Monday, March 7, 2011

Oeufs Mimosa

In an ideal world, one of these happy girls will help greatly in the successful execution of this recipe!

Oeufs Mimosa

A hard boiled free range egg, peeled and halved, still slightly warm, and with a blob of mayonnaise on top is one of my favourite foods.
The eggs I am talking about here, Oeufs Mimosa, are rather more complicated than that and with the addition of prawns or shrimps,a bit more demanding to assemble, but wow, they are a treat. The hard boiled eggs with shells removed are halved. Then the sieved yolks are mixed with mayonnaise and finely chopped chives. A couple of shrimps or prawns are secreted in the hollow egg whites and then the rich egg yolk and mayonnaise is carefully mounded on top. A coating of thinned mayonnaise conceals all of that and the final flourish is a little of the reserved sieved egg yolk sprinkled over the top. It is from the final sprinkling of egg yolk that the dish gets its name, as it has the same appearance as the delicate blossom of a mimosa tree.
You need to start with good eggs to make this recipe worthwhile. Then you will need very fresh shrimps or prawns and crucially, home made mayonnaise. It irritates me somewhat to have to attach the word  “home made” to mayonnaise, but unfortunately if I don’t it appears that I might be talking about that pretend stuff that passes for mayonnaise generally. As if!
If I was asked to pick five dishes that could transform the food of any household from average to a great deal better, then mayonnaise made at home would certainly be in that list. Such a fuss is made about the difficulty of making it yourself, that many people are scared away from even trying. I include the recipe here and urge you to try it. A t some point in your career it will curdle on you and I include instructions on how to save a curdled mayonnaise. Don’t be depressed when that moment arrives, but console yourself by the fact that when a dish goes wrong and you retrieve it, then you have learnt so much more about the recipe and it is considerably less likely to happen again.

Oeufs Mimosa

Serves 4

4 free range eggs
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
16 cooked shrimps or 8 cooked prawns
2 teaspoons finely chopped chives
Salt and pepper

Hard boil the eggs by gently dropping into a saucepan of boiling, salted water and boiling for exactly 10 minutes. Remove immediately from the water and cool under a running tap. Shell the eggs and halve carefully, lengthways. Remove the cooked yolks and pass through a fine sieve, using the back of a spoon to help you. Reserve 1 generous tablespoon of the yolk for decoration. Mix the remaining sieved egg yolk with 4 tablespoons of the mayonnaise. Add the chives, mix, taste and correct seasoning.
Place the shrimps or prawns in the hollowed out egg whites. Carefully spoon or pipe the mayonnaise mixture on top of the fish. Smooth over the tops to achieve a neat finish.
Thin out the remaining 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise with warm water, about 1 tablespoon, to achieve a coating consistency. Go cautiously here, as it is very easy to add too much water and have an overly thin result, that runs off rather than coats the eggs.
Drape the coating mayonnaise over the stuffed eggs and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Finally sprinkle the tops of the eggs with the reserved egg yolk.
Serve with really fresh greens, like watercress or wild garlic leaves or crisp lollo lettuce leaves. Delicate chervil leaves and a few of the new season chives are also delicious and that is what I have used in the attatched photograph.


Mayonnaise is an immensely important sauce. It pairs perfectly with many different ingredients. Poached salmon or trout are sublime with it. A blob of it, on top of a halved hard boiled egg, still a little warm from the pot, is one of my favourite foods. With a slice of warm roast chicken, it makes the best sandwich. Lobster, prawns, shrimps, mussels, cockles and clams lap it up. It accepts lots of different flavours happily. Herbs, gherkin, anchovy, spices, chilli, garlic crushed raw or roasted, tomato, all work well when stirred into the sauce. I sometimes add the juices from a foil or parchment baked fish to it, to thin, warm and flavour all at the same time. The roast garlic version can be thinned with a little gravy from the roasting pan of lamb or beef, and again served warm.
Some books will terrify you with words of warning before you start making the sauce. Others are perhaps a little casual in their approach, all I will say, is to be a bit careful, take your time and just remember the important rules when making the sauce. Once you have made it once or twice, making it wont cause you a second thought and by then you will realize that there is simply no substitute for the real thing.  The sauce can be made by hand or in a food processor. The hand made sauce will be softer, the machine made one firmer. Let us be clear, there is no comparison whatsoever between mayonnaise from a shop bought jar and the real thing. I f you use good eggs and oil, this sauce can transform the foods you serve with it.

2 egg yolks
¼ teaspoon of French mustard
1 dessertspoon of white wine vinegar or lemon juice
8 fl oz /250ml olive oil (if you find the flavour of olive oil to strong, use a proportion of sunflower oil, eg; two thirds sunflower oil to one third olive oil)
Salt and pepper

Place the eggs, mustard, vinegar or lemon, pinch of salt and pepper in a bowl. Drop the oil very slowly on to the egg mix, whisking all the time. Adding the oil slowly is the key to success here and other than using good ingredients it is the only rule you need to remember. If your arm gets tired, it is fine to leave it for a minute or two before starting again. Gradually the mixture will start to thicken. You can start to add the oil a little bit more quickly now but do not get carried away by your success. There is only a certain speed at which the eggs can absorb the oil so that an emulsion is created.  Caution is needed right up until all the oil has been whisked in. Taste and correct seasoning.
If the mayonnaise curdles it will suddenly become quit thin and oily on top. If this happens, put another egg yolk into a clean bowl and whisk in the curdled mayonnaise, a teaspoon at a time until it emulsifies again.
Store the mayonnaise in a covered jar in the fridge where it will keep happily for a week or more.
 When you can make the basic mayonnaise, you have the basis for dozens of variations to suit different dishes.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wild about Garlic

A Wild Garlic broth for Emily

My niece, Emily, loves these broths that I make, and this recipe is especially here for her.
This recipe coincides with the arrival of one of my favourite ingredients of the year, wild garlic. I have been desperately awaiting its appearance and even though the leaves are up the flowers are still hiding. The moment the flowers come out, I will post a photograph straight away so that it becomes easier to identify. Search this marvellous ingredient out as it is really quite special and has so many different uses.

For this recipe, I start by making a chicken stock and that stock becomes the base for what I call chicken broths. Before we go any further, let us try and clear up the confusion that arises between stock and broth. When I find myself in a situation like this, as in trying to find a proper description of an ingredient or a dish, I reach immediately for the late Alan Davidson’s wonderful reference book, The Penguin Companion to Food. Alan quotes another wonderful writer, the late Theodora Fitzgibbon when describing stock. She wrote:
“The word covers many culinary preparations, but generally speaking a stock is the liquid extracted from fish, meat, poultry or vegetables by slow cooking with water, or wine and water.”
 I think that is pretty clear.

 On the subject of broth, Alan himself wrote:
“It could be said that broth occupies an intermediate position between stock and soup. A broth (e.g. chicken broth) can be eaten as it is, whereas a stock (e.g. chicken stock) would normally be consumed only as an ingredient in something more complex. A soup, on the other hand, would usually be less simple, more “finished”, than a broth.”
Does that clear up the confusion? I hope so, because clarity is all when it comes to broth, really it is, in fact your broth should be sparklingly clear.

Chicken Stock

Chicken stock is indispensable. For soup making, sauces and gravies it really has no substitute. There are a couple of important rules to remember when making chicken stock and they apply to all stock making. Choose a saucepan that the ingredients fit snugly into. If your saucepan is too big, you will have too much water and as a result will end up with a watery stock that is lacking in flavour. Always pour cold water over the ingredients, as the cold water will draw the flavour out of the bones and vegetables as it comes up to the boil. Remember it is the flavoured liquid you are after here so getting the flavour into the liquid is vital. Bring the contents of the pan slowly to the boil and then only allow the stock to simmer gently as it cooks. If it boils, it will loosen solid particles from the meat and vegetables and your stock will taste rather muddy and look cloudy. The ideal result is a sparklingly clear and well-flavoured liquid. I prefer not to cover the stock when it is cooking as I feel it can cause the stock to cloud up. A rich and well-flavoured chicken stock can be achieved in two hours and I find that cooking the stock for hours on end makes it too strong and the sweet chicken flavour becomes too strong and some of the delicacy is lost. The stock will keep in the fridge for a few days or can be frozen.

2-3 raw or cooked chicken carcasses or a mixture of both
Giblets from the chicken, i.e. neck, heart, gizzard are optional
3.4L (6 Pints) cold water, approx
1 sliced onion
1 leek, split in two
1 outside stick of celery or 1 lovage leaf
1 sliced carrot
Few parsley stalks
Sprig of thyme
6 peppercorns

Chop or break up the carcasses as much as possible.  Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with cold water.  Bring slowly up to the boil and skim the fat off the top with a tablespoon.  Simmer very gently for 2 hours, uncovered.  Strain and remove any remaining fat.  If you need a stronger flavour, boil down the liquid in an open pan to reduce by one-third or one-half the volume.  Do not add salt.

Wild Garlic Broth

There are two types of wild garlic that grow in profusion in Ireland. They are both part of the Allium family. Around where I live in east Cork, the first variety starts to appear as early as march. This is the long, skinny leaved garlic, sometimes called Three-Cornered Garlic or Snow Bell.  It produces a little bunch of white bell shaped flowers, hence the name, Snow Bell. This variety seems to thrive on the sunny side of the road but will also succeed in the shade. The other variety, called Ransoms arrives a bit later and is happiest growing in the shade. It has long, wide, elegant and shiny leaves and the flowers on this variety are in a little typical allium pom pom. Either of the two types of wild garlic will do for this recipe. Don’t forget that they can be used in other soups, with grilled or braised fish, meat and poultry, in salads, flavoured butters, sauces and so on. It is well worth trying to get a little patch of either garlic established in your garden. However, beware, as both varieties will spread in all directions if given the chance.
The key to the success of this recipe, is the addition of the wild garlic to the broth just a few minutes before you are going to eat it. This way the garlic will still be bright green in colour and vibrant in taste when it arrives at the table. Some times the little flowers, which I urge you to use, will float to the surface of the hot broth and sit there like little water lilies or lotus flowers. Now that’s a bonus.

Serves 4-6

6 oz / 175g potatoes, peeled and cut into neat 1cm / ½ in dice
6 oz / 175g onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 oz / 50g butter
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 pints / 1.2l chicken stock
Salt and pepper

1 pint / 600ml of finely chopped garlic leaves, tightly packed into the measure
8fl oz / 225ml garlic flowers.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and allow to foam. Add the potatoes, onions and chopped garlic cloves. Coat in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a butter wrapper or greaseproof paper and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook on a very low heat to allow the vegetables to sweat gently until barely tender. This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t overcook and allow the diced potato to collapse. Add the stock, stir gently and bring to a simmer and cook gently for a further 5 minutes.  Do not replace the lid on the saucepan. Taste and correct seasoning. This is the base and can be put aside until later.
To finish the soup, bring the base back to the boil. Add the garlic leaves and allow to just wilt. This will only take a couple of minutes. Finally sprinkle in the flowers and serve immediately.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pink and Proud

At last, there is some sign of life in the garden.This morning, I was thrilled to find the first few beautiful pink stalks of rhubarb proudly pushing there way up through the still chilly soil. I immediately gave them another good blanket of well rotted manure to nourish them a bit more and to protect them from the cold, just in case Jack Frost comes back to visit. The problem now is to force myself to leave them alone until they get a little bigger.
In the meantime, I will engage myself  with thinking what I will do with  the rhubarb when it is actually ready to harvest.
A fool is definitly on the list and here is a recipe for you to be thinking about.
I will be thinking of more treats to add to the fool recipe.

Rhubarb Fool and Poached Rhubarb 

The first tender and pink stalks of rhubarb are always a great treat. Expensive and scarce, their appearance heralds the arrival of spring and they never taste better than in the first few weeks of the season. When buying rhubarb, the leaves are a good indication of the freshness. They should be glossy and fresh looking. The stalks should brightly coloured, firm and neither too fat nor too thin.  Buy exactly the quantity you need and try not to let any go to waste. Later, the first of the homegrown strawberries will arrive and they combine beautifully with the rhubarb to give you another option.
Fruit fools are easy to make and are soft, comforting and delicious. The trick is trying to get the balance of fruit and cream right. Too much cream dilutes the flavour of the fruit and is too rich, and too little cream can leave the fool tasting a bit under whelming. The consistency of the whipped cream is another crucial element. If the cream is too soft, the fool will be runny and more like a soup. If the cream is too stiffly whipped, the fool can become grainy. So look at your poached fruit and gauge the necessary consistency of the cream accordingly.
 I always like to serve a bowl of poached rhubarb with the fool. I find this lightens the effect of the cream and find it improves the eating experience.

1 lb / 450g Rhubarb, cut into 1 in / 2cm pieces
6-8oz / 175-225g Sugar
2 tablespoons of water
10fl oz / ½ pint / 300ml of softly whipped cream

Place the rhubarb, water and sugar in a small stainless steel saucepan and stir to mix. This seems like a very small amount of water, but the rhubarb will release its own juice as it cooks and the less water you use the better the flavour of the fruit will be.  Cover with a very tight fitting lid and bring to a simmer. Cook gently until the rhubarb is collapsed and tender, about 20 minutes. Sit a sieve over a bowl and drop the cooked rhubarb in, allowing the excess syrup to drain into the bowl. Do not press the rhubarb. Allow the fruit and the syrup to cool completely. Place the cooled rhubarb in a bowl and mix gently with some of the strained syrup spoon to break it up. Fold in the softly whipped cream and add a little more of the strained syrup if the consistency is not soft enough. Handle this gently and do not over mix. Serve chilled in pretty glasses or bowls, using some of the left over syrup to drizzle over the top. 

Poached Rhubarb

The object of the exercise here is to achieve perfectly tender pieces of poached and sweetened rhubarb that are still holding there shape. Proceed with caution and follow the rules!
 I like to add a few strips of orange rind to the rhubarb when poaching. The flavour of the orange and rhubarb work very well together. Don’t forget to remove the strips of orange before serving.

450g/1lb rhubarb
400ml/ 14fl oz syrup
4 thin strips of orange rind

Cut the rhubarb into 5cm(2in) pieces and place in a stainless steel saucepan that they fit snugly into. Cover with the cold syrup and add the strips of orange rind. The amount of syrup will look scant, but that’s fine as the rhubarb will produce a little juice of its own.  Cover and bring to a boil. Immediately, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Leave the lid on the saucepan to keep in the steam and allow the rhubarb to finish cooking. I like to use a glass lid or pryex plate to cover the saucepan. That way I am more likely to see the liquid coming to the boil and not forget about it. If you forget about it, you will end up with stewed rhubarb which is fine, but not nearly as interesting as individual tender and luscious pieces of rhubarb in a pink and orange flavoured syrup. 
Serve with rhubarb fool or with whipped cream or a thin, vanilla custard.

The essential shortbread biscuit to accompany the fool

Vanilla Shortbread

I am a big fan of this simple shortbread recipe. Measure the ingredients accurately and you will have no problems. The biscuits can be served with tea or coffee, or as here with a fruit fool , made into jam tarts or sandwiched with seasonal fruit and cream to make a more complicated confection.  The biscuits will keep fresh in a tin for a couple of days.

Makes c. 20 biscuits

6oz / 170g plain white flour
4 oz / 110g butter
2 oz / 55g caster sugar
2 drops of vanilla extract

Put the flour in a bowl. Add the vanilla extract and rub in the butter and sugar until it resembles coarse bread crumbs.  Keep going and it will come together into a mass. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough. Do not be tempted to add any liquid. If you have measured the ingredients accurately it will work. Chill at this point if you wish or roll out on a floured surface to a thickness of ¼ in / 7mm. Cut out the shapes of choice with pastry cutters and transfer to a baking tray. Gather up the trimmings, lightly shake off the excess flour and roll and shape again. Bake in a moderate oven, 180c / 350f / gas 4 until a pale golden colour. Immediately remove from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool. If you leave them on the oven tray they will stick and burn.
The biscuits can be simply served with a light dusting of caster or icing sugar.