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35.5 years to Magic- My 35th St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

I’ve been cooking since I was 7 years old….well since I was 4 years old if you count the mud pies I used to make and feed to skinny Alfred up the road…many times, because poor Alfred could be re-convinced each time I presented them to him that they were chocolate.  Not something I’m terribly proud of today. If only he could taste what I create now to make amends!

I arrived in Ireland, at the age of 19 in 1979 on an exchange programme to Trinity College, Dublin to study music.  It was a week after Pope John Paul II visited.  The place was still buzzing from him having kissed the Irish soil, told the children of Ireland he ‘ laaaahved’ them, and his photograph was hanging everywhere. Sometimes with the extra addition of a miniature red disco light for handy-out on the spot, instant altar praying!

As a foodie, I smelled Dublin before I saw it.  In fact if I think of anywhere I have visited my smell and food memories are the first thing that come to mind.  I was then, therefore, certain that all my advisors back home in California were wrong.  As long as there was pizza, and here I was,  I could smell it with my own nose, I’d be ok.  So I made my way to No. 5 over the cobblestones, and was enchanted with the (several) flights of wooden stairs, the small faculty and the intimate community that made up the music department. Before that day ended, I also discovered that there wasn’t any pizza…that what I thought was the yeasty pastry base of my ‘saviour pizza’ was actually  the Guinness that was being brewed. This was at least a small concession, as I soon grew to love that glass of black stuff too…especially the complimentary ones served out to me in O’Donoghues pub when I was playing tin whistle in the sessions! (I say glass, because in 1979 a lot of publicans wouldn’t serve a female a pint….I am NOT lying to all of you under the age of 40 reading this!!)

Having been raised in Southern California, it was a huge shock to me to arrive in a place that was so devoid of the food I was accustomed to.  I had been a vegetarian up until a couple months before I left– changing my dietary habits because so many had informed me of the cuisine available here, that it would be a VERY difficult life should I intend to remain vegetarian.  They also told me I’d go mad with the lack of international cuisine.  They were partly right, but because I was lucky enough to land an au pair job with a family living in Rathgar- that had lived in Southern California ,and who were also foodies, I had an ‘in’ to what was better and what was worse.  There was a massive recession on.  My scholarship money didn’t last very long here each month, especially when I was giving in to a craving for, perhaps an avocado…which, if I could find one, would set me back at least Ir £ 2.00.  (I often paid three times that in ‘Here Today’ on South Anne Street).  When I purchased one, I would retreat into a corner….slowly savouring, and sharing with NO ONE!!

But there were things about the food in Ireland that I really began to appreciate. Very soon, I realised that I knew where my food was coming from.  The milk was delivered to the door in milk bottles.  It was my job to bring them in the house as soon as I awoke— before the birds poked holes in the tops of the foil lids and robbed the best part…the very thick cream that surfaced to the top.  The woman of the house, where I was au pair, was partial to a thing I had never experienced…Jersey milk.  At this point in time, I very much miss the same!  Oh how thick and yummy that product was. We had nothing like that in California, nor did we have yellow butter…really yellow butter, made that way by the (very green) grass the cows were eating.  When we went to the butcher shop, a cow was very much a cow…carcass on display- hanging in the ice-cold shop.  There were lambs, rabbits, pig’s heads, cow’s tongues. If you were eating meat (and I didn’t encounter any vegetarians that year!!), you knew it was meat.  Most of the butcher shops had their own abattoirs, some had their own farms…all of them were Craft Butchers.  I remember the first time I was in charge of cooking a roast chicken for the family, and having to chop the feet off the chicken first. It freaked me out, I have to admit, but when I tasted the chicken (and it was truly a REAL chicken), I got over it!  The vegetables were covered in dirt on display in the shops, but the flavour was like those we grew ourselves back home.  Everything had a  FLAVOUR.  The cuisine was basic and simple, but if cooked properly, was delicious.

It was a long time ago.  Let me just tell you about a few things that happened in 1979 to make me feel even older and to give you a perspective on how much things have changed since then.  Michael Jackson launched his first breakthrough (adult) album, ‘Off the Wall’, while Pink Floyd released their album ‘The Wall’. Margaret Thatcher was elected for the first time as Prime Minister, Lord Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, ‘Trivial Pursuits’ was launched, There was a postal strike for 4 months that year (I just couldn’t get my head around that one!!), Jack Lynch resigned as Taoiseach and leader of the Fianna Fail party and Charles Haughey took over the same two positions.  The Sony Walkman was launched (that was a biggie), Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize and every time you passed a petrol station there was a queue due to petrol shortages because of the crisis in the Middle East.  The first PC wasn’t launched until 2 years later (IBM 1981). And the first cell phone wasn’t invented for another 9 years. That should put it in perspective.  (God I feel VERY old!!)

But it was a short time ago as far as what has happened in the world of food.  So much has happened in Ireland in that short amount of time.  Some of it most welcome. In 1979 there were very few restaurants (the good ones would have been outside my financial realms  to experience).  If I caved, and went to La Caprice for a plate of pasta because I needed an injection of garlic and the atmosphere of a restaurant to make me feel human again, I had to slum it for the rest of the month.  There was one place I sniffed out fairly soon ..it was on South Anne Street and it served real coffee….not the ‘real’ coffee we have today (that’s a whole other blog in itself), but it wasn’t instant coffee, and it was friendly, and it was fun.  It was fun, because the owner, who’s name I believe was Mario, allowed students to sit in there for hours even if all they had was a coffee.  And I discovered that Mario served pizza too:-).  It was the closest thing I was going to get to what I had previously had as pizza.  The name of the establishment was the Coffee Inn.  I sheltered there for a good part of many a day, and he always greeted me with a smile, and he usually had a (bathroom tumbler) glass of wine going while he sat in the back booth conducting his restaurant business.  There was a wee hatch window that opened and closed when the food was ready.  It saved my life.  Then there was Solomon Grundy’s in a basement on Suffolk Street, opposite Mc Cullough Piggotts music shop.  I have to say, that was my first introduction to tinned sweet corn being spooned all over anything you ordered. It was trendy. (Thankfully, not anymore). But there was a lovely perk to eating in Grundy’s, and that was the phone that was broken.  Just quickly I will mention that very few people had phones, and if you wanted to have a landline installed in your home it took over a year to have it done. ***I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!!***.  So ringing home involved reversing charges (whilst not pressing button ‘A’!!) and I didn’t really NEED to ring home, but seeing as their phone was broken, and one could ring anywhere they wanted for FREE…I did so regularly there! They copped it eventually, so we changed our eating haunt to The Granary.  God, I’m getting maudlin here….must move on to the point I want to make.

It was another 4 years before Darina Allen opened the Ballymaloe Cookery School, and another 10 years before we had L’Ecrivain, (Derry & Sallyanne Clarke), Thornton’s (Kevin Thornton) or Erriseask House (Stefan Matz).  Farmhouse Cheeses and other produce began to multiply on  the shelves of good food stores at a rapid rate, and all of a sudden Ireland was developing quite a food culture.  A food culture that the public were beginning to fancy big time.  This was helped along hugely by John and Sally McKenna (at the time, Bridgestone Guides) as well as plentiful restaurant reviews, television shows and an economy that began to boom.

In 1993 my then partner, now husband, and myself took out a lease in an old rectory outside Carlow town and opened Danette’s Feast restaurant, fulfilling a life-time dream of mine.  We did this by sourcing all the best of Irish produce, grown and nurtured by people who were/are incredibly passionate about their product and what they do to make it special. Without them, the food that we put on the plate would have been second rate. At about the same time came the fictional creature with whiskers and claws (big claws).  People stopped cooking because they were so busy working to pay off the 100 per cent mortgages they were granted.  Convenience food became commonplace and a lot of that food was not food at all, and it still isn’t.

On the one hand I rejoice in the wonderful chefs, producers and shop keepers who love their food, and on the other I have seen the tasteless, mass-produced , chemically injected products – made popular in American culture- invade this precious green island that I love to my bones.  As I now produce my own range of sauces (Danette’s Magic) for supply to good food shops, I see the synthetic jars in super markets that too many buy. On a majorly good point, I can now purchase my beloved Mexican food products in Ireland from Picado Mexican Pantry either in person or online, on the other hand there are totally crap fajita kits lining the shelves of supermarkets masquerading as Mexican food.

As I approach my 35th St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, I hope people will weigh up the pros of keeping our REAL food culture vital , and rejoice in the fact that no matter where they are in Ireland, they are no longer than 20 minutes away from beautiful, wild countryside. Let’s keep it wild….and most of all, personal.

 

 

***Menu for St. Valentine’s Dinner Competiton ***

 

 

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Well, the entries are stacking up in all the shops that sell ‘Danette’s Magic’ products.  Good news is you can enter the competition for a meal for 2 (and a bottle of wine) every time you purchase a pot of magic.  I’ll be delivering the meal on the 14th, and will leave you with complete final instructions for finishing the dishes as well as presentation tips.

I will be shopping in all the wonderful artisan food shops, delis, health stores and butchers who stock the ‘Danette’s Magic’ range, and I will, of course be highlighting the magic sauces and dips themselves.   So many of our customers from Danette’s Feast restaurant remark kindly about the menus we used to serve, so ex-regulars will note a few familiar dishes to take them down ‘memory lane’ on the menu.

I will be choosing the winner on Monday the 9th of February.  If you don’t win, don’t despair.  I will be blogging quite a few of the recipes listed below, so you can make them yourself at home.

So to whet your appetite, here’s the menu the winner gets to choose from:

imagesStarters

**Chicken & Prawn filled wontons.  Served with a shredded Asian salad and a magic dipping sauce of soy sauce, wasabi, lime, chilli, ginger, garlic, honey and nori.  (Vegan option available with marinated tofu-filled wontons)

**Chilli Relleno filled with goat’s cheese, parma ham and Magic sundried tomato tapenade. Served with seasonal salad.

**Magic Cashew Nut Pesto and Toonsbridge Ricotta filled filo pastry cup.  Served with roasted pepper salad.

**Wild-Atlantic Smoked Mackerel Paté with crab-apple chilli jelly, melba toast and a beetroot, apple and walnut salad.

 

imagesMain Courses

**Rib-eye or Fillet Steak on a bed of wilted spinach with caramelised shallots, mushroom duxelle- served with Magic Yumami black pepper sauce. Served with Creamy garlic potatoes.

**Parmesan and basil coated Chicken breast with Toonsbridge Mozarella, Magic Tomato & Fresh Basil Sauce. Served with grilled Aubergines, Courgettes and Peppers, and potatoes sauteed with garlic, rosemary and white wine.

**Indian-spiced Roasted Root Vegetables on a bed of dahl with Sag Paneer , Vegetable Samosas, Magic Cucumber Raita Dip

 

imagesDesserts

**Chocolate Truffle cake with Pecan Praline and Passion Fruit Coulis

**Poached Pear with Creme Brulee

**Caramelised Lemon Tart with Raspberry Coulis

**Orange & Almond Cake served with nobo ice cream (vegan-friendly dessert)

 

Petit Fours

 

download Good Luck!…..It’s Magic 😉

Meatballs in a Tomato & Fresh Basil Sauce

DSC_1350 (788x1024)Ryan Tubridy…you’re being blempt!! Blempt for this blog being posted so late and you will be blempt for my tiredness for the rest of my very busy weekend.  I have to say that I absolutely adored this year’s Toy Show on RTE 1- it was full of magical moments, and it was totally worth it.

This is my second blog for Grogan & Brown Artisan Butchers, where I will be leaving a bain marie full of meatballs in my Tomato & Fresh Basil sauce in their shop for you to taste tomorrow (actually, it’s today now!), and if you like the taste you can find the recipe here, and make them yourself.  If you’re interested in following my blog/recipes, ‘like’ my facebook page, Danette’s Feast, and you will be notified when I do post a blog.

Since my first blog of this sort- Grogan & Brown have won the Kilkenny Retailer of the Year award, which they highly deserve.  I have heard numerous reports from various people about the wonderful service and attention they have received from the lads.  Congratulations guys, and well done!  Only one year in….can’t keep up with these guys!

This time, I’m taking the tasting/blog a bit further, because I’ve also left a few pots of my sauce with them for you to buy, so all you will have to do is make the meatballs.  Easy peasy.  Just a small aside about my cooking sauce(s)-  They’re designed so if you don’t want to use them today, then you can freeze them (in the containers), and simply defrost or microwave (also in the containers), and add the meat(s) (or vegetables, shhh don’t tell Dermot or John that!) of your choice and have an instant meal to hand.  No preservatives, or lingering unwanted tastes….just really good home-made sauce with buckets of flavour and lots of magic too.  All my sauces are made by myself, and all are made in small batches (a detail that really does make a difference in taste). Plus, and it is a plus, when I say Fresh Basil…there is a LOT of fresh basil in my sauce:DSC_1330 (591x1024)

So, I asked John to mince me equal portions of pork and beef for this particular recipe.  I am using a larger quantity than you probably will be so this recipe will be for 1-lb. beef mince and 1-lb. pork mince combined (2-lbs. in total, but if you’re only 1 or 2 people in your household, you can freeze the remaining meatballs and sauce in portions and have real food to hand in a hurry).  These meatballs are ideal as party food (made small like the ones I’m making for the shop today), as spaghetti and meatballs (as photographed above), or you can make them into the American favourite ‘Meatball hero’ by removing some of the centre bread from a baguette, smearing some of my Cashew pesto on the bread and spooning the meatballs in the centre and topping with grated mozarella.  (To die for satisfaction….I highly recommend!).

Back to the recipe. DSC_1333 (450x800) For the 2lbs. of combined mince you will need to heat 2 Tblsp. rapeseed oil in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and add 250 grams of finely chopped onions, 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped, and cook until they are soft.DSC_1334 (676x1024)  When they are, grate or finely chop 18 grams of garlic and add to the vegetables in the pan.  Cook for another 3 minutes and then allow to cool while you prepare the meat base. In a large bowl, combine the 2-lbs of beef and pork mince as well as 2 Tblsp. worchestershire sauce, 1 & 1/2 Tablspoons tomato puree, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon dry oregano or 2 teaspoons fresh oregano-chopped, 10 grams fresh basil, chopped, 50 grams grated parmesan (to bind) and a dessertspoon of nori (seaweed) flakes.  DSC_1336 (576x1024)When the cooked vegetable mixture has cooled add it to the bowl of meat and other ingredients and mix thoroughly.  Form into meatball sizes of your choice and place in a roasting tin.  DSC_1339 (576x1024)Bake at 180 C.  Small meatballs will take approximately 20 minutes to cook, but check them by splitting in half and making sure there are no traces of pink in the centre.  DSC_1341 (576x1024)There will be quite a bit of fat in the pan. Lift the meatballs out of the fat and place in another roasting tray,( if you are serving lots of small ones for a crowd),DSC_1345 (616x1024) Or into a saucepan if they are for a dinner. DSC_1344 (698x1024) In either case, discard the oil and cover the meatballs with the Tomato & Fresh Basil Sauce.   Baste the meatballs over a low heat on the hob, or cover the plentiful small ones with tinfoil and heat in a low oven (160 C)  for at least 20 minutes .

For the spaghetti & meatballs- At the end of that time, boil your spaghetti , drain and serve the meatballs and sauce on top, garnish with more grated parmesan cheese.   If you’re cooking these for a crowd (small meatballs to be served on cocktail sticks at a party, you can serve as is, or garnish with grated mozarella or parmesan. Everyone that eats meat, loves a good meatball! So having these in your freezer for unexpected guests over the holidays might be a good idea too;-) .  Toy show and Thanksgiving Day over…it’s officially Christmas , in my book 😉

 

 

 

A Creative Day ( a new notion?) … a full plate.

This is probably where most of my friends just don’t ‘get’ me.  I had a day off, (Saturday the 1st of November to be exact), and what did I do?  I cooked, of course.  I cooked because I had a store cupboard and pantry full of ingredients, because I was hungry (step away from your work for a few hours- if you’re a chef and always tasting instead of eating,  and suddenly the hunger pangs set-in in a big way), and mostly, because I love to cook.  Full stop.  I don’t always want to cook, but usually I do.  My legs, more to the point, don’t always want to stand.

Anyway, I had pumpkin, I had kale, I had beetroot, rack of lamb, some crab apple and chilli jelly I had recently made, potatoes, cream, and lots of other things, but those were the things I chose to cook with.  We were going to have a nice meal, and I started cooking it at 2pm…so we would eat early, for a change….it was 10 pm when we sat down to eat!! Yeah I know, a chorus of ‘Poor David’, but he’s smarter than that. David knows it’s going to be worth the wait when I go on one of my ‘bender cooking modes’.

The first two ingredients listed were the ones I was really having fun with.  I knew I was going to be making pumpkin, cheesecake streudel muffins soon, so the muffin notion was in my head. (And just for the minutes, that turned out to be a pumpkin cake for my birthday, but not to worry.) I love kale, and I love pumpkin.  I got this notion that it would be nice to put the two together in another way than just mashing and combining, so I took to doing the trendy thing and massaging the kale with Second Nature Organic Rapseed Oil, and making it into a ‘kale cup’ to hold a pumpkin puree.  I used the top of the kale leaves in some of the muffin tins and broken pieces of patchwork kale leaves in others.  The first worked, the 2nd definitely didn’t, and if I were to do this again, and I will because it looks fabulous, I would layer them more abundantly.  When cooked, the kale becomes delightfully light, just like the kale crisps one can purchase now….but I wanted structure too, to hold a filling.  I, so far, have resisted looking for too long at Uncle/Auntie Google to see if someone else has thought up this idea.  I DON’T WANT TO KNOW!! I just want it to be my idea. Here is how I did it:DSC_1203 (900x1024)

To hold it in place, I treated it like pastry, and blind-baked the kale as suchDSC_1207 (820x1024), and just like pastry…I removed the beans and baked it just a little bit more to make sure there would be structure, but I didn’t want my kale cups to go black now, did I?  So I let them bake to about this stage:DSC_1209 (861x1024)As far as texture was concerned these little jewels were perfect.  The edges literally melted in our mouths, the base was slightly chewy and the flavour was bang on.  I made a pumpkin filling, by steaming pieces of japanese pumpkinDSC_1198 (450x800)then mashed them with a generous knob of butter,and added some grated parmesan, finely chopped chilli, ground Nori, grated garlic,  chopped scallions and some raspberry red wine vinegar.  DSC_1214 (669x1024)Season that with sea salt and black pepper and give it a good stir. By this stage I was getting completely carried away with the colour scheme (Autumn rocks, really for colour, doesn’t it?).  I had steamed the previously mentioned fresh beetroot, peeled it and sliced it into matchstick pieces…then combined it with apples sliced similarly, chopped scallions, fresh dill, chopped walnuts and then I stirred some of my buttermilk ranch dressing into that to combine (Sorry, no recipe for that…you’ll just have to buy it!)DSC_1226 (450x800)I heated the pumpkin mixture in the oven to get the cheese to melt nicely , and then placed it in the kale cup.  This is really a meal in itself at this stage, and if one were to stop, this is where they’d be…so Vegetarians, pull up a chair now. DSC_1228 (563x800)Carnivores….DSC_1234 (1024x664)..bear with!!

You may remember I mentioned rack of lamb, which was supplied locally by Dick Dooley. I planted some slivers of garlic and leaves of rosemary in the racks and scored the fat.  Don’t take the fat off.  (Regular plea of mine, but especially with lamb.) I then rubbed ground cumin all over the meat and left it all to sit for 20-30 minutes while I made the wicked potatoes that we used to have on the menu in Danette’s Feast every night. (We weren’t allowed to take them off in the winter months or people went mad…that and the Chocolate Truffle Cake with pecan praline and passion fruit coulis).  I digress.  Basically layered potatoes, onions ,garlic, sea salt, black pepper and fresh cream.  I only made a small dish of these because we didn’t really need potatoes at all, but they do marry well with the lamb! They went into the oven and I started making the sauce for the lamb.  I used to have a few of these fruity/oil and wine-based sauces on the menu too.  People found them refreshing and light.  I find they allow the flavour of the meat to soar without masking, and they don’t leave one feeling bloated either. Also, I used to make large batches of plum cheese in the autumn and found it handy-out to be able to melt them down into a sauce at any given time of the year…the flavour of the plums always improving with time.  On this occasion, I heated a few tablespoons of rapeseed oil, and when hot , added chopped garlic, chopped rosemary ,chopped thyme, and a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin.DSC_1221  I cooked that for a few seconds, then added a few Tablespoons of the crab apple and chilli jelly and about 150 mls of Rioja wine, ok, maybe it was 200. DSC_1222 Place over a low heat, let simmer and reduce . Just before serving, because I know I’ll forget, add some finely shredded fresh mint to the sauce.

Next, I seaoned the lamb with salt and pepper…a good bit of sea salt flakes on the fat of the lamb, and seared it off in the pan before placing in a preheated 200 C oven for 10 minutes or until warmed through.  (We like our meat rare in this house ;-).DSC_1219 (532x800)After searing the meat, I used the oil and bits in the pan to caramelise some shallots, and whole cloves of garlic (in for a penny….). Keep stirring or tossing the above until they are golden in colour.  Sprinkle a little bit of sugar into the pan and scrape all the bits off.  Deglaze with first some red-wine vinegar, then balsamic then a couple tablespoons of water. Cover and let simmer for a few minutes until cooked.  Remove the lid and allow the juices to concentrate into a divine, sticky, sweet and sour goo.

Meat rested, carved, all the above ingredients on a plate….kind of like Christmas in Autumn, no?

DSC_1245 (1024x629) It was really worth the wait!DSC_1243 (1024x576)

Goulnoff Casserole

DSC_1166

I’ve come up with another one of my notions ( Anyone who knows me, knows I suffer from too many ideas, and feet and legs would protest with too many actions!!).Once a month, I will be cooking a dish that you can taste in Grogan & Brown Artisan Butchers in Smithlands, and then, if you like the result, you can find the recipe for it here.  I think it makes a refreshing change from reading recipes and wondering if you’d like them or not.  Tomorrow, there will be a bain-marie in their wonderful shop in Smithlands (from 10.30am) with this heartwarming casserole in it for you to taste.  Don’t leave it too long to go and visit the shop, or it might all be gone ;-). They’re doing amazing work out there and , in case you haven’t heard, have ranked 6th Best Butcher Shop in Ireland at the ACBI Craft Butchers ‘Shop of the Year’ awards.  Congratulations Dermot and John!  Well deserved, and impressive after just 1 year in business.

Goulnoff’ is also another ‘Danetteism’ for a recipe I concocted one cold evening when I couldn’t decide whether to cook a pot of goulash or a pot of stroganoff (see previous blog for reference to my cold season cravings)…so I thought, “why not have both?”.  The following recipe is my take on combining the two recipes.  Plenty of sweet and smoked paprika, chilli, garlic, peppers, and smoked rasher for the ‘Goul’ and then the mushrooms, the beef and the soured cream for the ‘noff’.  I do vary it according to which way I’m leaning strongest (i.e. I might add a teaspoon or 2 of caraway seeds if I felt more Goulashy, or hold back on the chilli if I felt more stroganoffy).  This language is getting a bit silly now, so I’ll carry on!

If you are a carnivore and the temperature drops, I think it’s pretty well accepted that one goes for  the heartwarming, meaty casserole-type dishes and no matter what we call this, it is definitely heartwarming.  It sates like a plate/bowl of Irish Stew, Coq au vin or Boeuf Bourguignon, and here’s how you make it.

John and Dermot sell a cut of meat I was unfamiliar with until meeting them, called featherblade.  It works well marinated on the barbeque if the inner sinew is removed, but is really ideal if left intact for slow-cooking which is what I did in this instance.  Incidentally, if you want a really tender and flavourful meal, it’s great if you can plan ahead when slow-cooking .  A reheated bowl of stew of any sort is always better than when it was made on the day.

Start by cutting your meat into 1″ cubes–2lbs. of meat will feed 6-8 people after adding the vegetables and saucey bits. (They will gladly cut it for you in the shop). DON’T remove all the fat.  You can easily skim any fat off the top when it’s finished, and fat is where the flavour is….so LEAVE it ALONE.  Season well with black pepper.DSC_1139 (1024x576) Sauté the meat( in small batches) in Rapeseed oil over a medium high heat until brown and set aside into a dutch oven or casserole dish.  When all the meat is browned, fry 1 large chopped onion and 2-3 slices smoked back rasher , sliced into strips until the onions are soft and the bacon is cooked. Either finely chop, or grate (I use a micro-plane), 6-8 large cloves of garlic and add to the pan.  If you’re used to using 1 or 2 cloves of garlic in these type of dishes, hang around for the ride with me!! You won’t be disappointed, just go for it and see ;-)..There’s a whole world waiting for you out there!IMG_20141024_105330 (1024x738) Cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently so the garlic doesn’t burn.  To the pan add 3 heaped teaspoons smoked paprika, 4 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed (You can do this yourself in a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder designated for spices only), 2 teaspoons ground coriander, and 1 or 2 finely chopped fresh chillies (optional, but a good idea!), and stir well.  (It will become pasty.)  Immediately add a glass of red wine….hmmm, how much is a glass of wine?  It depends on if you’re an optimist or a pessimist!!  Mine are between 5 and 6 fl. ounces, and by the way if you only have white wine…use that.  Don’t panic, they’re both lovely.  Stir to deglaze the pan.DSC_1144 (576x1024) Then add this mixture to the meat in the casserole pan and place that pan over the heat.  Add to this pan, 800 grams of tinned chopped tomatoes,  (2 standard sized tins, or thereabouts), and 500 grams of tomato passatta.  I like a lot of sauce (No, really?…for those of you that don’t know, I make and sell sauces!!), I think it’s actually the end resulting sauce that really sates me.  It takes on the wonderful flavours of ALL the ingredients and warms the cockles, so to speak.  I also like to add about 8 fl. oz beef stock at this point too.  Use a good stock cube if you like, but make sure it’s a good stock cube, about a teaspoon of dried thyme or a few sprigs of fresh thyme,and 3 bay leaves. To season at this point, add 2 teaspoons of sea salt and 2 dessertspoons of sugar.  Bring the contents up to the boil , then simmer very, very gently (You can put the casserole into a low oven at this point at approx. 160 C ) for at least 2 hours.  Check it occasionally if it’s on top of the cooker just to make sure it’s gently bubbling, and not cooking too fast.    DSC_1153 (450x800)  It should look a bit like that last picture (except more in focus!)after the 2 hours.  If you like your meat to totally fall apart, then cook it a bit longer…try it and see.  The seasoning at this point is crucial as to how your dish is going to turn out and it’s a matter of preference.  I must do a blog solely on this topic, as I have had many a debate over it.  Ingredients differ, we as people differ, and it’s NEVER going to be the same.  So taste and adjust with more salt, black pepper and or sugar, and paprika for that matter.

While the meat was simmering, cut a mixture of fresh peppers into thick strips (about 2 large or 3 small peppers). Add them to the casserole and return the pan to simmer point.  DSC_1154 (647x800) While the peppers are simmering in the Goulnoff,  slice a pound of mushrooms, thickly.  Place 2 Tablespoons of Rapeseed oil along with 2 ounces of butter over a fairly high heat in a skillet or frying pan that will comfortably hold the mushrooms and add the same to the pan.  Stir regularly until they start to carmelise and brown.  When they do, season with sea salt , black pepper and about 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic.  Stir or toss frequently for a couple of minutes, minding that the garlic doesn’t burn, then add these to the casserole too.DSC_1162 (1024x576)Let it all simmer together for another half an hour so they can properly marry, then serve with either crusty bread, boiled or roasted potatoes, noodles or rice.  When I blogged it, I served it with noodles as I felt the stroganoff side of Goulnoff was losing out a bit.  Whatever you choose, place a large dollop of soured cream on top and stir it into the mix as you eat it.  Heartwarming, it definitely is ;-).

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Ingredients: 2-lb. featherblade  beef, black pepper, rapeseed oil for frying, 1 large (Spanish) onion, 6-8 cloves garlic, 3 heaped teaspoons smoked paprika, 4 teaspoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon ground fennel, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1-2 fresh chillies, 6 oz. red or white wine, 800 grams chopped tinned tomatoes, 500 grams tomato passatta, 8 fl. oz. beef stock, thyme, 3 bay leaves, sea salt, sugar, 2-3 sweet peppers, 1-lb. mushrooms, oil and butter for frying , 3 more cloves garlic., soured cream = heartwarmth.

 

 

 

 

Autumnal Brunch

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Let’s face it we’ve been blessed this year with a spectacular September.  Yesterday, in Co. Kilkenny anyway, we had a day of persistent rain. That was followed by a huge announcement from nature this morning declaring ‘Autumn is here now’!! Crisp, but sunny….cold (I could see my breath for the first morning this season) ,and very fresh after the rain.  It was bracing and at the same time promising.  That’s what I like about Autumn.  Autumn in the garden is the time the plants are ‘getting down to it’…nudge, nudge.  This is the time nature plants, when the seeds hit the ground and find a place for themselves so they can reappear in the early winter or spring. In my vivid imagination, I like to think the leaves are turning their deep reds, purples and oranges to remind us we need to warm ourselves up….to follow their example and get the warmth into us.  It’s also harvest time, so there is SO MUCH OUT THERE THAT A FOODIE LIKE ME HAS PALPITATIONS OVER WHAT I WANT TO PUT TOGETHER!! (Too much choice)….and there’s a new type of hunger, one where I feel we NEED to eat, not just play with fresh berries (divine as they are), or nibble on this and that.  At the first sign of cold my body screams ‘FEED ME’, and the comfort food notions roll out.

There’s nothing new with what I conjured up today.  I didn’t re-invent the wheel with what I made, but I did put together a few ingredients that sated both David and myself and set us up for a day of pottering in the garden and rejoicing in the change of season.

Floury potatoes, divine purple kale  (from Sinead at the Kilkenny market), Smoked Black Forest Ham, Mature Cheddar Cheese, Scallions from the garden, a homegrown tomato from the greenhouse (I was very late getting the plants going , and was blessed with our Indian summer for a late crop . Thank you, Madelaine McKeever of  Brown Envelope Seeds for the most flavour-filled tomato seeds this year), fresh eggs, and ground Wakame seaweed. (Just a little aside here.  My facebook friends are probably sick of hearing me going on about using seaweed after having done Sally McKenna’s seaweed course.  Her book ‘Extreme Greens’ really inspired me, but it was a subject I felt I needed to have explained to me in person, and I am so glad I attended the course in West Cork…extra bonus was the weather was divine!!  DSC_1038 (1024x576)

Sally is so passionate and knowledgeable about the subject of seaweed, and she took any hesistations I previously had, completely out of the equation by showing us all, literally, what the different seaweeds are, which part of the sea they reside in, when to harvest them, how each of them tastes, and how to use them.  Living inland, I also (usefully) learned how to rehydrate different varieties, how to make savoury , spicy and citrus salts and even made bath bombs!  The health properties of seaweed are endless, and it’s easy to incorporate them in our diets.  I’m finding it really fun to see which seaweeds compliment other food flavours – they don’t have to dominate, but it’s more fun if you can feel they’re there, and that’s where seaweed gets really interesting.  Seaweeds tend to make the eater more aware of texture in their food as they eat them…well, that’s my theory, and anyone who eats my food knows I love texture…so many people forget about it when they cook.)

So back to satisfying those Autumnal cravings…In Ireland we reach straight for the potatoes to comfort ourselves, and that’s exactly what I did. I have to say I’m not obsessed with floury potatoes like a lot of Irish people are. It depends on what’s on the menu for which variety of potato I will use, but In this case, for potato cakes, a floury potato is precisely what is best. I peeled and steamed about 600 grams of Rooster potatoes, and just before they finished cooking I placed some purple kale on top to steam for a couple minutes(saves on the washing up!!). Remove any large stalks from the kale leaves first, I used about 2 cups of leaves. Remove the leaves and then roughly chop them. Press the steamed potatoes  through a potato ricer,and stir a good knob of butter into them. Add the chopped kale and the sautéed onions I forgot to tell you about!  ( I finely chopped a medium sized onion and gently sautéed it in 2 oz. Butter until it was soft). Stir in 2 oz. Grated Mature Cheddar cheese, aTablespoon of ground, dried Wakame, a couple slices of smoked ham, chopped, 3 or 4 Scallions, finely chopped and an egg yolk and then bring the mixture together with some plain flour. I used about a half cup..but it will depend on your potatoes. DSC_1099Flour your hands and your work surface and shape the potato mixture into 1/2″ thick cakes. Coat them in a dusting of flour and then fry them gently over a medium  heat in rapeseed or other oil, or if you happen to have some duck or goosefat then your really rocking. (Both are excellent for frying potatoes). Cook until golden brown on both sides. Place on a baking tray top with a little more grated cheese, and keep warm while you poach or fry an egg to put on top.DSC_1104 (576x1024)

Garnish with  chopped tomato, preferably homegrown and sweet and savour.

Autumnal Potato Cake with Poached Egg and Diced Homegrown Tomato

Autumnal Potato Cake with Poached Egg and Diced Homegrown Tomato

Savour being the perfect word, as this week is Savour Kilkenny week (our food festival). I’ll be doing tastings of my sauces in both The Little Green Grocer (Saturday afternoon), and Glasrai &Goodies (on Sunday). Do drop in to see us. I will also have a heartwarming casserole on offer in Grogan and Brown Artisan Butchers in Loughboy on Saturday, and the recipe will be blogged here so you can try it for yourself ;-).

Ingredients:

600 grams steamed  floury potatoes, 2 cups steamed and chopped kale leaves, 2 oz butter, 1 medium onion finely chopped , few slices smoked ham, chopped , 2 oz grated Mature Cheddar Cheese, 1 tablespoon ground Wakame seaweed, 3 or 4 chopped Scallions, Diced Homegrown Tomato.   =A happy tummy 😉

 

Electric Lamb Tagine and Burghul pulsing with fresh Turmeric, Ginger, oven-roasted tomatoes and Labneh

Lamb Tagine and Burghul with fresh turmeric, ginger, oven roasted tomatoes, fresh green beans and labneh.

Lamb Tagine and Burghul with fresh turmeric, ginger, oven roasted tomatoes, fresh green beans and labneh.

 

‘Electric’ would be an understatement as to how I feel at being asked to participate in John and Sally McKenna’s Theatre of Food at the Electric Picnic this year.  Thank-you both very much for asking me, but more for everything you do for the community of Irish Food.  There isn’t a foodie in Ireland that hasn’t benefited from your work. Personally, I thank you a million times over.

When I first came to Ireland in 1979, this country didn’t have a food culture.  It had very good, basic food ingredients, but it was no where near what it needed to be to sate the cravings and tastebuds of a person like me!!  I’ve watched it grow, relished and marveled in it.  Your wonderful words, support and positive feedback has helped every producer, restaurant, food shop and consumer to enjoy what is now an oasis of production and simply, ‘goodies’ that abound in every corner of the country.  You are both legends!

When Sally contacted me a few months ago, asking if I would cook for the Electric Picnic I was, needless to say, thrilled.  The theme this year is Africa, and she asked me how my African cooking was?  I responded with ‘tagines are good….fish head soup, not SO good’!!  So it was decided that I would be cooking a Lamb Tagine, and an accompanying Burghul dish, which I usually do instead of the traditional cous cous.  My Middle Eastern influence almost always takes a peek in somewhere in my making of casserole dishes, for that is what a tagine is really.  The word ‘tagine’ refers to the clay pot with cylindrical lid traditionally used to cook a tagine.  I personally prefer a pot, so that is what I use.  And this is slow food, which I also love.  Comfort food at it’s best.

Anyone familiar with my Moroccan Gold hummus, knows I love to use spices.  Spices calm me, and they liven me up.  They can warm my heart, or cool my temper.  A simple inhalation of a magical blend of spices can ground me and change a bad day. So when I’m giving my talk about the Lamb Tagine and Bulghar (incidentally Burghul is Bulghar, and I often change from one spelling to the next…neither of which the spell-check on my computer like!!), I will also be demonstrating the building of spice blends.  I actually use 2 spice blends while making my Tagine…1 is the Moroccan spice, Ras-el-hanout, which means ‘top of the shop’….and it IS!!  The second is actually a Lebanese spice blend, Baharaat. It is sometimes called Lebanese Spice, or Lebanese 7 spice, but it rarely is only 7 spices.  And the funny thing about these spice blends is they have so many things in common and then tip the balance by adding one or two other spices, flowers or seasonings to completely transform them.   The blend of ‘mixed spice’ that we commonly use in Europe for festive cake baking, for example, isn’t far off of a baharaat, ..but add cumin and paprika…then it’s a different story.   As I say, I will be building a blend at Electric Picnic and everyone can experience the result…so come along if you’re going to be there.

Drying rose petals to make ras-el-hanout

Drying rose petals for making ras-el-hanout

I usually buy most of my spice blends from Shortis Wong delicatessen on John Street in Kilkenny, but *cough* sometimes he doesn’t have them in stock (don’t mention the *cough* war).  Even when he does, (I do love you , Chris), I still  tweek and add to make my own personal blend.  You may want to take note here of a certain kitchen arrangement I have that shocks the daylights out of most people (especially the lovely man that built most of my kitchen, Eddie).  He freaks out when he comes over to do a job around the house for me when he sees how I make use of these commonly arranged set of 4 drawers (he’s usually looking for a teaspoon for his cup of tea, or a knife for his infamous tomato sandwiches!)DSC_0930 (917x1280) Most people have them.  Top drawer usually cutlery?…uhm, no…here’s my top drawerDSC_0931 (1280x720) …and here’s my 3rd drawerDSC_0932 (1280x720)…and here’s the fourth for when the 1st and 3rd run out!DSC_0933 (1280x720)..so, yes, I do like my spices, and they are fresh when I get to them.  A lot of my ‘magic’ lies within this space, but don’t despair, we do use cutlery…I do allow the 2nd drawer for such things!!DSC_0934 (1024x576)

For those of you who do attend the Picnic and want to have a go at making the tagine, the ingredients for the ras-el-hanout are :coriander, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, allspice, galangal, mace, nutmeg, cardamon, cloves, lavender flowers and rose petals.  There is an art to mixing these spices and everyone’s tastebuds are different, but I would use the above in decreasing order so that first listed has the most in the blend.  For the baharaat, I would use more equal quantities of Allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, coriander, and then add lesser quantities of cumin, smoked paprika and ground lime.

Start preparing for your dish at least 24 hours ahead of serving.  Begin by making the labneh, which is simply strained yoghurt.  Line a sieve with a double layer of muslin (leaving excess muslin over the edges of the strainer. Place the strainer over a bowl that will hold it comfortably without falling out. Spoon thick ,Greek-style yoghurt ,into the muslin and bring up the ends to cover the yoghurt.  Refrigerate. Every few hours, empty the liquid that has collected in the bowl.  In 24 hours you will have the most luscious, creamy labneh.  I then grate a large clove of garlic into the labneh and season with salt and pepper.

Because the theme this year is Africa, and because they do a lot of barbecuing in Africa, I decided that I would barbecue the lamb and the aubergines for the tagine.  But, first I marinated the lamb in a rub of the above spices along with 4 Tablespoons of extra virgin Olive oil, the juice of 2 limes, some sea salt and several cloves of chopped garlic.  DSC_0804 (524x800)

As you can see, (sorry, but pictures of raw meat marinating aren’t exactly sexy, but trust me the end result is!!), I’ve also left the lamb (neck and neck fillet) in large pieces.  The meat will retain its juices more and by the end of the cooking time, it will be delightfully tender and easily divide…with a fork for that matter 🙂 . I left that to marinate for 24 hours and then I lit the barbeque.  Because I didn’t want to light 2 barbecues, I also cooked the aubergines at this point, and then let them cool and refrigerated them until I added them nearer the end of the cooking time.  (BTW…they were TO DIE FOR!  Vegetables on the bbq are totally rock-and-roll.)  I wait for the barbecue to die down to having a good layer of grey ash on the coals, because I really want the smokey flavour to transfer to the meat and just lightly seal it.

Neck of marinated lamb being sealed on the barbecue.

Neck of marinated lamb being sealed on the barbecue.

For cooking the aubergines, I used my ‘holy pan’ (wouldn’t be without it now). Brush the aubergines with olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper first.

Aubergines in the 'holy pan' over the barbecue.

Aubergines in the ‘holy pan’ over the barbecue.

When the meat is sealed, transfer to a dish while you start the sauce.  I forgot to mention that I was using quite a lot of meat in this recipe 4-5 lbs.  For a more normal quantity of say 2.5 – 3 lbs. of lamb, Chop 2 large onions, and several cloves of garlic (yes, more…trust me).  Sauté them in olive oil over a moderate heat, until they are soft. Grate or finely chop 1″ piece of fresh ginger and add to the pan. Finely chop a medium red chilli and add (optional). With a small sharp knife, or a good vegetable peeler, carefully remove the rind from 1 lemon and 1 orange (you don’t want the pith, just the rind). You can use preserved lemon if you like, but personally I prefer that with chicken tagines, and find that fresh rinds add more to the lamb and finish like preserved lemons in the end. Put the lamb, lemon and orange into the pan along with any juices plus any of the left-over marinade.  Add 800 grams peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes, or two tins of chopped tomatoes.  A glass of white wine usually accidentally drops itself into the pot, along with a cup or so of pitted black olives, a few sprigs of fresh oregano, a teaspoon or two of rosemary and a few bay leaves.  Gently bring this up to the boil. I like to add pomegranate molasses to the tagine too to add to the sour element, so usually do it at this point (1 Tablespoon).  Taste the sauce and season with sea salt, black pepper and honey.  Don’t overseason as it will now cook for approx. 2 hours over a very low heat or ideally slowly in the oven, (150/160 C) and you can tweek it then.

While the lamb is cooking make the apricot, herb and nut garnish to scatter over the top. Toast some flaked almonds in a dry pan until golden in colour (don’t take your eyes off them, or they’ll burn).  Transfer to a bowl.  Finely chop some dried or fresh apricots and add.  Chop as much flat leaf parsley as almonds you have used, add to the bowl.  Half as much fresh coriander, and the same amount of fresh mint.  You can use more freshly grated lemon rind here if you like.

Half-eaten bowl (1) of almonds, apricots, parsley, coriander and mint garnish.

Half-eaten bowl (!) of almonds, apricots, parsley, coriander and mint garnish.

For the oven roasted tomatoes, cut a dozen small-ish , but not cherry, vine tomatoes (plum are great for this) in half and place in a roasting tray , cut side up.  In a small bowl combine 3 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 2tsp. harissa (or less if you don’t like heat), 1/2 teaspoon sea salt , 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 2 Tablespoons of soft brown sugar. Mix well with a fork and pour over the tomatoes.   Roast in a medium-hot oven (180 C) until they are slightly wrinkled.  Set aside to serve at room temperature on top of the bulghar.

When the lamb is beautifully tender, but still has a bite to it, remove from the oven and skim off any excess fat. Add the aubergines, previously barbecued. Taste and adjust seasonings again.  This is a good time to add a bit more cumin if you like too.  Some might want to remove the lemon and orange rind altogether at this point, but I like to julienne the softened rind and return it to the pan.  Keep warm.

To make the bulghar:  Heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a deep frying pan (one that has a tight fitting lid).  Add 1 finely chopped onion, and sauté until soft.  Add 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 3 dessertspoons finely grated fresh turmeric, a 1″ piece of garlic  and 2 sticks of finely chopped celery.  Measure out 8 fl. ounces of bulghar wheat and add it to the pan, stirring to make sure everything is coated in oil.  You will need approximately 14 fluid oz. of liquid–either water, vegetable stock or chicken stock. To Whatever liquid you do choose, add a dessertspoon of pomegranate molasses. Add a ladle or 2 of stock to start with and incorporate into the contents of the pan while stirring.  Add another ladle, then season with salt, pepper and a teaspoon each of ras-el-hanout and baharaat.  Pour the remaining stock over the bulgar and  place greens of your choice on top (either beans, spinach, chard or kale kind of thing), cover with a tight-fitting lid and put on lowest heat possible for approximately 7-10 minutes.  When all the stock is absorbed, taste for tenderness, and seasoning..there should be a bite to it, but it shouldn’t be too hard on the tooth.  Stir once, re-cover and leave in a warm place for another 5 minutes.  Serve the bulghar dish with a few of the oven roasted tomatoes and a dollop or two of labneh either on top or on the side of the dish.  Spoon some lamb tagine next to the bulghar and sprinkle with the apricot, almond and herb garnish.  Or do as we did here with legendary Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery….put everything in the middle of the table and let people help themselves….always a fun, informal way of eating!

Legendary Sally Barnes sharing Lamb Tagine, with Fresh Turmeric and ginger Bulghar-as well as a good story- with David and I ;-)

Legendary Sally Barnes sharing Lamb Tagine, with Fresh Turmeric and ginger Bulghar-as well as a good story- with David and me.

Hope to see you at Electric Picnic!!

 

Barbequed Lamb Koftas on Rosemary Skewers with Yoghurt, Tahini & Pomegranate Molasses Dip and Greek Salad

 

DSC_0679When we had ‘ Danette’s Feast’ restaurant we were

lucky to win the Jameson Pork Dish of the year.  What I later referred to as ‘The Miss Piggy’ award.  In that case, I marinated pieces of fillet of pork in soy, garlic, ginger, orange juice and other such wonderful flavours and then threaded the pieces of pork on a rosemary skewer and grilled the meat.  I then served it with an Orange and mustard sauce and it was delicious.  Threading meat on a skewer exudes such wonderful flavour that I can’t recommend it enough.

I also want to say, that using the above pictured pan over the barbeque is a delight.  I have recently heard people saying they get sick of barbequed food, but all I can say to them is you’re not using your imagination enough.  If one cooks vegetables in a pan like this over the barbeque , one will wait for the weather to be good for just that reason.  It is the epitome of a stir-fry, when done over REAL coals, and if anyone is having difficulty getting their children to eat vegetables this WILL SOLVE that problem.  It locks in, and indeed concentrates all the flavours .  Then you can, though it’s not necessary, drizzle them with balsamic vinegar before serving, or stir in some of my Magic Tapenade sauce (as we did last night to accompany those steaks that the dog, Scraps, was eyeing-up on facebook, but most certainly DID NOT GET!).  Asparagus grilled and then drizzled with a squeeze of lime is easy heaven, (thanks Nick), and I even barbequed some lightly steamed cauliflower before making a divine cauliflower and smoked Gubbeen cheese souffle.  Crazy?, well yes, but not for doing that…..oh what a wonderful idea, if I do say so myself.

Anyway, stay focused Danette, it was that pork dish that led me to making these lamb koftas on rosemary skewers.

I do have to tell you that you have to let the koftas sit in the fridge to firm up and don’t be tempted to turn them too soon (I confess I did that with one and it began to crumble).  If you let them get grilled enough the feta cheese in the meat mix will bind the meat together and everyone’s happy!

So what I did in this case, was to put a little over a pound of minced lamb in a bowl (Dick Dooley gave me a bit more than I asked for, and then the same Dick Dooley got a kofta the next day ;-)…smart butchery if you ask me).  I added 100 grams of crumbled feta cheese, DSC_0668 (576x1024)About a tablespoon of chopped, fresh mint, a heaped teaspoon of ground coriander and a half a teaspoon of ground cumin (I never cook lamb without adding cumin as it is a marriage made in heaven), 1 chopped red chilli (seeds and all ), as well as 1 heaped teaspoon of mild chilli powder, and a Tablespoon of pomegranate molasses.  I’ve told you about this magic, gooey, sticky, wonderful product before.  It is sweet and sour in a jar…it’s a product one can’t live without once one has tasted it.  So good, so good for you too.  I even like to drink it, diluted with water or sparkling water.  Anyway…focus, Danette….I chopped a small onion and sauteed it with some chopped garlic (about 6 cloves) in a Tablespoon of x.v. olive oil.  When that cooled I added it to the minced lamb, mixed it all together with two clean hands,  and started forming the koftas around the rosemary skewers.  DSC_0670Make sure you press them well onto the skewers and shape with water-moistened hands.  DSC_0671Lay them on a plate, or a baking tray, cover and place in the fridge. DSC_0672 (1280x720)

BTW, one wonderful Penny Lange gave me this plate, which you may or may not be able to see, is laden with kisses and reads, ‘Hot Pie’.  She tells the story that the woman she bought the plate off of, actually moistened her lips with glaze and kissed the plate in several places to get the hot lips all over it!!  I’d prefer my yoghurt and tahini sauce, to be honest ;-)…So while the lamb koftas were resting, I made that as well as the Greek salad to accompany the lamb.DSC_0675

As you may have guessed, I’m a saucy gal!  I don’t like things dry off the barbeque, and I think that’s what puts people off barbequing…though it has to be said if you get the fire right, and David’s pretty good about getting the fire right, dry isn’t an issue…still, like I say I’m a saucy gal.  So,for the sauce: about 8 fl. oz. of yoghurt to 2 Tablespoons tahini, 1 large clove garlic, microplaned, 3 scallions, finely chopped, 1 Tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped, 2 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses (add gradually, as that may be a bit much for some people).  Season with salt and pepper (keeping in mind that there’s feta in the lamb and in the Greek salad which contains a lot of salt).  Stir it all together and keep that in the fridge until you’re ready to use to allow the flavours to mingle.

There are so many variations on Greek Salad, but simply it is Sliced tomatoes, sliced red onions (if they’re overbearing then place them in a colander, pour boiling water over them and refresh under the cold tap.  Drain well before adding to the salad.)  I, in this case used scallions, because I …well, I forgot to get the red onions.  Well…..no one is perfect!  The world is still turning…imagine!  Feta Cheese ( I used the 100 grams remaining from the usual 200 gram packs sold).  Olives and a lemon/oregano type dressing.DSC_0674So, your barbeque should be nicely lit now!! Don’t be tempted to start cooking until the coals have a nice white/grey ash over them. No one likes a burnt barbeque.  I used our holey (aka holy) pan to cook these koftas, as I would fish, vegetables (as previously stated), meatballs and sometimes burgers if I feel they might fall apart.  No one likes to see their food disappear into the inferno below…especially if you’ve been basting a lovely little morsel that you have destined to ‘quality control’ testing in anticipation of when no one is looking!!  We, btw, brought this pan back from California on our last visit, but I suggest you Google it and acquire one asap, as life will never be complete without it.

So, when your coals are right, place the pan on to the grill rack and allow to heat up.  Brush the koftas with olive oil and place in the pan.  Don’t be tempted to turn them too soon…wait until they are golden brown, then keep turning until they’re evenly brown.

DSC_0681 (720x1280)and the juices are running about the place, dripping into the fire and the neighbours are ringing up to complain about the tantalising smells (love that!).  Then transfer to a plate and allow to rest for a minute or two.  DSC_0682

 

We served these simply with heated Naan bread, the tahini sauce and the Greek Salad.  Love these Summer days 😉

DSC_0684Happy Barbequing !!DSC_0677don’t forget the extra sauce and salad!!

 

Sea Bass Tacos for Cinco de Mayo

DSC_0185 (515x800)To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, I’m giving you a recipe for fish tacos that are delicious and relatively easy to make.  Like a stir-fry, you really just have to get all your ingredients chopped and combined , then it’s a matter of assembly.  The chopping and combining become easier as you go along, and indeed faster, because your mouth will start watering and you’ll simply just HAVE TO HAVE IT!  (Always good for speeding up the cooking process).

I used sea bass in this case, which turns into a lovely moist and textured flake for these tacos.  The fish is flaked after cooking and placed on top of a bed of finely sliced cabbage combined with fresh coriander (cilantro), scallions, lime, sea salt and black pepper.  Then some salsa fresca (fresh tomatoes finely chopped, cilantro, scallions, chilli, sea salt and black pepper), guacamolé (fish and avocados…oh yes, absolutely…bring it on please), red onion slices marinated in red wine vinegar, and sour cream on top.  All wrapped in a soft corn tortilla…as I’ve told you before so easily obtained now at:  (www.mymexicanshop.ie) .  This is the perfect dish for trying to make your own corn tortillas as a too thick/too thin attempt will go relatively unnoticed here, and you can better your skill as you go on.  I actually steam the tortillas for this recipe, but that’s because I like it in one comforting soft bite with the crunch appearing through the cabbage layer. ( Prepare to have a shower after this meal if you eat anything like I do with this food.  Hands on job, or it doesn’t taste the same ;-)…you might take a moment to feel sorry for David here, who has to sit opposite me and watch me stuff my face….actually on second thoughts no, he’s actually very lucky.  Anyway the above website sells masa harina too, which means you can have the ability to whip up some tortillas at any time.

So first you need to prepare your fish fillets.  I used 4 sea bass fillets…because after I have food from my childhood, or collegehood I should say in this case…nearly lived on them, I need to have them again the next day..even as a cold left-over.  One sitting is just not quite enough for me!!  The second tasting is like pinching myself to make sure it’s ‘for real’.  I marinate them in a liquid rub, something like a chermoula…a bit of XV Olive oil, some chilli powder (mostly mild, and smokey), 3 large cloves of garlic chopped finely, some finely diced chilli pepper (you decide how much you want…don’t blame me, but I would throw in a full small-medium sized chilli with the seeds and membrane)., 3 Tablespoons lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt flakes, some black pepper, a teaspoon or so of maple syrup or sugar and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin.  Combine all that and then make sure that the fillets are completely rubbed in this lovely concoction of flavour.DSC_0159 (449x800)  Let the fish stand in this juice for 20 minutes or so, any longer and they will cook with the lime juice (ceviche….but that’s another blog…oh how I do love Mexican food ;-).DSC_0163 (664x800)

It would be a good idea to make your coleslaw accompaniment before marinating the fish , as well as marinating your red onions in red wine vinegar (add a little sugar and a little salt and pepper to the vinegar for the red onions and set aside.  They will keep in the fridge for ages, and are great added to sandwiches and all kinds of ‘I’m dying for vinegar to be added to this’ kind of dishes.  DSC_0165 (450x800)For the coleslaw, finely shred some white cabbage with a mandolin, or a sharp knife….I prefer the latter, but I guess that makes me wierd. Chop and add some scallions (white and green parts), some fresh coriander and make a dressing with lime juice XV Olive oil,crushed garlic and a squeeze of honey.  Add to the cabbage and toss well.  This will do better if dressed at this point to soften and absorb the flavours a little bit.  DSC_0166 (450x800)

Make your salsa by finely chopping fresh, sweet, ripe tomatoes (cherry are good for this as are vine tomatoes….don’t bother with the pink non-tomatoe ‘tomatoes’!!).  Put them in a bowl and add finely chopped scallions, coriander, fresh chilli (to taste, but there’s no point in not ‘going for’ this in a salsa), minced garlic, a good squeeze of lime juice, sea salt and black pepper.  DSC_0167 (450x800)

For guacamolé, I mash up an avocado (bumpy haas variety better and nuttier in taste than smooth fuerte variety), and then I add a couple dessertspoons of the above salsa with a little more finely chopped scallion and coriander and then add lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.  If I was starting from scratch and didn’t have salsa to hand (not very likely if I were to be eating Mexican food), I’d add some chopped chilli (sometimes I feel like jalapenos), tomatoes, coriander, scallions and then season again with lime, salt and pepper.  I just get to cut a corner with the salsa to hand.

DSC_0170 (377x800)  So now, I have all my toppings ready….DSC_0183 (800x450)I told you I HAD to have that dish of Andy Ludick’s in my Moroccan Gold pancake recipe….so this won’t be the last time you see that wonderful purple creation!!  Next to it, is one we’ve had a good while, and I thought he should make an appearance too….it being a fish dish and all!!  Isn’t Andy’s work amazing?  Make sure you drop into the Discovery Park yard in Castlecomer if you’re passing.  He isn’t the only fine artisan craft person there…you won’t regret it.  Where was I?  Oh yeah…so now you want to get cooking.  Heat a grill pan over a medium high heat and lift the fillets out of the marinade when the pan is hot.  Let the excess moisture drip off them.  Now, a lot of people will tell you to wipe off the marinade at this point in recipes, but I simply can’t bring myself to do that….too much flavour potential and it only takes a few minutes more to do the washing-up (David would pipe up here , if he knew I were typing that because it’s usually he who does the washing-up…..well, it’s fair, no?).

DSC_0171 (609x800)I would usually start cooking my fish skin side down, but in this case I don’t, because I hate descaling fish if I’m not going to eat the skin, and I don’t want scales on my fish, so I start with the flesh side down….cook 2 minutes then turn the fillets.DSC_0173 (669x800)Getting hungry now.  Blogging is hungry work, no doubt about it.  Another minute on the skin side (you can judge how long you want to cook your fish by the thickness of its flesh…I HATE overcooked fish, so under is better in my opinion). Let it rest for a minute, then carefully remove the skin (cats love this), and flake the fish into a bowl.  Add some more chopped scallion and coriander and season with lime juice, sea salt and pepper if necessary.  Usually isn’t.  DSC_0176 (450x800)We’re into divine material now.  Steam your corn tortillas, or heat them on a gas flame, flipping regularly until warmed through.

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Then layer your taco as previously stated…cabbage, fish, salsa, guacamolé, red onion and sour cream.DSC_0185 (515x800)Then, when you’re finished photographing for your blog/facebook-make yourself a real plate and get stuck-in !  DSC_0188 Happy Cinco de Mayo!!

Calzoni filled with Goatsbridge Trout, Cream Cheese & Dill – served with Magic Ranch Dressing

DSC_0289 - Copy (855x1024)Sometimes I have a little extra time….not very often, but when I do, I put out the word to my regulars that I will have Ranch dressing on the shelves. What makes this dressing wonderful, versatile and delicious is the fact that it’s based on buttermilk and that it has one of those amazing annual herbs, fresh dill leaves, in it.  You either love or hate fresh dill…there’s no in between.  To me, there’s something very special with most of the tender annual herbs.  It’s because they make you wait, and then when they appear we can all rejoice in their specialness.  These days it’s possible to get all the tender annual herbs year round, but they don’t taste the same as when they are in season and picked growing naturally as opposed to forced.  Anyway, this dressing is brilliant as a dip, spooned over baked or steamed potatoes, with fresh asparagus, cucumber salad and it also marries very well with fish.DSC_0278 - Copy (576x1024)

We are very lucky in Kilkenny to have the locally produced Goatsbridge Trout…such a wonderful product perfect on its own, but also delicious made into a calzone, as I stumbled upon doing for the Knockdrinna café a couple years ago. I knew as I was inventing it, that I would be making it again and again for years to come, because it ticks all the satiating buttons.  You know- when you need the salty, oily fish with the lemon and the dill, and you want the pastry, (but you want it light), and you need your salad too.   It doesn’t take long to make, in fact you make several when you make them…so you’ll have left-overs in the fridge (big bonus)…but I would say take the time to reheat them and serve them warm.  They’re nice cold, but what’s ‘nice’ when you can have wonderful?  Trust me …warm them.

One of the usual drawbacks of eating trout is the tiny bones.  Mags Kirwan, of Goatsbridge, has that one sorted.  They have a special pin-boning machine, and I for one, have yet to encounter a bone in their trout.  So happy days.  Take one package of the trout and flake it into a bowl with 200 grams cream cheese, 2 Tablespoons each chopped fresh dill,  finely chopped red onion, chives or scallions and 2 Tablespoons lemon juice.  Grate or press 1 very large clove garlic into the mix and combine well.  This is also really nice with some chive flowers in the mix if they happen to be out and about.  Season with Sea salt and black pepper to taste (it won’t require much salt, as the trout is salted…so make sure to taste).DSC_0270DSC_0271Cover, and set aside in the fridge while you make the pizza/calzone dough.

For my pizza dough (This amount makes 2x 10″ pizza bases, or approx. 6 or 7 calzones…depending on how large you like to make them): 500 grams 00 pizza/foccaccia flour , 2 teaspoons dry active yeast, 1 dessertspoon sugar, 2 teaspoons fine sea salt , 2 fl. oz. extra virgin olive oil, 2 fl. oz dry white wine, warm water.

Mix all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and make a well in the centre.  In a large measuring jug, add the olive oil then the wine and then add warm water to come up to the 12 fl. oz. level…in other words 8 fluid ounces of warm water.!! (Just checking to see if you were really paying attention).  With your right hand, make a claw shape and incorporated the liquid until the mixture comes off the side of the bowl.  You can use your left hand if you like, just leave one clean in case you need to turn the tap on for more water (!!).  Then transfer to a lightly floured surface and start kneading the dough (both paws now), until it’s really smooth and when you press you finger into it, it bounces back readily.  Pour a teaspoon or so of olive oil into the bowl, swirl the dough around in it to cover it in oil, then cover with clingfilm and allow to double in size.  By rolling the dough around in the oil, you’re preventing it from sticking to the bowl and to the clingfilm.  A lot of recipes will tell you to oil the clingfilm, but then you need to dirty a pastry brush.  Cut down on the washing-up, right?  DSC_0280 - Copy (576x1024)When it has doubled in size (see pic), punch the dough down and begin dividing it into balls a wee bit smaller than a tennis ball. (approx 130 grams).  Roll them into rounds and place a heaped Tablespoon of the filling, and more trout, and more dill,  if you have some, off-centre of the pastry as such:DSC_0284 - Copy (1024x576)Moisten the edges of the calzone and fold over into a half-moon shape.DSC_0283 - Copy (1024x576)Crimp the edges together and place either on a pizza baking sheet, or a baking tray or use a peel to transfer onto very hot pizza tiles.  OR  GET YOUR HUSBAND TO BUILD YOU A WOOD-FIRED OVEN SO YOU CAN MAKE EVEN TASTIER PIZZAS, BREADS AND EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN…just a wee request/hint type of thingee there.  Failing that, and let’s face it, that would take some time- heat your oven to maximum (oven cleaning temperature!!)DSC_0286 - Copy (576x1024)When hot put the calzones in the oven and mind carefully.  It takes about 6-7 minutes to cook these in our Smeg on fan….it shouldn’t take longer than 10 in any oven.  Remove from oven and immediately brush with X.V. Olive oil.DSC_0288 - Copy (772x1024)I like to serve this with quite a substantial salad.  Ideally one that has avocado, beetroot, cucumber, etc.  Ranch dressing can hold its own with all the above so make it hearty but not interferring of the delicate flavours.DSC_0275One like that would do perfectly.  Dress the salad and serve the calzones warm with a little more of my Ranch dressing.DSC_0277 - Copy (576x1024)

Perfect lunch, supper or brunchy breakfast !DSC_0290 - Copy (576x1024)