Christmas is coming/The goose is getting fat… and it’s more than time to have your Christmas lists made and almost completed. This year, between living out of the city and being completely immersed in the Ballymaloe Cookery Course, it’s almost crept up on me – and I know that I’m not the only one! Here are a few present ideas for your similarly-food orientated friends.
After the course, I’m interested in a whole new kitchen makeover, complete with gas hob. Seeing as that won’t be happening, it’s time to take a look at the items that are in the Ballymaloe kitchen stations and see what I can add to my already bulging kitchen cupboards. Top of the list would have to be a simple cast-iron grill pan. Although I have friends that swear by them, I had never used one before but I ended up cooking so many different things this way – fish, steaks, chicken, vegetables – and I have several duck breasts (after the practices for my practical exam!) just waiting to be pan grilled, when I get my own one. QuirkyKitchen.ie is well worth taking a look around for things like this, as well as lots of other kitchen gadgets.
Despite watching various teachers manage to cut themselves on while demonstrating how (not) to use the Japanese mandolin (always a good time to busy yourself with your notes, rather than watch in close-up on the tv monitors!), it’s still on my list. I have visions of slicing up cucumbers for pickling next summer, as well as plenty of potato and other root vegetable gratins.
A couple of loose-based tart tins are also something that I intend on picking up at some stage, if they’re not in my Christmas stocking. I had a large one in New Zealand, bought from my favourite charity shop for $4, and loved using it. Tarts and quiches always look more spectacular when you can slip them out of the tin before presenting them.
If you – or the person that you’re buying for – is based in Dublin, a voucher for the Italian School of Cookery is well worth picking up. You can get vouchers for individual classes of wine, cooking, food and song from just €60 or choose from any of their series of classes for 2008. I thoroughly enjoyed the class that I attended last year and I don’t think that I was the only person there that night that made plans to go back at another stage. They’re based in Rathmines so call around, especially if you want to take a look at the Italian wines, oils and preserves they also have on sale.
Online, head to Irish-based Greatfood2buy.com where you can put together a gorgeous package with seasonal Wild Cranberry and Apple Relish, a perfect addition to post-Christmas turkey sandwiches, a selection of spices and herbs in dinky little light-proof metal canisters – remember that you’ll need nutmeg, cloves and star anise for your Christmas baking – and the intensely flavoured Halen Môn flavoured sea salt. Try a tiny pinch of Halen Môn with Taha’a Vanilla on top of a dark chocolate mousse to give new life to over-fed taste buds. Watch out especially for the beautifully packaged range of Le Tamerici mostarda (a pungent mustard jam, fabulous with cheese) and delicate organic jams. Greatfood2buy.com will deliver anywhere in Ireland, via An Post’s Parcel Service, at a flat rate of just €7.95 but order now – last date for ordering Christmas gifts is 18 December.
Still on food, but angling towards the growing side of things, annual marjoram, chervil, sweet geranium, sage, spearmint, dill and fennel are all on my gardening list for 2008. It’s also time to renew gift memberships with the Clare-based Irish Seed Savers Association. For €35 you get five varieties of seeds, three varieties of seed potatoes and a great newsletter twice a year. Also good for organic seeds and unusual varieties are Madeline McKeever’s Brown Envelope Seeds (we loved the prolific Ushiki Kuri squash from Brown Envelope that we grew this year, the last one is awaiting me in the kitchen as I type) and the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim. Both the Organic Centre and the ISSA do a wide variety of courses, from vegetarian cooking and organic gardening to bee keeping and cheese-making and vouchers are readily available.
Best of all, if you’ve a little time for baking and cooking, you can make your own selection of biscuits and tasty treats for your friends and family. Nobody will turn down jars of homemade Apple and Sloe Jelly or Tomato Chilli Jam – I’m off to make piles of Choc Chip Cranberry Cookies, Ballymaloe Mincemeat Slice and Shortbread!