Having a well stocked larder and fridge means you can cope with unexpected guests, writes DOMINI KEMP
W e have some fantastic produce in Ireland but it’s not always available in local shops, so here are some ideas for sourcing particular foods that are useful at this time of year, and also some handy recipes that can be built around them to become the star of the show.
Probably the easiest starting point for sourcing things online is sheridans.com, as they not only do some lovely hampers, but will also put together a package of artisan goods and post it to you. Because they carry some of my all-time favourite cheeses including Glebe Brethan, Knockdrinna, St Gall and Coolea, they are a good one-stop shop. Although you can buy items like Fingal Ferguson’s salamis and chorizos in good food stores and farmers’ markets in Cork, they are not available by mail order from Gubbeen, so Sheridan’s can ship them to you.
The Burren Smokehouse range of cold and hot smoked fish is excellent, and they do mail order and online. To order , see burrensmokehouse.ie.
Smoked oyster pate is very much a ready-to-go treat, available from Fish out of Water, based in Wicklow. It is sold sell every week in the Temple Bar food market (Saturdays, 10am-4pm), but if you ring them on 0402-29315, they can post out your product orders.
For most of these products, something crisp, and quick to produce, is an essential foundation. Stock up on mini baguettes which you can slice thinly into small croutes, put on a roasting or baking tray, drizzle with a little rapeseed oil or olive oil and salt, and bake for 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown and crisp. You may need to shake them around gently to re-arrange them so that the ones in the middle get a fair crack at getting nicely tanned in the oven. And the oil really is a little drizzle. Even if they get the merest lick of oil, they will all toast up nicely. Keeping these in an airtight container once they have fully cooled down is handy way to pile something homemade into a sea of store-bought produce. They are also good with the fish pate and the cheese fondue, recipes below.
There is something really wonderful about the thought of a cheese fondue, but I remember too many attempts that resulted in rubber sludge with grease oozing out. The magic here is using a bit of cornflour to ensure the cheese melts rather than congeals.
This way, I even left it and re-heated it, and it was ok. Not as great as first time around, but edible. The trick is to have everything ready and then add your cheese and keep it warm by serving it in a really heavy-based saucepan that you cooked it in. Get everyone to dunk into it fast. It won’t last long and is delicious with wine.
Heston Blumenthal recommends keeping any leftovers and slicing them into triangles to use in toasted sambos, which does sound utterly divine.
Use any hard cheese – but I did chuck in some goat’s and plenty of bitty ends of cheese that were never going to be eaten. As long as you can grate it, and you like the flavour, chuck it in.
900g hard cheese, including Gruyère, Comte, St Gall, Montgomery cheddar
2 tbsp sherry
Bit of thyme
3 cloves garlic
500 ml white wine
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp mustard powder
Pinch ground cloves
Grate the cheese, and discard the rind. Toss in a bowl with the cornflour. Heat the sherry with the thyme and garlic and leave to infuse. This is trickey as there is so little liquid. But do your best to get some thyme and garlic flavour into the sherry and still have liquid to pour into the cheese mixture later on. Strain the sherry, discard the garlic and thyme and set the liquid aside, so it’s ready to go.
You can park everything at this stage until you are ready to start the fondue as once you start, you will only be a few minutes between cooking and serving. So go rally the troops. Have your croutes or hunks of bread ready, plus forks for dunking the bread into the hot cheese, unless you are fancy enough to own a fondue set.
Heat up the wine and lemon juice in a heavy-based saucepan until boiling. Add handfuls of the cheese and whisk. Add the mustard powder, cloves and sherry. Keep whisking and once all the cheese has been added and melted, serve straight away.
QUICK FISH PATE
Serves 6-8 on crackers or croutes or bits of good brown bread
Approx 250g creme fraiche
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp fresh horseradish, peeled and grated
Salt and pepper
Pinch caster sugar
Small bunch dill, chopped
Small bunch tarragon, chopped
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
500g smoked fish, very finely diced
Mix all the ingredients together. Adjust the seasoning, top with some chopped dill and serve.
This keeps well in the fridge, although you may need to give it a good stir before serving.
DOMINI RECOMMENDS: Stock up on fresh horseradish. It gives plenty of creamy sauces a lift, including the fish paté on these pages. It lasts for ages and is a versatile flavour at this time of year.