Some new cookbooks to add to your list for Christmas

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Planning for Christmas?

Wondering how to get some of those pressies ticked off your list early without having to worry about the risk of another pre-Christmas lockdown.

Well how about a great cook book for the foodie or budding cooks and chefs in your life. I’ve recently got lots of new titles, which I am really enjoying, all very different. One of course is ‘The Joy Of Food’ by my brother Rory O’Connell which I love but will write about later.

Meanwhile, let me mention some of the others that particularly appeal to me. One is ‘Towpath’ by Lori de Mori, who has the most enchanting little café in four canal keeper’s stores along the banks of the Regent Canal in East London. Towpath is one of the secret hidden gems in the middle of London, one of the busiest and most sophisticated cities in the entire world. Lori, who trained at Rochelle Canteen and her partner Laura Jackson have a passion for seasonal food.

Towpath opens from Spring to late November. It has become a unique and beloved destination for so many. I totally include myself in the many who dream about whittling away a few hours at a table alongside the canal enjoying the delicious food while watching the swans glide past, the mallard chasing each other and the cootes and waterhens skittering across the water. If I lived in London I would want to ramble along to Towpath every single day, no website, no phone and no Take-Away, such joy and now Lori and Laura her partner share their recipes and the stories.

Next up, Neven Maguire’s ‘Mid Week Suppers’. For many, Neven is Ireland’s most trusted and best loved chef. He writes a weekly column in the Irish Farmer’s Journal where he has a loyal and devoted following. His restaurant, Macnean’s in Blacklion is permanently booked out. Yet, he finds time to do regular cooking videos from his home kitchen to encourage people to cook nourishing food for family and friends during the pandemic. Exciting Midweek Meals to share around the kitchen table.

Another gem –  – ‘Sourdough Mania’ is by passionate self-taught baker and teacher, Anita Šumer. Based in Slovenia she has become an international success and now has over 70,000 followers on Instagram @sourdough_mania.

Sourdough Mania gives us both simple-to-make and more ambitious recipes for more festive occasions. Every stage is fully illustrated with step by step photography on weighing, mixing, kneading, shaping, scoring and baking. Just what all the Covid-19 sourdough bread bakers are yearning for.

John and Sally McKenna’s latest book is entitled ‘MILK’ and tells the story of Ireland’s dairy producers and the importance of pasture fed cows to the quality and reputation of our milk, butter, cream, yoghurt… ‘MILK’ also looks at the scientific understanding of the liquid and explores its unique cultural power and resonance in the history of Ireland. It features brand new recipes featuring fresh dairy products from the new generation of Irish chefs, Niamh Fox, Takashi Miyazaki, Ahmet Dedc, Darren Hogarty, Mark Moriarty, Caitlin Ruth, Lily Higgins, Clodagh McKenna..

Niamh Fox – Ireland’s Beloved Jambon

(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragaon Press)

Niamh Fox cooks like an angel – sadly her restaurant ‘Little Fox’ in Ennistymon closed recently but watch that space…!

Makes 12

2 sheets puff pastry

Roasted red onion:

2 red onions, cut into quarters, then sliced

Splash of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

Sprig of thyme, picked

Small sprinkling of brown sugar

Cheesy sauce:

25g butter

25g plain flour

250ml full fat milk

250g cheese, grated (Templegall, Gubbeen, Coolea, a good creamery Cheddar or bits and bobs from your fridge too.) Reserve a little to sprinkle.

Pinch of nutmeg

Pepper and sea salt to taste

200g of the best free-range ham you can get your hands on, cut into little cubes

1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk

To make the caramelised onions: mix together the onions, oil, seasoning and sprinkle with sugar. Pop in an ovenproof casserole, set around 200°C for 30 minutes, then mix and cover and continue to cook for 15 minutes. Allow to cool.

To make the cheesy sauce: melt butter at low heat, stir in the flour and mix well until a dough starts to form. Gradually pour in the milk, mixing really well so that there are no lumps in the sauce. Once all the milk has been added, add the grated cheeses and a pinch of nutmeg, pepper and salt. Mix well until you get a thick cheesy sauce. Add the finely cubed ham to the sauce, allow the mixture to cool.

To assemble the jambon: roll out the pastry, and cut each sheet into 6 squares.

Put a scoop of the cheese mixture in the centre of each square and a little of the caramelised onion, on top. Fold the corners to the centre and make sure they overlap (to avoid the ham and cheese from pouring out of the pastry). Pinch together the edges where needed. Brush the egg mix over the pastry and sprinkle the final bit of cheese on top and repeat for the other squares.

Place on oven tray and bake at 200°C for 15-20 minutes or until golden-brown.

Buttermilk Lemonade

(from Milk by John & Sally McKenna published by Estragaon Press)

Serves 3-4

Juice of 1 lemon

15ml (1 tbsp) caster sugar

500ml buttermilk

Combine the lemon juice and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Pour in the buttermilk, whisking, so everything is smoothly combined.

Neven Maguire’s Char Sui Pork Ribs with Slaw

(from Neven Maguire’s Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)

Serve 4-6

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tbsp clear honey

3 tbsp light muscovado sugar

3 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp hoisin sauce

3 tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 tbsp freshly grated root ginger

1.3-2kg (3lb 5oz – 4 1/2lb) meaty pork ribs

1 litre (1 ¾ pints) water

20g (3/4oz) fresh coriander

For the slaw

100g (4oz) red cabbage, cored and finely shredded

100g (4oz) white cabbage, cored and finely shredded

1 large carrot, grated

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tbsp sesame oil

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

1 tsp caster sugar

1 tsp salt

To Garnish

Spring onion curls (optional)

Mix the garlic in a bowl with the honey, muscovado sugar, soy sauce, hoisin, rice wine vinegar and ginger. Spoon 4 tablespoons of the marinade into the slow cooker (reserving the remainder) and add the ribs. Top up with the water, mixing to combine. Strip the leaves off the coriander and set them aside for the slaw, then put the stalks into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, until the ribs are tender but not falling off the bone.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (425°F/gas mark 7). Line a large baking tray with foil.

Remove the ribs from the slow cooker using a slotted spoon or tongs. Handle them carefully, as the meat will be tender and may start to fall off the bone. Baste with the reserved marinade and lay on the foil-lined tray. Cook in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, until starting to crisp on the outside.

Meanwhile, to make the slaw, mix the red and white cabbage with the carrot and reserved coriander leaves. Put the rapeseed oil, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, caster sugar and salt in a screw-topped jar and shake until evenly combined, then use to dress the slaw.

If making the spring onion curls, cut the spring onions into very thin slices, then put in a bowl of ice-cold water to curl. Drain well and lightly pat dry on kitchen paper before using.

Arrange the slaw on plates with the char sui pork ribs and garnish with the spring onions curls (if using).

Neven Maguire’s Pork Tacos al Pastor

(from Neven Maguire’s Midweek Meals, published by Gill Books)

Serves 6-8

1 x 1.8kg (4lb) pork butt roast (ask your butcher for the upper part of the shoulder from the front leg)

1 x 200g (7oz) tin of crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained

1 small onion, chopped

15g (1/2oz) fresh coriander

Juice of 1 small orange

2 tbsp granulated garlic

2 tbsp chipotle paste (or use 1 tbsp smoked paprika and 1 tbsp Tabasco instead)

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

4 tbsp water

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

Small warm soft corn tortillas

Thinly sliced radishes

Fresh coriander leaves

Salsa verde (shop-bought)

Lime wedges

Place the pork in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until it’s firm enough to cut.

Meanwhile, to make the marinade, place the rest of the ingredients except the oil and water in a food processor, season generously with salt and pepper and blitz to purée.

Take the pork out of the freezer and place on a chopping board, fat side up. Cut into slices 1cm (1/2in) thick, almost but not quite all the way through. Slather the marinade between each layer, then tie the roast back together with butcher’s string. Place in a shallow non-metallic container and cover loosely with cling film. Place in the fridge overnight to marinade.

The next day, bring the pork back to room temperature, then preheat your slow cooker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If your slow cooker has a sauté option, you can use this; if not, use a large sauté pan on the hob over a medium heat. Heat the oil, then add the pork and cook until lightly browned and sizzling. Place in the slow cooker, fat side up (if you have used a separate pan), along with the juices and the water. Cover and cook on low heat for 7 hours, until the pork is tender.

Remove the pork from the slow cooker and cover with tin foil, then leave to rest for 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, cut the meat up into small pieces and place in a bowl, moistening with some of the juices. Fill the tortillas with the pork, then top with the radishes, coriander and salsa verde. Arrange on plates and serve with the lime wedges.

The Benefits of Sourdough Bakes Explained by Anita Sumer

(from Sourdough Mania by Anita Šumer, published by Grub Street Publishing)

We now know what happens when sourdough ferments and why dough prepared with this leavening agent rises. This section explains why this method of baking is beneficial for our health and a good intestinal flora, and why it tastes incomparably better than bakes made with baker’s yeast.

Easier digestibility

Bakery products prepared with sourdough are already partially digested, because much of the work is done for us by lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast, which partially breaks down the starch.

Reduced gluten content

The longer preparation and fermentation process makes wheat flour more easily digestible by reducing the amount of gluten since lactic acid bacteria break down gliadin and glutenin, which together form gluten. This, of course, does not mean that sourdough bread does not contain gluten at all, but in such a fermented form, it is better for the body and easier to digest.

Useful compounds for the body

In the fermentation process and also during baking, compounds useful for the body are formed: antioxidants, peptides (lunasin, which acts against cancer cells) and various anti-allergenic substances.

Lower glycaemic index

We are familiar with the claim ‘bread is fattening’, which is why bread is generally avoided by people with a tendency to be overweight. The fact that white bread made from ordinary baker’s yeast leads to weight gain is true. However, sourdough products have a lower glycaemic index due to organic acids that react with heat and consequently reduce starch availability. This index is lower for wholemeal bread types and bread made with sprouted grain flour. Sourdough bread is therefore more filling, and instead of two or three slices, one is often enough. However, due to its excellent taste, it is difficult to stop after just one slice!

Bread stays fresh longer

The acetic acid produced by lactic acid bacteria ensures that sourdough products stay fresh and can be kept for longer, do not crumble and age better. Sourdough bread is still good after a few days, especially rye bread, which gains flavour with time. These naturally occurring acids also prevent mould and fuzzy growth on bread.

A softer crumb

Sourdough gives the crumb a more uniform and compact structure, which is preserved for several days after baking; it is also softer, thanks to lactic acid bacteria.

Better taste

Lactic acid bacteria, and to a lesser extent wild yeast, provides a rich, savoury taste and aroma. During the fermentation process, various aromatic compounds are produced that make sourdough products more palatable.

Better use of nutrients and minerals

Cereals contain naturally occurring phytic acid, which prevents the body from absorbing important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. By using a sourdough starter and prolonged fermentation, this acidity is neutralised so our body can use the minerals present in the flour. Rye flour and wholemeal flour contain the most phytic acid.

No time limit

One advantage of baking with sourdough is that you don’t need to stand by the dough while it’s proving as you do with commercial yeast due to its fast reaction. This gives you plenty of time to choose the right time for baking and all the other preparation steps, because wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria have a slow metabolism, so the dough rises slowly. While the microorganisms are active, you can do your household chores, go to work, run errands, sleep…

Towpath’s Olive Oil Cake

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

Serves 12

Butter, for greasing

3 eggs

300g/10 ½ oz caster sugar

175ml/6 fl oz best quality olive oil

180ml/ 6 ¼ fl oz full-fat milk

1 orange, zested and juiced

325g/ 11 ½ oz self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan /350°F/gas mark 4.

Line, butter and flour a 24cm/9 ½ in cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl or mixer, beat together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. This should take about 5 minutes.

Slowly, in a continuous stream and on a high speed, pour in the olive oil, milk, orange zest and juice. You may need to lower the speed towards the end to prevent the mix from splattering everywhere.

Gently, fold in the flour, until fully incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

Towpath’s Beetroot Borani

(from Towpath by Lori de Mori & Laura Jackson, published by Chelsea Green Publishing)

We use the last of the season’s beetroot for this delicious thick unctuous soup

Serves 4

8 medium beetroot, washed and scrubbed, boiled until tender, peeled then returned to their cooking water

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon merlot red wine vinegar (or a red wine vinegar with a pinch of sugar added)

2 pinches of sugar (if the beetroot is not that sweet)

200ml/ 7 fl oz Greek or natural yoghurt

75ml/3 fl oz olive oil

160g/5 ¾ oz feta

80g/3oz walnuts, toasted

8 sprigs dill, leaves picked

Best olive oil, to drizzle

Chop the beetroot into chunky dice. Place in a liquidiser with a ladleful of cooking liquid, blitz until thick and smooth – you may need to add in a bit more liquid if it is thicker than the thickest of yoghurts.

Add all the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth – you are aiming for the consistency of thick yoghurt. Season to taste.

To serve, ladle the borane into a bowl, crumble the feta over the top, scatter with toasted walnuts and sprigs of dill and drizzle with olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve with flatbread or sourdough bread.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen

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