Getting a Step Ahead of a Dinner Party

This week I had to organise a small dinner-party, a bit of decadent mid-week eating for a good friend who was taking me hill-walking up the Devil’s Bit. The complicating factor was that I had to serve it in his house at the foot of the mountain straight after a three hour walk. I knew I was going to be out of the comfort zone of my own kitchen and I wanted to be able to chat away as I got the meal together rather than disappear from view to show up, hot and bothered, plates in hand, several hours later.

View from the Devil’s Bit

Heading off on the road less travelled

Nothing for it but to prepare as much as possible the day before. On the menu (with a nod to China and Italy) was

Tom Chef’s Confit Duck Spring Rolls with Homemade Chilli Jam


Fillet Steak with Bernaise Sauce, Slow-roasted Tomatoes, Carmelised Onions, Sauteed Mushrooms and Duck-fat Carne Roast Potatoes


Pannacotta with Honeycomb and Macerated Summer Fruits

Lemon Tart

Well I did say decadent… No calorie or cholesterol counting after a strenuous hill walk.

Preparations the day before

I needed most of the day at home for this but I didn’t have to spend all of it in the kitchen, there was time for lot’s of nice breaks while the food cooked itself.

Duck legs ready to cover with duck fat
  1. Slow roast the tomatoes,  recipe below. You can do this a few days earlier if you are short of oven space. Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 6 – 8 hours.
  2. Confit the duck for the Spring Rolls. The recipes for these and the Chilli Jam, from Tom Walsh Head Chef at Samphire at the Waterside are in this post in my archives. Preparation time 15 minutes, cooking time 3 – 4 hours.
  3. Carmelise the onions, recipe below. Preparation time 15 – 20 minutes, cooking time up to 2 hours.
  4. Make the Chilli Jam. Preparation and cooking time about 45 minutes.
  5. Make the Lemon Tart. After several failed experiments last weekend, I used this recipe from Raymond Blanc which was drawn to my attention by Marie McKenna. There is a fair bit of work and time involved as well as lots of “resting” of the pastry but Raymond’s instructions are precise and straightforward to follow. The result is a feather-light, citrus filling perfectly balanced with the sweet shortcrust pastry. It keeps well for several days in an airtight tin.
  6. Prepare the Honeycomb topping, recipe below. This keeps for up to a week in an airtight tin in the fridge so it can be made several days ahead if necessary. Preparation and cooking time about 30 to 45 minutes.
  7. Make the Panncotta. I received several good suggestions for pannacotta recipes after I posted about my culinary disasters last weekend. Thank you kind readers. I settled on one which Marie gave me from Antonio Carluccio, an original Italian recipe from the Aosta Valley. Unlike my solid, leaden efforts last weekend, this is silky smooth and lightly set with the addition of a little dark rum complimenting the vanilla. The balance of sugar, cream and milk seems just right to me. Preparation 10 minutes, setting time several hours.
  8. Get a night’s “beauty” sleep – after all there’s some serious hill-walking to be done the next day!

On the day

  1. Macerate some summer fruits with a little icing sugar and Grand Marnier or other liqueur.
  2. Get hold of some good steaks from a local craft butcher. The fillet steak from the little village of Borrisoleigh nearby was simply superb and at prices that would make Dubliners weep with envy. I think the butcher’s name is John Fitzgerald.
  3. Make up the duck spring rolls, preferably while chatting and with a glass of champagne in hand but only if you’re confident of your knife skills! If you have time you could do these early in the day as they keep very well covered with a damp cloth in the fridge. You only need one per person as an appetiser so we fed two households on them for two days.

Pickled ginger is the magic ingredient in these

When ready to eat

  1. Remove your fillet steaks from the fridge and allow to rest at room temperature for an hour or more, drizzled on both sides with light olive or rapeseed oil and with a good sprinkling of cracked black pepper and some rosemary sprigs tucked under and around them.
  2. Place a roasting tin with duck fat in the oven and pre-heat to 200C – 220C  depending on how fast the oven is. Par-boil scrubbed and halved new potatoes for 10 minutes, drain well and shake to give fluffy edges. Roast in the hot oil for about 4o minutes until crispy or golden.
  3. Wok on. Cook and serve the spring rolls.
  4. Sauté some sliced Irish mushroom gently with some thyme, salt and black pepper in a small pan at the back of the cooker in the fat from some diced bacon or pancetta and a little butter.
  5. Make the Bernaise Sauce. Go gently now and keep the heat nice and low so it doesn’t scramble. I use a Rachel Allen recipe I copied out of a newspaper at one stage. It’s below.
  6. Put the onions and tomatoes in the oven to warm in heat proof containers for about the last 15 minutes of cooking time – you want them gently warmed through, not scorched!
  7. While you are making the Bernaise Sauce, heat a griddle pan on high heat for at least 10 minutes until it is white hot – I discovered the other night the joy of doing this on a gas hob.
  8. Ensure your steaks are lightly coated with oil on both sides but don’t add any more oil to the pan. Once the Bernaise Sauce is ready and resting in a jug over a pot of hot water, season your steaks with a pinch of salt and cook to taste, turning only once – about 3 minutes each side for medium rare depending on the thickness of the steaks. Allow to rest, tented with foil for about 5 minutes with a shaving of butter on top of each steak.
  9. Serve the steaks in their own juices with all the trimmings and a well-deserved glass of red wine (for the chef!).

Much later…

Lemon Tart coming out of the oven the night before…

… and served caramelised

  1. Drizzle the lemon tart with icing sugar and carmelise with a culinary blowtorch or under the grill (yes I know, I burned the edge just a fraction).
  2. Serve up the Pannacotta. I set these in pretty glasses rather than dariole moulds so that I could add the fruit and honeycomb  to the glass. I’m still trying to recreate the sublime Pannacotta by Oliver Dunne that I had in Cleaver East recently. This version was closest but I need more inspiration on how to do the topping.
  3. Find ancient bottle of dessert wine in the back of a wine rack. Sleep soundly. Have a bracing walk in the hills the next morning to recover from your exertions.

Cleaver East Pannacotta

My best effort at Pannacotta so far

This was a lovely meal and I would now have the confidence to cook it for a larger group. I’ve included links to all the recipes except those set out below.
Now I’m off to experiment with Chinese recipes on my Big Green Egg. Wish me luck!
The Slow-roasted Tomatoes and Carmelised Onions were described as the “stars of the show” at dinner because of their rich, intense and almost sticky sweet flavour which cut through the vinegary tang of the Bernaise. I had a perfect steak served with similar sides in the newly re-opened Unicorn recently and I wanted to see if it is possible to recreate that restaurant-style experience of a steak dinner at home. The answer is yes if you plan ahead and have a very hot griddle pan for your steaks.
1. Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Tomatoes before…

… and after 8 hours

The inspiration for this recipe was a conversation with the owner of The Greenery Restaurant in Donnybrook last Saturday morning where they were serving delicious slow roasted tomatoes with Eggs Benedict for brunch. He told me the Chef’s secret is a sprinkling of icing sugar when cooking down the tomatoes to enhance their natural sweetness. Irish tomatoes are in season at the moment, plentiful and cheap. This is a lovely way of getting the full intensity of their flavour. They store well in a Kilner jar with their own juices and an extra layer of good quality olive or rapeseed oil.

  • 2 kg Irish vine ripened tomatoes
  • 6 garlic cloves minced
  • 5 tbs good quality olive oil or rapeseed oil such as Broighter Gold
  • Thyme, a few bay leaves
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • A good drizzle of icing sugar 


  1. Preheat the oven to 95c.
  2. Wash and dry the tomatoes, slice in half, length wise, cut out the stem core and discard. Lay out, tightly packed, on the largest baking tray you have.
  3. Brush each tomato half with a little oil and drizzle a little more around them. Scatter over the garlic. herbs and sugar and season with cracked black pepper and sea salt.
  4. Bake for 6 to 8 hours until they have shrunk in size but retain their shape and are almost carmelised and crispy at the edges.
  5. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container or Kilner jar, topped off with a little fresh oil.
  6. Use gently warmed as a side dish or cool in a salad.

2. Carmelised Onions
I just wanted to recreate the taste of the carmelised onions I had in The Unicorn recently. This came close.

  • About 8 large Irish onions, cut in half and sliced lengthwise
  • Mix of olive or rapeseed oil and butter – 1 tsp per onion
  • 1 tsp sugar for 5 onions


  1. Use a wide, thick-bottomed pan and heat the oil and butter on medium high heat until shimmering. Add the onion slices and stir to coat with oil. Spread evenly over pan, reduce the heat to medium low and let cook stirring occasionally.
  2. After 10 minutes sprinkle some salt and sugar on the onions, add a little water to the pan if necessary (but I prefer not to – just keep the heat low).
  3. Let cook for 30 minutes up to an hour or two, stirring every few minutes.
  4. As soon as they start sticking, let them stick a little to brown but stir them before they burn.
  5. After 20 to 30 minutes lower the temperature a bit more and add a little more butter if necessary.
  6. As they cook down, you may need to scrape the pan every minute or so.
  7. Continue to cook and scrape, cook and scrape until the onions are a rich browned colour.
  8. Use a little balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan.
  9. Store in an airtight container for several days and serve warm.

3. Bernaise Sauce
I wont call this recipe foolproof but it works for me every time provided I take it nice and slow. Thank you Rachel.

  • 4 tbs tarragon vinegar
  • 4 tbs dry white wine
  • 4 tsps freshly ground shallot
  • 1 tbs cold water
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 100 g butter in cubes
  • 1 generous tablespoon of chopped tarragon
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard


  1. In a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat, boil the tarragon vinegar, wine, finely chopped shallot and a pinch of freshly ground pepper until the liquid is completely reduced to just 1 tbs making sure it doesn’t burn.
  2. Add 1 tbs water and take the pan off the heat to allow it to cool down completely so that you can just hold your hands around the outside of the pan.
  3. Place the pan on low hear and slowly whisk in the egg yolks and then the cubes of butter. As soon as two pieces of butter melt, add two more and the sauce will gradually thicken. Do not let the pan become too hot or the mixture will scramble. To prevent this, keep moving the pan on and off the heat. If it’s in danger of heating up too much, add a tablespoon of water.
  4. When all the butter is in, turn off the heat and add the chopped fresh tarragon and Dijon mustard. If the sauce looks thin increase the heat very slightly and continue to whisk until the sauce thickens, it should be almost as thick as mayonnaise.
  5. To keep it warm, pour it into a heatproof measuring jug, half fill a saucepan with hot water from the kettle and place the jug in the saucepan. Reheat the water if necessary by adding some boiling water but don’t reheat the sauce over direct heat.

4. Honeycomb
I was intrigued to discover how simple it is to recreate the equivalent of the inside of a crunchy. Well simple but not easy – I had difficulty judging just the point at which the carmel turned so the first batch ended up in the bin as a burn gooey mess. A little of this goes a long way but you can break your batch up into shards and store it in an airtight container in the fridge for use with other desserts. The recipe comes from Christine Manfield the Australian chef who uses it in her famous Universal Gaytime dessert which contestants had to prepare on Masterchef Australia.

  • 180 g castor sugar
  • 60 g glucose
  • 30 ml water
  • 7.5 g bicarbonate of soda


  1. Line a baking tray with backing parchment and chill in fridge.
  2. Combine sugar, glucose and water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil slowly until the sugar and glucose dissolve and then reduce heat and cook, stirring constantly until it has just turned a light golden colour.
  3. Turn off the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda, whisking quickly while it explodes in volume and turns caramel coloured. Pour into the prepared tray and let it cool and set.
  4. Break into shards and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.


A ginger biscuit recipe for Goodall's for the day that's in it…

The only thing Chinese about this recipe is the ginger…
“August 11th 1986
Happy birthday Mummy. love from Katie
So reads the inscription on the second hand copy of “The Food Aid Cookery Book”, edited by Delia Smith with a Foreword by Terry Wogan which I received from Amazon today, price £2.80.

A cookbook of its time

The book was published at Easter 1986 and retailed at £3.95. This copy is labelled “used, acceptable” but it looks as if it has never been opened, no thumb marks, no jottings in the margins, no splashes of cooking fat or dried in flour. Whatever happened to Katie and her Mummy? How did Mummy react when she got a birthday present of a Food Aid cookbook, a book whose recipes were contributed from all over Britain and whose proceeds were for the Band Aid charity inspired by our own Bob Geldof, a book described as “a contemporary celebration of good food at its best”?
It’s funny that this copy should arrive to me on the eve of the publication of Goodall’s “A Modern Irish Cookbook – 50 great recipes, all inspired by traditional Irish cooking and ingredients but updated to reflect the way we cook today”, a book also intended to raise funds for charity, this time for closer to home – Crosscare and Cork Penny Dinners. Go on. Down-load it on-line why don’t you. It will only cost you €2.99.
Some things don’t change with the passing of the years. Except that I have a Shananigans recipe in the Goodall’s cookbook for Sichuan Mixed Seafood Duncannon Style – who would have thought…
You see I mislaid my copy of The Food Aid Cookery Book many years ago – by then it was dog-eared and ragged, its pages coming loose from their binding. When I got it in 1986, Shane was 5 and Claire was 7. I had a full set of “Super Wife” a serialised magazine designed to teach me how to mend a fuse as well as cross-stitch (I can do neither.) Like my now good friend Bumbles of Rice (@bumblesofrice) I worked full time outside the home and batch-cooked my way though weekends. Every Saturday and Sunday I cooked casseroles and sauces, baked yeasty granary baps, made flapjacks and biscuits to pack the lunch boxes and to make it easy to serve up a half-decent week day meal.
And our favourite recipe for biscuits, that would last a week or more in a tin and still stay crunchy and delicious, was one for ginger biscuits donated to the Food Aid cookbook by Mary Aaron of Darlington County Durham, a friend of Delia Smith. When my own good friend Brenda came looking for that recipe recently so that her daughter could use it for a charity bake off, nothing would do me but to track down a copy.
It’s arrival today unleashed many happy memories of children and their friends coming and going from school and play, of little fingers prising the biscuits from baking trays before they had cooled down (DON’T!), of sticky lunch boxes with half-eaten sandwiches and of near permanent exhaustion.
So here goes… I made a few small adjustments to method (in bold) after my first and very successful attempt at making these in many a long year. They taste just as delicious as I remember them.
The perfect homemade ginger biscuit

Ginger Biscuits

  • 150g golden syrup
  • 110g margarine or butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • 275g granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp of powdered Goodall’s ginger (and yes, while the recipe didn’t insist on it, I alway did use Goodall’s ginger)
  • 1 tsp bread soda
  • 1 egg
  • A pinch of salt

Ginger biscuits ready for the oven


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Grease four baking trays thoroughly.
  3. Place a small saucepan on a weighing scales, set to zero and weigh in the golden syrup.
  4. Add the margarine or butter and melt the two together over a gentle heat.
  5. Sift the flour, salt, ginger and bread soda into a mixing bowl and mix in the sugar.
  6. Beat the egg and stir that and the syrup mixture into the dry ingredients, mixing well until you have a smooth and slightly oily dough.
  7. Take rounded teaspoons of the mixture and roll into small rounds.
  8. Put these on the baking tray leaving LOTS of room for them to spread.
  9. Bake them for 12 to 14 minutes and then allow them to cool completely on the baking trays before removing with a palette knife or fish slice and storing in an airtight tin.


While the book says the recipe makes 24 biscuits. I found that the mixture is enough to make 36.
Who knows, I might even post another few recipes from the book – such delights as “Jeffery Archer’s Creamed Seafood Bake” or “Princess of Wales’ Watercress Soup” (yes it was Di) or Ronnie Barker’s £5 note sandwich” or, oh look, Ken Lo’s South Sea Noodles… now there’s a thought.
But tonight I’m wondering who will find a copy of the Modern Irish Cookbook in 25 years time and wonder about the bloggers who wrote those recipes and the lives they led and about the person who wrote the inscription in the book and the cook that used it.
Cooking… part of the continuity of life…

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