Friday, 8 July 2016

Book Review: Fruit on the Table by Theresa Storey

Theresa Storey knows a thing or two about fruit; knowledge which she has acquired over many years making the wonderful jams, jellies, marmalades and chutneys for The Green Apron - the artisan preserve company she runs from the family farm in Ballingarry, County Limerick. The award-winning preserves are made in small batches by traditional methods using locally-sourced, organic produce where possible and without artificial preservatives, colours or setting agents. In Fruit on the Table: Seasonal Recipes from the Green Apron Kitchen, her debut book, Theresa brings the reader on a fruit-filled culinary journey through the different seasons of the year and along the way shares some of her favourite recipes.

Fruit on the Table
Originally from Detroit, Theresa moved to Ireland as a young child with her family. Her parents had bought a small farm in County Clare and there they grew their own fruit and vegetables and kept livestock including chickens, ducks, geese, and sheep. Producing much of their own food meant that there were inevitable gluts so Theresa’s mother, Barbara, started making preserves in the late 1970s using the surplus fruit and vegetables. She sold the preserves locally and at the Milk Market in Limerick. Theresa, who qualified as a botanist took over the business in the 1990s and expanded it. These days The Green Apron also runs courses and workshops on sustainable living and all aspects of kitchen gardening. Topics covered on the courses include preserving, beekeeping and chicken-rearing amongst many others.
Apricot Cobbler heading into oven
Written in a relaxed and reassuring style, Fruit on the Table contains over one hundred easy-to-follow recipes and also includes loads of tips for growing, preserving and drying fruit. The book is structured around the fruit growing year and features fruit that grows here in Ireland but also includes recipes for some imported fruits - e.g. citrus fruits and bananas - as they are readily available and extremely popular. So, alongside recipes for Rhubarb & Coriander Meringue Pie, Strawberry Jam and Coronation Chicken are tempting recipes for Boozy Butterscotch Bananas, Lemon & Coconut Cake and Lamb & Fig Tagine. I couldn't wait to get stuck in and try some of them.
I decided to start with the Apricot Cobbler. Cobblers are most commonly made as desserts, but they can also take the form of savoury dishes where the filling is placed in a baking dish and topped with a batter or scone/biscuit topping before baking in the oven. In this inverted version the batter was mixed in the baking dish and then stoned and quartered fresh apricots were scattered on top. As it baked the batter turned into a delightful sponge with a crisp top and velvety smooth centre which rose up to surround the apricots. The cobbler was incredibly easy to make and I had it mixed up and in the pre-heated oven in less than ten minutes. The resulting dish was totally delicious and devoured by my family.

Buoyed by my success with the Cobbler, I then made the Pineapple & Rosemary Upside-Down Cake. Theresa Storey pairs rosemary with pineapple in this updated version of a family favourite and in her introduction to the recipe suggests that the two work well together with the woody herb adding a piney note against the caramelised fruit. I was intrigued and curious to try it out for myself.
Again, the recipe was simply laid out and easy-to follow. After peeling, coring and slicing my pineapple I laid it onto a base of melted butter and sugar in my cake tin. I then set about mixing up my cake batter which was made by the all-in-one method where all the ingredients (except the chopped rosemary) were placed into a bowl and mixed together. The rosemary was then folded in and once mixed through the batter was spread on top of the arranged pineapple before being baked in the oven for three quarters of an hour.

The only slightly tricky bit in the whole recipe was turning out the cake, but Storey recommends waiting ten minutes - no longer or the fruit may stick to the tin - so I followed her advice. The cake came out of the tin perfectly and looked gloriously resplendent with its upended topping of sticky caramelised pineapple. It was delicious to eat both as a dessert served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream but also cooled and enjoyed as a cake in its own right. I felt that the rosemary was an inspired addition.
Pineapple & Rosemary Upside-Down Cake
I find it impossible to resist anything that contains lemon. Some people are addicted to chocolate but lemon always makes me go weak-at-the-knees. I’m a huge fan of lemon curd but find it tedious to make -  lots of stirring for a long time to avoid the mixture turning into lemon-flavoured scrambled eggs. I had never considered making it in a microwave but this is exactly how the Lemon Curd is made in Fruit on the Table. I was convinced that it could not work. How wrong I was!
Containing only lemons, butter, eggs and sugar,  the recipe required that the ingredients were combined together before being cooked in 1 minute bursts in the microwave until the mixture had thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. I then poured it into a sterilised Kilner Jars which I allowed to cool before refrigerating. As it cooled it thickened further to create a perfect lemon curd. I couldn't believe that it could be so simple to make and given my love for this rich tangy preserve, it’s fair to say that I was more than a little bit excited by Theresa Storey’s amazing recipe.
Microwave Lemon Curd
I finished my recipe road-test with the Apple-Pie Filling which like all the recipes that I tried, was easy to prepare. I used store-bought Granny Smith apples which worked perfectly but later on in the year will use some of the fruit from the apples in my garden when they ripen. In this recipe the fruit was peeled, cored and chopped and then simmered in a sweet and spicy sauce before being allowed to cool. I stored the pie filling in a jar in the fridge and later used it to make an apple pie and as a topping for my morning porridge. Delicious!
From start-to-finish, Fruit on the Table is a joy to read. Theresa Storey’s passion for growing and cooking fruit is evident throughout the book. You really get the sense that she wants to de-mystify the whole subject and this she does brilliantly. All the recipes that I tried were easy to make and resulted in some truly tasty food. I love the way the recipes in the book follow the fruit growing and harvesting calendar as this makes the book one that you will refer to and cook from many times during the year. The recipes are accompanied by beautiful  photographs which were taken Valerie O’Connor, a food writer and photographer who was also responsible for the food styling.

Apple Pie Filling
The truth is that whilst fruit is readily available in our shops and supermarkets it is also relatively easy to grow. So many Irish families have an apple tree or rhubarb growing in their gardens. Glancing out my kitchen window as I sit here typing away, I can see the blackcurrant and gooseberry bushes that I planted nearly a decade ago heavily laden with fruit that should be ready to pick in a couple of weeks time. I usually freeze a lot of the fruit or use it to make jams and jellies to see me through the winter months but now, armed with Theresa Storey’s book and using her recipes as inspiration, I will endeavour to use my crop in more inventive ways.
Fruit on the Table: Seasonal Recipes from the Green Apron Kitchen is available to buy here.
Author: Theresa Storey
Hardback: 208 pages
ISBN: 9781847177773
Published by: O’Brien Press
Theresa Storey

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Book Review: NINA Capri: Recipes from Italy's Amalfi Coast by Nina Parker

Nina Parker is a London-based chef, food writer and director of her own food company NINA Food which caters parties and pop-up events. She is also the author of the recently published NINA Capri: Recipes from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, a beautifully produced cookbook which showcases the delicious food of the Campania region of Italy.

Parker draws inspiration for her recipes from the Mediterranean having spent a large part of her childhood in the South of France. She favours simple, fuss-free plates of food but the recipes in NINA Capri are also heavily influenced by her time spent working in some of London’s top restaurants including L’Anima, Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester and as head chef at Gelupo.
Nina Capri
The very best food/travel books have the ability to make the reader feel that they have actually visited the locations that are described and in Parker’s book, the food of the Amalfi coast is presented in a new and exciting way whilst remaining true to its rustic origins. Her food may seem simple but Parker’s recipes incorporate contemporary ‘twists’ and look wonderfully stylish.The dishes have a light, healthy feel and many of the recipes are also dairy- and gluten-free in keeping with modern tastes.This, along with Parker’s no-nonsense writing style, is what makes NINA Capri so appealing.
At roughly 4 miles long, Capri is a small island set in Italy’s Gulf of Naples. Lemon trees grow in abundance and unsurprisingly lemons find their way into many of the recipes in NINA Capri where a squeeze of the juice is used almost like a seasoning to perk up and enliven the flavour profile of the dishes.
Lemon & Almond Cake
The book which has been beautifully styled by her sister, the artist and interior designer Juliana Parker, covers everything from breakfast through to dinner and is structured like an Italian meal around chapters offering up recipes for Appetisers, Starters, Mains and Desserts along with some rather tempting beverages in the chapter on Drinks. In the main the recipes include easily sourced ingredients and are set out in a simple format without recourse to complicated cooking techniques.
I was particularly drawn to the ‘Breakfast’ chapter with its recipes for the classic Italian bread Pandoro (like panettone but without the dried fruit), the Chestnut Banana Bread, Jam and Hot Chocolate but also liked the shared-plates and simple, flavoursome salads contained in the ‘Lunch’ chapter.
Lemon & Almond Cake
I decided to kick off my recipe road-test with the Lemon and Almond Cake which was full of the flavour of lemon and immediately conjured up images of warmer climates. Versions of this cake are available everywhere in Capri but whilst many of them are made using only ground almonds, the recipe in NINA Capri also includes a little polenta which gives it a lovely yellow colour and some added texture which I liked a lot. The cake was incredibly easy to make and I felt that that it was one that even a novice baker could attempt with some confidence. After creaming the butter and sugar together the eggs and dry ingredients were incorporated before adding the zest of 3½  lemons and a splash of orange blossom water. The resulting cake batter was then poured into the prepared cake tin and baked for just under an hour.
While the cake cooled, I made the lemon syrup using the juice of the lemons, a little icing sugar and the seeds of a vanilla pod. I loved the clever inclusion of the vanilla and felt that it added a further flavour dimension to the syrup. Once the cake had cooled I removed it from the tin and, as suggested in the recipe, dusted it with a little icing sugar before serving it with some crème fraîche on the side. One word… DELICIOUS!
Chicken Cacciatore
Like so many others, my family love chicken and although my children can be a little fussy, I felt that they would love the Chicken Cacciatore in NINA Capri which was full of robust flavours. At first glance the ingredients list looks a little lengthy, but this belies how simple the dish was to make; really only requiring some basic chopping of vegetables. I love food that is simple to prepare and results in dishes like this that are full of robust flavours that everyone adores. This is a dish that is guaranteed to become a firm family favourite.
I love baking and I am constantly on the outlook for recipes that are a little lighter but ones that don’t compromise on flavour so I decided to make the Strawberry & Amaretto Cream Cakes. Like all the recipes that I tried, this was simple to prepare, yet it was full on flavour. I had expected the cakes to be slightly denser in texture and was delighted with how wonderfully light they were. This was mainly due to the fact the eggs were separated and the whites whisked and gently folded into the cake batter at the last moment.
Strawberry & Amaretto Cream Cakes
The cakes were finished with a frosting made from mascarpone and enriched with an egg yolk, a little icing sugar and a generous glug of Amaretto - an Italian, almond flavoured liqueur. Finally, each cake was topped with a halved strawberry which tasted fabulous against the almond flavour of the cakes and looked wonderfully glamorous.
Next up was a recipe for Buoncore Pinoli – little horseshoe shaped biscuits generously covered in pine nuts which are the edible seeds of certain varieties of pine that are often used in Italian cooking. The biscuits were made using egg whites, almonds and a little sugar was added. The recipe also used coconut flour - something which I hadn’t used before - to add a little stability in place of flour which also meant that the resulting biscuits were suitable for those on a gluten-free diet. Finally, the biscuits were rolled in pine nuts before being shaped and baked in the oven. I loved them.

I completed my recipe testing with the Summer Minestrone, a simple peasant-style soup packed full of wonderful summer vegetables including broad beans, peas and asparagus. Made to a tomato base with carrots and shallots, the recipe also included cannellini beans and chickpeas which resulted in quite a substantial soup that was a meal in itself. Although this recipe required the chopping and preparation of quite a lot of vegetables, it was incredibly easy to make and totally delicious.
I really loved this book ; all the recipes that I tried were incredibly simple to make and resulted in wonderful tasting dishes that all my family greedily gobbled up. In many ways NINA Capri is so much more than a cookbook. Nina Parker brings you on a tour of Capri and the Amalfi coast and along the way introduces you to the people and places that make the food so special.The book is lovingly researched and the recipes she presents celebrate all that is wonderful about eating the food of this region; food that is made using fresh, good quality ingredients that have been prepared simply.
NINA Capri is a must for anyone who loves Italian food but it is also an ideal book for anyone who loves eating good food and wants to get their hands on some reliable recipes that are easy to prepare. Most importantly, these are recipes that you will actually want to cook.

NINA Capri: Recipes from Italy’s Amalfi Coast is available to buy here.
Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Restaurant Review: Canteen, Celbridge, County Kildare

I’m incredibly lucky to be able to visit so many of Ireland’s top restaurants and to have the opportunity to write about my experiences. I love travelling around the country and meeting the many passionate and hard-working food producers, restaurateurs and talented chefs working here. I could never tire of listening to them talk about where they get their inspiration from. Their collective commitment to establishing Ireland as one of the world’s premier food destinations is something that I hugely admire and makes me feel proud to be Irish.
Sourdough Bread
I know that I may not garner much sympathy when I say this but there is also a downside to the work that I do reviewing restaurants. Whilst my understanding of food and ingredients grows with every meal that I eat, I also find that it takes something really special to stop me in my tracks and truly amaze me. Despite this, my enthusiasm for the restaurant scene in Ireland never wanes and I always feel a frisson of excitement when I dine somewhere that I haven’t previously visited. There have been a number of notable restaurant openings in the past few months but the one that I was particularly looking forward to was Canteen in Celbridge, County Kildare, a mere twenty-five minute drive from Dublin.
In its previous incarnation Canteen operated from a small twenty-seat restaurant in Blackrock Market with Head Chef James Sheridan at the helm. Sheridan ran the restaurant with his partner Soizic Humbert who was responsible for front-of-house operations and under their joint stewardship, it quickly gained a reputation for serving some outstanding food. In many ways, this came as no surprise as Sheridan has a serious cooking pedigree having worked as sous chef to Michael Caines at the double-Michelin starred Gidleigh Park in Devon and with Kevin Thornton, Graham Neville and at Sheen Falls Lodge here in Ireland.
Amuse Bouche
With the arrival of their son Cian the couple decided to leave Blackrock and move the restaurant closer to Sheridan’s home town of Celbridge, finally finding suitable premises on the town’s Main Street. The new restaurant is long and narrow but manages to feel spacious and inviting and we happily took our seats at a wooden table beside the floor-to-ceiling windows. I wasn't expecting the restaurant to be busy on the Tuesday evening that we visited so was surprised to see that many of the tables were already taken. I took this to be a good omen.
Canteen offers a very competitively priced Early Evening Menu consisting of 2 courses for €24 or 3 courses for €27 which is available from Tuesday to Friday (6pm to 7.15pm). A Dinner Menu is also available with 2 courses for €32 or 3 courses for €38, which we decided to go for. The menu was brief but well-written and contained an interesting selection of dishes.
Charred Mackerel
Two linen pouches of bread were quickly delivered to the table with one containing perfectly hand-formed individual bread rolls whilst the other held slices of a very well-made sourdough. Many restaurants buy in their bread but at Canteen they make their own. Both breads were wonderfully crusty with a chewy crumb and I found them deeply satisfying to eat. Amuse Bouches consisting of a Savoury Galette & Goat’s Cheese and a Crispy Flatbread Cracker Sandwich of Sausage, Cheese & Mustard Mayonnaise were served whilst we were still nibbling on the bread. Whilst both were delicious the sausage in the cracker sandwich was exceptional - juicy and full of deeply meaty flavours.
I quickly decided on the ‘Ham & Egg’ on Toast, Peas, Girolles and Jus Gras to start. This was a beautifully presented dish with a real wow factor and is the sort of food that really appeals to me; - top quality ingredients treated simply but with a lot of care and attention to detail. It comprised a perfectly fried egg served sunny-side-up on a disc of toast surrounded by a swirl of almost fragrantly sweet pea purée and an umami-rich jus gras.  At its simplest a jus gras consists of the dripping and meat juices left at the bottom of a roasting pan. This version also contained small ‘lardons’ of ham and was fantastic against the creamy egg yolk and the sweetness of the peas. The dish was finished with pea shoot tendrils which twirled provocatively on top of the egg but unlike many dishes where they are used merely for decoration, they served a purpose here and provided another layer of pea flavour.
Foie Gras Terrine
My guest for the evening was delighted with his Charred Mackerel, Oyster Mayonnaise, Granny Smith Apple & Cucumber starter. For too long, mackerel has been largely ignored on restaurant menus but thankfully, its popularity is growing. As an oily fish, mackerel is best paired with ingredients that cut through its richness and in this starter it was perfectly combined with little balls of compressed tart Granny Smith apple. The smokiness imparted by chargrilling the mackerel added complexity to the dish whilst the cucumber cleansed the palate. This was clever cooking.
We also decided to order another starter to share between us as we had found it impossible to whittle down our choices to just one each. The Pressed Chicken and Foie Gras Terrine, Beetroot, Verjus & Raisin Dressing with its perfectly balanced flavours and textures did not disappoint. Foie Gras is classically paired with Sauternes where the sweetness of this famous french dessert wine with its waxy mouthfeel compliments the rich creaminess of the foie gras. To be honest, I often find Sauternes a little too sweet so I loved the wonderful balance between the acidity of the verjuice and the sweetness of the raisins in the dressing that accompanied this terrine.
Chargrilled Black Angus Beef
Both main courses were excellent. My Glazed Duck Breast, Cherries, Turnip & Broad Beans was another beautiful looking dish where the duck  had been expertly cooked so that its skin was crispy whilst the flesh was succulent. Served with plump juicy cherries, turnips and broad beans, this was a lovely summery plate of food. My guest’s Chargrilled Black Angus Beef, Blade Croquette, Roast Shallot, Sauce Choron was substantial fare that pleased on a number of levels. The beef was meltingly tender and tasted wonderful against the charred onion, sweet roasted carrot and the perky Sauce Choron which is a variation of Béarnaise Sauce but with tomato purée and tomato concasse used in place of tarragon or chervil. However, the true star-of-the-show was the croquette packed full of unctuously soft and flavoursome blade beef. It was superb.
Glazed Duck Breast
To accompany our meal we decided on a couple of glasses of wine each from the small but nicely chosen wine list. My 2014 Clos la Coutale Malbec from Languedoc Roussillon in France (€9.25 per glass) with its nose of blackberry was beautifully smooth on the palate and the perfect accompaniment to my duck main whilst my companion’s 2013 Monte del Fra Bardolino from Veneto (€7.75 per glass) was full of juicy red soft fruit flavours  that stood up well to the beef. We also supped on unlimited sparkling water which along with filtered still water is available at €1.50 per person.
We finished our meal with a bowl of delicately flavoured Wexford Strawberries, Elderflower  and Yoghurt Sorbet. This was a delightful dessert that was suitably light and refreshing after the richness of the meal we had eaten. I particularly enjoyed the lactic freshness of the yoghurt sorbet against the fragrant elderflower jelly. This was a lovely way to finish what was a memorable meal.
Wexford Strawberries
I really enjoyed my meal in Canteen and loved James Sheridan’s food which is rooted in the classics but brought bang up-to-date with lots of clever ideas and interesting ingredient combinations. This is without doubt, one of the most exciting restaurants that I have visited in 2016 and I can’t wait to return. Service throughout our meal was marvellous; attentive without being intrusive and delivered in a friendly and professional manner.
Canteen Celbridge
4 Main Street
County Kildare
Telephone: 016274967