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.

Friday, 13 November 2020

Freshly squeezed orange juice – my eye!



One of the most abused terms in the English language - the reality of “freshly squeezed” orange juice stretches from a tetra pack to a litre plastic container of juice that was squeezed days and sometimes weeks earlier. 'Freshly squeezed orange juice' or 'jus d’orange pressé' comes from an orange sliced in two across the “equator” and then juiced on a citrus juicer rather than one of those industrial machines that produce juice that tastes of pith and all the nasty chemicals on the skin. 


It’s so worth investing in a little electric juicer. They are relatively inexpensive, €30 or so and all the small electronics companies do one, Kenwood, Phillips, Krups….

If you have one, it should last for maybe ten years or more in a domestic situation. You will be much more likely to make some freshly squeezed orange juice to start the day, a real investment in your health.

I know I’m like a broken record but I was brought up with the clear understanding that our food should be our medicine and my mother firmly believed that if she didn’t put the money and effort into the food on the table she would inevitably give it to the doctor or chemist.

Winter is the citrus fruit season with an abundance of citrus fruit now in the shops. All the usual plus, satsumas, mandarins, clementine’s, tangerines, tangellos, ugli fruit, kumquats and now the marmalade oranges have just arrived from Seville and Malaga, so we can have fun experimenting while they are in season for the next few weeks.

If your life is too hectic to make marmalade at present throw them into the freezer in 4 ½lb lots and make whole orange marmalade later on. An electric juicer will make the whole process infinitely easier.



A couple of crucial tips for you...

1) Make sure that the citrus peel is really soft before the sugar is added, otherwise the peel will be tough and chewy – doesn’t matter how long you cook it for.

2) Cover the saucepan while the peel is cooking, then remove the lid and cook until the liquid is reduced to between 1/3 and ½ the original volume before adding sugar.

3) Add flavourings, ginger, cardamom, whiskey two or three minutes before the end of cooking.

4) To test for a set, put a small spoonful marmalade onto a chilled plate, pop into the fridge for a couple of minutes. Then push with your finger and if the marmalade wrinkles even a little then it is guaranteed to set.

5) Allow the marmalade to stand in the saucepan for ten to twelve minutes before potting into warm sterilised jars, this will ensure that the peel settles and doesn’t rise to the top.

6) Cover immediately, store in a cool dark place – admire your handiwork and enjoy!

Read my full post on Marmalade here...



I’ve been greatly enjoying Marmalade – A Bittersweet Cookbook published by Saltyard Books, great marmalade recipes and beautifully written with tons of suggestions for delicious ways to use your new seasons marmalade.

My favourite film over Christmas was Paddington Bear, Michael Bond who wrote the original books shared his tips for the perfect marmalade sandwich with Marmalade author, Sarah Randal – how charming is that!



Thursday, 29 October 2020

Trick or Treat

Trick or Treat is one of the most exciting and fun celebrations of the entire year, I love how kids all over the all over the country spend hours in happy anticipation, plotting and planning their costumes, disguises, scary tricks and wizardry…Can’t bear how their enthusiasm will need to be dampened this year…Poor little dotes….Robbed of their innocent fun because of Covid 19 restrictions. I keep wondering what the kids make of all this, amazingly some seem to just take it in their stride, perhaps they think this is all normal. Others are super anxious depending on how much they overhear from adults, radio, TV…..hard to avoid it…


Well how about a Monster Halloween Cooking Session with spooky music and lots of ghost stories and games? We definitely have to have a barmbrack – soak the fruit in strong Barry’s tea a day or two before and don’t forget to hide the Halloween charms in the fruity batter. If you find a ring in your slice – you’ll be married within the year. The Stick – a bad sign, your partner will beat you. A Rag – bad news too, your destiny is for a life of poverty. A Coin – is a promise of riches. These can also be hidden in a big bowl of colcannon, a traditional Irish Halloween dish – a little needs to be left on the window sill to appease the fairies and chase away the spirits or you could also be in deep trouble.


As children we had a variety Halloween games. Apple bobbing was a favourite, many involved divination and being blindfolded, and then there was the Three Saucers, arranged in a line, one contained water, one clay and the third held a ring. I seem to remember being spun around three times while blindfolded, then reaching out with my hands to touch a saucer. Water meant you were about to embark on an overseas journey, clay meant you would soon go to your grave and yet again the ring indicated matrimony was nigh….but now for fun in the kitchen.

‘Dragons eggs’ are easy and fun to do. Hard boil eggs for 10 minutes, peel them and drop into beetroot pickle juice, they turn a scary purply colour. Any number of spooky, scary shapes and concoctions can be made with children of all ages from a meringue mixture, that we call Púca. How about making these willowy ghosts….Devil’s brains made of popcorn will also be a hit, as will this Cobweb Cake. Buy a giant pumpkin, preferably with a stumpy stem, the kids will have hours of fun scooping out the seeds and flesh, seeds can be roasted and tossed in extra virgin olive oil and maybe a sprinkling of chilli flakes to nibble as a snack. The flesh can then be used to make a delicious pumpkin soup to serve in the pumpkin shell.

Maybe light a few bonfires in the garden and organise a spooky feast, have a safe and happy Halloween…




Monday, 26 October 2020

Flavour

Yotam Ottolenghi is a paradigm shifting force on the global food scene. His new book FLAVOUR is quite the revelation and I certainly don’t use that word lightly. Even though Yotam is not a vegetarian, he has been celebrating and singing the praises of vegetables for decades and is on a mission to present them in new and exciting ways. He and his team have been testing, tasting and sharing the many recipes they have devised to ramp up and create new flavours that totally banish our concept of traditional vegetables.



Although his six restaurants all across London are not vegetarian, vegetables feature abundantly on the menus. He’s written and co-authored seven cookbooks thus far.

Among them, PLENTY which was published in 2010, PLENTY MORE in 2014. 

FLAVOUR is the most recent book in the series, Yotam teamed up with Ixta Belfarge who is equally obsessed with vegetables. Her journey to the world of food via Mexico City, Brazil, France, Tuscany and Australia was complex and varied, she even had a market stall in London for a spell and eventually got a job at Nopi, one of Yotam’s restaurants.

Her eclectic cooking is deeply engrained in the cultures she absorbed during her travel over the years.

The third contributor to this inspirational book was Ballymaloe Cookery School Alumni, Tara Wigley. She cooks and writes like an angel and also collaborated with Yotam’s business partner Sami Tamini on his recent book Falastin (see my blogpost on it...)

So why am I waxing lyrical about FLAVOUR? – Well, for a start I’ve been cooking all of my adult life and a good part of my childhood, I live on an organic farm, I too love vegetables and I am fortunate to have access to beautiful freshly harvested produce throughout the year. Since 1983, I have taught thousands of students here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School since and thus far written nineteen cookbooks. Yet, Yotam and Ixta have introduced me to a myriad of new ways to add hitherto undreamt of flavours to our favourite vegetables. Cauliflower, celeriac, even carrots and cabbage will never be the same again.


How do they do it? – well you’ll need to buy the book to discover all the secrets but a few hints, Yotam and Ixta introduce us to a series of twenty essential ingredients to add extra oomph – I’ve got to add Guachong chilli paste to my larder! Furthermore to add extra magic they hone in on four processes, charring, browning, infusing and ageing and there’s more…

Pop into your local bookshop – FLAVOUR is published by Ebury Press. Treat yourself and maybe pick up an extra copy for a friend who loves to cook. 

Monday, 19 October 2020

How About Some Cake?

How about a delicious homemade cake to cheer us all up? 

Who doesn’t love a slice of delicious cake and a cup of tea, even while we need to observe strict social distancing. Recently, I met a lady who confided that she had never made a cake in her entire life…she had absolutely no idea where to start, it was a complete mystery to her.

She was over the moon with delight when she baked her very first cake while she as with us here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School for a class. We showed her just how easy it was to make a super delicious cake when you follow a good recipe. You can’t imagine how thrilled she was, lots of photos, beaming smiles and such a sense of achievement.


A few little tips to get started:

1. A couple of spatulas and a wooden spoon.

2. A wire rack to cool the cake when it comes out of the tin.

3. A palette knife is useful for icing but not essential.

4. Buy an accurate scales, baking is an exact science, so weigh all the ingredients meticulously

5. The finest ingredients make the best cakes, use butter, fresh free range eggs and pure vanilla extract rather than essence which was never ‘next or near’ a vanilla pod in it’s life!

For memorable cakes use chocolate or unsweetened cocoa.

Being pernickity about the quality of the ingredients will really pay dividends and result in something really gorgeous. After all, if you go to the effort of making a cake, it might as well be super delicious!


6. Choose a really good recipe from a trusted source, sounds odd but sadly not all recipes are as carefully tested as they ought to be. Then inexperienced bakers blame themselves rather than the recipe and come to the conclusion that they can’t cook.

7. Equip yourself with some basic equipment and utensils:

A few good tins, a loaf tin 1lb (8x4x3 inches) or 2lb (6x4x3 inches), 2 x 7”or 8” round tins with pop up bases and maybe 19cm round for larger cakes.

8. A food mixer is an advantage but certainly not essential but it does make the job much easier.

9. Equally a food processor is worth the investment and means a cake can be made in mere minutes.

10. A piping bag and a couple of nozzles if you want to get creative.

These few items will get you started – you can add to your baking kit as you go along.

Here is a tried and tested recipes for one of my favourite cakes.

A Classic Coffee Cake with Caramelised Walnuts




This is a splendid recipe for an old-fashioned coffee cake – the sort Mummy made…We still make it regularly and everyone loves it. I’m a real purist about using extract rather than essence in the case of vanilla, but in this cake, I prefer to use coffee essence (which is actually mostly chicory) to real coffee. I’ve used a square tin here but one could use 2 round tins.

Serves 10–12

225g (8oz) soft butter

225g (8oz) caster sugar

4 organic or at least free range eggs

225g (8oz) plain white flour, preferably unbleached

1 teaspoon baking powder

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence



Coffee Butter Cream for filling

150g (6oz) butter

330g (12oz) icing sugar, sieved

5-6 teaspoons Camp coffee essence



Coffee Glace Icing

450g (1lb) icing sugar

scant 2 tablespoons Camp coffee essence

about 4 tablespoons boiling water



To Decorate

Caramelised Walnuts (see below) or toasted hazelnuts or chocolate covered coffee beans.


2 x 20cm (8in) round sandwich tins.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.

Line the base and sides of the tin with greaseproof or silicone paper. Brush the bottom and sides with melted butter and dust lightly with flour.

Beat the soft butter with a wooden spoon, add the caster sugar and beat until pale in colour and light in texture. Whisk the eggs. Add to the mixture, bit by bit, beating well between each addition.

Sieve the flour with the baking powder and stir gently into the cake mixture. Finally, add in the coffee essence and mix thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. When the cake is cooked, the centre will be firm and springy and the edges will have shrunk from the sides of the tin. Leave to rest in the tin for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Remove the greaseproof paper from the base, then flip over so the top of the cake doesn’t get marked by the wire rack. Leave the cake to cool on the wire rack.

To make the coffee butter cream, whisk the butter with the sieved icing sugar and add the coffee essence. Continue to whisk until light and fluffy.

When cold, cut the cake in half lengthwise, then cut each half horizontally creating rectangular layers, 4 in total. Sandwich each sponge layer together with ½ of the coffee butter cream, forming a loaf shaped cake. Place half of the remaining buttercream into a piping bag, fitted with a medium star shaped nozzle. Spread the sides and top of the cake thinly with the last of the butter cream and place into the fridge for 10-15 minutes to chill. This technique is called crumb coating.

Next make the Coffee Glace Icing. Sieve the icing sugar and put into a bowl. Add coffee essence and enough boiling water to make it the consistency of a thick cream (careful not to add too much water)

To Decorate:

Remove the cake from the fridge. Pour the glace icing evenly over the top of the cake, gently spreading it down the sides with a palette knife. Allow to set, 30 minutes (approx.). Decorate with piped rosettes of buttercream and garnish with the caramelized walnuts.

Caramelised Walnuts

100g (3 1/2oz) sugar

50ml (2fl oz) cold water

20 walnut halves

225ml (8fl oz) hot water

Dissolve the sugar in the cold water over a gentle heat. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then remove the spoon and continue to simmer until the syrup caramelises to a chestnut colour. Remove from the heat, dip the walnuts into the hot caramel, and coat each one completely using a fork. Remove to a silicone baking mat, or oiled cake tin, and allow to cool. Once all the walnuts have been coated, Pour the hot water into the saucepan and continue to cook until the caramel dissolves and the sauce is quite smooth. Reduce until it starts to thicken slightly. Allow to get cold. This sauce can be used for serving with ice-cream.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

The Wonder of Oats

October 10th is World Porridge Day, a good opportunity to remind ourselves of this inexpensive super food which comes to us in many variations – it’s basically one of the great convenience foods of the world.

Virtually every food writer and journalist who stays at Ballymaloe House raves about the porridge that they serve for breakfast with a generous drizzle of Jersey cream and a sprinkling of soft brown Barbados sugar. It’s not just any old porridge – it’s Macroom oatmeal, lovingly kiln roasted and milled by Donal Creedon at Walton’s Mill, the last surviving stone mill in Ireland. The mill has been in the same family since the 1700’s. Donal, the great, great, great, great grandson of founder, Richard Walton, carefully and respectfully carries on the tradition.


The porridge is sold in the same distinctive red, white and yellow bags – which is somehow reassuring. The oats are gently toasted for up to two days on cast iron plates to give the oatmeal the distinctive toasted flavour we all love. 

Long gone are the days of gruel and watery porridge….. So if you are convinced oatmeal is just for breakfast – think again! The texture is deliciously chunky and packed with flavour. Steel cut or what many refer to as pinhead oatmeal, which takes considerably longer to cook. Jumbo rolled oats and ‘speedie cook’ rolled oats, are also delicious. Oatmeal is not just for breakfast porridge, biscuits and granola. It’s also brilliant in savoury dishes such as savoury porridge with greens.



A past student Alex Hely-Hutchinson, opened a restaurant in London called 26 Grains. The 8 or 9 different types of porridge on their menu, both sweet and savoury have customers queuing every day. 26 Grains was probably inspired by GrØd, the porridge paradise in Copenhagen, opened in 2011 in a basement on Jaegerborggade, at that time a distinctively dodgy street with appealingly low rent. Now there are several branches and a GrØd cookbook. They were pretty much ‘skint’ when they opened but manged to afford to buy some oats to make bowls of hot steaming porridge – the rest is history…a huge success story! The menu now includes other comforting food like risotto, dahl and congee and there are now branches all over Denmark.


Oatmeal has a long and fascinating history. It has been grown in Ireland since medieval times, our humid, wet climate suits it. There are many historical references and a wealth of archaeological evidence. Oats were used in gruel, porridges, flatbreads and by all accounts, a not very good beer! The straw and chaff were used in the manufacture of floor covering, baskets, hen roosts and bedding – but back to the kitchen.

To use that much overused term, they are definitely a ‘super food’. Oats are packed with protein, high in soluble fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol and you’ll have noticed that you don’t feel like reaching for a donut at eleven if you have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Apart from the fibre content which is good for your gut and helps to prevent constipation, it is super filling and satisfying and boosts our energy levels. Oats also contain a wide range of nutrients, vitamin E, essential fatty acids and if you are to believe all the research, helps to prevent cardiovascular disease by lowering your bad LDL cholesterol without affecting the good cholesterol. The high fibre and complex carbs help to stabilize the blood sugar according to the American Cancer Society. The lignans in oats helps to reduce hormone related cancers. 

Up to relatively recently I was a Jersey cream and soft dark brown sugar devotee but I’ve become much more adventurous (led by my grandchildren and the Ballymaloe Cookery School students example). Think peanut butter and banana; walnuts, blueberries and maple syrup or honey, roast almonds, dates and almond butter (it’s all about what you sprinkle on top). Stewed apple or compote with cinnamon. I draw the line at white or dark chocolate chips but suspect that’s a generational thing.

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Falastin

Have you heard of Sami Tamimi? His name may not be all that familiar to you but he is the business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi. The pair are credited with introducing us all to Middle Eastern food and many ingredients that we were hitherto totally unfamiliar with – sumac, za’atar, Aleppo pepper, baharat, sumac, pomegranate molasses, tahini...


The story of how this Palestinian and Israeli met and became firm friends is intriguing, an inspiration to many. Food unites us all and despite the heart breaking political situation, their friendship has endured for over 20 years. They met in 1999 when Sami worked at Baker and Spice in London.

Sami and Yotam run three Ottolenghi branches in Notting Hill, Islington and Belgravia as well as Nopi and Rovi and have co-authored 2 books together, Ottolenghi in 2008 and Jerusalem in 2012.



Sami’s latest book is called Falastin which means Palestine in Arabic. The name is deeply symbolic and for Sami has many interwoven emotions.

Palestinian home cooks and cookbook writers tend to be women who pass the skills and recipes from on generation to another. Sami however lost his mother when he was seven – he spent much of his childhood being shooed out of the kitchen by his aunties and sisters.

For me it’s a fantastic book, it has instant appeal, packed with recipes I really want to dash into the kitchen to cook and share with friends.

Falastin is co-authored with Ballymaloe alumni Tara Wigley, who also collaborated with Yotam on his book, Simple.


For Sami, Falastin is a deeply important book full of haunting memories of his mother’s delicious food and Palestine – as Tara wrote – ‘It’s a love letter to his country’. 

She has been part of the Ottolenghi family since 2010, she turned up on her bike, fresh from a 12 Week Certificate Course here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. She had arrived to us in April 2010 with her 18 month old twins and a great big Bosnian dog named Andy. Tara was leaving a decade in publishing, her dream was to combine her love of cooking and writing and it quickly became clear that at Ottolenghi she could have her cake and eat it!

After a few years collaborating with Yotam and Sami on recipe testing, writing and cooking, Tara focused exclusively on writing. She remains a passionate home cook and knows very well how to fill a table with a feast.