Friday, December 23, 2011

Some simple food before the indulgence of Christmas

Christmas is a time of traditions and every family has their own. Whether it's a glass of eggnog by the fire or tucking into a plate of mince pies in the kitchen; we all have something that makes Christmas special.

One of the things that I look forward to at this time of year is a dish that is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve in West Kerry. Salted ling in a white sauce served with floury potatoes makes for a very simple supper the day before the richness and overindulgence to come.

(This may not be the most attractive food I've ever posted on this blog but it is some of the tastiest)

Ling (or salt cod) is widely available in the shops in Ireland at this time of year. It's an easy dish to cook but I do urge some caution. The first year I made this, I didn't soak it for long enough and my boyfriend and I both woke up in the middle of the night with mouths as parched as though we'd been lost for hours in the desert. Soak your ling in plenty of water for 24 hours, changing the water two or three times and run the fish under a cold tap before you use it, and you'll avoid this potential pitfall.

I've based my recipe on my mother's as with all traditions, you always want things to taste just as they did when you ate them as you were growing up. She doesn't add leeks but I think they make this traditional favourite even better.

This makes enough for four.
800g of ling

50g/2oz butter
1200ml/2 pints milk
1 onion, diced

6 leeks, washed and sliced into rounds
25g of butter
8 floury potatoes such as King Edward, Russet or Maris Piper
  • Soak your ling in cold water for at least 24 hours, changing the water two or three times in that period.
  • Run it under the cold tap before you cook it to remove any salt flakes.
  • Place it in a shallow pan. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked. You can tell that it's cooked by the fact that it will flake easily.
  • Cook your potatoes in boiling salted water while your fish is cooking. Floury potatoes can take a while to cook, perhaps as long as the fish does. Check them from 12 minutes into the cooking time. The best way of doing this is by piercing them with a knife. When they're cooked, the knife will go through them easily. Otherwise, the flesh will be resistant. When they are cooked, drain them of water and leave them in the saucepan with the lid on. The residual steam will make them even more floury.
  • You can also cook your sauce while the fish is cooking too. Start by melting the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat.
  • Add the chopped onions and cook for one more minute.
  • Stir in the flour and cook for one to two minutes.
  • Add in the milk, little by little, stirring as you go to get a smooth sauce.
  • I also add one or two ladlefuls of the water the fish is cooking in to my sauce. It adds a real depth of flavour and as it has absorbed some of the saltiness of the fish, it means you probably won't need to season your sauce.
  • Make the leeks by melting the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and cooking the leeks in it for four to five minutes or until they have softened and coloured slightly.
  • When your fish is cooked, remove it from its cooking water and set aside until it is cool enough to handle. Then flake it into the sauce. Add the leeks. Check for seasoning. You probably won't need to add salt but you may like to add some white pepper.
  • Serve with the floury potatoes.

The saltiness of the fish, the creaminess of the sauce, the crunch of the leeks, the sweetness of the onions and the soft flouriness of the potatoes – this is one of the real traditions of Christmas.

Before I go, I'd like to wish you all a happy and a peaceful Christmas. May it be full of all of the good things - food, family and friends.

Monday, December 19, 2011

So, you don't like plum pudding? Never fear for Sharon is here...

There are only six days to Christmas and most of you will already be licking your lips at the thoughts of dinner. But what of those of you who don't find the prospect of a turkey dinner followed by plum pudding so appetising? What are you going to do?

This is where I come to the rescue. Because I am one of your tribe, particularly when it comes to the sweet treats of the festive season.

I don't like dried fruits. I find them overwhelmingly sweet and as a result, Christmas cake, plum pudding, mince pies and all sorts of other specialities of the Christmas season are off the menu for me (although I must admit I enjoyed these when I made them for my boyfriend last week).

Instead, I prefer my festive fancies to look more like this:

A layer of crunchy hazelnut meringue, a decadent chocolate cream and whipped cream offset by tart raspberries - could there be a better dessert?

This dessert is adapted from a recipe by Delia Smith. Here's what you need to do if, like me, you plan to treat yourself this Christmas.

110g/4oz hazelnuts
225g/8oz golden caster sugar
4 large egg whites

140g/5oz dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
400ml double cream
160g/5 and a half oz raspberries (I use frozen raspberries at this time of year)

One baking tray measuring 10x14 inches (or 25.5 x 35cm), lined with baking parchment

  • Preheat the oven to 190 C/375 F/gas mark 5.
  • Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet at the top of the oven for 6 minutes. You want them to look like this:
  • Cool and grind in a food processor until finely chopped. Be careful not to overprocess or they will turn oily. What you want is something that looks like this:
  • Whisk the egg whites in a clean, grease-free bowl until they form soft peaks
  • Whisk in the caster sugar a little at a time.
  • Fold in the ground hazelnuts using a metal spoon.
  • Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared tin.
  • Bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.
  • Cool and then turn out on to a piece of parchment paper that is slightly larger than the roulade and gently ease away the lining.
  • Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Whip the cream and divide it between two bowls.
  • Reserve four tablespoons of chocolate for decoration and add the rest to one bowl of whipped cream. Spread it over the meringue to within half an inch or one centimetre of the edge.
  • Spread the whipped cream over the chocolate layer:
  • Then stud with the raspberries, like so:
  • You now have two options. If you're confident of your roulade-rolling skills, you can roll this into a swiss roll shape. You do this by placing the meringue so that its long side faces you. You then use the paper to assist you in rolling the meringue to form a long log shape.
  • You're not supposed to worry about the meringue cracking as it's all supposed to be part of the charm. But my meringue always seems to crack a little too much. So, I usually just skip the rolling part and simply drizzle this flat (but no less delicious) confection with my remaining melted chocolate.
(My latest - not so successful - attempt at rolling a roulade)
  • If you're braver and more skilled than me and succeed in rolling your roulade properly, all you need to do is make sure the seam is at the base of the roulade and drizzle it with chocolate. Then, stand back and marvel at the beauty of what you've created.
With this as your dessert, you're guaranteed a very Merry Christmas. 

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    A taste of Dingle courtesy of the Dingle Hamper Company

    There is just over a week to go to Christmas and if you're anything like me, you won't have bought a single Christmas present yet. Not a single one.

    If you're even more like me, a feeling of panic will be beginning to develop at the pit of your stomach. You know the one: that queasy rumbling that asks you why you've done it again. Why do you always leave it so late?

    If only the people I have to buy gifts for this year were foodies. Then I would know exactly what to buy them. Two of my fellow stall holders at Dingle Farmers' Market, Saorla the chocolatier - shown here before she had embarked on her chocolate making adventures:

    and Marie the maker of fabulous fudge and interesting jams and chutneys (her range includes a wonderful clove apple jelly and a strawberry and black pepper jam): 

    have joined forces and created Dingle Hampers - a luxury gift that offers a taste of the food of the peninsula.

    The hampers are available in different sizes and suit a range of budgets. Most importantly of all, they are filled with lots of good things. Tear off the wrapping and you'll be tempted by Saorla's chocolates. Will you opt for the Green Fairy absinthe truffle, the brandy and apricot truffle or perhaps one of these chocolate spoons - just stir into hot milk for the perfect hot chocolate.

    You'll also find Marie's creative food, which includes such flavours as Baileys and chocolate fudge, maple syrup and walnut fudge and butternut squash and almond chutney.

    As well as Saorla and Marie's food, the hampers include Maya Binder's Dingle Peninsula cheese which is a hard cheese flavoured with dillisk seaweed; Olivier Beaujouan's On the Wild Side products which include cured meats, fish and foods he has foraged from the seashore; homemade fruit cordials; and lots more. In fact, Saorla and Marie are constantly on the lookout for more local products to add to their hampers.

    This is a hamper I'd love to tear open on Christmas Day and tuck into over the festive period. Perhaps I'll buy one for myself...

    However tempting it might be to treat myself to one of these hampers, it still doesn't solve my present-buying problem. But it might solve yours and if so, at least one of us will be rid of that queasy rumbling feeling of panic in our tummies.

    To find out more about Dingle Hampers, visit

    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    Sharon's favourite cookbooks of 2011

    Tomorrow is the 8th of December and officially the start of the festive season in Ireland. Traditionally, country people would travel to big cities and towns, especially to Dublin, to do their Christmas shopping on this day. An old lady friend of mine from Kerry used to have an annual arrangement with her friend from Clare. They would meet under Cleary's clock at 10am on the 8th, go for a cup of tea and a natter to catch up on the year's gossip and then do their shopping together. I like to imagine them all dressed up for a day out in the city, oblivious as the Dublin of bygone days bustled around them while they shared a year's worth of stories.

    I'm not going to Dublin tomorrow and nor am I meeting anyone under Cleary's clock (more's the pity) but I have started thinking about my Christmas shopping. So too have most of you, I'll bet. If you're thinking of buying cookbooks for any of your foodie friends, these are the cookbooks that I've enjoyed reading and cooking from most this year.

    Yotam Ottolenghi's Plenty has to be my book of the year. I've cooked something from it most weeks since I got it and each one of those dishes has been great.

    As I eat a mostly vegetarian diet, it's the perfect book for me. But it's not just a book for vegetarians. My meat-loving boyfriend has enjoyed the dishes I have cooked from it too.

    As well as encouraging you to eat more vegetables, this book will also introduce you to new ingredients and flavour combinations. Ottolenghi draws on his Israeli upbringing and Middle Eastern heritage in his food and often recommends ingredients such as pomegranates, tahini and za'atar - which is a dried herb mix that was new to my store cupboard and which I have used often since Ottolenghi convinced me to buy it.

    Supper Club by Kerstin Rogers: This pretty book written by the queen of supper clubs in London is split into two sections. The first tells the history of supper clubs and gives an insight into Kerstin Rogers' cooking. You'll enjoy reading her life story in food - from the days when her father would encourage her to eat horse meat to her teenage years cooking in squats and right up to her starting her Underground Restaurant in London. If you want to follow her example and set up one of your own, she even gives you all the tips on how to do so.

    Most of you won't be interested in those, however. What you'll be interested in are the recipes. The recipes are for gutsy food that is full of flavour. 

    So far, I've made the aubergine curry with kissing apple chutney and Sikh (or spicy tomato) salad; the fabulous tarte tatin; and the cherry clafoutis. I'm dreaming of the day when I get to cook her entire menu for her Elvis dinner. It will happen!

    Jamie's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver: Everyone loves Jamie Oliver and I think this is his best cookbook so far. It's bursting with passion for good, authentic British food - food that is rooted in its history and locality and food that everyone wants to eat. 
    I only got this a week or two ago and I have already cooked the sizzling lamb lollipops (lamb cutlets served with spiced nuts, cucumber dip adn a spicy tomato dip) and the Lincolnshire poacher pie (a pie filled with cheesy minted courgettes and served with roasted shallots). Both dishes were so good that I now want to cook everything in the book.

    The Country Cooking of Ireland by Coleman Andrews: I have yet to cook anything from this book but it's already transformed my understanding of Irish cooking. Coleman travelled through the Irish countryside discovering the best quality ingredients - milk, cream, cheese, meat, fish, vegetables and more. He delved into the archives in the National Library and discovered age-old recipes. And he spoke to a great many people who shared their culinary traditions with him.   

    He then put all these things together and produced a cookbook that ranks with the very best and entices you with its recipes (watercress and almond soup, smoked cod and cheddar souflée, potted herring, Dingle mutton pies - I could go on and on).

    There are so many dishes I want to cook from this book and I'm sure I'll refer to it again on this blog.

    These are my recommendations for the year that is coming to an end. They're obviously very subjective as there are cookbooks that I haven't even read yet (Niamh Shields' Comfort and Spice, Lilly Higgins' Make, Bake, Love and Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day chief among them) but I hope to remedy that when I open my presents this Christmas.

    What books have you enjoyed reading and cooking from most in 2011? I would love to hear about them.