Friday, 15 January 2021

Shop Local

 Well here we are at last in 2021, full of hope and expectations and good riddance to 2020. It’s been quite the upheaval for each and everyone. The Covid 19 Pandemic has forced us to rethink so many aspects of our lives, our values, our global food and distribution systems…

It has shown just how vulnerable we are and taught us many valuable lessons on how to be better prepared for future crisis. Almost overnight back in March, the entire world was plunged into uncharted waters, everyone from governments, the entire medical system, multinational food companies, artists, musicians, teachers, publicans, chefs…. all scrambled to cope with unprecedented challenges. The shock of coping with the heartbreak of bereavements, the prospect of loosing a job, racking our brains to think of other income streams to survive - our lives changed beyond recognition.

This experience has forced us to pause and to readjust our priorities, to realise how futile it is to waste our lives embroiled in never ending battles for wealth, status and power.

The brilliant thing is that even in a pandemic we all need to eat.

Restaurants have reinvented themselves offering Take Outs, meal kits and family suppers. Food trucks are popping up everywhere, from Ballynamona Strand to Inishowen serving everything from fish and chips to ramen and fajitas.

Farmers Markets have quite rightly been declared an essential service. Branches of NeighbourFood, the online Farmers Market started by Jack Crotty in Barrack Street in Cork in early 2019 are popping up all over the country and now also in the UK.

Newspapers, On-line websites, Click and Collect options continue to be introduced by locally owned Irish businesses. The ongoing crisis has also created a myriad of opportunities for people to start little businesses at home in their spare room, garden shed, garage or kitchen. Many have discovered entrepreneurial genes they never realised they had, desperation has fuelled creativity.

Buying local has turned into a mainstream trend. Lockdown has forced us to explore what’s available in our local area and Wow, what treasures we have discovered. Local butchers, bakers, farmers, fish smokers, artisan preservers, honey producers….

Over Christmas, many people were on a mission to buy only local produce and crafts. The penny has really dropped that money spent in small local shops, saves jobs, creates opportunities and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than giant retailers flying products in from all over the world. More than 2/3 of the €5 billion we spend on- line every year disappears overseas, whereas every €100 spent in the local shop is worth €500 in real terms to the local community, how good does that feel?

So let’s continue this collective mind-set and be proud of the difference our contribution can make to Ireland. 

Monday, 4 January 2021

Why Buying Local Mattters

Well here we are at last in 2021, full of hope and expectations and good riddance to 2020. It’s been quite the upheaval for each and everyone. The Covid 19 pandemic has forced us to rethink so many aspects of our lives, our values, our global food and distribution systems…

It has shown just how vulnerable we are and taught us many valuable lessons on how to be better prepared for future crisis. Almost overnight back in March, the entire world was plunged into uncharted waters, everyone from governments, the entire medical system, multinational food companies, artists, musicians, teachers, publicans, chefs…all scrambled to cope with unprecedented challenges. The shock of coping with the heartbreak of bereavements, the prospect of loosing a job, racking our brains to think of other income streams to survive - our lives changed beyond recognition.

This experience has forced us to pause and to readjust our priorities, to realise how futile it is to waste our lives embroiled in never ending battles for wealth, status and power.

The brilliant thing is that even in a pandemic we all need to eat.

Restaurants have reinvented themselves offering take outs, meal kits and family suppers. Food trucks are popping up everywhere, from Ballynamona Strand to Inishowen serving everything from fish and chips to ramen and fajitas.


Farmers Markets have quite rightly been declared an essential service. Branches of NeighbourFood, the online Farmers Market started by Jack Crotty in Barrack Street in Cork in early 2019 are popping up all over the country and now also in the UK.

Newspapers, on-line websites, Click and Collect options continue to be introduced by locally owned Irish businesses. The ongoing crisis has also created a myriad of opportunities for people to start little businesses at home in their spare room, garden shed, garage or kitchen. Many have discovered entrepreneurial genes they never realised they had, desperation has fuelled creativity.

Buying local has turned into a mainstream trend. Lockdown has forced us to explore what’s available in our local area and wow, what treasures we have discovered. Local butchers, bakers, farmers, fish smokers, artisan preservers, honey producers….



So over Christmas, many people were on a mission to buy only local produce and crafts. The penny has really dropped that money spent in small local shops, saves jobs, creates opportunities and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than giant retailers flying products in from all over the world. More than 2/3 of the €5 billion we spend on- line every year disappears overseas, whereas every €100 spent in the local shop is worth €500 in real terms to the local community, how good does that feel?

So let’s continue this collective mind-set and be proud of the difference our contribution can make to where we live.

Monday, 28 December 2020

Cookbooks for Christmas #2

I love that so many who have never cooked before have discovered the joy of cooking and experimenting in the kitchen during the lockdowns enforced on us during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Several of the ‘born again’ cooks I’ve spoken to are messianic about the therapeutic value of the experience and how amazed they are to find themselves actually feeling excited about getting into the kitchen and the “Oops” they get in their tummy from the reaction of their family to each new home-made dish. This experience has definitely heightened awareness of the importance of passing on each newly learned skill to the next generation.

We surely need all these little highlights to enhance the quality of our lives at any time but even more so during these tumultuous and for many, heart
breaking times.

As you will know, delicious home cooking has always been the most important focus for me and interestingly this year many of the books published have focussed on comforting dishes to nourish and feed our precious family and friends. 

So thought I’d share five titles of new cookbooks to use up those Christmas book tokens. Alternatively order the title that appeals to you online, but I urge you to buy directly from your local book shops or from Kenny’s in Galway who have a huge list of titles and are super efficient and are in many cases cheaper than the well known international companies and plus your order will support an Irish firm.


Home Cookery Year from Claire Thompson, published by Quadrille is definitely worth having in your repertoire. You may even want to buy two copies, one to keep and another to gift. I found it incredibly difficult to choose just a couple of recipes. It’s divided into individual seasonal chapters, focusing on midweek dishes on a budget, from the larder, salads as light lunches or side dishes, treat yourself, leisurely weekend cooking and celebration feasts.
 
You may not have heard of Claire before but, she writes regularly for The Telegraph, BBC Good Food and Olive Magazines and does quite a bit of media work. Follow her on Instagram @5oclockapron for a daily snapshot of the food she cooks at home. 
by Clodagh McKenna 
Clodagh was a student here at Ballymaloe Cookery School in 2000. She then went on to then work alongside Myrtle Allen in Ballymaloe House kitchens, sold paté at the Farmers Markets in Midleton every Saturday, presented several TV series, wrote 8 bestselling cookbooks, while running several restaurants… all the while oozing energy and passion for food. More recently, her daily pod cast Clodagh’s Midweek Kitchen has almost 100K followers... plus can this girl dance! and she keeps hens…


For me one of the most meaningful books of the year is A Taste of Home, 100% of the proceeds from the sales of this really beautiful book go to support the work of The Passages, a British charity who for over 40 years have helped thousands of homeless people off the streets for good in the UK, among them many Irish. During 2020 their work was made even more challenging due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The original book concept was created by Kyle Cathie, my long time friend and publisher of many years, now retired. It’s packed with gorgeous recipes donated and mindfully chosen by cooks and chefs from all over the world. So many interesting ideas to try...


Always Home another of my favourite books of the year, an endearing and enchantingly written memoir by Fanny Singer about growing up as the daughter of the renowned chef and founder of Chez Panise, Alice Waters. A story of food, family and the need for beauty in all aspects of life. What could be more appealing during these uncertain times? A charmed childhood for sure, beautifully written and peppered with recipes for many of her beloved childhood foods, published by Orion Publishing.


And finally, just in, The Happy Health Plan yet another cracker from the two handsome chaps from Greystones, David and Stephen Flynn. Simple and tasty plant-based food to nourish your body inside and out.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Memories of Christmases Past

A trip down memory lane this Christmas I’ve been racking my brains to think of ways to add extra meaning to what for many, may be a long, lonely, cheerless Christmas. Pick up a pen, let our minds drift, dredge up memories of Christmas’s past, happy or perhaps tinged with sadness, anticipation, longing, disappointment… Don’t worry if the memories seem disjointed. Snippets of family get-togethers: raw, funny, poignant… just get it down on paper or if you can, sit by the fire, share and while away a few nostalgic hours recounting memories that may have been un-consciously buried for many years.


Memories come flooding back. Christmas baking started in November in our house too. This took two whole afternoons - we would look forward to it for weeks. Mum would specially wait until we came home from the village school so we could all get involved - washing the glacé cherries, deseeding muscatel raisins, chopping and peeling – everything had to be done from scratch then, and of course it was an advantage to have a few more hands around to help to cream the butter, line the cake tin and stir the plum pudding. That was super exciting because we each had to make a wish, eyes tightly shut, before the fruity mixture flecked with suet was packed into white Delph bowls and covered with greaseproof paper, “don’t forget to overlap it in the centre to allow the pudding to expand”. Little fingers held the knot to secure the twine handle tightly. Best of all the tradition in our house was to eat the first plum pudding on the night it was made. The Christmas season had begun and without doubt my mother’s plum pudding recipe (inherited from my grandmother and great-grandmother) is the best any of us have ever tasted and I’m not just being nostalgic. 


And then there was the trifle, Mum’s trifle was legendary – when I was little it was made with dried rusk like trifle sponges that appeared in the village shop before Christmas every year. Mum had a generous hand with the Bristol cream sherry – we split them in half, then sandwiched them with homemade raspberry jam, we layered them up with homemade custard (no not Birds) in two special cut glass trifle bowls retrieved from the top shelf of the pantry where they sat from one festive season to the next. I have to share this recipe with you I can confidently say that it’ll be the best trifle you’ll ever, ever taste. But there was ‘trifle drama’ in our house every year… Everyone loved the trifle. So Mummy had to hide the trifles every year because my crafty brothers would search the house to find it when they arrived home from midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Once they found it in the oven of the gas cooker, eventually she resorted to hiding the trifle under her bed to save them for Christmas Day...

Monday, 7 December 2020

Cook Ahead for Christmas

My heart goes out to all who are hoping against hope that travel restrictions will be lifted so children, grandchildren and dear friends can make it home for Christmas. We’re all craving a time when we can sit round the kitchen table together and enjoy a meal and maybe a little singsong without worrying about social distancing. It truly is heart breaking…

So let’s keep positive and try to focus on happier times. None of us can predict what’s ahead so let’s plan regardless. Pour yourself a glass of something delicious to sip on, make a soothing pot of tea. Grab a pad and write some lists, plan a week of delicious Christmas meals and treats. Then tick off what can be made ahead and frozen or pickled, so if all goes well you can spend as much precious time with the loved ones you’ve been yearning to see.


In the worst case scenario, you can enjoy some delicious comforting food after Christmas. There are so many good things that can be happily be made ahead without suffering in any way. I’ll be making lots of soups and freezing them in recycled containers. Quarter, half and one litre milk cartons work brilliantly, stack neatly in the freezer and can be defrosted quickly. I’m loving root vegetable soups at present: Swede Turnip and Bacon Soup with Parsley Oil costs just pennies to make. I’m also loving Jerusalem Artichoke soup with Avocado and Crispy Croutons, Celeriac and Hazelnut Soup... Curried Parsnip Soup is a favourite as is the combination of Parsnip and Fennel Soup.


Recipes for both Bread Stuffing and Potato Stuffing freeze perfectly and will be brilliant to stuff a chicken, pheasant, turkey, goose and duck. Apple sauce and Red Cabbage complete that meal but the pièce de résistance is this All in One Christmas Dinner on a Dish - This recipe dates back to the time when the United Hunt held its annual ball in Ballymaloe every year before Christmas. They wanted the whole works so my mother in law, Myrtle devised this delicious version which we prepared ahead and reheated. It became such a favourite that it was requested every year. It’s definitely a bit of a mission to make and you’ll need to cook the turkey and ham separately. Meanwhile make a creamy mushroom filling with lots of fresh herbs and then a creamy sauce to coat the lot.

The end result is an unctuous “Turkey and Ham Sandwich” that reheats deliciously in 10-15 minutes on the day.

You’ll need something fresh tasting to flit across the tongue after that deeply satisfying meal. Who wouldn’t love a clean and fresh tasting citrusy Tangerine Sorbet or Compote of Pears with Saffron to round off a Christmas feast.

Have a wonderful joyful Christmas counting our blessings.



A Christmas Dinner on a Platter

Serves 30

1 x 12-14 lbs (5.5-6.5kg) free range turkey, preferably a bronze turkey

1 x 8-10 lbs (3.4-4.5kg) ham or loin of bacon, (unsmoked, soaked overnight in cold water if salty)

chicken or turkey stock

dry white wine

2 carrots

1 large sliced onion

2 sticks celery

bouquet garni

a few peppercorns

50g (2oz) chopped parsley

2 tablespoons other fresh herbs, eg. tarragon, thyme, chives, lemon balm

3-4 egg yolks

600ml (1 pint) cream

85g (3oz) roux

Duchesse potato made with 5.5-6.5kg (12-14lb) potato, for piping around the dishes

Mushroom with fresh herbs and cream

85-100g (3-4oz) butter

1.2kg (2½lb) sliced mushrooms

180 ml (6fl.oz) cream

4 tablesp. fresh herbs, eg. parsley, thyme, chives

425g (15oz) onions, finely chopped

Roux as needed (equal quantities of melted butter and flour cooked together for 2 – 3 mins)

lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 – 4 serving platters

Cover the ham with cold water, bring it slowly to the boil and discard the water, cover again with hot water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the ham is cooked, 2½ hours approx. (calculate 20 minutes to 450g (1lb) as a rough guide). The skin will peel off easily when the ham is cooked.

Meanwhile, season the turkey and put it into a large saucepan with about 12.5-15cm (5-6 inches) of water or chicken stock and white wine. Add 1 large sliced onion, 2 sticks of celery, 2 large carrots cut in chunks, a bouquet garni and a few black peppercorns. Bring to the boil, cover closely and simmer for 2 hours approx. either on top of the stove or in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/regulo 4.

While the turkey and ham are cooking, prepare the mushrooms. Melt the butter in a wide heavy bottomed saucepan. When it sizzles add the chopped onions, cover and sweat over a low heat until soft but not coloured. Meanwhile in a hot frying pan, fry off the mushrooms a few at the time in a little butter, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, add them to the softened onions. Add more butter if necessary, but never too much, add the freshly chopped herbs, cream and a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for seasoning. Bring to the boil and thicken with enough roux to thicken lightly. Set the mushroom a la crémè aside until you are ready to assemble the dish.

When the turkey is cooked the legs will feel loose in their sockets, remove it from the casserole and de-grease the cooking liquid. Bring it to the boil and reduce by half. Add 300-450ml (10-15fl.oz) cream, I know that sounds shocking but this recipe makes 30 helpings and you are not going to eat it all yourself! Bring back to the boil and thicken to a light coating consistency with roux. Taste for seasoning.

Skin the turkey, the skin from a poached turkey is soft rather than crisp, so I don’t use it in this dish. Chop up the brown turkey meat from the legs and the white meat from the wings into smallish pieces and mix with the mushroom a la créme. Add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 dessertspoon thyme, chives and lemon balm if available.

Spread a layer of the creamy sauce on the serving dishes. Carve a nice slice of bacon or ham for each serving and place at regular intervals on top of the sauce. Spoon some of the brown meat and mushroom mixture on top. Carve the turkey breast into thin slices and place 1 slice per serving on top of the mushrooms and ham, making individual complete sandwiches.

Whisk 3-4 egg yolks with 150ml (5fl.oz) cream to make a liaison, blend well and stir this into the remainder of the cream sauce. (It should be a coating consistency.) Coat the pieces of turkey with this sauce. Cool and refrigerate. If serving on the day, pipe a generous border of Duchesse potato all around the edge of the dishes. Cool the dishes quickly, cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.

Reheat in a moderate oven 180C-190C/350-375F/regulo 4-5, for 30 minutes approx. until it is bubbling and golden on top. If necessary, flash under the grill to brown the edges of the Duchesse potato.

Garnish with generous sprigs of flat leaf resh parsley and serve.

Top Tip:

If freezing the dishes with a potato border around the edge, freeze first and then cover tightly with strong cling film to prevent the potato from getting squashed.

However, for best results, freeze without the potato, but pipe it on just before reheating.

Roux

110g (4oz) butter

110g (4oz) flour

Melt the butter and cook the flour in it for 2 minutes on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Use as required. Roux can be stored in a cool place and used as required or it can be made up on the spot if preferred. It will keep at least a fortnight in a refrigerator.

Duchesse Potato

Serves 4

900g (2lbs) unpeeled potatoes, preferably Golden Wonders or Kerr's Pinks

300ml (10fl ozs) creamy milk

1-2 egg yolks or 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk

25-50g (1-2oz) butter

Scrub the potatoes well. Put them into a saucepan of cold water, add a generous pinch of salt, bring to the boil. When the potatoes are about half cooked, 15 minutes approx. for 'old' potatoes, strain off two-thirds of the water, replace the lid on the saucepan, put on to a gentle heat and allow the potatoes to steam until they are cooked. Peel immediately by just pulling off the skins, so you have as little waste as possible, put through a ricer or mouli legume while hot. (If you have a large quantity, put the potatoes into the bowl of a food mixer and beat with the spade).

While the potatoes are being peeled, bring about 300ml (10fl oz//1 1/4 cups) of milk to the boil. Beat the eggs into the hot mashed potatoes, and add enough boiling creamy milk to mix to a soft light consistency suitable for piping, then beat in the butter, the amount depending on how rich you like your potatoes. Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Note: If the potatoes are not peeled and mashed while hot and if the boiling milk is not added immediately, the Duchesse potato will be lumpy and gluey. If you only have egg whites they will be fine and will make a deliciously light mashed potato also.

Monday, 30 November 2020

The Joy of Food


The Joy of Food, Rory O’Connell’s excellent third book was published by Gill Books at the beginning of October. My signed copy arrived in the post, beautifully wrapped with a limited edition linen tea towel from Stable. That’s the gorgeous shop in Westbury Hall, off Dublin’s Grafton Street where I want to buy absolutely everything in the shop. The package also included several post cards of Rory’s line drawings that illustrate the pages of this enchanting book. All so beautifully chic and stylish.


I know what you’re thinking – well, she would say that wouldn’t she? After all, Rory is Darina’s brother who co-founded the Ballymaloe Cookery School with her in 1983… True, but many of you who have been watching the accompanying series, The Joy of Food on RTE, will have realised that Rory is an exceptional talent…A curious chef with his own unique style, who not only loves to cook but also loves to share his knowledge, making him a much-loved teacher here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork.

For me, as his older sister, it’s a trip down memory lane, an extra fascinating element. We were both brought up in the little village of Cullohill in the rural midlands of Co. Laois by a mother (our Dad died when I was 14) who loved to cook yummy meals for us every single day. Simple but truly delicious comforting food, vegetables and fruit and berries from the kitchen garden. Chickens and eggs from our own hens, milk from the Kerry cow, meat from the local butcher, wild food in season…This was our norm and was unquestionably where we learned to cook but also to appreciate the magic of food and its ability to enhance both our family life and the experience of friends and the students we share with.

The evocative introduction to the chapters in this new book gave me an even deeper insight into my brothers psyche, his passion for good food, and superb ingredients in season. Memories of family picnics, foraging expeditions up Cullohill ‘mountain’ to gather hazelnuts, the importance of laying a beautiful table and lighting a candle, even when dining alone. Read about the difference a little bunch of flowers makes, I also loved his homage to the pestle and mortar, his musings on the joy of owning a few hens and was intrigued to read how much Jane Grigson’s book Good Things meant to him because it’s my favourite too.

It’s packed with delicious sounding recipes, special tips and insight into how to use some less familiar ingredients e.g. sumac, perilla, shiso…

Monday, 23 November 2020

Cookbooks 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 coots and waterhens skittering across the water. If I lived in London I would want to ramble along to Towpath every single day, no phone and no takeaway, such joy and now Lori and Laura her partner share their recipes and the stories.



Next up, Neven Maguire’s Mid Week Meals. 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 and Clodagh McKenna.