Christmas Cake, made by my mother from Granny’s recipe – rich, more-ish and, best of all, still around to enjoy with pots of tea.My aunt’s fabulous Plum Pudding, eaten after Christmas dinner with lots of Brandy Butter and oodles of cream.Black pudding from Hanley’s of Mitchelstown, nicely flecked with oatmeal and hot from the pan with some late homegrown apples cut into segments and caramelised.Greatfood2buy‘s Wild Cranberry and Apple Chutney, with toasted cheese sandwiches (particularly anything involving blue cheese) and, especially, with the aforementioned black pudding.An almost disastrous Stephen’s Day soup – Split Green Pea and Ham this year – which got left on too low a heat during the family’s traditional woodland walk so that the peas almost didn’t disintegrate in time for lunch. Some rapid simmering and cheeseboard distraction saved the day, however!Stollen, toasted under the grill until brown and bubbling, buttered and served with mugs of cinnamon hot chocolate in front of the fire.The traditional family post-Christmas dish: left-over ham and turkey stripped off the bones, heated in a simple Mushroom and White Wine Sauce and dolloped over sourdough toast or steaming heaps of garlicky mash.Savoury tarts made for visiting family – a seasonal combination of broccoli, Cashel Blue, fresh cranberries, chorizo and caramelised onions snuggled together under a custard blanket.Little wooden crates of brightly coloured clementines, heaped under the Christmas tree and eaten in great quantities as the antidote to Christmas excess…
Super Natural Cooking: Five Ways To Incorporate Whole and Natural Ingredients into Your Cooking by Heidi Swanson (Ten Speed Press)Blogger, photographer, graphic designer and passionate cook Heidi Swanson demystifies unfamiliar health shop ingredients in Super Natural Cooking, a cookbook that drags the world of whole foods very firmly into the 21st century. Nothing is complicated, all is creative and original and Heidi is an encouraging teacher. This is a satisfyingly chunky book, designed with love and attention to detail. Must Cook: Giant Crusty and Creamy White Beans with Greens
Although I’ve been immersed in study, there is (somehow!) always time for reading cookbooks. Here are a few recommendations for Christmas.Cook Simple by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley)I’m a fan of Diana’s Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons and last year’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow so I was looking forward to reading Cook Simple and it’s remained on top of the pile ever since. Here you’ll find brilliant ideas for dinners, and plenty of them, with influences from Sweden, Sicily, Turkey and Georgia. Divided into chapters based around easily available core ingredients – pasta, fish, sausages, leg of lamb – with seasonal vegetables and fruit in their own sections, Diana gives lots of recipes and ideas to make mealtimes easier. Must Make: Roast Squash, Feta and Black Olive Salad.
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.
Practical exam over since Wednesday – not very happy with it but delighted that it is over – and two of our three final papers also done. It’s the final countdown to 3.30pm, the end of exams and the end of cooking school. Tonight there’s a class dinner at Ballymaloe House then it’s back to Ballycotton’s Blackbird for the rest of the evening. Just that final exam to get through first…
Yesterday we had our last day of cooking in Kitchen Three. It’s hard to believe that we’re into the final few days of the course already. At least I got to murder my first lobster before we finished up, for yesterday’s Lobster with Cream and Fresh Herb lunch. The other dish I made was a Walnut and Armagnac tart with a really short, biscuity pastry and – of course – another pair of sourdough loaves. Had a bit of a disaster with the bread on Friday, however, as I forgot to put in the salt so it misbehaved and didn’t turn out very well. At least the loaves yesterday were much better, which is a relief as I’m hoping to use the bread toasted under the cheese in my exam starter – A Warm Salad of Ardsallagh Goat’s Cheese with Walnut Oil Dressing. After morning demo today, many of us have Cook Ahead time – my Yoghurt and Cardamom Cream needs to set overnight and at least that will be one less thing to worry about tomorrow although the time will be taken off. It’s nice to think that I might get the whole dinner and bread cooked in three hours but, at this stage, I’m not so pushed about that. I just want to get finished!
Today everything clicked into place, despite last night being a late one with the Sister at a musical evening in Ballymaloe House and lots of red wine! I was in at 8am on gardening duty with the ever-perky red-socked gardener. The two of us whizzed around the greenhouse or, rather, she whizzed – I plodded along behind at half speed – gathering quantities of parsley, chervil, coriander, kale and Swiss chard, which we then sorted, washed and labelled back at school.