Cold Comfort 3 – Warm Chocolate Puddings

There’s something about the aroma of chocolate cooking in the oven that makes you feel like having dessert beforedinner. Green & Black’s chocolate, with 72% cocoa solids, was still a novelty in 2004 when Catherine Cleary (@Catherineeats) developed this recipe for the Sunday Tribune after getting a present of the chocolate from her sister-in-law.

Chocolate puddings served up
Warm chocolate puds with raspberry coulis and fresh cream

Now there are lots of great Irish chocolates to choose from and I used Ó’Conaill Chocolate from Cork. Their coverture chocolate which I picked up in Superquinn has a 70% cocoa content and a lovely texture to work with. It is made using cocoa butter and has a clean, precise “snap” on breaking and a smooth full-bodied taste.
O’Conaill Chocolatiers

These delicious little puddings have no flour in them so they are a decadent dessert for the wheat intolerant among us. They are a lovely way to finish off a meal after a starter of Mango Goat’s Cheese and Parma Melts and Chilli Steak with Just-Cooked Greens. Continue reading Cold Comfort 3 – Warm Chocolate Puddings

Cold Comfort 1 – Mango Goats Cheese and Parma Melts

Do you feel like pretending, just for a day that we are back in 2004 with all that self-confidence, ebullience and inflated sense of our own wealth? Well you can pretend in the kitchen at least with this fast and cheerful meal – what Catherine Cleary (@Catherineeats) called “a happy meal without the fries” when she published it in her Food & Drink column in the Sunday Tribune on 18th January, 2004.
I love recipes cut out from newspapers, the memories they evoke, and they way they remind you how life has moved on in the meantime. I found a treasure trove of them at the back of a cupboard the other night, some going back to the early 1970s and I look forward to re-discovering some old favourites.
Meanwhile I promised to post the starter and desert from Catherine’s 2004 menu so that you too can re-create the full dinner menu including her Chilli steak with just-cooked greens and a dessert of Warm Chocolate Puddings. There’s nothing the least bit Asian about the starter and desserts but the 3 dishes work well together for easy entertaining or a family dinner.
Don’t you just love the reference to the old pound coin below? Any chance we could have it back please??
Mango goats cheese and Parma melts

Mango goats cheese and Parma melts

When I used to make this starter back in 2004, I struggled with getting the “towers” to stay upright during cooking. This time I used Good Food Ireland member Ardsallagh Soft Goats Cheese from Carrigtwohill close to Cork City  in Ireland (@Ardsallaghgoats). it was the perfect consistency for the dish – smooth and creamy but sufficiently firm to hold together for 20 minutes in the oven, even without the benefit of cocktail sticks.
The quantity below could serve 4 people but I like to serve two goat’s cheese towers per person so feel free to double the quantities. Continue reading Cold Comfort 1 – Mango Goats Cheese and Parma Melts

Notes from a Past Life – Chilli steak with just-cooked greens

Back in the day… Back in January 2004 the Celtic Tiger was still roaring. We had children who had never experienced recession. I was working full-time in a job that meant I rarely got home before 9 pm each evening. My adult children were beginning to spread their wings. Claire was in London working with Jamie Oliver, and Shane was in Edinburgh designing websites, almost overlapping with Shan who studied there and who he was destined to meet in Beijing in 2010. To me they seemed far away but, with hindsight, they were so close, barely across the water. We Irish seemed invincible then, confident, adventurous, the world our oyster… back in the day.
Even then I loved to cook and have friends over for dinner, but there was very little time so I was always on the look out for recipes that were easy and fast to prepare. I used to look forward to the Food and Drink section of the Sunday Tribune magazine and I would cut out and keep recipes that appealed to me. A dinner menu, published in that newspaper on the 18th January, 2004 with the headline “Cold Comfort”, was ideal because it didn’t require much more than an hour to put together a respectable meal. That menu, with its starter of Mango Goat’s Cheese and Parma Melts, a main of Chilli Steak with just-cooked greens and Warm Chocolate Puddings for dessert, became my dinner party menu of choice for most of that year and every friend I have ever entertained has been at the receiving end of that mango and goats cheese starter.

Chilli-steak with just cooked greens

I had forgotten all about it, until last Monday night when my friend Brenda asked me to dig out our old recipe for ginger biscuits and I came upon it in a folder at the back of a cupboard. Nostalgia swept over me and memories came flooding back – of the frantic rush to get a meal on the table for guests, of Green & Black’s chocolate simmering in the pot, of peeling mangoes as the juices ran out of them, of the fragrance of cumin from marinating beef. Ah, those were the days…
And as I amused myself reading the article about dank January days and noted that “Pak choi or Chinese cabbage is now widely available in shops and Asian stores”, I realised that the author was one Catherine Cleary. Could it be “our” Catherine Cleary (@Catherineeats), whose restaurant reviews are now the first thing I read  every Saturday in the Irish Times, I wondered. And YES, it was. She tells me she wrote those recipes after their first Christmas as parents when they were in no mood for January denial.
So with her permission and a big thank you to her for many happy dinners with friends, I’m reproducing the chilli-steak recipe below and you can also see my efforts to re-create the other two recipes on the blog.

This is a very simple and light dish with relatively mild flavours. The sour chilli marinade tenderises the beef so that it cooks very fast. What fascinates me is how similar it is to dishes I had in Xinjiang Autonomous Region in China, where Shan’s family live and where the middle eastern influences spill over into the local cuisine and the use of cumin is prevalent. How the world turns full circle…
I made this for dinner today with lovely fillet steak from James Whelan Butchers at Avoca, Monkstown and Irish pak choi and spring onions from Superquinn in Blackrock, Co. Dublin.
Chilli Steak with Just-cooked Greens
Cold Comfort

Continue reading Notes from a Past Life – Chilli steak with just-cooked greens

Meatless Monday – Irish Vegetable Chow Mein

It was a wet and miserable Monday in Dublin today heralding the onset of winter. Like so many others, I got soaked on the way from the bus and the challenge when I got in was to throw together a quick and easy dinner that would warm us all up and use up leftover vegetables. I’m also trying to get into the habit of having one day a week when we eat vegetarian food so, taking a cue from Claire and Mike in Australia, Meatless Monday it is.
When we visited Shan’s family in Xinjiang, China, I was surprised to discover how prevalent “Irish” vegetables, such as carrot, parsnip and cabbage, were in their diet so it didn’t seem inappropriate to include them in a chow mein. The recipe below is based on the Winter Vegetable Stir-fry recipe Claire sent me from Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday – see Variations on Shan’s Xinjiang Spaghetti.
I hadn’t meant to do a blog post today but this made up recipe worked so well that I thought I had better capture it while I can still remember what I did!
By the way when I went into the Asia Market to pick up some Shaoxing rice wine today, a very nice Chinese lady gave me a tip. She said to always swirl the rice wine around the sides of the wok rather than mixing it in, unless you are using it as a marinade. That way it flavours the dish correctly and the alcohol burns off. Apart from the useful information, this was the first time any of the staff in there have engaged me in conversation. A breakthrough. Yeah!
Irish Winter Vegetable Chow Mein

Irish Winter Veg Chow Mein

Continue reading Meatless Monday – Irish Vegetable Chow Mein

Spring Rolls and Roller Coasters

This is where the roller coaster comes in. The emotional roller-coaster that is. Our daughter Claire (@ClaireB-Oz) breezes in and out of our lives like a whirlwind leaving a tangle of images and memories in her wake.
Yesterday Claire and myself met up with my friend and Italian teacher Solange who recently gave birth to identical twins. I get to see these gorgeous little boys once a week and there is nothing more delicious than nuzzling the baby-soft skin at the nape of their necks. This morning at Dublin Airport I tucked in a stray label in the back of Claire’s hoody just before she passed through security and suddenly the image of her as a tiny baby who I could wrap up and protect came flooding back. Once a Mammy always a Mammy I guess.
Anyway we had a fantastic few days including a wonderful send-off meal in China Sichuan last night where Kevin did us proud with a “no menu” spread that included whole Irish lobster and Sichuan rabbit. Claire has gone back saying she ate more Chinese food here than when in China and armed with Gok Cooks Chinese and Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice and lots of good intentions to cook and contribute to the blog.
Of all the memories of Claire’s visit, one of the nicest is of Claire and her friend Diane filling spring rolls on the butchers block in my kitchen, glass of wine at hand, chattering ninety to the dozen as they caught up on all the news and gossip.
From the day I started this blog Pat Whelan (@Pat_Whelan) of James Whelan Butchers has been asking me when I am going to make spring rolls. There’s not much point making them unless you have an excuse to prepare a batch of 20 or more, so having a gang in for the wagyu hotpot the other night was a great opportunity to experiment and serve them as an appetiser. Then I realised I had taken on far too much for a mid-week dinner party after a long day’s work so I was very glad when Claire and Diane rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in as very competent sous chefs.
I never had a spring roll in China and I find the stodgy versions you get from Chinese takeaways here very off-putting so I searched around all my cookbooks to find a recipe that might have a fresher, lighter taste. The recipe below is in The Food of China – A Journey for Food Lovers and the homemade plum sauce is from Gok Cooks Chinese.

Spring rolls served on a slate

I made them with free-range pork from James Whelans Butchers and vegetables and fruit supplied via Superquinn by Donnelly Fruit & Veg, with the exception of the Chinese cabbage and garlic chives which I picked up at the Asia Market where you can also get the spring roll wrappers.
So specially for you Pat, and with thanks for the wagyu beef, here goes Continue reading Spring Rolls and Roller Coasters

Garrentemple wagyu shabu shabu hotpot – daughters fill a house with laughter

Our daughter Claire does a great line in flying visits from Australia. She and her Welsh husband lived in London for many years and they usually have a reason to travel back to the UK once or twice a year. When they do, she always manages to tag on a few days in Ireland. As a result we see her a bit more frequently than we feared when she moved to Oz, with lots to pack into a short trip including visits to Grannies in Wexford and Ardee and catching up with friends and relatives.
I miss my far flung offspring and I miss their friends too – the impromptu comings and goings of young people, their laughter and chatter, an unexpected guest in the pot for dinner. So what better way to celebrate her brief visit home than with a Mongolian hotpot shared with family and friends.
Daughters fill a house with laughter and invite Claire’s friend Diane to dinner and you’re guaranteed a night of uproarious conversation. Diane’s views on the justification for expensive shoes are worth a blog post all of their own. (“Even if you’re having a ‘fat day’ your shoes still fit and make you feel fabulous…)

Hotpot is for sharing

I love the relaxed, convivial and leisurely pace of a hotpot dinner and the way it encourages conversation as dishes of raw ingredients get passed around the table.
Kevin Hui the owner of China Sichuan Restaurant tells me that, when his restaurant was closed for a while, his chefs would often invite him over for dinner, a saucepan of broth bubbling on a gas burner or an induction hob in the centre of the table, plates of ingredients ready to be cooked, dipping sauce on the side – self-service with a difference.
Shane introduced us to Mongolian hotpot with his student friends when we first visited him in Beijing over 5 years ago. We had another great hotpot meal there in June which I mention in the post “If the heart is bright the wonderful will appear” . But before this week I had never cooked one.
And then, if you have read wagyu beef Shananigans style, you will know about the challenge from @Pat_Whelan of James Whelan Butchers to give his very special beef a Chinese twist and my growing fears of not doing this exceptional meat justice. The beef is from his own wagyu herd at Garrentemple, Clonmel, Co. Tipperary and has been dry aged for a minimum of 21 days.
Pat Whelan’s wagyu striploin steaks

It was my Twitter friend Audrea (@Artisan Chutney) of Tastefully Yours, who supplied the stock recipe, who got me past the panic stage by reminding me to trust my instincts and that cooking is supposed to be fun.
So trust my instincts I did and it was fun, the most enjoyable meal we have had in a very long time, in fact, and also very delicious. It is extremely easy to prepare making it ideal for relaxed entertaining. The variations are endless and that’s part of the pleasure of table top cooking – there are no rules.
But for what it’s worth, this is the version I prepared this week.
Shananigans Shabu Shabu Hotpot 
Dip the wagyu right in

Continue reading Garrentemple wagyu shabu shabu hotpot – daughters fill a house with laughter

Wagyu beef Shananigans style – to be created by Twitter

Pat Whelan (@pat_whelan) of James Whelan Butchers set me a challenge on Twitter awhile ago – to come up with a Shananigans Recipe that uses his wonderful wagyu striploin steaks. Now bear in mind what I said when I started this blog. I’m not a trained cook. I can follow a recipe with very specific instructions but creating a recipe? Well I’ve only started that very recently as I grow in confidence to vary the suggestions I get from Shan and others. And as for wagyu beef – it’s like giving a pure gold to a jeweller who has only ever worked with scrap metal.
But one third of the Shananigans crew – my darling daughter @ClaireB_Oz – is home from Sydney for 5 days and wants to taste her mammy’s cooking (“remember when you used to bake us cookies” she is wont to say) and it was too good an opportunity to miss to try and produce something special for her.
Thus began a weekend of somewhat frantic on-line and twitter research – I mean what’s all this fuss about wagyu anyway? I couldn’t even spell it last Friday! – and an increasing sense of panic, as I realised how special it is. I felt that I had bitten off more than I can chew (boom, boom) – the foie gras of beef and I’m trying to give it a Chinese makeover without ever having cooked it as a simple steak.
Twitter friends far and wide were roped in for suggestions, the internet was trawled to produce much conflicting advice and I finally settled on a Sichuan take on a Shabu Shabu style hotpot, for no other reason than I loved the name which is onomatopoeic for the “swish swish” of the meat gently cooked in the hotpot broth.
Well I almost settled, because no sooner had I got a recipe for the broth from Twitter friend and Good Food Ireland member, Audrea of  Tastefully Yours (@ArtisanChutney) and spent nearly a day tracking down a table top hotpot from Table Top Cookware in the UK, (from where the lovely Sophie phoned me on a Sunday morning to say that yes, of course, they could fast deliver it to Ireland), when the other third of Shananigans – Shane, Shan and their foodie friend Carl Hayward in Beijing informed me that their consensus was that hotpot was not a good idea…

Now that’s a serious hotpot!

Carl had a different suggestion – a way of cooking wagyu he learned when he attended a cooking class with, and subsequently interviewed, a Japanese chef, Naoki Okumura, who is the executive chef at the Aman resort by the Summer Palace in Beijing, Naoki practices a fusion style of cooking he calls French Kaiseiki, an approach that combines French techniques with Japanese artistry.
Interestingly enough another Twitter friend @paulshoebox had recommended I visit that restaurant while in Beijing. So I will save some of the wagyu steaks and use them in Carl’s recipe.
Meanwhile I am psychologically committed to the hotpot, if for no other reason than the effort I’ve put into tracking one down. Besides I already have one vital ingredient thanks to Twitter friend @BumblesofRice – muslin squares to strain @ArtisanChutney stock. I’d never have thought of the baby isle in Tesco!
Muslin squares

The stock is simmering away for tomorrow. I only have to stay up until 1 am to mind it.
Tastefully Yours Sichuan Stock Base (courtesy of @artisanchutney)

  • About I kg of short beef ribs/Jacobs’s ladder (available from James Whelan Butchers)
  • 2 red onions peeled and halved
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 1 large carrot, unpeeled
  • A handful of fresh thyme
  • 10 – 15 sichuan peppercorns
  • About 100 ml of shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbs honey
  • 1/2 tsp of light soy sauce


  1. Take off the outer layer of fat on the beef because fat boiling in a stock will emulsify and lead to a cloudy texture and an unpleasant taste.
  2. Brown off the ribs in a little vegetable oiI.
  3. Add the onion, celery,carrot, thyme, Sichuan pepper corns, shaoxing wine. honey and soy sauce.
  4.  Mix together and continue to brown all the ingredients.


  1. Fill the pot with just enough cold water to cover all the ingredients – about 3 litres.
  2. Give it a vigorous stir and bring to a gentle boil.
  3. Reduce heat, loosely cover with a lid and simmer for 5-6 hours.
  4. Don’t be tempted to stir the stock as this will only cloud it.
  5. Skim the fat off every hour.
  6. Once cooked strain it through muslin – I found the easiest way to do this was to use a sieve first to discard all the bones and vegetables and then to re-sieve the stock through the muslin.
  7. Refrigerate it overnight and remove the layer of fat that forms. You’ll be left with a gelatinous stock.

Simmering Sichuan stock

@ArtisanChutney says: “This is your base for noodle soup or sauces. This is just a building block so have fun with it. Make it your own. Cooking is all about experimenting.” I’m trying Audrea, I’m trying,,,

I make a special effort to ensure that as many as possible of the vegetable that I use are Irish produce. All the vegetables used over the next few days were sourced with the assistance of Donnelly Fruit & Vegetables and, except where otherwise stated, are supplied by them to Donnybrook Fair, Dublin.

Old friends, twice cooked pork and fried green beans

I had a special kind of Monday evening tonight. For many years a group of us women friends, mostly busy mothers, met in Marlay Park, Rathfarnham on a Sunday morning for a run and an aerobic workout on the steps of the old house.  And every Monday night we would go to an aerobic class in nearby  Lamb Doyles with Gladys our wonderful teacher. Well 10 years or more have passed, kids grew up, a lot of us drifted apart. I haven’t seen most of those women in years.
Until tonight that is when Gladys got us all together for one night only as a charity fund-raiser for Crumlin Children’s Hospital – her daughter is running the New York Marathon for them. Even the pressure to get home from town in rush hour traffic and make a quick change into workout gear brought back old familiar feelings, When we walked into that room, shrieking with delight at recognising old faces that hadn’t changed nearly as much as we feared, all we were short of was the leg warmers.
The music came on – “I will survive” inevitably – and with a tear in my eye, muscle memory kicked into action and we were off. Apart from a few moans and groans, and nobody pregnant, it was as if we had never skipped a beat. Gladys didn’t spare us, well she cut back on the leaping about a bit, so we will have some aches and pains tomorrow. It was a bit of magic, a chance to catch up with old friends who are wearing rather well and to marvel at the daughters who turned up, the same age as the ones we used to fret about on our Sunday morning walks, now grown up into gorgeous young adults.
Having undertaken to cook dinner for “the lodger” aka my lovely niece Jodie, I didn’t hang about for coffee afterwards but it was still 9.30 by the time I got home and I was on a high and ravenous. The meal that follows was on the table by 10. Maybe it was the mood but this was one of the tastiest Chinese meals we have had yet. Inspired by the taste, I went onto the internet and my rambling bought me to Bay vs Kitchen, where I found many a great recipe.
I was prompted to try Ching-He Huang’s version of Twice Cooked Pork after seeing her prepare it on Saturday Kitchen Live on BBC1 last Saturday morning and it is included in Exploring China – a Culinary Adventure. It uses pork belly – wu hua rou – 5 layers of heaven – skin, fat, meat, fat, meat. Chin-He was great fun on the programme by the way and you can follow her on twitter @chinghehuang. I rang ahead on the way to Duncannon last Saturday evening and got the last piece of pork belly in Wallace’s SuperValu Wellington Bridge just as they were closing at 7 pm. It’s best to boil the pork the day before you use it – see below.

Twice Cooked Pork

The green beans are a vegetarian variation of Shan’s recipe for fried green beans which was the very first dish I cooked for the blog. I like this version as you don’t need to have small amounts of minced pork in your fridge to make it. I found it in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice. Fuchsia is also on twitter @fuchsiadunlop. The excellent Irish green beans came from P.Ryan in Rush Co. Dublin.
Vegetarian fried green beans

See Chinese Kitchen Essentials for any unusual ingredients you don’t recognise.
Twice Cooked Pork
Cooked once… cooked twice

Continue reading Old friends, twice cooked pork and fried green beans

Steamed lemon and ginger fish Duncannon style

“First kill your fish” the title of the third chapter of Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper caught my imagination because of the casual attitudes to animals and fish I encountered along the way in China. Shane and Shan explained to me that the root of what seems like cruelty to western eyes lies in the very word they use to describe living creatures. Our word “animal” immediately conjures up living, breathing things (who might just have feelings). In China the word is dong wu which simply means “moving thing”.
In any event a trip to a market or a stop at the roadside to collect a live sheep for lunch was a bit of a culture shock to put it mildly but in line with my conscious decision to dive in and experience China in a non-judgemental way I made a mental decision to be un-shockable and for the most part I achieved that.
Fish is a hugely important part of the chinese diet, but none of your fish fillets for them – the whole fish with the head and eyes intact is the central part of any celebration. I mentioned in an earlier post on our first Sichuan meal in Yuxiang Kitchen the importance of the head of the fish as a delicacy – the Chinese are particularly partial to the cheeks – and the row that ensued when a local man didn’t get a fish head in his dish of whirlpool fish in boiling oil.
At a Chinese banquet, the centre piece fish dish is usually served with the head facing the honoured guests (always us on this trip) who get the first call at picking at it with chopsticks. As the lazy susan revolves there is a tradition, reminiscent of spin the bottle, where a toast must be proposed with bai jiu,that lethal white spirit which they call “white wine”, between the two people at the head and the tail of the fish every time it drifts to a stop – a recipe for a very sore head that.

A family dinner in our honour in Urumqi

Anyway I’ve been trying to come to terms with my natural reluctance to confront a whole fish, even though I was a keen fisherwoman growing up in the coastal town of Wexford and a dab hand at threading bait onto hooks in my youth, and so today I had a go at steaming a fish in the style I encountered in China. This recipe is based on the Lemon and Ginger Sole recipe in Gok Cooks Chinese.
At least I didn’t have to kill my fish. I was able to wander down by arrangement on a Sunday morning to Fish Ahoy in Arthurstown and pick up a fine specimen of a whole haddock which had arrived into Dunmore East on a boat called the “Northern Celt” on Friday evening – how’s that for knowing provenance! This experience got me hooked onto some cleverly written reviews on boats and the like, as I developed a fascination for boats and yachts.
Continue reading Steamed lemon and ginger fish Duncannon style

Tianjin preserved and new

Using Tianjin preserved vegetable in Dan Dan Noodles the other evening reminded me of the lovely day we spent in that city while we were in China in late June, just before we travelled far inland to Xinjiang Province.
After nearly a week, the air quality in Beijing was getting to me and I had an overwhelming urge to see clear skies and get at least a whiff of fresh air. A bit of google-mapping and a trawl of our guidebooks suggested that the city Tianjin, about 140 km from Beijing on the edge of Hebei Province and close to the Yellow Sea, was our best option as it could be reached in half an hour by bullet train. So we set off alone on our first venture outside the city, taking a taxi to the metro, a metro to Beijing South station and a bullet train to Tianjin.
Getting hold of a train ticket as a “lao wei” (foreigner) is not for the fainthearted. Foreigners need a passport to buy a ticket so we couldn’t use the sophisticated electronic ticketing machines which require a Chinese ID card. Even in Beijing no English was spoken at the station so, despite having the destination written down in Chinese characters, it still took a phone call to Shan and handing the phone to the perplexed and cranky clerk to make sure we had return tickets for the correct time. Our return tickets cost 160 RMB or about €20 each
The bullet train is an incredible and enjoyable experience.  We travelled at a maximum speed of 300kph for the 30 minutes it took to get to Tianjin on a spotlessly clean, streamlined train to and from spanking new, state of the art stations resembling airport terminals.

285kph and still standing

The care and attention to cleanliness reminded me of the way my Dad used to wash his car and polish the hubcaps after every trip when I was growing up, so proud was he of his new acquisition.
“Now you wouldn’t want to be having a dirty train”

Tianjin Station

I loved Tianjin on sight, a bright airy city with the wide river Hai running through it and a palpable breeze off the sea. The sun even shone for us there.
As you exit the train station you are greeted with a cacophony of bristling new architecture rising up behind the old concession buildings.
The view from the station concourse at Tianjin

Marking time – mechanically

Tianjin is an important part of China’s economic engine. It is one of four municipalities directly controlled by central government. It’s the sixth largest city in China and estimates for the population of the municipality vary from 13 million to 42 million. Like many Chinese cities I suspect it is growing daily.
It may now be a modern city but it has a long history. It’s position near Beijing and its port location on the Grand Canal made it the economic hub of north China as far back as the early part of the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911). The Treaty of Tientsin opened the city to British and French concessions in 1858 and others followed giving it that European architecture redolent of Shanghai. More recently it has been subject to waves of investment and a massive face-lift. It plays host to the Summer Davos Forum which has been on there in recent days (11th September 2012). Continue reading Tianjin preserved and new