Around about this time last year I was preparing for a very unusual twelve days of Christmas as we awaited the arrival of my daughter in law Shan’s family from Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, China to celebrate her and Shane’s wedding and Dermot’s christening at the end of December. My daughter Claire and her husband Mike came home from Australia to join us, making last Christmas a special time and, with the benefit of hindsight, hectic, exhausting and great fun in almost equal measures.
This Christmas will be different but no less special. This year we gather in Claire and Mike’s new home in the suburbs of Sydney with Shane, Shan, her MaMa and Dermot, to celebrate Dermot’s second Christmas.
As we head into 2015 the waiting takes on a different tinge. Claire and Mike are expecting their first baby in April and Shane, Shan and Dermot are coming to live in Ireland at the end of January. There, I put all that in one sentence but the bare words don’t do justice to the repressed excitement I feel at the prospect of those events.
This weekend we got our first proper glimpse of Claire and Mike’s baby in the making and it only seems like yesterday that we were looking at similar scans of little Dermot.
This weekend too, by complete chance and good luck, Shane and Shan found a lovely place to live, within walking distance of our house and Bray seafront. It means that instead of coming to stay with us for some indeterminate period, they can set up their own home straight away and settle into a new life here, swapping this….
It seems as if the stars are in alignment for my offspring just now and a positive force is at work in all their lives.
Thinking about Claire and Mike’s baby and my grandson coming to live nearby, I found myself re-reading older entries on the blog – my first letter to Dermot and Shane’s post about the day they moved apartment – and getting teary-eyed in the process. Time moves like an arrow as Shane says. Dermot has brought much joy and fun into our lives over the past two years despite the distance and I have to pinch myself to make real the thought that I will be able to see him much more often. This time around, with Claire’s child, I am more prepared for the overwhelming emotion a grandchild provokes but also more confident that it is possible to build a relationship with that little person long distance.
With all that is going on it is all the more special to have Shan’s MaMa with us in Australia, knowing that she will have to take on the role of long distance nainai soon. I have been trying my best to learn a few words of Chinese so that she and I can work side by side in Claire’s kitchen rustling up stir-fried vegetables to go with the protein rich “barbies” prepared by the guys to celebrate Christmas Aussie style while Claire sits back with her feet up and Shan looks after Dermot. Well that’s the mental picture I have anyway.
Which brings me, in avery roundabout way, to today’s recipes for stir-fried vegetables. When Shan and her family were with us last year, nothing went to waste in our house. Left over salad leaves were turned into stir-fries or added to fried rice or noodles. Vegetables were blanched and tossed in the wok with a few simple seasonings. It was Shan who introduced me to stir-frying lettuce. Any bag of mixed leaves that I had forgotten to serve with a steak ended up in the wok. Left-over broccoli or other vegetables got fried off with a little garlic and maybe a dash of soy sauce and sesame oil along the lines of my friend and teacher Wei Wei’s recipe for Sugar Snap Peas with Garlic.
The Chinese love to cook lettuce so I wasn’t a bit surprised to come upon a recipe for stir-fried iceberg lettuce in Grace Young’s cookbook The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. It makes perfect sense to me that Chinese immigrants to America would take the humble iceberg lettuce and treat it the way they would bai cai or other Chinese greens.
You will find Grace’s full recipe here on Food52.com or in her book which you can get on Kindle or from Amazon.com. But at its simplest this recipe involves frying off some sliced or chopped garlic in a wok in a little hot oil, wilting in a head of iceberg lettuce leaves and adding a some light soy sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing rice wine and a pinch of sugar, salt and pepper. I also like to toss in some crumbled dried chilli peppers with the garlic. It really is that easy so play around with it to get the balance of flavours you like best and use up whatever left over leaves you have in the fridge.
Meanwhile back in my house my Chinese lessons with Wei Wei continue and she has also been teaching me how to cook simple side dishes of vegetables that can add colour and flavour to a meal. One such dish is her mushroom and pepper stir-fry. I’m sure she will post detailed instructions and pictures soon on her own blog Wei Wei’s Chinese Kitchen but here is the basic idea. Stir-fried Mushrooms and Peppers – 甜椒炒蘑菇 – tian jiao chao mo gu
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
1 spring onion
1 tbs light soy sauce
½ tsp sugar
Wash or wipe the mushrooms, blanch in boiling water and drain. (This step is necessary is so that the mushrooms will cook as fast as the peppers).
Slice the blanched mushrooms and cut the peppers into wedges. Cut the spring onion into sections.
Heat the wok, add 2 tbs cooking oil and when the oil is hot add the spring onion, stir-frying briefly until the flavour is released.
Add in the peppers and stir-fry briskly for about two minutes until they begin to char and. Add the mushroom slices and mix well. They will only need a minute or so to cook.
Season with soy sauce, sugar and salt to taste and serve immediately.
I look forward to Shananigans taking a Christmas detour to the southern hemisphere and to keeping you posted on some more culinary adventures.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Carmelise the onions, recipe below. Preparation time 15 – 20 minutes, cooking time up to 2 hours.
Make the Chilli Jam. Preparation and cooking time about 45 minutes.
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.
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.
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.
Get a night’s “beauty” sleep – after all there’s some serious hill-walking to be done the next day!
On the day
Macerate some summer fruits with a little icing sugar and Grand Marnier or other liqueur.
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.
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.
When ready to eat
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.
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.
Wok on. Cook and serve the spring rolls.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Serve the steaks in their own juices with all the trimmings and a well-deserved glass of red wine (for the chef!).
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).
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.
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.
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! RECIPES
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
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. Ingredients
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.
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.
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.
Allow to cool and store in an airtight container or Kilner jar, topped off with a little fresh oil.
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. Ingredients
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
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.
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).
Let cook for 30 minutes up to an hour or two, stirring every few minutes.
As soon as they start sticking, let them stick a little to brown but stir them before they burn.
After 20 to 30 minutes lower the temperature a bit more and add a little more butter if necessary.
As they cook down, you may need to scrape the pan every minute or so.
Continue to cook and scrape, cook and scrape until the onions are a rich browned colour.
Use a little balsamic vinegar to deglaze the pan.
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. Ingredients
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Ingredients:
180 g castor sugar
60 g glucose
30 ml water
7.5 g bicarbonate of soda
Line a baking tray with backing parchment and chill in fridge.
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.
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.
Break into shards and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.