After all the debate about Rachel Allen, I felt that I just had to watch her show! Last night I was home alone at my lovely friends’ house (being a bag lady makes you realise how good your friends are) and I decided I was going to take the plunge and actually turn on the television for myself.
While I was meandering around the Galway branch of Sheridans on my recent trip to the capital of the West, I came across some beautifully packaged chocolate from a Limerick company called Cocoa Bean. The blocks first caught my eye as I thought they looked more like gorgeous notebooks than chocolate bars. And then I looked at the flavourings…oh, they were truly mouthwatering! From spice, rose and pistachio to star anise and earl grey tea, they just sounded like my kind of (dark) chocolate. But, what with the chocolates not having any prices on them (always a bad move, when you’ve to actually ask the price of the product) and having to purchase food for dinner, I forgetfully managed to leave without grabbing a few bars to test drive.
A couple of days after I arrived back in Ireland my foodie cousin called round with a thoughtful bag of kitchen basics for me. Pasta, rice – my favourite basmati – olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a bottle of wine and, piling luxury upon practicality, two bars of Green & Black’s organic Fair Trade chocolate.
To my sorrow I must admit that I have only once eaten in Denis Cotter’s award-winning Café Paradiso restaurant in Cork. But that one time, nearly ten years ago now, was mostly memorable for my first taste of polenta. My sociologist student friend felt it was deeply ironic that I should be writing my thesis on the Irish Famine at the time and eating what was known in 1840s Ireland as “Peel’s Brimstone” – the Indian meal imported by British Prime Minister Robert Peel to help the starving Irish. All irony aside, that day I fell in love with Denis Cotter’s cooking and a return trip is long on the cards.
Last weekend I was in Galway to visit my school friend and her husband and, almost as importantly, to see their new kitchen! They had moved into their house some time before I went to New Zealand but the kitchen remained to be sorted out. I heard that this had been completed while I was away and last weekend was my first opportunity to see it for myself. It is gorgeous – all granite work surfaces and light painted woods with dual ovens and a large five-burner gas hob – and I got a chance to take it for a test drive when the school friend and myself cooked dinner for nine on Saturday night.
Northern Irish cookery writer, radio and UTV television presenter Jenny Bristow has chosen to concentrate on Mediterranean food in her latest book, A Taste of Sunshine. With an emphasis on variety, simple ingredients and cooking meals from fresh raw unprocessed ingredients, Jenny comes firmly down on the side of healthy cooking. She doesn’t go overboard, though, and the recipes certainly don’t suffer.
I have always been a fan of Bonne Maman’s delicious range of jams and preserves. It’s the taste and lovely runny texture that sold me – no surprise that it bosts 45g of whole fruit per 100g of jam. In distinctively shaped jars, topped with a homey-looking imitation-gingham lid, I have worked my way through their range over the years, apricot, blackcurrant and peach being particular favourites. And the jars themselves have also come in handy, housing many of my range of spices and herbs.
First there was Myrtle Allen who was responsible for raising the profile and quality of Irish food through her work abroad and in her country house hotel at Ballymaloe. Daughter-in-law Darina backed her up, beginning the Ballymaloe Cookery School and, with her Simply Delicious television series and books, started pushing the message through to the wider public in Ireland. Now it’s the turn of a third generation and Rachel Allen is successfully following in the television footsteps of mother-in-law Darina.