Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Pancetta & Thyme

As the days get shorter and the weather gets cooler, there’s nothing quite like a bowl of nourishing soup to warm you up. I love butternut squash so use it regularly along with other vegetables in the soups that I make for my family but here I have decided to showcase its unique flavour without too many additions.
The roasting of the butternut squash intensifies its flavour and in my opinion is really worth doing… Plus it gives you the opportunity to crisp up some pancetta at the same time which can be used as a garnish on the finished soup.  This is a lovely seasonal soup which is packed full of autumnal flavours and is incredibly easy to make.

Roasted Butternut:
1 large butternut squash, cut into large chunks (no need to peel)
2 cloves of garlic crushed
A few sprigs of thyme
1tblsp olive oil
A large knob of butter
6 slices of pancetta or smoky bacon
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to season
To finish:
1tblsp olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, peeled and chopped
500ml vegetable or chicken stock
50ml double cream or crème fraiche
Some fresh thyme leaves
Roasted Butternut:
  1. Preheat the oven to Fan Oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Place the butternut squash, garlic and thyme in a roasting tray. Drizzle over the olive oil and toss everything together. Pinch the butter into little pieces and dot over the butternut squash.
  3. Drape the pancetta over the squash, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roast in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes until the pancetta is crispy and the squash has softened. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the pancetta to a plate and set aside.
To finish:
  1. Scoop the softened butternut squash from its skin, once it has cooled a little.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat and gently fry the onion until softened but not coloured.  Add the butternut squash to the saucepan with the onion and add the stock and bring up to the boil. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for ten minutes.
  3. Purée the contents of the saucepan in an electric blender (do this is batches) and return to a clean saucepan. Add the cream and stir through. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  4. Serve the soup in bowls. Crumble the reserved pancetta and serve sprinkled on the soup along with some fresh thyme leaves if desired.
Serves 4-6.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Restaurant Review: St. Kyran's Restaurant, Virginia, County Cavan

I was reminded of the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ when I visited St. Kyran’s Restaurant in Virginia, County Cavan recently. From the outside the property looks unremarkable - a humble, bungalow-style building with a distinctly residential feel. I was convinced that I had taken a wrong-turn along the way but the various hospitality awards displayed around the entrance suggested otherwise.
Once inside, we were greeted by Patricia, our charming waitress for the evening, who led us to our table in the spacious dining room. As we walked into the stylishly decorated room we gasped in amazement at the stunning panoramic views of Lough Ramor displayed through the large windows. This spectacular vista had been hidden from view by enormous trees on our approach to the building but was unveiled in all its glory when we entered the dining room.
The Head Chef at St. Kyran’s is Eddie Atwell who many people will be familiar with after his recent appearance on the BBC’s Great British Menu where he battled against Mark Abbott (from the Michelin 2-starred Midsummer House, Cambridge) and Chris McGowan (Head Chef/Proprietor of Wine & Brine in Moira, County Down) in the Northern Ireland heats of the competition. Up for grabs was the chance to cook at a banquet in the Palace of Westminster honouring Great Britons during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Eddie came up against some stiff competition and whilst he did not cook at the banquet, he certainly laid down his credentials as one of the most exciting young chefs in Ireland at the moment.
Originally from Craigavon in County Armagh, Eddie spent a number of years working in the UK. A Roux Scholarship finalist, he worked at the Michelin 2-starred L’Enclume before moving to Ardtara Country House and then on to St. Kyran’s where his love of using foraged and locally-sourced ingredients has been enthusiastically supported by owners Patrick and Helena Keenan.
An À La Carte Dinner Menu and Early Bird Menu were available on the Wednesday evening that we visited. However, we decided to go for the 7-course Tasting Menu (€60 per person) which is available on Wednesday and Thursday evenings only. The meal kicked off with a Selection of Breads including Fennel Bread, a Malted Sourdough and a surprisingly light Wheaten Sourdough. These were served with a Fennel Butter and a very interesting Nasturtia Pesto with lovely peppery notes.
Young Buck, Beetroot
An amuse bouche of Dressed Crab, Fennel & Seaweed Cracker was full of clean and distinct flavours that worked well together to highlight the gentle sweetness of the crab meat. Eddie Atwell is a chef who likes to play with textures and this was apparent in this dish and those that followed over the course of the meal. Here the crunch of the cracker balanced the cool smoothness of the accompanying gels and purées to create food that was interesting to eat and perfect as an amuse bouche to tickle the taste buds.
Young Buck Blue Cheese Custard, Beetroot, Hazelnut Granola, Red Chard was a beautiful dish full of the wonderful earthy flavours of beetroot which appeared in a number of guises on the plate; pickled, puréed, glazed and as a jam. Young Buck - a much celebrated raw milk cheese made in Northern Ireland was presented as a fabulous thick creamy custard that was a nice change from the goat’s cheese that beetroot is so often paired with. A hazelnut granola was particularly delicious and complemented the other elements of this dish perfectly.
By the time the Seared Tuna Loin, Heirloom Tomatoes, Rocket, Olive Crumb, Tomato Jam, Egg Yolk Gel arrived it was clear to us that the food being served in St. Kyran’s Restaurant is special. This is modern cooking using Irish produce where the chef wants to push boundaries… not just for the sake of it but because of a determination to explore the possibilities that these ingredients present. Here the flawlessly cooked tuna was paired with tomatoes - nothing too revolutionary at first glance - but the addition of a deeply savoury black olive crumb, a sticky tomato jam and an outstanding egg yolk gel elevated this dish to something truly memorable without being gimmicky.
Next up was one of my favourite dishes of the evening - Monkfish, Pearl Barley, Apple, Charred & Pickled Radish, Puffed Barley, Cockles, Cockle Cream - a plate of food that thrilled us with its balanced combination of tastes and textures. The pickled radish and sweet cockles were delicious eaten together and I also loved both the pearl barley ‘risotto’ and puffed barley. Balls of crisp apple completed the dish and introduced some fruity acidity which was needed to counteract the richness of the cockle cream.

Wood Pigeon
A choice of dishes is offered for the main course on the tasting menu and being a huge lover of game I immediately decided on the Wood Pigeon, Hazelnut Crumb, Burnt Orange Purée, Celeriac Confit & Purée, Drummond House Garlic Crisps. This was a bang-in-season dish, full of the deep, rich flavours of autumn. I loved the slightly bitter edge of the burnt orange purée eaten with the gamey pigeon and the way that the hazelnut crumb brought out the underlying nutty sweetness of the celeriac. This was intelligent cooking. My companion’s Pan Seared Beef Fillet, Braised Blade, Onion Seed Gnocchi, Girolle Mushrooms was well-thought out and, in many ways, probably the most conventional plate of food we ate during the meal. The flavoursome onion seed gnocchi was fantastic and a simple but clever addition. This was a dish designed to please and judging by the murmurs of pleasure from across the table, this was achieved.

Pan-Seared Beef Fillet
A pre-dessert of Poached Rhubarb, Rhubarb Compote, Rhubarb Gel, Sorrel Syrup, Yoghurt Mousse, Brown Butter Tuile presented in a small stoneware bowl was beautiful to look at and a joy to eat. Rhubarb can be a tricky ingredient as its inherent sharpness demands some sweetening but too much can kill its flavour. This was not a problem here as each of the rhubarb elements in this dessert were expertly handled and brought together as a coherent plate of food by the inclusion of an incredible sorrel syrup and a refreshing yoghurt sorbet.
A choice of two main desserts was offered so we decided to try one each. My Ginger Cake, Blackcurrant Leaf & Velvet Cloud Sheep’s Milk Mousse, Poached Pear, Gin & Lime Ice was a substantial dish which included a generous portion of a well-made traditional sticky ginger cake. This was paired with slices of poached pear and an espuma milk mousse that  lightened the dish. A granita flavoured with gin and lime cut through the sweetness of the cake and was a flavour addition that I liked against the spicy ginger. My companion’s Wexford Strawberries, Port & Black Pepper Syrup, Crème Fraiche, Candied Macadamia, Linum Seed was equally good and a dessert where the strawberries were the star-of-the-show. I particularly liked the black pepper syrup which really brought out the flavour of the fruit.
St. Kyran’s wine list  includes a good selection of well-chosen wines which, in the main are reasonably priced. It is also great to see that quite a few are available by the glass. We enjoyed a Four Sisters Shiraz (€7.90 per glass €29.50 per bottle)  which was full of dark fruit flavours and a peppery finish which was a lovely ‘compromise’ choice that went well with a wide variety of the dishes that we ate.
I enjoyed every aspect of my meal at St. Kyran’s. Eddie Atwell is producing some very exciting, thought- provoking food; food that is experimental but grounded by sound technique and driven by the quality of the ingredients that are used. Highly recommended.
(Note: In addition to its restaurant, St. Kyran’s also offers elegant country house B&B accommodation).
St. Kyran’s Restaurant
County Cavan
Telephone: 0498547087
Wexford Strawberries

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Recipe: Fudgy Chocolate Brownie with Homemade Popcorn Ice-Cream and Toffee Popcorn

This is totally sinful and I make no apologies for it because once-in-a-while we all need something a little naughty and self-indulgent.
It may sound hard to believe but I can take or leave chocolate and tend to gravitate towards citrus or fruit desserts instead. Having said that, I have always been partial to chocolate brownies and spent many happy hours in my kitchen trying to perfect a recipe for what I consider to be the ultimate brownie; one with an intensely chocolaty taste and a chewy, almost fudgy, centre. These brownies do use quite a lot of sugar, so make sure to counterbalance this with a good (slightly bitter) dark chocolate. The other key thing is not to over-bake the brownies. If they still seem slightly unset in the middle at the end of the baking time, they are probably ready because they will continue to cook and set as they cool.
I have also included my recipe for popcorn ice-cream which is an amalgamation of various recipes that I came across on the internet. To make it, I experimented using freshly popped corn and – horror of horrors – butter-flavoured microwave popcorn and without a doubt, the microwave popcorn made the best ice-cream. As such, I would recommend putting all preconceptions aside and doing the same. My state-of-the-art ice cream maker was irreparably broken a few months back and as a stop-gap I bought an inexpensive ice-cream maker from Lidl… and I love it! Ever since I acquired it I have been experimenting with different and unusual flavours of ice-cream/sorbet. This popcorn ice-cream is definitely one of my favourites.
Chocolate Brownies:
265g chocolate (minimum 70% solids)
225g butter
430g caster sugar
150g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
Popcorn Ice-Cream:
320ml double cream
240ml milk
1 bag of butter-flavoured microwave popcorn, made according to instructions
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
A pinch of sea salt
Toffee Popcorn:
50g popcorn kernels
1 tblsp vegetable oil
50g light brown muscovado sugar
2tblsp golden syrup
50g butter
A pinch of salt
Chocolate Brownies:
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Line a 35cm x 24cm x 5cm baking tray/tin with non-stick baking parchment and set aside.
  2. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of lightly simmering water making sure that you do not let the base of the bowl touch the bubbling water. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally.
  3. Remove the bowl once the chocolate has melted and add the sugar, stirring well until fully incorporated.
  4. Sieve the flour and cocoa powder together and stir into the chocolate mixture making sure that no ‘pockets’ of dry ingredients remain. Lastly add the eggs and stir these in so that they too, are thoroughly incorporated. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface with a spatula. Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the brownies are flaky on top but still a little squidgy in the centre.
  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting into 24 squares.

Makes 24.
Popcorn Ice-Cream:
  1. Place the cream and milk in a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat and bring up to the boil over a moderate temperature. Remove from the heat and add the bag of popcorn. Set aside and allow to steep for 60-90 minutes to infuse the popcorn flavour into the cream/milk.
  2. Strain the popcorn mixture through a fine-mesh metal sieve into a clean saucepan. Press the popcorn firmly against the sieve with the back of a metal spoon to extract as much of the cream/milk as possible and set aside.
  3. Place the eggs and caster sugar in a bowl and whisk together until well combined.
  4. Separately bring the popcorn cream mixture up to the boil and remove from the heat. Pour the warm cream mixture onto the eggs whisking all the time and then return everything to the saucepan and set over a moderate-to-low temperature. Stir continuously (about 15-20 minutes) until the mixture thickens and forms a custard. Add the salt and remove from the heat. Allow to cool completely before refrigerating for a couple of hours.
  5. Churn the popcorn custard in an ice-cream maker according to the instructions.

Makes 600ml approximately.
Toffee Popcorn:
  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a moderate-to-high heat and add the popcorn, swirling the pan to make sure that the popcorn kernels are coated in oil. Cover with a tight fitting lid. The popcorn will start to pop… quite furiously at first before slowing down. Once it starts to slow down, take the saucepan off the heat.
  2. Meanwhile place the sugar, golden syrup and butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and a dark golden toffee forms. Tip in the popcorn and stir so that it so that it is all coated in toffee. Tip the popcorn out into a single layer on a parchment-lined baking tray, separating out the popcorn as much as you can, and allow to cool.
To serve:
  1. Place a warm brownie on a plate and top with a scoop of ice-cream and a handful of toffee popcorn. Add a drizzle of chocolate sauce or some salted caramel sauce if desired.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Recipe: Pork Tenderloin, Wilted Kale, Cauliflower Purée with a Raisin & Pine Nut Marsala Sauce

I love pork tenderloin (AKA pork fillet) but as it is very lean, it needs to be treated with care during cooking to ensure that it does not dry out. Wrapping it in Parma ham, prosciutto or smoked streaky bacon protects the meat and also adds a little bit of fat which helps to keep the meat succulent.

This dish is inspired by the punchy flavours found in the food of Venice where raisins, pine nuts and Marsala are used in many classic dishes from the region. Marsala is a fortified wine with a lovely rich flavour and can be used in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. Rather than pair the pork with mashed potatoes I decided to sit the pork on a pillow of puréed cauliflower and some wilted kale which tasted delicious together.

12 slices of Parma ham
2 x 200g-250g pork tenderloins, trimmed of fat and sinew
1 clove of garlic, crushed
2tblsp olive oil
50g pine nuts
50g raisins soaked in 150ml Marsala
150ml chicken stock
A knob of butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cauliflower purée
25g butter
300g cauliflower
200ml milk
A pinch of sea salt
Wilted kale:
25g butter
150g kale, roughly chopped but not too small
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to Fan Oven to 180C/Fan Oven 160C/Gas Mark 4.
  2. Lay six slices of Parma ham, slightly overlapping on a large piece of cling film. Rub one of the pork tenderloins with half of the garlic and place on the arranged Parma Ham. Using the cling-film to assist you, roll up the pork fillet so that it is encased in the Parma ham (without letting the cling film get caught up). Finally, tightly wrap the tenderloin in the cling film so that it resembles a thick sausage and allow to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. Repeat this process with the other tenderloin.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over a moderate heat. Remove the cling film from the tenderloins and place each of them in the frying pan. Cook until lightly browned all over and then transfer to a roasting dish. Place in the oven for 25 minutes. Remove and allow to rest in a warm place.
  4. Meanwhile add the pine nuts to the frying pan in which you browned the tenderloins and cook for a minute, stirring all the time until they are lightly browned.
  5. Add the raisins and all the Marsala that they were soaking in and bring up to the boil. Reduce by half and then add the stock. Allow the sauce to reduce by a half again until it has thickened slightly and whisk in the knob of butter. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.
Cauliflower purée:
  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat and add the cauliflower, milk and salt. Bring up to the boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover with a lid and allow to cook for ten minutes until the cauliflower is soft.
  2. Using a slotted spoon transfer the cauliflower to a blender along with a couple of tablespoons of the milk and process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as required. Set aside and keep warm.

Wilted kale:
  1. Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over a moderate heat and then add the kale. Season with salt and butter and stir for a couple of minutes until the kale has wilted. Set aside and keep warm.

To serve:
  1. Place a generous dollop of cauliflower in each bowl and top with some wilted kale. Slice the rested pork and place two or three on top of the cauliflower and kale. Spoon over some of the pine nut and raisin sauce and serve.

Serves 6.