On Winning Saba: The (best Asian) Cookbook (in the World!!)

Well now, when I launched my first ever competition on the blog just over a week ago, asking readers to name their favourite Asian recipe, little did I know that the prize, Saba: The Cookbook, would win the Gourmand Award for the Best Asian Cookbook in the world on the same night that my little competition closed. What a fantastic and well-deserved honour for a self-published cookbook, the proceeds of which go to two very good causes – The Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin and the Thai Red Cross Society. And what better proof of the power of a cookbook that tells a story and conveys in a warm and compelling way the passion, commitment and love of what they do that goes into making Saba a success. I’d say there were a fair few Dragon’s Tail Cocktails drunk over the weekend…

Congratulations Saba!

Hmm, no pressure in picking the winners so with so many lovely recipes to choose from.
Continue reading On Winning Saba: The (best Asian) Cookbook (in the World!!)

Saba: The Cookbook – Stir-fried Beef with Cashews and Asparagus

To celebrate the Vietnamese New Year known as Tet, the lovely Paul Cadden, owner of  Saba Thai and Vietnamese Eatery on Clarendon Street Dublin, has given me a copy of Saba: The Cookbook – Inside a Thai/Vietnamese Kitchen to give away on the blog. The book traces the story of Saba and is beautifully illustrated and crammed with Thai and Vietnamese recipes, not to mention a great selection of cocktails.
Now this is the first time I’ve ever had a competition on the blog and, to be honest, I’m a teeny, weeny bit nervous. Bear with me a moment while I work up to it.
It all came about like this. The other day I was looking for help on Twitter to track down Sri Racha chilli sauce to make Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns for Taste of China when up popped a helpful reply from @SabaDublin. So I dropped into Paul in this “happy meeting place” (that’s what the name means in Thai) for a chat.
Tet coincides with Chun Jie the Chinese Spring Festival and the Vietnamese are also marking the beginning of the Year of the Snake. Snakes are considered to be lucky in Vietnam, having a snake in the house is considered a good omen as it means your family will never starve. Hmmm… I can see certain issues with that if you’re living in Ireland.
Paul offered me the recipe for their fantastic New Year’s cocktail Dragon’s Tail from the cookbook for Taste of China. With our own little grandson Dermot having arrived in Beijing on the very tail of the Year of the Dragon, how could I resist… Try it at home or in Saba – grapefruit vodka, fresh dragon fruit and lemon juice muddled with crushed ice. You will feel as if you have been plunged back in time to colonial Hanoi. (Don’t you love that word “muddled”…)

Dragon’s Tail Cocktail

Vietnamese cuisine has been on my radar since my daughter Claire and her husband Mike went along to check out The Red Lantern in Sydney so I am keen to learn more about it and how it differs from Chinese food. I was delighted when Paul gave me a copy of Saba: The Cookbook so that I could try out some of their recipes at home and also gave me a second copy of the book to offer as a prize.
Which brings me to my first ever giveaway on the blog. As my daughter Claire would say “how exciting!!” Continue reading Saba: The Cookbook – Stir-fried Beef with Cashews and Asparagus

Tom Chef's Chilli Jam

This is just a quick little post because some of you have been asking for the recipe for the chilli jam which chef  Tom Walsh of Samphire@TheWaterside, Donabate included in his recipe for Spring Rolls of Confit Duck which is on the Taste of China section of the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival website. You can read his full recipe here.
Here it is – simplicity itself, absolutely delicious and goes with so many things, not just Chinese food. Try it with cheese, meat pies, or as my sister-in-law Dervilla did, with pasties.

Chilli Jam

Tom’s Chilli Jam


  • 6-8 red chilli peppers chopped roughly
  • 300g castor sugar
  • 300g white wine vinegar

Bringing the jam mix to the boil… gently now…



  1. Bring to the boil and  cook gently to reduce to a syrupy, jam consistency being careful not to burn.
  2. Blend with a stick blender.
  3. This will keep for a long time if stored in a sealed container in the fridge.

Blitzing the jam

Ah, this looks about right…

Time to make up the spring rolls…


My sister-in-law Dervilla made a version of the jam yesterday. She didn’t blitz it because she liked the appearance of chilli seeds throughout the jam. Her jam is also more orange in colour because she had no wine vinegar in the store cupboard so she used a white malt one instead. Thanks for sharing Dervilla and thanks for the inspiration Tom. 🙂

Dervilla’s Chilli Jam with Pasties

Chilli Jam with Tom’s Confit Duck Spring Rolls

Happy Chinese Cooking in the Year of the Snake

I hope wherever you are in the world you have been enjoying celebrating the Chinese New Year and the Spring Festival or Chun Jie.
When I attended the launch of the Year of the Dragon in Meeting House Square, Dublin last February, I had no idea how important the year was going to become for me or that by the end of it we would have our own little Flying Dragon grandson in Beijing – Teng Teng is his pet name in Mandarin to symbolise the movement of the flying dragon but his full name is Dermot Gao O’Neill.

Dermot Gao O’Neill aged 3 days

So this year we celebrated the new year in style by attending the Chinese New Year Banquet in the Round Room of the Mansion House, sponsored by Etihad Airways and hosted with good humour by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Naoise Ó’Muirí. It was great fun in a special and historic setting.
The Ceiling of the Round Room

We had a full Spring Festival Chinese Style Banquet, using the best of Irish seafood, beef and other produce and then we were treated to a fusion of intercultural entertainment ranging from Chinese opera to a special performance of Riverdance which has taken China by storm.

A future Riverdancer in the making

Enter the Snake

Meanwhile I’ve been busy for the last week, over on www.cny.ie publishing a recipe each day to encourage a wider audience to explore the delicious and positive aspects of Chinese food. We have been featuring recipes from Chinese restaurants around Dublin and fusion dishes that show how Chinese cooking techniques influence the menu in some of our best Irish restaurants. I’ve also included some home-style recipes from Shan and her MaMa to show how easy it is to cook nutritious and appetising Chinese food at home.
When the Spring Festival is over I will tell you more about some of my experiences of reproducing these recipes as home and the pleasure I’ve got from learning new techniques  such as how to brine and smoke duck and how to make home made chilli jam and  ginger and cucumber pickles. For now I just want to point you in the direction of some of my favourite recipes from the last week. You will find all of them at Taste of China on the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival website here.
I got so much pleasure out of recreating head chef at Isabel’s Baggot St., Niall O’Sullivan’s Lapsang Souchong Tea-Smoked Duck with Scallops, that I felt briefly like a participant on MasterChef, especially with Niall at the other end of a tweet reminding me not to put too much orange in the smoking mix and to let the duck rest after smoking. My first attempt is photographed below.
Tea-smoked duck with scallops

I liked the lapsang souchong smoked flavour so much that the following night I made a simpler variation, thinly slicing the duck and serving it with the chilli jam I had made for the recipe for Spring Rolls of Duck Confit which the head chef of Samphire@the Waterside, Tom Walsh gave me for Taste of China. As Niall says, I’m not quite sure which chef should get the royalties for that one!
Tom’s chilli jam, which I got right on my second attempt is to die for.
Homemade Chilli Jam

My first attempt at his spring rolls didn’t look quite as pretty as Tom’s version but they sure passed the taste test and were given a firm thumbs up by my tasters at home.
Confit Duck Spring Rolls

I loved the way my Twitter chef friends entered into the spirit of the Spring Festival, shared their creativity with me and showed endless patience with my attempts to learn their professional techniques.
I’ve also enjoyed getting more recipes from my favourite Chinese restaurant in Ireland – China Sichuan in Sandyford, Dublin who were the first to let me inside their kitchen. Indeed I have so many of owner Kevin Hui’s recipes now that I could almost produce his unofficial cookbook. Chongqing Chicken is a dish I’ve tried to guess the recipe for several times at home so it is great to have the authentic version. And no, the amount of dried chilli mentioned in the recipe is not a mistake. Large quantities of dried chilli are used in this dish for colour and effect. They are not all meant to be eaten. I was quite pleased with my first attempt to recreate this dish at home and even got a compliment from Kevin for my efforts. This is going to be one of my staple week day suppers.
Chonqing Chicken

I’ve also discovered a few new (to me) Chinese restaurants in the past week and I can strongly recommend the recipes for Stir-fried Chicken with Celery from New Millennium restaurant beside the Gaiety in Dublin, MaPo Tofu from Green Dragon Well in Killiney Co. Dublin and Kaffir Lime Chilli Prawns from Chi Asian Takeaway in Galway.
I will be posting more Chinese and fusion recipes on Taste of China in the coming week but meanwhile, happy cooking and…
Chun Jie Kuai Le – Happy Spring Festival.
May the Year of the Snake bring health, happiness and prosperity to you and your families wherever you are in the world.

Welcome to the world Baby Shananigans – Dermot Gao O'Neill

Those of you who have been following me on the blog or on Twitter will know that January brought more than its fair share of sadness to our family. We limped into February with relief, feeling rather battered and glad to welcome the change of season and the lengthening days. We had decided we were starting the new year over as the last moon of the lunar year waned and we prepared to say farewell to the year of the Dragon and get ready for the year of the Snake. We had every reason to look forward to the Chinese New Year. Baby Shananigans, the inspiration behind this blog, was due to arrive around 21st February.
Early this morning I walked through the quiet, chilly streets of  Dublin city centre, gazing at the perfect crescent of a waning moon hanging over South William St. sure in the knowledge that before the day was out, Baby Shananigans would have arrived in our lives.
And arrive he did. At 12 minutes after midnight on 5th February, Chinese Standard Time, Dermot Gao O’Neill entered the world – 10 fingers, 10 toes and 3.28 kg of pure joy. All of which makes me one very happy Nainai 🙂
Welcome to the world baby Dermot, our little dragon on the cusp and the beginning of our very own Sino-Irish, Gao-O’Neill dynasty.

Dermot Gao O’Neill just a few hours old

Just yesterday Shane, Shan and MaMa sent me a recipe for steamed sea bass, one of the traditional dishes they use to celebrate the Spring Festival for inclusion in the Taste of China celebrations in the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival.
Steamed Sea Bass

You will find the full recipe on www.cny.ie  from tomorrow (5th February) but, given the day that’s in it, I’m including Shane’s introduction to it here:
“I hope, wherever you are in the world, you are enjoying what is for many the start of a new year, but for so many others, is the end of an old one. The Year of the Dragon is drawing to a close, with the Year of Snake to follow.
When asked to prepare a recipe that is best suited to Spring Festival, dumplings were the first things that popped into all our heads. Chun Jie is a time for family and close friends, and dumplings symbolise keeping them close to your heart.
However, this is also a time for new beginnings and new hope for the future. As Shan and Mama have explained to me, it is very important, as you celebrate and prepare for the Dragon to make way for the Snake, to prepare and eat a whole fish. Why so, I asked.
The word fish, 魚 or ‘Yu’, shares the same pronunciation in Chinese as 余, meaning ‘more’ or ‘extra’. There is a saying “年年有魚” meaning “Every Year Have Fish”, which this sounds just like “年年有余”, “Every Year Have More”.

 As a result there is a common tradition in China – the serving fish to symbolise prosperity. This is especially true at the start of a new lunar year, where fish is prepared and shared to inspire wealth for the coming year. Just about any Chun Jie family dinner or banquet in China will serve fish around this time. The fish must be a whole one, served to share, rather than chopped pieces.
An important Chinese superstition worth adhering to – and one which many Irish families could relate to – is never to turn the fish over on the plate once it has been served. This notion takes its origins from and is especially important in coastal and island areas, where turning over the fish symbolises the overturning of a fishing boat. This superstition has, over time, spread inland. It is often followed by businessmen and drivers, where it could equally represent the flipped fortunes of your business or more literally your car.
Steamed sea bass is one of many ways in which fish is prepared and enjoyed in China, particularly in the South, and uses ingredients that should be quite easy to find fresh in Ireland.
We hope you enjoy it and wish you health and wealth for the coming year.
Shane, Shan & Mama”

Of Grace and Gatherings and New Year Beginnings

There is such a thing as grace.
This evening, some 40 of my mother in law Alice O’Neill’s immediate family gathered in the room where she held court for so many years to mark 4 weeks from her passing with a “Month’s Mind” Mass celebrated by her and our good friend Fr. Malcolm. We ranged in age from her youngest great grand-child barely 1 to nearly 76 years of age. We piled into that small space grabbing slots on stools or cushions and, whether you had a religious bone in your body or not,  you could not fail to be moved by the quiet peace that descended on the room as we followed an age old ritual. Her presence cast a soothing warmth on the gathering and I could sense her quiet smile of delight as she surveyed the crowd that gathered to remember her. In large families, even your children, their spouses and those grandchildren close at hand are enough to generate a satisfying crowd.
The occasion was doubly poignant because earlier this week we lost Mrs O’Neill’s daughter, my lovely sister-in-law Deirdre after a short but vicious illness. That is a death that is even harder to come to terms with – a young woman leaving behind a husband, 3 sons, a young daughter, 4 sisters and 5 brothers, all devastated by her loss. Dee – warm, generous, funny, colourful, loyal, free-spirited, a leader, determined, a keeper of promises – we miss you.


I know at times in the past few weeks, as we came to terms with the finality of Dee’s illness, our emotions ranged from disbelief to anger to deep sadness to numbness and a bone-rattling, chilling shock. Tonight, in that room, there was something else, a quiet acceptance, a letting go and a communal sense of love and compassion.
Afterwards we ate beef-filled pasties prepared by the sisters to their mother’s recipe, shaped like the jiaozi pot-sticker dumplings served at Chinese family get togethers – dumplings to remind you how family wrap themselves around you even when you are far away.
Shane commented to Shan earlier this week in Beijing that it had been a rotten start to the year and she replied that no, it was just a bad end to the old year. Because, as the last moon of the lunar year wanes, Chinese people across the world prepare to say farewell to the year of the dragon. The year of the snake is almost here. In our house, we are all in favour of starting the new year over.
As we wait to see if Shane and Shan’s baby will be a Dragon or a Snake, the time seemed right for me to embrace this new dimension of our family and our tiny Sino-Irish dynasty in the making. So I have been collaborating with the Dublin Chinese New Year Festival to develop a new dimension to the festival this year – A Taste of China. You can read all about it here.
Over the next few weeks, we hope to post a different recipe each day from a wide variety of restaurants around Dublin and further afield, both Chinese restaurants and Irish restaurants where the chefs are even a little bit susceptible to Asian fusion influences. First up are recipes for Stir-fried Chicken with Celery from New Millennium Restaurant in Dublin and Confit Duck Spring Rolls from Tom Walsh, Head Chef at Samphire@The Waterside.
We hope you will join in the fun and if you are a chef, restauranteur or food blogger who would like your recipe included on the Chinese New Year website, just leave a message here, a comment on my blog or DM me on Twitter @julieon.
Here in our family, we have all been changed by the events or recent weeks, in ways we don’t yet fully understand. But we owe it to the generation yet unborn to continue to nurture the multi-cultural traditions of family. And what better way to do that than through food.
春节快乐 Happy Spring Festival