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My (alcohol free) Elixir of Life

My (alcohol free) Elixir of Life

New season extra virgin olive oil.

For the last couple of years I have been given, or bought, a few bottles of new season Tuscan extra virgin olive oil. It has become one of my favourite seasonings at this time of the year.

In the past, most wine producers in Chianti Classico and elsewhere in Tuscany produced both wine and olive oil. More recently David Gleave of wine importers Liberty encouraged a handful of top estates to make high quality oil; Liberty then release the new vintage every November or December (The River Café in London are huge fans, and even have their own bottling). In some ways, it is a pity that it cannot be released freshly pressed the following summer when the salad season is in full flow. However, it is a great addition to the store cupboard in winter and spring. I have been come quite addicted to it and drizzle it at the last minute on a variety of foods, from beans, pasta dishes with courgettes, cauliflower, peppers or on plain pasta with Parmesan, roast vegetables, steak and a host of other dishes. It brightens up just about everything, adding a slightly bitter peppery kick and a pure fruity richness. With a sprinkle of pepper and salt, it becomes a perfect dressing for any winter salad too. I am sure I remember reading that extra virgin live oil is full of anti-oxidants and all sorts of other good things, so it could be classified as the most delicious of all health foods.


The oils are expensive – €20 or more for a bottle of half-bottle, but they last a while. Not too long though; they will last a year or more but I reckon they should be finished by early summer. Check the back label for a harvest date – 2016 is what you want.

Earlier this year, David Gleave of Liberty gave a group of us an olive oil tasting in Jamie’s Italian in Dundrum. The names included Alpha Zeta, Capezzana (delicious) Petrolo, Fèlsina, and Fontodi. My favourite was the Fontodi, an organic oil, and I have a ½ bottle of that in my kitchen, but to be honest I would have been happy to have a bottle of any of these.

They are available from Fallon & Byrne; Jamie’s Italian; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Lotts & Co, D4; Thomas’s ,Foxrock, Jus De Vine, Portmarnock; Clontarf Wines; Blackrock Cellars; Terroirs, Donnybrook; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Ballymaloe Garden Café; Red Island, Skerries; Grapevine, Dalkey; Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; Hole in the Wall, D7; Redmonds of Ranelagh; Cirillo’s, Baggot Street.


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The Secret to Baking a Great Loaf of Bread

Over the years I have gone through various bread-baking phases, trying out everything from sourdough to brioche. Much of the time I struggled to bake a loaf as good as that from a proper baker. Then, within a week the same solution was handed to me by two completely different people; Darina Allen and Paul Hollywood. The way to successfully bake a really great loaf, better than anything you will find in most supermarket bakeries is:


A cast iron casserole, a Le Creuset or Dutch Oven, as it is called in the States.

First, having completed a wine-tasting session at Ballymaloe Cookery School, I sneaked into the back of a class on fermentation, given by Darina Allen and Emer FitzGerald. It was a fascinating talk, and I wish I hadn’t been obliged to race off back to Wicklow. For me the most interesting part was the sourdough bread, which did not require any kneading and was baked in a cast iron casserole preheated in a very hot oven. The idea came from Chad Robertson of Tartine in San Francisco.

Three days later, watching Paul Hollywood on the Food Network channel, he introduced a New York baker who produced a fail-safe no-knead bread baked in the same vessel. See for the same video.

In both cases, you fold rather than knead the bread, and in both cases, you preheat the casserole, bake the bread for 20 minutes with the lid on, and then a further 15-25 minutes without the lid, allowing the crust to crisp up. I tried both out. I baked my sourdough at a very high temperature, which shattered my Le Creuset handle, and the loaf stuck a little to the bottom of the casserole. I now unscrew the handle and sprinkle a little wholemeal or rye flour on the casserole before adding the bread. It works a treat. I can now cook really good bread, both sourdough and standard, to a very high standard. I usually mix strong white flour with a proportion of whole meal, rye or granary. It may not look quite as artisanal as real bakery bread, but the crumb and moisture is good, the crust nice and crunchy, and the flavour excellent.


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Summer Salmon Recipe

Poached sea trout with summer vegetables and lemon aïoli

This is a recipe from Tomasina Miers in The Guardian (18th June, 2016). I changed it around a bit using a large piece of salmon, as I was unable to find sea trout. I hadn’t made a mayonnaise at home for years, largely because it tastes so good, I end up eating far, far too much. I also served it warm. The dish was great, really summery with masses of fresh vegetables and herbs. My one criticism is the asparagus turned an unappetising brown colour once I added the white wine. To drink, I opened up a bottle of Domaine Huet Vouvray Le Haut Lieu 1990; sadly it was oxidised. Instead we drank the delicious Dveri Pax Llovci Furmint (Sipon) – €22 from Wines on the Green, and a bottle of Carneros Pinot Noir from Stemmler, a present from my sister.

3 tbsp olive oil
40g butter
½ bunch spring onions, trimmed, outer layer removed, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
200g podded broad beans
1 handful asparagus spears
100ml white wine
400g peas
1 large handful mint leaves

For the sea trout
1.2kg side of sea trout, pin-boned
1 lemon, sliced
2 big bunches fresh dill
175ml white wine
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 shallot, halved
Fine sea salt

For the lemon aïoli
2 egg yolks
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp cider vinegar
250ml olive oil
250ml vegetable oil

Put all the ingredients for the fish apart from the water in a deep roasting tin that’s big enough to hold the trout flat (or use a fish kettle). Add cold water to cover, measuring the amount, then add a tablespoon of fine sea salt for every 1.3 litres of water. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly in foil and take off the heat. Leave the fish to sit in the water until it has cooled, then lift out on to kitchen paper to drain. Transfer to a serving platter, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate – you can make it to this stage up to a day ahead.
For the aïoli, put the egg yolks, garlic, mustard, lemon and vinegar in a food processor. Briefly blitz, then, with the engine running, slowly pour in the oil drip by drip. When the mayo starts coming together, add the oil in a thin, steady stream, until you have a glossy, emulsified mayo. Season, add a touch more lemon if it needs sharpening, and refrigerate. (If the mayo splits, you can rescue it by adding a teaspoon of warm water or a little lemon juice. If that doesn’t work, keep the split mayo and start over again in a clean processor bowl, adding the split mayo bit by bit once the new batch starts emulsifying.)
Heat a deep sauté pan or casserole on a medium flame and add the oil and butter. Sweat the onions for five minutes, then add the garlic and cook for three to four minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the beans, asparagus and wine, leave to bubble for two minutes, season, then toss in the peas and mint. Cook for a few minutes, until the peas and beans are tender, season and spoon around the fish. Serve with the aïoli, and rye sourdough or steamed jersey royals.

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The search for a decent pork chop.

<strong>The search for a decent pork chop.</strong>

The search for a decent pork chop.
For various reasons (including flavour), I only ever buy outdoor reared pork. For many years I was able to buy Marks & Spencer thick pork chops, at one stage even with a delicious kidney attached. These disappeared off the shelves recently, so I came up with a new idea – buy a loin roast and cut pork chops to your own specifications. I tried a shoulder roast, which was a bit tough, but the loin is very good. Better still, if you find pork chops tasteless, use a brine.

I have been brining pork roasts and chops for a few years now; it is very easy and really makes the pork taste amazing. You just need to make a basic brine by dissolving salt and sugar in boiling water, add flavourings and leave for a couple of hours. I do it overnight for a full roast, although you don’t get good crackling this way. Dry off before grilling or roasting and enjoy a really juicy flavoursome pork chop. I enclose a brief recipe below, but I change the ingredients nearly every time.

1 litre water
55 grams salt
30 grams sugar
All or any for the following seasonings: garlic (smashed); chopped onions; ginger; toasted cumin and/or fennel seeds, toasted and smashed; juniper berries, bay leaves, sage leaves; thyme, chili flakes.

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Cured Egg Yolks

Cured Egg Yolks

I can never resist a recipe for preserving anything, so this one for cured egg yolks, from last week’s Guardian Food intrigued me. I enclose the recipe below; it is very simple. However my cured eggs just tasted very salty and sweet and stuck to my teeth. Possibly they weren’t dry enough, but grating them was difficult and made no difference. Chopped hard-boiled eggs easier and probably better.

Grated cured egg yolk – from the Guardian, Saturday 18th Jun, 2016.

While waiting for these TwinnyDip beauties to cure (four days – making this recipe by far the longest prep the Swap has thus far encountered), I was plumping for the expedient simplicity of Lauren Kisby’s rosti (to follow) as winner. But then, when the yolks were at last ready to grate and sprinkle, their glowing canary hue lighting up my kitchen, I was torn. For flavour and looks, it is the perfect garnish. I used it to make a homemade furikake (savoury rice topping), adding yuzu chilli flakes, black sesame seeds and tendrils of nori. I was so excited, I had to call my mother.
Makes 4
220g sugar
275g salt
4 large egg yolks
1 Combine the sugar and salt in a mixing bowl.
2 In a small, lidded container (big enough for all four yolks to sit in one layer without touching each other), spread half the sugar-salt mixture. Carefully make four egg yolk-sized hollows in it. Then, one by one, separate the eggs, setting the white aside. Place a yolk in each hollow, ensuring they stay intact – be very careful not to break the yolks. Ensure there is salt and sugar all around each yolk, then sprinkle the remainder – very gently – on top of the yolks, to cover them completely. Cover the container with the lid and refrigerate for 4 days.
3 Take the container out of the fridge and carefully take each yolk out, removing as much of the sugar-salt mixture as possible. Run each yolk for no more than a couple of seconds under a cold tap to remove any excess sugar-salt mixture stuck to the surface of the yolks. Pat dry carefully using kitchen towel. Grate on the fine side of a box grater atop seafood, soups, garlicky braised veg, bitter leaf salad – essentially, wherever a poached egg might do. The cured yolks will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.

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