A couple of weeks ago my daughter-in-law Rachelâ€™s new book shot to the top of the best sellers list. Can you imagine Bertieâ€™s reaction when he was knocked off the number one spot by a book on home cooking! This is Rachelâ€™s sixth book in just six years. Canâ€™t imagine how she manages to keep all the balls in the air with three little dotes to look after and regular stints on Market Kitchen as well. Up to recently little Scarlet Lily travelled backwards and forwards to London with Rachel and was a familiar to the Aer Lingus hostesses on the Cork route. Fortunately she was born smiling and continues to be placid and cheerful while Rachel literally fitted in her filming between feeds. This latest book is about the most important food of all, home cooking, the simple comforting food we prepare for family and friends and share around the kitchen table Rachel feels that “The value of cooking at home goes beyond having control over your ingredients (although this is profoundly important for health, wellbeing and your wallet, itâ€™s also about gathering your loved ones together to share and enjoy the most fundamental part of life; itâ€™s about teaching your children how to appreciate a home-cooked meal and showing them how much fun cooking can be; itâ€™s about slowing down the busy pace of life when you can, but also knowing that when there isnâ€™t much time you can still put a loving meal on the table make by you.
Home cooking is also about the joy of learning old skills and kitchen crafts such as making home-made sweets. Itâ€™s about feeling proud as a parent when making by hand your childâ€™s very first foods. Itâ€™s about the wonderful kitchen smells and sounds and flavours that you just canâ€™t get any other way.
Youâ€™ll not only find recipes for many occasions from breakfasts to dinners, youâ€™ll also find trusted kitchen tips, such as home freezing, which not only saves time, but money too. I hope you and your loved ones enjoy every meal together, that you eat well, that you take a moment to appreciate one anotherâ€™s company around the table, and above all, have fun cooking together.”
Either way the book has lots of irresistible breakfast, lunch and supper dishes, a section or a whole chapter on baby purees and desserts, snacks, treats and sweets. The baby purees are brilliant for the growing number of mothers who want to have control over their baby food – carrot, butternut squash and red lentil puree, avocado and banana mash or apricot, prune and raisin compote all sound delicious but for this article I thought Iâ€™d concentrate on sweeties, toffee, lollipops, fudge and Turkish delight. These are such fun to make and are terrific Christmas pressies for adults and children alike.
Rachel was recently awarded the Tatler Woman of the Year Entertainment award.
Rachel Allen â€“ Home Cooking is published by Harper Collins
Rachel Allenâ€™s Liquorice Toffees
Makes about 1.1kg (2lb 6oz) or 128 pieces.
These are up there as one of my favourite sweets. Ground aniseed is not easily available in supermarkets but you will find it in health-food stores or specialist food shops.
450g (1lb) caster sugar
350g (12oz) glucose syrup (available from a chemist)
1 x 395g tin of condensed milk
100g (3 1/2oz) butter
4 tbsp ground aniseed
Black food colouring
23cm (9in) square cake tin
Line the cake tin with parchment paper. Place the sugar, glucose syrup, condensed milk, butter and ground aniseed in a saucepan and cook on a medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Bring to the boil over a high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 35â€“40 minutes, stirring frequently to avoid sticking, until a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reads 115Â°C (240Â°F). Alternatively, check that the soft-ball stage has been reached (see the chart on page 299). The mixture will be reduced and thickened and rich golden brown in colour. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in enough food colouring (adding bit by bit) to give a strong black colour. Working quickly, carefully pour the mixture into the prepared tin, swirling the tin around to spread the mixture evenly. Leave in a cool place for a couple of hours or until cool and set (the toffee will become even harder after this time, so itâ€™s best to score out the pieces at this stage).
Remove from the tin and peel off the paper. Cut the slab of toffee into 64 pieces (eight cuts down and eight cuts across) with a sharp knife and then cut each piece in half again to give 128 pieces in total. Layer the liquorice toffees spaced apart between sheets of parchment paper to prevent them sticking together or wrap each toffee individually in a small piece of parchment paper and store in an airtight container.
Rachel Allenâ€™s Fruity Lollipops
Makes about 30 â€“ 35 lollipops.
Not the kind of thing you give your children every day, but when making your own sweets you at least know there are no preservatives in them. Lollipop sticks can be bought in any good craft or cookware shop. It is worth investing in a sugar thermometer if youâ€™re planning on making sweets because a specific temperature is often called for.
450g (1lb) caster sugar
1/3 tsp cream of tartar
4 tbsp undiluted fruit cordial, such as blackcurrant, orange or lime
Arrange 30â€“35 lollipop sticks (or wooden skewers which have been cut down to size) spaced apart on several large, non-stick baking sheets. Place the sugar, cream of tartar and 150ml (5fl oz) water in a heavy-based saucepan on a medium heat and bring to a gentle boil while stirring all the time. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20â€“25 minutes without stirring, until the temperature on a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reads 143Â°C (290Â°F). Alternatively, check whether the soft-crack stage has been reached Stir in the cordial just before the syrup reaches this temperature (after 15â€“20 minutes). The mixture will bubble up, so be careful as it is very hot. Once the correct temperature has been reached, remove the pan from the heat and, working quickly, spoon small pools of the syrup onto one end of each lollipop stick and allow to set for about 5 minutes, until hardened. If you wish, wrap the lollipops in cellophane and tie with string as soon as they have cooled and hardened, to prevent them from absorbing moisture. Store them in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a week.
Rachel Allenâ€™s Turkish Delight
Makes about 1.1kg (2lb 6oz) or 48 pieces
This recipe is the smooth rosewater version, but if you like Turkish delight with pistachios, feel free to chop up a handful and stir into the mixture. It keeps for ages and makes a particularly lovely gift â€“ one batch will fill quite a few boxes.
850g (1lb 14oz) caster sugar
3 x 7g sachets gelatine powder
125g (4Hoz) corn flour
1 tsp cream of tartar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp sunflower oil
2 tsp rosewater
Few drops of red food colouring
75g (3oz) icing sugar
20cm (8in) square non-stick cake tin
Place the sugar and 500ml (18fl oz) water in a large, heavy-based saucepan on a medium heat and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 25 minutes without stirring, until a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reads 125Â°C (257Â°F). Alternatively, check that the hard-ball stage has been reached. In the meantime, stir the gelatine, corn flour and cream of tartar together in another large pan. Measure out a further 500ml (18fl oz) water and gradually whisk it into the mixture, beating well after each addition, to form a smooth paste. Be sure to break up any lumps as the gelatine may cause the mixture to stick together a little. Place the pan on a medium heat and simmer, whisking all the time, for 3â€“5 minutes or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat. Stir the lemon juice into the sugar syrup as soon as it reaches the correct temperature (standing back as it will sizzle up a little). Working carefully, gradually pour the sugar syrup into the gelatine and corn flour mixture, whisking constantly.
Place the pan on a low heat and simmer the mixture gently for about 1 hour until it reaches 110Â°C (230Â°F) in temperature or the thread stage. Stir frequently to prevent the mixture sticking to the pan, particularly towards the end of cooking. Grease the cake tin with the sunflower oil. As soon as the mixture reaches the correct temperature (it should be a deep golden colour), add the rosewater and food colouring and stir until well combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, spreading out evenly. Set aside to cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge for 4 hours or overnight until firm. Spoon the icing sugar into a fine sieve and dust half of it onto a clean work surface. Turn the Turkish delight out of the tin and use
a lightly oiled knife to cut it into about 48 pieces. Dust with the remaining icing sugar and toss the pieces about to coat generously. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Rachel Allenâ€™s White Chocolate Fudge
Makes about 900g (2lb) or 36 squares.
I find it hard to resist anything that contains white chocolate â€“ and when combined with fudge … well! The white chocolate chips give texture to the traditional fudge mixture. Presented in a decorative box, it makes a wonderful present.
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 x 397g tin of condensed milk
100g (3Hoz) butter
450g (1lb) caster or soft light brown sugar
50g (2oz) white chocolate chips
18cm (7in) square cake tin with 2.5cm (1in) sides
Grease the cake tin with a little of the sunflower oil, line with parchment paper and grease again. Place the condensed milk, butter and sugar in a saucepan on medium heat, stir together and bring to the boil, stirring frequently t prevent the sugar from sticking and burning on the bottom. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10â€“15 minutes, stirring regularly, until a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reads 113Â°C (235Â°F). Alternatively, check whether the soft-ball stage has been reached. The fudge will also have darkened in colour to a rich golden brown. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and sit the bottom of the saucepan in a bowl of cold water that comes a few centimetres up the sides of the pan. Whisk the mixture vigorously for 7â€“10 minutes until it cools down and goes from being smooth, shiny and toffeeish to matt, thick and grainy in appearance (as well as becoming quite thick and difficult to stir). Whisking the mixture like this is important for ensuring that the fudge has a good crumbly texture. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin. Scatter with the white chocolate chips and then pour over the remaining mixture, spreading evenly. (A palette knife or spatula that has been dipped in boiling water is perfect for this.) Allow to cool and then place in the fridge for 2â€“3 hours or overnight to set before cutting into about 36 squares.
Rachel Allenâ€™s Toffee Brittle
Makes 400g (14oz)
This is divine as it is or covered in chocolate.
225g (8oz) butter, diced
225g (8oz) caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Place the butter, sugar, salt and 50ml (2fl oz) water in a heavy based saucepan, place on a medium heat and bring slowly to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20â€“25 minutes without stirring until a sugar thermometer dipped into the mixture reads 150Â°C (302Â°F). Below this temperature and the toffee will not set; above and the toffees will taste burnt. If you donâ€™t have a sugar thermometer, check that the hard-crack stage has been reached. Immediately (and taking great care as it is very hot), pour the syrup onto a large, non-stick baking tray (or one lined with parchment paper) and swirl the tray around to spread evenly. It will begin to set almost straight away, so you do need to work quickly. Once completely hardened, after 5â€“10 minutes, slam the baking tray on the counter to break into small pieces. Place the toffee pieces in an airtight container and store somewhere cool and dry.
Continuing our countdown to Christmasâ€¦
Another delicious Christmas treat, a German cake to make ahead and share with your friendsâ€¦ Mary Joâ€™s Stollen
Makes 2 700g (1 1/2lb) cakes
150g (5oz) mixed sultanas and currants
75g (3oz) diced candied cherries and citrus peel
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
20g (3/4oz) fresh yeast (or 1 sachet dry yeast)
150ml (5fl oz) lukewarm milk
175g (6oz) strong white flour
75g (3oz) castor sugar
Grated rind 1/2 lemon
110g (4oz) softened butter
1 level teaspoon salt
275g (10oz) strong white flour
75g (3oz) ground almonds
60g (2 1/2oz) castor sugar
1 tablespoon egg white
Drop of almond essence
Mix fruits, stir in brandy, cover with cling film and macerate overnight.
To mix yeast sponge, crumble fresh yeast into warm milk in a pyrex bowl. Allow yeast to soften. Mix in 175g (6oz) flour and beat well with a wooden spoon. Cover with Clingfilm and allow to rest for 30-45 minutes.
Place 75g (3oz) castor sugar in a mixer bowl, grate in lemon rind and rub into sugar with your fingertips. Add butter and beat until creamy. Add eggs one at a time; add the salt and scrape down the bowl to make a soft creamed mixture.
When sponge is light and well risen, add to creamed mixture along with 275g (10oz) flour. Scrape off beater and replace with dough hook. Knead on moderate speed for 10 minutes until is silky and soft. The dough should not stick to your fingers.
Remove hook, cover bowl with Clingfilm and allow dough to rise until doubled in size.
Knock back dough and scrape out onto a flour-dusted clean surface. Flatten to 1cm (1/2 inch) and sprinkle brandied fruit on top. Roll up like a Swiss roll and knead fruit through dough. The dough may grow sticky, but avoid adding more flour. Scrape fruited dough into a bowl, cover with Clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.
Prepare the marzipan by mixing sugar, ground almonds and egg white. Flavour with almond essence if desired. Knead to a lump, divide in half and roll each half into a log.
Next day, remove dough from the fridge. Scrape out of bowl onto a lightly floured surface and cut in half. Shape each half into an oval and roll out to 2cm (3/4 inch) thickness. Make an indentation lengthways along the centre and place in long sausage shape piece of marzipan. Fold the oval in half with long sides meeting. Press together and place on a baking tray lined with baking parchment.
Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place until light.
Bake at 180ÂºC/350ÂºF/gas mark 4 for 30 minutes or until deeply golden and tests done.
While still hot, brush with melted butter and sift icing sugar thickly over the top.
Cool well before slicing. Will keep wrapped for 4-5 days and may be frozen.
Great news from Teagasc
for those who would like to keep a few hens in their garden. Nuala King at Teagasc in Athenry is doing two on-line courses, one on How to Rear Poultry for Meat Production and another on How to Keep Free Range Poultry for Egg Production. Contact Nuala King on 091845228 for more details. Order some seed catalogues
so you can plan your vegetable plot for next year while you sit around the fire. Meanwhile buy a bulb of garlic, separate the cloves and plant them pointed end up, two inches deep on the 21st December â€“ the shortest day of the year â€“ they will be ready to harvest on 21st June 2010.
Slow Food Christmas Cooking Night Class
East Cork Slow Food
celebrate international Terra Madre day at Ballymaloe House on Sunday 6th December at 7:00pm. Join us for a dinner of local foods; meet the artisan producers, farmers, fishermen, cheese makers, bakers, charcuterie makers, chocolatiers… plus music by The Gardeners and lots of fun. Slow Food members â‚¬50.00 and non-Slow Food members â‚¬60.00. Booking essential, contact Emer – 021 464 6785 â€“ at Ballymaloe Cookery School on Wednesday 2nd December â€“ 7:00pm to 9:00pm, Slow Food Members â‚¬50.00 non-members â‚¬60.00 per person. Contact 021 4646785 to book.