ml) approx.
First fully preheat your oven to 230ÂºC/450ÂºF/regulo 8.
Sieve the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre.Â Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well floured worked surface.Â WASH AND DRY YOUR HANDS.Â Tidy it up and flip over gently.Â Pat the dough into a round about 1 1/2 inches (2.5cm) deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this. Bake in a hot oven, 230ÂºC/450ÂºF/regulo 8 for 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200ÂºC/400ÂºF/regulo 6 for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
White Soda Scones
Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 1 inch (2.5cm) deep approx. Cut into scones. Cook for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven (see above).
Cheddar Cheese Scones or Herb and Cheese Scones
4 ozs (110g) grated mature Cheddar cheese
Make the White Soda bread or herb dough. Stamp into scones, brush the top of each one with egg wash and then dip into grated cheddar cheese, bake as for soda scones, or use to cover the top of a casserole or stew.
Cheddar Cheese and Thyme Leaf Scones
Substitute thyme leaves for mixed herbs in above recipe.
Rosemary and Olive Scones
Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary and 2 tablespoons roughly chopped stoned black olives to the dry ingredients and proceed as in the master recipe.
Tagine of Lamb with `Medjool Dates
Â Tagines are brilliant for easy entertaining. The word Tagine refers both to the distinctive earthenware cooking pot with shallow base and conical top and to a multitude of stew-like dishes cooked in it.Â Â These can be based on meat, fish, poultry or vegetables.
1.35kg (3 lbs) boned shoulder of lamb
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch saffron
50g (2ozs) butter
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
10 fl ozs (300ml) tomato juice
175g (6ozs) Medjool dates
2 tablespoons chopped coriander
1 tablespoon oil, optional
50g (2ozs) flaked almonds
fresh coriander leaves
Trim the lamb, discarding excess fat. Cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes. Mix cinnamon, paprika, ginger, pepper and saffron with 4 tablespoons water. Toss the lamb in this mixture. If you have time, leave to marinade for up to 24 hours.
Melt the butter in a wide pan. Add the lamb, onions, garlic, tomato juice, salt and enough water to come half way up the meat. Bring up to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, turning the lamb occasionally until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the dates, and coriander. Continue simmering for a further 30 minutes or so, uncovered until the sauce is thick and unctuous. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Fry the almonds in the oil until almost golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle almonds and remaining coriander over the lamb just before serving.
Serve with couscous
To cook Couscous
The commercial varieties of couscous we get here are pre-cooked and instant. You do not need to steam it in the traditional way; in fact itâ€™s no advantage to do so. Once the grain has absorbed an equal volume of water, all you need to do is heat it through.
For 6 people, put 500g (1lb2oz) of medium-ground couscous in a pyrex or pottery bowl. Add 600 ml (1 pint) of warm salted water (with Â½-1 teaspoon of salt) gradually, stirring so that it gets absorbed evenly. After about 10 minutes, when the grain has become a little plump and tender, add 3 tablespoons of sunflower oil and rub the grain between your hands to air it and break up any lumps.
Heat it through in the oven, covered with foil. A small quantity for 2 or 3 can be heated in a saucepan, stirring so as not to burn the bottom, or in the microwave. Before serving, break up any lumps very thoroughly and work in 2 tablespoons of butter or sunflower oil.
Sweetheart Biscuits with Rhubarb Fool
Makes 45-50 biscuits approx.
8 ozs (225g) soft butter
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
10 ozs (275g) self-raising flour
grated rind of one lemon or orange
Cream the butter, add in the castor sugar, sifted flour and grated lemon or orange rind and mix just until it all comes together. Alternatively, place all four ingredients in the bowl of a food mixer and mix slowly until all the ingredients come together. At this stage the dough can either be used right away or put in the deep freeze or kept in the fridge for up to a week.
When required, bring up to room temperature and form into small balls the size of a walnut. Flatten them out onto a baking sheet using the back of a fork dipped in cold water. Allow plenty of room for expansion.
Bake in a preheated oven – 180Â°C/350Â°F/regulo 4 for 10 minutes approx. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar. When cold, store in air tight containers.
Serve with Rhubarb Fool (see Fool Proof Food)
Chocolate Mousse with Boudoir Biscuits
225g (1/2 lb) of best quality dark chocolate
150ml (5 fl ozs) water
15g (1/2oz) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Jamaica Rum
6 small or 4 large free range, organic eggs
110g (4ozs) dark chocolate
First make the mousse. Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt in a bowl with the unsalted butter and water over a low heat.Â Stir gently until melted and completely smooth.Â Remove, cool, whisk in the rum if using and the egg yolks.Â Whisk the egg whites and fold them in.Â Beat for 5-6 minutes, this makes the mousse smooth and silky even though it sounds like a contradiction.Â Â The mousse thickens as it is beaten at the end.Â Fill individual glasses or espresso cups with the mousse.Â Allow to set for 5 or 6 hours or overnight.
Then make the Caraque.Â
Melt the chocolate and spread it thinly with a palette knife onto a marble slab.Â Allow it to set almost completely and then with a sharp knife or paint scraper shave off long, thin scrolls.Â Use a slightly sawing movement and keep your hand upright.Â This is fun to do but thereâ€™s quite a lot of skill involved – youâ€™ll get good at it with practice and you can always eat the rejects!
Serve with Boudoir biscuits.
Fool Proof Food
Serves 6 approx.
1 lb (450g) red rhubarb, cut into chunks
6-8ozs (175-225g) sugar
2 tablespoons water
10 fl ozs (300ml) cream whipped
Put the rhubarb into a stainless saucepan with the sugar and water, stir, cover, bring to the boil and simmer until soft, 20 minutes approx.Â Stir with a wooden spoon until the rhubarb dissolves into a mush. Allow to get quite cold. Fold in the softly whipped cream to taste. Serve chilled with sweetheart biscuits.
Mary Dowey’s well-established â€˜Introduction to Wine Appreciationâ€™ weekend courses at Ballymaloe House will run from 20th – 22nd February 2009 and also 24th – 26th April 2009. Combines good wines, good food and good fun.
Listed in the Top 10 Wine-Tasting courses in Ireland & UK. Suitable for anybody who enjoys wine and would like to learn much more about it.
Ballymaloe House Tel: 021 4652531 www.ballymaloe.ie
Mahon Point Farmers Market
The Mahon Point Farmers Market has resumed after its winter break, it takes place every Thursday 10am-2pm.
Baker, Richard Leigh from Dunmanway begins at the market this week, visit his stall, this is the best bought confectionary you are likely to find.
Slow Food â€“ Taste of India
Local spice guru, Arun Kapil of Green Saffron, will demonstrate how to blend traditional Indian spices and then show us how to make a range of delicious, fragrant curry dishes. All recipes and tasting at the end included and all the spices will be available for purchase on the night. At the Ballymaloe Cookery School, Friday 20th February, 7:30pm â€“ 10.00pm â‚¬30.00 Slow Food Members â‚¬40.00 non members. Booking essential 021 4646 785 email@example.com
Research has, not surprisingly, shown that we spend less when shopping alone, so whenever possible do a deal with a pal to mind the kids while you shop. Pester power is very effective and expensive. Persuasive and enthusiastic family members can easily tempt us to buy unnecessary items.